Oral history of British science

King-Hele, Desmond (Part 1 of 21). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Atmospheric Science

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    Farnham, Surrey

  • Interviewees

    King-Hele, Desmond, 1927- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: Desmond King-Hele [DKH], born 3rd November 1927, Seaford, Sussex. Mentions names and birth/death dates of mother and father. Comments on father’s family history; origin of surname; mother’s family history; father’s occupation, childhood in London; paternal grandfather’s business; paternal grandparents’ London flat; father’s schooling, musical talent; fathers work. [05:04] Comments on pronunciation of ‘King-Hele’; father’s World War One [WW1] service; parents’ meeting; mother’s siblings; maternal grandfather’s employment. Description of landscapes of Seaford, 1930s. [10:01] Mentions lack of siblings until 8. Description of father’s working day; mother’s domestic work. Mentions educational aspirations for DKH. Comments on summer outings in 1930s. Description of St. Michaels [SM] prep school, including staff. Stories of corporal punishment and physical contact between masters and boys. Story of moving to Stoke House [SH] prep school. Comments on effect on family of German attacks on south coast, including DKH’s evacuation to Beaufort Gardens, London, August 1940. Story of seeing bombing of London docks September 1940; starting school in Epsom; watching Battle of Britain; sleeping under kitchen table. [22:37] Comments on performance in maths and Latin at Epsom County School [ECS]. Story of headmaster, ECS arranging scholarship to Epsom College [EC]. Mentions day boy status at EC; cycling with gas mask; lack of motor vehicles. Positive comments on standard of teaching. Mentions chemistry laboratory; strong teaching of science; medical bias of school; ‘Distinctions’ in School Certificate: Latin, Greek, Mathematics, Additional Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry. [27:22] Mentions teaching of mathematics, chemistry. Story of Headmaster reading class lists in order of merit; V1 missile exploding near to classroom; standing on watch for V1 missiles. [31:36] Story of Physics Higher Certificate examination papers being showered with V1 explosion debris; learning of beginning V2 rocket attacks. Mentions end of WW2; award of State Scholarship to University of Cambridge [UOC]; decision to apply to Trinity College [TC]; family’s return to Seaford; joining TC, 1946. [35:09] Negative comments on corporal punishment at EC. Story of being forcibly confirmed by Chaplain; becoming an atheist by age 14; dislike of rugby, cricket and formal dinners. Mentions same sex relationships of others at EC. [39: 22] Story of taking Part 1 of Mathematical Tripos in first year, supervised by James Lighthill [JL]. Mentions JL’s view of DKH; summer holiday Seaford. Mentions Part 2 Mathematics lectures. Comments on social life of TC; own poverty; non-college accommodation. Story of TC taking DKH’s ‘bread unit’ coupons to supply high table; grandmother’s food parcels; period of cold weather, 1947. [43:22] Comments on success in mathematics. Mentions friends in college; interest in Shelley. Story of reading critique of Shelley by FR Leavis, beginning Shelley scholarship resulting in book ‘Shelley: His Thought and Work’ (1960). Mentions self as author, mathematician and space scientist; scarcity of female undergraduates; degrees to female students not awarded until 1948; DKH’s first class honours degree mathematics. Comments on university holiday pastimes in Seaford. Story of developing interest in tennis, from 1930s, prompted by mother. Mentions membership of Seaford Tennis Club, from 1947. [47:32] Story of being interviewed after final exams by officers from Ministry of Supply; appointment as Temporary Scientific Officer [TSO], Royal Aircraft Establishment [RAE], Farnborough in the Guided Weapons Department [GWD] as alternative to military service.

  • Description

    Life story interview with physicist Dr Desmond King-Hele

  • Related transcripts

    Desmond King-Hele interviewed by Paul Merchant: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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