Walter Eric Spear FRSE PhD FRS FInstP was a German physicist noted for his pioneering work to help develop large area electronics and thin film displays. He was born in Frankfurt to a Jewish father and a Lutheran mother; by the time he finished his school examinations in 1938 life for Jews and people associated with Jews was becoming difficult, and the family moved to London. Wanting to pursue a scientific career Spear attended evening classes for the University of London entrance examination, which he passed before the family were interned on the Isle of Man as suspected Axis sympathisers. They were released, and Spear joined the Royal Pioneer Corps in 1940, later moving to the Royal Artillery where he became a Bombardier before being demobilized in 1946. After returning to London he took an External London Physics Degree at Regent Street Polytechnic. Following graduation he began work on a PhD at Birkbeck College London in the Crystallography Research Department under Werner Ehrenberg; due to lack of financial support they had to cobble together their own equipment or use captured German apparatus.
He graduated in 1950, but obtained a Research Fellowship that allowed him to stay there to do additional work. He left Birkbeck in 1953 to take up a position at University College, Leicester, where he did research on amorphous selenium films. He left Leicester in 1968 after being offered the Harris Chair of Physics at the University of Dundee. In 1972 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, in 1976 he was awarded the Europhysics Award of the European Physical Society and in 1977 the Max Born Medal by the Institute of Physics. In 1980 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and awarded the Makdougal-Brisbane Prize of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 1988 he was awarded the Rank Prize, and the same year presented the Royal Society Bakerian Lecture. In 1990 he was awarded their Rumford Medal, and he retired soon afterwards.