Oral history of British science
King-Hele, Desmond (Part 7 of 21). An Oral History of British Science.
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King-Hele, Desmond, 1927- (speaker, male)
Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)
Part 7: Comments on lack of orbital analysis by university departments in 1950s and 60s. Mentions Clive Brookes’ group at University of Aston from 1973, declining in 1980s; Jack Meadows’ work, University of Leicester in late 1970s. Mentions interest of university physicists in designing upper atmosphere detecting equipment for satellites. Comments on American models of the upper atmosphere. [05:06] Mentions contact with Department of Geodesy and Geophysics, UOC concerning the Earth’s magnetic field; Edward Bullard’s [EB] interest in space, including chairmanship of related Royal Society [RS] committee during IGY (International Geophysical Year). Comments on EB; contribution of Keith Runcorn [KR] in terms of encouragement of space research; extent of relations with KR. Amusing story of meeting KR unexpectedly, repeatedly. [09:29] Mentions not following plate tectonic debates. Comments on lack of interest of contemporary meteorologists in DKH’s work; paper given at Royal Meteorological Society [RMS] conference, 1961; contact with members of RMS, James Martin Stagg, John Mason; effect of lecture. Discussion of lack of links with Imperial College. [15:46] Story of visit from RS Geodesy Committee to RAE in 1958 to question satellite findings concerning Earth’s shape, including response of Harold Jeffreys [HJ]. [20:32] Comments on contrast between HJ’s lack of conservatism regarding orbital findings and plate tectonics. [22:04] Comments on personal relations with HJ and wife. Positive comments on HJ and wife’s mathematical work. Story of HJ and Paul Dirac sitting next to each other in silence in St John’s College, Cambridge. [25:34] Comments on working relations with DW, before 1961 and after 1968; role of female assistants and attitudes to them; DW’s accuracy in checking orbital theory; relations with other female assistants. [28:59] Further comments on DW’s competence. Story of visit to America with DW, 1973. Comments on effect of American contacts offering observational data. Story of visit to America 1974. Mentions visit 1975. [32:09] Long, detailed story of 1977 visit with DW to headquarters of NORAD (North American Air Defence Command), Colorado Springs, America. [34:46] Story continues at length, aided by notes. [38:42] Comments on effect on work of supply from NORAD of data on satellite decay. Story of holidaying with DW post NORAD visit. [40:23] Description of personnel at NORAD; building inside mountain. Mentions not signing Official Secrets Act or American equivalent concerning NORAD visit; DW’s reaction to NORAD visit. [43:32] Brief comments on personal relations with DW. [44:17] Mentions marriage to MN 1954; two children. Comments on rebellious character of older daughter [b.1957]. Story of daughter Carole’s interest in television programme ‘The Prisoner’, leading to visit to Portmerion 1968, involving meeting between DKH and Bertrand Russell [BR]. Mentions account of meeting in journal ‘Russell’; BR’s interest in Shelley. [49:47] Comments on marriage to MN; reasons for change in relationship in late 1980s leading to separation; MN’s comments on Shelley book; family holidays in Britain. [53:14] Comments on family’s reaction to DKH’s satellite observing from garden then later balcony of family home; children’s lack of interest in satellite observing; relations with daughters; family holidays. [57:19] Story of daughter Carole’s interest in/playing of tennis. Mentions evidence of Carole’s rebellious character. [60:14] Comments on influence of science fiction on writing of ‘The End of the Twentieth Century’ [TEOTC], including Arthur C Clarke and George Orwell. Discussion of distrust of government in TEOTC. [67:13] Comments on sense of self as different from ‘most people’; successful predictions made in TEOTC including emergence of ozone hole, dangers of asbestos, effect of tobacco smoke. Mentions predicting recent (2008) financial ‘crash’ in presentation. [1:09:53] Comments on distinction between own predictions and those of ‘futurists’; view of materialistic ambitions; predictions of immortality in TEOTC; origin of writing of TEOTC for Macmillan Publishers. Mentions being concerned about the end of the world in 1960s. [76:03] Mentions lack of political engagement. Story of Ministry of Technology objecting to publication of TEOTC due to DKH’s status as civil servant. Comments of own sense of value of satellite orbit work, including argument that efforts in space research absorbed energy that may have been expended in nuclear missile research. [80:37] Comments on decision to stay at RAE through career, in spite of offers from ‘new’ universities to establish Departments in space research.
Life story interview with physicist Dr Desmond King-Hele