Robert Reid was born in 1933 in Yorkshire. He was awarded a state scholarship to Oxford University, where he read Chemistry. After taking part in post-graduate research in South Africa and Canada, he completed a PhD in Physical Chemistry at Cambridge University, and then joined the science department of BBC Television. He directed The Sky at Night, presented by Patrick Moore and, in the early 1960s, made the documentary The Building of the Bomb in which he interviewed Robert Oppenheimer. From 1967-1970 he was the editor of Horizon, and in 1970 was made Head of Science and Features at BBC Television. During this time he was responsible for the 13-part series The Ascent of Man presented by Jacob Bronowski. He later wrote the script for another memorable programme, The Voyage of Charles Darwin.
After leaving the BBC, Reid joined Sir Antony Jay, John Cleese and Michael Peacock at Video Arts, a production company specialising in training films for business and industry, where he was responsible for the science output of the company. Robert Reid was the author of several books on science-related subjects, including Tongues of Conscience: War and the Scientist's Dilemma, written in 1969. His biography of Marie Curie, published in 1974, was adapted for television and has been translated into many languages. The Peterloo Massacre, originally published in 1989 to mark the 170th anniversary of Peterloo, was his last book. He died in 1990.