Oral history of British science

King, Julia (Part 1 of 9). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Materials Science

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's office, Aston University, Birmingham

  • Interviewees

    King, Julia, 1954- (speaker, female)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: Born 1954 July 11, in St. Mary Abbots Hospital London. Remarks on parents: Mother, Jane, Oxford educated teacher; father, Derrick, intelligent but not formally educated, racing cyclist; parents meeting whilst filming 'A boy a girl and bike' in Yorkshire; mother's teacher parents from Salisbury; mother's hope to write and act. [03:21] Remarks on family: parents divorced when JK was 6; elder brother Tim, also an engineer; parent's arguments breaking china at their London home. Description of flat in Durham Terrace, Bayswater: bath in kitchen, toilet down stairs, which JK disliked visiting at nigh. Remarks on: parents rows occasionally leaving JK and mother to move out; staying with friends in artistic local Jewish community; mother a socialist with expensive tastes; renting a flat near Harrods, causing JK to go to a school she hated, rather than Harefield; [08:05] reasons for disliking Knightsbridge school; memory of friendly neighbouring girl visiting via the window; JK moving out with mother aged 6 to a flat in Sinclair Road near Olympia, where mother lived until 2005; father and brother moving into Granny King's house on Alexander street; father's development of multiple sclerosis and growing bitterness. [13:20] Comments on father: JK frightened of him as a child; very intellectual, enjoyed conversations about politics; could have problems dealing with children; JK's visits as she grew older; JK siding with mother; worked as a medical instrument salesman for John Bell, until he became disillusioned by disparity of equipment he was selling with what Africa actually needed; did up Granny King's house until he became ill; JK confused feelings toward him, respected his intellect; guilt of JK toward brother caring for father; [19:30] family background with Granny King in Yorkshire; brother Craven, who JK knew little but gave an old Porcshe to Tim; JK enjoying the present more than idea of family history. [22:19] Remarks on father's intellect: great reader, socialist, crossword solver, explored ideas, interested in news and politics, enjoyed a good argument, different interests to JK. [24:05] Remarks on JK interests as a child: mother interested in arts, became ballet critic for Daily Worker, so JK went to ballet and galleries frequently; dressmaking, making ornate dresses which she could wear to Covent garden openings; enjoyed making things and helping with DIY around the house; [24:43] building medieval fort, making pots; mending Singer sowing machine, possibly with advice from Tim, who visited from nearby Latymer Upper School; mother enjoying colours leading to frequent redecoration; mother's students coming home for play readings. [31:07] Remarks on: mother's interests, very interested by people, political, but idealistic rather than theoretical, like father; contrast of parents' political outlook; JK not old enough to talk politics with father as a child; father's employer John Bell of Croydon. [34:33] Remarks on: influence of parents political outlook on JK; mother's support for minorities and positive view on people and goodness; mother taking in needy people, who were 'stepsisters' for JK, such as Lisa and Teresa; involved in race relations; sister Jenny; campaigned against Vietnam War and for medical aid to Cuba; provided lodging to Cuban dancers, including Carlos Acosta, when they visited UK; became committed to causes. [39:34] Remarks on: JK getting caught up with mother's activities, such as CND marches, but interested in other things. Description of playing with the Science Museum's models of trains, now replaced by electronic exhibits. Remarks on: enjoying Joseph Priestley exhibits at Science Museum; fabrics, and other craft exhibitions at the V&A; reasons for liking models of trains. [43:45] Story about mother and JK's resistance to moving from their flat and adopting cats. [46:00] Remarks on JK as a child: few friends but self sufficient; very keen on school work, attended Harefield and Godolphin & Latymer schools; friend Christine in sixth form; isolated and intense; [47:53] putting lots of effort into school projects, needing to please people and competitive with brother. [50:00] Remarks on brother Tim: not knowing him well; more laid back than JK; enjoys cycling; studied engineering at Kings College London, industrial design at Royal College of Art and a PhD at Leicester, lecturer then professor in industrial machines and control; made 'Tomorrow's World' programme about lace making machine; finished career at Leeds University chair of textile engineering; [54:10] arguments as a child; childhood competition. [55:11] Remarks on: traits inherited from parents, father's perfectionism, mother's eye for colour and design; anecdote about her current eye for appearance of workplace; [57:30] mother's