Robert H. Tanner


Robert H. Tanner
Death date
Associated organizations
British Broadcasting Corporation
Fields of study
IEEE Haraden Pratt Award


Robert H. Tanner, IEEE President, 1972, was a pioneer in the development of the world’s first high-definition television station while he worked at the British Broadcasting Company (BBC).


Robert Tanner joined the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) in England in 1938 shortly after graduating from Imperial College (University of London) with a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering, later upgraded to an M.Sc. in Acoustics. He became a Senior Member in 1948, and a Fellow in 1958. In 1955, he helped to found the Bay of Quinte Section, and after moving to Ottawa became Section Chairman there in 1965. He was also secretary Treasurer of Region 7 from 1963 to 1967. He was elected Regional Director in 1968, and conceived the plan to divide Canada into three Councils; this plan led to the II Area system now adopted throughout IEEE. He was appointed Institute Secretary in 1970, elected Vice-President in 1971, and in 1972, while still living in Canada, became the first non-U.S. President since the merger. During his year of office, he set up the U.S. Activities Committee (now USAB), and steered the Constitutional Amendment on professional activities through the Board of Directors to an over-whelming acceptance by the membership. Since 1972 he has remained active on several Institute committees, including the chairmanship of special 3-year Long Range Planning Committee, and service on the Foundation Board. Mr. Tanner has received two honors from the Canarnan Region: firstly the McNaughton Gold Medal for 1974, an award which as Regional Director he had helped to found; and secondly the "Robert H. Tanner Lecture Series" given every two years at the International Electrical and Electronics Conference in Toronto. 

His career in electrical engineering and acoustics spans two continents and three countries. It began with the British Broadcasting Corporation where he was a pioneer in the world's first high-definition television station, developing audio techniques for this new entertainment form. When World War II started in 1939, shortly after his transfer to the BBC Research Department, he was called up as an officer in the Reserve Army, to serve first in Royal Artillery Survey and later in Royal Signals. Seven years later he was demobilized with the rank of Major, and returned to the BBC to research into the acoustics of studios and concert halls. Changes both in the BBC and Britain led him to emigrate to Canada to join Northern Electric (now Northern Telecom). Here he held several positions of gradually increasing responsibility, becoming in 1958 one of the first three members of the company's new R and D Division, which later became Bell-Northern Research. After a three year stint on loan to the Canadian Department of Communications, he decided to become a full-time consultant in Acoustics and noise control. He had already established a reputation in these fields in Canada by assisting in the design of many important buildings, from the Stratford (Ontario) Festival Theatre to the Royal Canadian Mint. At the same time, he moved from Ottawa to Naples, Florida; his practice now covers six states and several loyal clients across Canada.

His wife, Joan, another television pioneer, is known to many IEEE members around the world; they have four children, all living in Canada and following scientific careers.

Bob was presented the 1981 IEEE Haraden Pratt Award 'For contributions toward professionalism and dedicated service to the Canadian Region, to the IEEE, and to the profession over many years.'