Oral history of British science

Coombs, Mary (Part 1 of 9). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Computer Software

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  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home

  • Interviewees

    Coombs, Mary, 1929- (speaker, female)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: Mentions mother worked in Royal London Hospital. Comments on father, William Blood [WB]: messenger boy; parents and lineage from Colonel Blood who stole crown jewels; joined Royal Fusiliers at 16 with brother Warwick Spencer, who was killed in Great War; became doctor after painful recuperation from wound, married in 1924, General practitioner in Walthamstow and Chingford. Mentions being born in Muswell Hill and living in Walthamstow and Chingford. Remarks: on father giving up general practice due to health, birth of sister, father becoming industrial medical officer for J. Lyons and serving on disabled advisory boards at labour exchange and committees at Star and Garter Home, for which he was awarded the OBE. [06:00] Comments on progressive convent school in Chingford, well equipped, taught her advanced mathematics. [mic noise] Remarks on moving to Barnes then East Sheen. Remarks on schools: prep school for St Paul's Girl School, Putney High School, both private schools. [09:42] Remarks on mother never working, father working hard and keeping up date and preferring work at Lyons as better for his health. [11:04] Remarks on staying in Bungalow in Surrey owned by Lyons director, attending village school for a time, being evacuated with Putney school to Caversham and sharing with St Anne's School. Mentions bombing and V2s leading to them attending a boarding school, normally for a holiday home for empire children, near High Wycombe. [14:55] Comments on St Paul's Girl School: not wanting to do maths despite gaining a distinction, retaking Latin, staying on for third year, limited choice of universities available. Mentions that she would have done science but for the war and limited options at the boarding school. Remarks on starting French at Queen Mary's College in 1948, unkind opinions of teachers at St Paul's, father's wish that she go to university, her original desire to learn teaching at the Froebel Institute. Mentions enjoying university in-spite of long travel time from home. [17:50] Remarks on parents progressive views on women's education. Comments on father: seen as frightening by David Caminer [DC]; wanted her to be a doctor; class conscious, embarrassed by mother’s shop in London slums, run by sister, Auntie Flo, and anxious over whom MC was friends with, didn't discuss war. [21:54] Remarks on mother's father coming from Germany to Croydon and having a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria as a storekeeper. Remarks on inter-war attitudes to bettering oneself. [23:42] Comments on parents being quite strict, story about getting back late from a Prom at the Albert Hall. [25:45] Comments on mother: happily married but blossomed after father's death in 1963, interested in music, wrote letters, quite shy. [28:10] Remarks on father: enjoyed painting and attended classes in Richmond; reading; helped form society of industrial medical officers; short story about MC helping him revise for his diploma; [30:33] award of OBE in the 1950s, before MC's marriage in 1955; standing up for the national anthem on radio. [31:39] Remarks on not wanting to be a doctor as a way of asserting her independence. Mentions being shy until her handicapped child was born. [32:30] Remarks on science at Putney High School, hopes of reading chemistry at university and becoming a scientific librarian. [33:36] Remarks on: favourite subjects at school, history, science, maths; but not wanting to do maths despite being interested in it and helping sister with her homework; finding applied maths easy; not getting on with sister Ruth as children; parenting [38:00] Remarks on: sharing interests with sister, such as piano; being shy; friends, such as Eileen; childhood mortality; later friends, such as Cic who she met in 1939. [40:40] Short story about being a year ahead at school until evacuation when she was moved down after a disagreement about bedtime. Comments on being ill as a child, getting chicken pox and measles, being treated by a Lyons nurse. [45:50] Remarks on father's presents from Salmon and Gluckstein family at Christmas. Comments on salaries at Lyon's. [48:24] Remarks on benefits from Lyons [mic crackle], such as a 1952 coronation party at the Regent Palace Hotel. [51:00] Remarks on parent's reading 'Telegraph' and 'Mail,' father probably being a conservative. Remarks on social class, friends, private school fees. [53:16] Comments on boarding school, activities, church attendance. [54:57] Remarks on war: bombing at Caversham, glow in the sky of docks burning, [56:07] visit of Canadian cousins who were killed in the war, mentions husband's father called up. Comments about evacuation with the school to Caversham, and enjoying it in spite of being shy. [58:41] Comments on childhood entertainments: 'Children's Hour' on radio; sewing; [1:00:35] reading fiction and still enjoying children's books, such as 'Harry Potter'; sewing; later realising that she was dyslexic, as is her adopted daughter. [01:02:50] Comments on Church: father taking them to Church on holidays, Sunday school, mother going to Church, church playing an important part in her life from university onwards, playing the organ, religion's role in her life. [1:06:10] Remarks on handicapped daughter, who died aged 6, adopting children. [1:08:24] Comments on music: learning the piano as a child, singing in choirs, teaching piano later in life, playing organ. [1:10:19] Comments on holidays as a child: Bembridge on Isle of Wight, Broads, Jersey, Bognor, Abbotsbury, Paignton. Remarks on father enjoying swimming, walking, cinema, and father buying a boat. Story about father filming Bertrand Mills' Circus with a cine camera he'd bought for his trip to Switzerland. [1:15:03] Remarks on time at Cookham. Story about actress Margaretta Scott, who had married the housekeeper's son, coming to tea. Story about younger school children adopting an American deserter. [1:17:21] Remarks on half-hoping war would last longer so she could join up. Remarks on father: kind, strict, took her to sports events, enjoyed cinema. [1:20:12] Remarks on technologies in the home: radiogram, television for the 1952 Coronation [mic noise sneeze]. Story about husband's father setting up a Baird television studio at his college, inheriting then donating television to the Science Museum.

  • Description

    Interview with computer programmer Mary Coombs.

  • Related transcripts

    Mary Coombs interviewed by Tom Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

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

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