links to Jewish artistic community and love of misfits; mother's support for her students in Hammersmith College and need for a cause. [1:00:10] Remarks on JK's likes of Aston University: pride in policies on widening participation; belief that education is a path to social mobility; close links to industry and economic development; good results of varied student population; fee structures. [1:03:10] Remarks on: JK always assuming she would go to university; skills of the secretarial sixth at JK's school; JK doing maths, chemistry and physics A-levels. [1:05:45] Remarks on schools: nursery school in Notting Hill Gate; Hallfield school in Bayswater; Godolphin from 11; catching the 27 bus to school; anecdote about the ABC bun shop; [1:08:03] Remarks on Godolphin School: Gothic design; new science block; girls school; enlightened teaching; 600 pupils; streaming; disliked games; good reputation of Godolphin and Latymer schools; good teaching by head Miss Grey and other Cambridge graduate teachers, suggesting Cambridge to JK. [1:13:22] Remarks on favourite subjects at school: chemistry, very hands on activity; physics, taught by Brenda Jennison, who later left to teach education at Cambridge; good chemistry teachers Miss Newman and Miss Carter; enjoying experiments, discovering, being allowed to do things; novel approach of Nuffield syllabus for physics and chemistry, realising teaching was enlightened when she got to Cambridge. [1:19:40] Comments on science in childhood: interested in building of CERN, white heat of technology, Concorde; reading 'New Scientist'; deciding against physics when she got to Cambridge in favour of chemistry and materials. [1:21:45] Comments on glamorous nature of science in her childhood: CERN, nuclear power, Concorde, colleges of advanced technology, white heat of technology, compared to smog of 1960s London; story about meeting first woman cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova; watching Moon landings at school; papers full of scientific achievements; [1:25:10] JK fascinated by CERN's atom smashing and nuclear power. [1:25:53] Comments on: good school performance, winning a school leaving scholarship for Cambridge; parents pleased in their own ways; referring to parents by first names in childhood; [1:28:03] spending time living in Salisbury with grandmother Anna, who lived with two sisters later in life; spending holidays with mother's sister Jenny, uncle David and cousins Sarah, David and Lizzy, with whom JK was very close. [1:30:23] Remarks on Granny King: trained as furrier, flat full of ornate furniture and d├ęcor, self made money, generous, always wore Turkish slippers, always watched wrestling on TV, JK not having TV at home, wore multiple diamond rings; Granny King's brother Craven only relative JK relatives from father's side. [1:36:45] Remarks on: mother teaching English, languages and drama; had been a conscientious objector in war and taught in girls borstal, whilst father coal mined for same reason. [1:38:13] Remarks on: JK learning French, and doing Latin and Russian at school; well taught but not a natural linguist; disliking cooking at school, being brought up vegetarian; story about a mishap cooking fish in school; problems being a vegetarian at school. [1:42:25] Remarks on money problems when JK was a child: mother supply teacher, though later permanent and better paid; becoming aware of issues when she went to school in Knighstbridge; mother's financial support at university; holidays with relations. [1:44:10] Remarks on friends: Miranda at Godolphin, Christine in sixth form; most friends from university not earlier; Miranda's mother not approving of JK; good friend Christine Wilson, lost touch after university; JK reservations on getting together with former childhood friends. [1:48:00] Description of JK in late teens before university: intense, focused on school; not good at making friends, best friend mother; anxious, but not unhappy. Story about JK becoming determined to play piano: teacher Liz Levitas, whose daughter Ruth is a professor of sociology at Bristol, and who often used to come to mother's parties. Remarks on: Ruth Levitas view of JK as a lonely child; JK enjoying party organisation. [1:52:51] Anecdote about JK wanting to be a professor from school age, but not allowed to put down professor on UCA form. Remarks on: why JK wanted to be a professor; 1970s view on women rising to top of profession; choosing Cambridge due to school teachers and wanting to be a scientist; Cambridge subject choice of physics, chemistry and crystalline state on advice of John Leake director of studies; attending New Hall. [1:57:23] Anecdotes about Cambridge interviews with Dame Rosemary Murray and John Leake and receiving acceptance letter.

  • Description

    Interview with materials scientist Professor Dame Julia King

  • Related transcripts

    Professor Dame Julia King interviewed by Dr Thomas Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

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

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