Oral history of British science
Brooker, Tony (Part 4 of 14). An Oral History of British Science.
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Interviewee's home, Thorpe-le-Soken
Brooker, Ralph Anthony, 1925- (speaker, male)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 4: Remarks on: finding maths easy at school, finding reading more useful than lectures, third year undergraduate research, not being as good at applied mathematics. Remarks on enjoying pure mathematics, unsolved problems [mic noise], beauty of mathematics, four colour theorem, Fermat's Last Theorem. [06:50] Remarks on problems in pure mathematics, Bletchley park numbers theorists, public key cryptography, a problem solved by Government Communication Headquarters who couldn't patent it due to secrecy. Remarks on learning maths, reference to 'Women's Hour', enjoying patterns, learning multiplication with his mother. [10:50] Comments on attending lectures but working out problems by himself afterwards, logic and integrating instructions. Discussion of mathematics, with reference to difficulties completing Roger Penrose's 'The Road to Reality', rational numbers, beauty of mathematics, Cantor's diagonal argument, mathematical proofs [draws Cantor's diagonal argument][mic noise], the importance of simplicity in programming and engineering. [20:50] Further remarks: on finding maths beautiful, 6th form results, entry to university and national recruitment board. [23:50] Remarks on: starting university, scholarships, talented friends. Story about the bombing of a candle factory in Wandsworth, resulting in TB falling out of his boat into the Thames. [27:26] Remarks on joining Imperial College Boat Club, choosing Imperial College because it was closest to home. Remarks on doing a two year maths course, change to three year courses postwar, extra wartime duties, differential equations, emphasis on practical maths, numerical analysis. [31:45] Comments on using Brunsviga mechanical computers. Remarks on teaching assistance, heavy work load. Short descriptions of lectures, practical classes, teaching, lecturers and small class size. [37:10] Comments on Professor Sydney Chapman [SC] FRS: president of the International Geographical Year 1953, earth scientist, writer, Quaker, cyclist, wrote letters on scraps of paper due to paper shortage. Remarks on cycling and traffic in Putney, London and Beijing. Further remarks on SC and being told by him about first women to become FRS, including Dorothy Hodgkin. [41:15] Discussion of TB's beliefs: views on Quakers; humanism; Cadbury family; reference to dangerous people with severe personality disorder policies of the home office; the death penalty. [47:35] Remarks on: social life at university, little time except for Wednesday afternoons; living at home until moving to to Cambridge; parents keen for him to go to university, being frustrated in the chemical technology department where he worked on electron diffraction. [50:22] Remarks on structured undergraduate years, friends, not having any long term objective in his youth, aim of university course to turn out engineer-technicians for wartime service, considering joining army to escape restricted home life. Remarks on a poster for the Palestine Police, the mandate for Palestine, government advertising, a road safety advert, government facilities, British Restaurants. [54:55] Remarks on being more interested in ascent of Mount Everest than Korean War and Cold War. Comments on: Everest expeditions, considering joining military because he was bored, TB's climbing in Lake District, North Wales and Scotland, sailing. [58:17] Remarks on reasons for choosing maths at University, practising maths at home and on the bus. Remarks on not having a car before his 30s, being married twice, lecturer's salary, living in South Kensington. Further remarks on SM: Jewish, meeting him on first day at university, both him and TB being outsiders, talking about politics. Remarks on politics and communism at Imperial College, male female ratio, politics not being a consideration in the war, the coalition government. [1:05:00] Remarks on contrasting political views, Bevin, the British atom bomb program at Fort Halstead, Lord Beveridge, the welfare state, Beveridge Report, Butler Report, wartime Britain's closeness to socialism. [1:08:19] Remarks on his horror at atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Short story about a technician at Imperial telling him about letters to WP marked Tube Alloys, the codeword for the atom bomb project. Remarks on Allied bombing of Germany, atom bomb, meeting WP when he applied for a job at Fort Halstead postwar.
Life story interview with computer scientist Tony Brooker