Renowned scientist and TV presenter Heinz Wolff has died, aged 89.
The German-born inventor and professor, famed for hosting BBC Two’s long-running science show The Great Egg Race, died of heart failure on 15 December, his family said.
A former advisor to the European Space Agency, he became an emeritus professor at London’s Brunel University, working on projects linked to aging populations.
Brunel colleagues described him as an “inventive and inspirational leader”.
Close friend Professor Ian Sutherland added: “There was nothing he loved more than having a team of people around him, devising completely new ways of doing things.”
Trademark bow tie
A Jewish refugee, Wolff moved to the UK from Berlin at the age of 11 on the day World War Two broke out in September 1939.
After attending school in Oxford, he worked in hematology at the city’s Radcliffe Infirmary, where he invented the machine for counting patients’ blood cells.
He later went on to graduate from University College London with a first-class honors degree in physiology and physics.
Wolff moved into television in 1966, first appearing on the BBC’s Panorama programme with Richard Dimbleby, where he produced a pill that could measure pressure, temperature, and acidity.
However, he was best known for hosting BBC Two’s The Great Egg Race from 1977 until 1986 – instantly recognisable for his trademark bow tie and eccentric hairstyle.
The show challenged contestants to invent useful objects with limited resources.
Friends and colleagues also recalled his love of practical jokes, particularly one instance when he arrived at his 80th birthday party on a scooter propelled by fire extinguishers.
Professor Julia Buckingham, vice-chancellor, and president of Brunel University, said: “Heinz’s remarkable intellect, ideas and enthusiasm combined to make him the sparkling scientist we will so fondly remember.
“He was a wonderful friend and supporter to staff and to students – and an inspiration to all of us.”
Alongside his television appearances, Wolff continued in his efforts to advance human progress through his scientific work.
He was made an honorary member of the European Space Agency in 1975, and his work into how humans could survive hostile space environments led to Dr. Helen Sharman becoming the first British astronaut and the 15th woman in space in 1991.
Speaking to BBC News, his son Laurence said this space work – known as Project Jupiter – had been greatly valued by his father, who wished to “inspire young people” and use science to “entertain as well as educate”.
Wolff was also a strong supporter of local charities throughout his life, including spending more than 25 years as a trustee, and then Life President, of the Hillingdon Partnership Trust.
He was married to his wife Joan until her death in 2014 and is survived by two sons and their four grandchildren.