Oral history of British science

Houghton, John (Part 6 of 18) An Oral History of British Science

  • Add a note
    Log in to add a note at the bottom of this page.
  • All notes
  • My notes
  • Hide notes
Please click to leave a note

The British Library Board acknowledges the intellectual property rights of those named as contributors to this recording and the rights of those not identified.
Legal and ethical usage »

Tags (top 25):
(No tags found for this item)
  • Type


  • Duration


  • Shelf mark


  • Subjects

    Climate Change Science

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    Interviewee’s home, Aberdovey, Wales

  • Interviewees

    Houghton, John, 1931- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 6 [2:32:38] Comments on use of PMR to measure Venus’ atmospheric temperatures, late 1970s; greenhouse effect [GE] on Venus. [2:28] Mentions death of mother and early 1970s; death of mother-in-law, 1976; relations with father; daughter’ schooling in Oxford. Comments on son’s education in relation to his dyslexia; development of son’s interest/career in art/antiques/sailing. Mentions son’s marriage/children. [9:23] Story of daughter’s medical career. Comments on daughter’s children. Mentions family holiday home, Wales, 1976; own sailing. [11:49] Comments on children’s Christian faith. [13:38] Detailed comments on own Christian faith, including belief in self as sinner in relation to Jesus, development of relations with Jesus through faith, assistance of God in own scientific work, the way God works in the World, relations between humans and God. [23:49] Detailed comments on assistance of God in role as Chairman of IPCC meetings. [29:30] Comments on praying/asking God for assistance in scientific work. [32:02] Story of first wife Margaret’s illness/death, including role of prayer, assistance of God, role of relations with Jesus. Detailed comments on value of faith/accountability to God. [41:52] Story of appointment as Director General [DG] of the MO, 1983-1991, including role of John Mason [JM], interview with Michael Heseltine [MH]. Comments on increased funding of MO (as part of MOD (Ministry of Defence)). Story of own resistance to pressure to reduce MO staff by 100. Comments on JM’s Directorship. Story of first day as DG, MO, including collapsing building (Bracknell, Berkshire), lunch with Directors. Comments on own methods of management. [53:30] Positive comments on commercial work of MO. Story of own establishment of commercial branch of MO with brother as Managing Director. Comments on relations with brother in MO; role in developing BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) weather forecasts. [57:55] Positive comments on Margaret Thatcher’s [MT] plan to convert the MO to an Executive Agency [EA], freed from financial control of MOD. Story of this conversion; arguments concerning own belief in value of MO research; discussions about setting of performance criteria for MO; Russian nail factory illustrating danger of performance criteria; own refusal to sign commitment to yearly percentage efficiency increase. [1:11:24] Story of attempt to cut MO budget, after conversion to EA. [1:15:30] Story of weather forecasts in relation to storm, 16th October 1987, including criticism of MO/calls for own resignation, attempt to organise press conference to explain position of MO against instructions of Permanent Secretary, effect of Black Monday stock market crash in reducing press interest, belief in God’s assistance; scientific investigation into reasons for failure to precisely forecast storm, resulting in improvements to input of data to computer forecast models. [1:33:10] Comments on establishment of press office following storm. Story of press training with John Humphreys. Comments on immorality of press; dislike of experience of television interview. [1:35:43] Comments on improvements made to BBC weather forecasts. [1:36:40] Comments on MO work for MOD; contribution to Falklands War MOD intelligence of AL scientists; military rank of position of MO Director. [1:41:30] Description of computer used for forecasting, MO. Mentions increase in computing power following storm, 1987. Comments on difference between weather forecasting and climate modelling. [1:44:50] Comments on establishment of unified weather forecasting/climate model. Mentions significant scale of MO computing power, early 1980s. [1:46:28] Comments on European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts [ECMRWF], Shinfield Park, Reading, including competition with MO, differences between MO and ECMRWF models; positive influence on MO of proximity to ECMRWF and Department of Meteorology, University of Reading; JM’s role in establishing ECMRWF in UK. [1:50:29] Story of difficulty persuading Her Majesty’s Treasury of economic value of establishing European Meteorological Satellite Organisation [EUMETSAT] in UK. [1:53:49] Comments on World Meteorological Organisation [WMO], including role in facilitating sharing of meteorological data, four-yearly Congress in Geneva. Mentions relations between WMO and IPCC. Story of proposal at 1987 WMO Congress of WMO/UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) organisation to assess CC. Comments on relations between WMO Secretary General [SG] (Obasi) and Deputy SG (Jim Bruce [JB]); establishment of IPCC structure by JB. [1:58:01] Story of events in 1988 raising public and political awareness of CC/GW, including Margaret Thatcher’s [MT] speech at Royal Society and first meeting of IPCC, Geneva, November. Mentions attendance at 1988 IPCC meeting, with David Fisk [DF], Chief Scientist, UK Department of the Environment [DOE]. Mentions climate research as outside remit of contemporary MO. Comments on BB. Story of taking Chairman of Scientific Assessment Working Group [SAWG], IPCC. Comments on MT’s role in supporting UK involvement in IPCC; establishment of UK Support Unit [SU] for IPCC SAWG. Story of explaining political function of SAWG to MO colleagues. [2:05:57] Story of first meeting of SAWG, Newnham Courtenay [NC], Oxfordshire, 1989, involving seventy scientists. Mentions division of chapters; role of SU in recruiting scientists; role of Lead Authors; meetings of chapter groups. [2:10:00] Story of meeting of SAWG, March 1990, finalising chapters, including inclusion of results of SM’s coupled ocean-atmosphere model. [2:06:09] Discussion of 1990 IPCC SAWG publication; later publications (1995/2001). Comments on concern to be cautious rather than alarmist in SAWG publications; role of Summary for Policymakers [SFP]. Detailed comments on process of agreeing content of SFPs at intergovernmental meetings (of scientists), including political/economic agendas of representatives of particular countries. [2:26:29] Comments on lack of political influence on UK scientists involved in SAWG, including self. Mentions attendance at later meetings of non-scientific representatives from certain countries, including Saudi Arabia [SA]. Comments on contributions of representatives of developing countries.

  • Description

    Interview with meteorologist, Sir John Houghton

  • Related transcripts

    Sir John Houghton interviewed by Paul Merchant: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

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

  • Metadata record:

    View full metadata for this item