William Kenneth Hutchison was born on 30 October 1903 in Assam, India, where his father managed a tea garden. Following his mother's death from appendicitis in 1906 Hutchison was sent with his brothers and sisters to Scotland where they were brought up at Lochar House, near Dumfries, by their Aunt Harriet. In 1914 the family moved to Edinburgh where Hutchison attended the Edinburgh Academy as a day boy. In 1922 he obtained a scholarship in natural sciences at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and after his third year examinations, Hutchison spent his research year as C.N. Hinshelwood's personal research assistant investigating the decomposition of acetone. Several publications resulted from this research, and he graduated with First Class Honours in Chemistry, but Hutchison decided against an academic career and turned instead to industry.
In September 1926 he joined the Gas Light and Coke Company as a research chemist, working to improve the performance of existing gasworks plant. After several years Hutchison moved to the company's Fulham Laboratory as a Senior Chemist. During the mid-1930s he took a leading role in the design and construction of a new benzole plant at Kensal Green. The plant began operating in 1937 with immediate success, and Hutchisons's work on it was recognised in 1942 with the award of the Moulton Medal of the Institution of Chemical Engineers. Despite his achievements Hutchison felt his prospects for advancement within the Gas Light and Coke Company were limited and when he was offered a secondment to the Air Ministry's Directorate of Hydrogen Production, to help with the war effort, he readily accepted.
Hutchison joined the Directorate in January 1941 as an Assistant Director and in June 1942 suceeded Viscount Ridley as Director. The Directorate's main task was to organise the manufacture and supply of hydrogen to support the balloon barrages flying over the major cities and other significant targets in the United Kingdom. It is a testament to Hutchison's success as Director that despite the large number of balloons destroyed during German air attacks, hydrogen supply was consistently able to meet demand. In January 1944 Hutchison took on wider responsibilities with appointment as Director of Compressed Gases and saw to it that there was an effective supply system to meet the demands of British and American aircraft for high flying oxygen.
In August 1945 Hutchison obtained his release from the Air Ministry and returned to work for the Gas Light and Coke Company. He was appointed Controller of by-products in December 1945 and in late 1946 became a Managing Director of the Company and a member of its Court of Directors. Hutchison did not hold these positions long, however, as change swept through the gas industry with its nationalisation. In 1948 Hutchison was appointed Chairman of the South Eastern Gas Board, one of twelve Area Boards established by the 1948 Gas Act to operate as independent bodies, directly responsible to the Government. Hutchison was also made a founder member of the newly constituted Gas Council.
During the 1950s and 1960s Hutchison played a crucial role in reversing the fortunes of the gas industry and extricating if from the hold which the National Coal Board had over it. This was partly done by embracing oil rather than coal as the industry's raw material in order to make production cheaper and less capital intensive. In 1955 Hutchison signed an agreement with British Petroleum (BP) to establish an oil gasification plant next to the company's refinery on the Isle of Grain. This plant came into operation in 1958 and enabled the South Eastern Gas Board to make use of surplus BP oil products. As well as encouraging technological developments, such as the shipment of liquid natural gas to the United Kingdom, Hutchison also took important steps to increase gas sales by promoting the idea of whole-house heating. Despite little encouragement from the gas industry in 1959 he placed the first advertisement for gas central heating in a national journal and within a few years the concept had gained strong support.
At the beginning of 1960 Sir Henry Jones became Chairman of the Gas Council and Hutchison left the South Eastern Gas Board to join him as Deputy Chairman. This proved to be an important partnership since as Sir Denis Rooke wrote in his memoir of Hutchison
'They made a great double act as they set about building on the industry's newfound confidence, Jones using his cool clinical approach to face the heavy political pressures flowing from Westminster and Whitehall while Hutchison gave full rein to his fertile and original mind over the whole spectrum of the industry's operations. (Sir Kenneth Hutchison, CBE, F.Eng', by Sir Denis Rooke, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 42, 1996, p.215)
Hutchison took on the task of improving the gas industry's public image with a highly successful national advertising campaign which promoted 'High Speed Gas'. He was also a driving force behind the Council's active involvement in seismic surveys in the North Sea, which led to the discovery of significant natural gas reserves. At the end of 1966 Hutchison retired from the gas industry, although he did work as a consultant to the oil company, Amoco from 1967 to 1975. A large part of Hutchison's retirement was taken up with the writing of his autobiography, which was published in 1987 as High Speed Gas. He died on 28 November 1989.
Hutchison was accorded numerous honours and awards. He was awarded the CBE in 1954, a knighthood in 1962 and was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1966 and the Fellowhip of Engineering in 1976.