Oral history of British science

Head, Peter (Part 1 of 14)

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  • Shelf mark


  • Subjects

    Civil Engineering

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    The British Library

  • Interviewees

    Head, Peter, 1947- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 1 [1:18:50][Interview One: 21 June 2012] Remarks introducing self: trained as civil engineer; born Birmingham 27 February 1947; moved to London aged 2; parents Vera and Robert; father a civil service clerk for the post office; mother born Coventry; parent's married pre-war, father's wartime service in Africa; older sister; growing up in Evesham Rd in Worcester Park, Stoneleigh, Ewell in Surrey; schooled in Kingston; moves for father's job and larger homes. [02:45] Remarks on father Robert Cyril Head: focused civil servant; closed personality, PH not feeling he knew him well; parent's concentration on sister; died when PH was 25; caravan holidays in Cornwall, by trains, not owning a car; Wadebridge, Padstow, Polzeath, Treyarnon Bay in Cornwall; father's hobbies of household improvements and gardening; talking little about wartime experience; parents meeting through social gatherings around Coventry, PH photos of their early lives. [07:15] Remarks on mother: recently died at 95; kind and caring; beautiful; family figure; charity work; anecdote about getting a job in a paper shop on Ruxley Lane, Stoneleigh, used by singer Frank Ifield; living with PH in last years of life, died shopping. [09:40] Remarks on: inherited interest in people from mother; grandfather a GEC Rugby engineer; father's interst in crystal radio and tape recorders; recording of PH as choirboy in Stoneleigh church, used by BBC; Church of England parish church in Stoneleigh, where PH sang; parents religious outlook; PH enjoying church, adopting Christian values, but not believing in God, enjoying community and singing; PH not musical, failing to learn guitar; PH listening to father's tapes of Rachmaninoff and Sibelius; [17:40] reel to reel tape recorders; 1960s pop music, PH first record bough Elvis Presley's 'All Shook Up', PH more engaged by classical music; PH enjoying model making, a trains and steam engines; needing to work hard for grammar school; sport. [20:33] Remarks on models: aeroplane kits; building a model caravan from scratch; enjoyments in model making; wide interest in why outside world is like it is, shared by PH grandson; not reading much, suspecting he was slightly dyslexic. [24:20] Remarks on scouting: important to PH; becoming scout leader and Queen's Scout; enjoying summer camps across country; few school friends; enjoying practical activities on scout camps; sport; interest in community of scouts. [28:30] Remarks on surroundings in Stoneleigh: South London suburb, many gardens; good railway links; PH bedroom above garage in house, cold conditions without central heating; arguments with sister in teens in 1960s time of transition; PH well behaved growing up. [32:40] Remarks on: elder sister, attended Rosebery School in Epsom, outgoing, strong viewed, friends Pamela and Wendy, distance from sister; formal visits to grandparents in Rugby; limited contact with extended family growing up; postwar focus on people making the most of their individual lives. [36:40] Remarks on wanting to know why: intense interest in everything; wanting to understand the world; influence of physics teacher at Tiffin School in opening up PH's understanding by relating subject to practical world; physics practical classes with prisms and electrics. [42:43] Discussion about school: moving primary schools; passing 11 plus, but not thinking of himself as clever, difficult first years at Tiffin; discovering athletics, developing confidence, becoming deputy head boy; description of Tiffin, red brick grammar school in Kingston, focused on academic results and sport, limited support, corporate punishment, school troop part of school, tough environment, punishments, bullying; house system at Tiffin, PH head of Drake House; brutal aspects of Grammar schooling; [49:34] appeal of physics and maths, lack of appeal of other subjects; enjoying precision of maths and finding solutions; nickname of 'Nutty'; reputation amongst school friends; small circle of friends; parents moving to Leeds, PH staying with a friend in Tadworth during A-levels; PH thoughts on what to do after school; story about PH winning a scholarship after father showing him an article from Daily Telegraph offering a civil engineering scholarship, lack of information about civil engineering; university funding concerns at time. [56:35] Remarks on: PH first in family to attend university, parents pride in him and later work; mother's social climbing ethic; story about how PH came to attend Imperial College after school pushing him to sit Cambridge scholarship exam, involving an extra year at school, which he failed. [1:00:05] Remarks on Imperial College: started in 1966; close to home, but wrenching experience; experiences on first day, arriving at South Kensington residence, meeting lifelong friend Brain Coulston. [1:02:27] Remarks on friend Brain Coulston from: Guisborough, Newcastle; walking West Penine Way with PH; PH family links to Newcastle; differences in outlook on life between PH and Brain Coulston; worked for Corus, commissioned Redcar blast furnace; industrial background; meeting future wives at the same time; wide circle of friends across disciplines. [1:05:53] Further remarks on Imperial College: PH awestruck by prospect of joining Imperial; academically focused; found first year easy after extra school year; bridge playing; athletics, helping with Hyde Park Relay; pleasant experience of living away from home in own space in South Side Hall, near Exhibition Road and Hyde Park; poor 3rd year accommodation outside halls, in a building near Brompton Oratory that Winston Churchill used in youth; [1:11:15] Remarks on social life at Imperial: University College London dances; parties as far West as Chiswick; socialising, drinking but no drugs; anecdote about being shocked at cannabis use in Oxford party; meeting wife at a dance in 1967, who was at Whitelands teacher training college; future wife becoming part of freindship group; attractions to wife when he first met her, married in 1970; [1:15:10] development of relationship with future wife, period of long distance relationship; PH working very hard long hours at university; toughness of civil engineering course.

  • Description

    Interview with civil engineer, Peter Head

  • Related transcripts

    Peter Head interviewed by 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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