Oral history of British science

Mark Richards (1 of 7). An Oral History of British Science

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  • Recording date

    2013-08-01, 2013-08-20, 2013-09-24, 2013-10-08, 2013-11-22

  • Recording locations

    British Library, London

  • Interviewees

    Richards, Mark, 1970- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: Mark Richards born in Nottingham, UK, April 1970. Mentions parents’ emigration from Jamaica in 1960s; 3 older sisters; 1 younger brother. Detailed comments on life of father, including own picture-framing business (shop and market stall) in Nottingham (linked to occupation as carpenter in Jamaica), father’s preference for self-employment, father’s ownership of cafe. Mentions parents’ separation (self aged 5) and father’s work as landlord of public houses in Birmingham. [2:02] Comments on father’s brief status as employee immediately following emigration to UK, in Smith Crisps factory; father’s pride in self-employed status and influence of this on self and siblings. [2:47] Comments on father’s life in Jamaica, including 9 siblings, childhood with grandmother and 2 cousins; limits to own knowledge of details of father’s life. Mentions role of own visits to paternal grandmother in Jamaica, until her death in 2006, in providing details of father’s life. [5:07] Comments on life of mother, including childhood in rural Jamaica, 13 siblings, emigration to UK to train as nurse in 1960s. Mentions mother’s siblings/cousins/aunts in UK. Comments on mother’s move to Nottingham following 2 years in Ladbroke Grove [LG], London. [6:47] Comments on effect on own aspirations of awareness that mother’s cousins in UK included a doctor and a teacher. [7:52] Comments on mother’s experiences in London, before moving to Nottingham, including crowding/sharing of accommodation in LG. Mentions mother’s death, 1997. Further comments on mother’s experience of London in 1960s. [11:03] Comments on parents’ meeting in Nottingham through churchgoing. [12:36] Stories of time spent as a child with father, including marking of cards for football betting pool (‘the pools’). Mentions parents’ nickname for self as a child: Dr Bibbinson; long working hours of father. [14:58] Comments on time spent as a child at father’s workplaces. Mentions mother’s encouragement of continued relations with father following separation. [16:30] Story of mother’s decision to buy and renovate homes in which to raise self and siblings as a single parent; mother’s resistance to any role for social services in upbringing of self and siblings. Comments on own admiration for mother’s determination and resourcefulness as an independent working mother. Story of mother’s encouragement of eldest sister to buy her own house, aged 17; mother’s adoption of adult with mental health problems following eldest sisters’ move to their own house; mother’s purchase/development of family home and then larger house as home for homeless people. Comments on effect of mother’s life on own understanding of ‘life’ as variable, with periods of good and bad fortune; mother’s ability to understand and interact with people of all ages/backgrounds, with related story. Detailed comments on mother’s approach to helping homeless people. [25:37] Comments on time spent, as a child, with mother, with related story of winning box of chocolates at jumble sale; mother’s encouragement of own educational achievement; effect of mother on continuing close relations between self and siblings. [29:15] Description of first childhood home, with related stories, including experience of putting metal scissors into electricity socket. Comments on front-room in second childhood home, including metered television. [34:59] Description of decoration of childhood homes, including Caribbean influences. Mentions ‘grip’ (trunk). [36:56] Comments on childhood toys, including bike and Six Million Dollar Man action figure; tendency for self and friends to spend time making music using improvised instruments. Mentions reggae records played on gramophone at home. Comments on own churchgoing as a child, including importance of music in Pentecostal church. Mentions chemistry set bought for self by mother. [39:59] Further comments on/description of process of making music with friends in late 1970s/early 1980s, involving improvised instruments and ‘toasting’ (chatting over rhythms). Comments on access to ‘sound system’ later, as teenager, allowing MCing over ‘version sides’ of records. [42:34] Story of use of second-hand encyclopaedia called ‘The Book of Knowledge’ by mother, self and siblings. Comments on effect of school English classes in encouraging/directing the reading of novels, including To Kill a Mockingbird; own tendency to read non-fiction books (mentions autobiographies of Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X). [46:22] Comments on own view, as a child, of Pentecostal churchgoing. Story of development of own questioning of religion, especially its leaders/rules. [50:46] Story of delivering own testimony in church as a child, involving electrical similes. Comments on own spiritual outlook, not allied to any particular religion. [53:00] Comments on parents’ expectations of self and siblings; mother’s method of promoting good behaviour, with related stories. [56:20] Mentions father’s role in location of family home in attractive area of Nottingham. Description of composition (class, ethnicity) of secondary school, attended early-mid 1980s. Story of reaction of teacher and pupils to own achievement of ‘top marks’ in a chemistry assessment at secondary school [aged 13/14], and effect of this reaction on own approach to school work involving competition with ‘the boffins’. Detailed comments on this story in terms of own motivation/attraction of self to science. [1:02:45] Story of English teacher’s surprise at own winning of place in O-Level set; own presentation on rap music in poetry class. Comments on these stories in terms of own belief in importance of meritocracy. [1:07:36] Further comments on competition with ‘the boffins’. Comments on friendship with one ‘boffin’, Barnaby, including story of building structure of books and of conversation about/analytical representation of relations between racism and prejudice (extended to evil and immorality by Barnaby). Story of conversation with fellow pupil about A-Level grades. Comments on own increased studiousness towards end of A-Levels/beginning of degree at University of Manchester [UOM]. [1:14:22] Comments on context of racism in Nottingham, early-mid 1980s. Mentions ‘National Front’ [NF] organisation; riots. Story of father being denied opportunity to purchase house in particular part of Nottingham, related to racism. Brief story of rumour that teachers from own secondary school had attended NF protest march. Story of experience of racism disguised in singing of assembly song. Mentions feeling that certain teachers were complicit in racism. [1:19:40] Comments on experience of racism at primary school, with related story. [1:21:59] Discussion of class differences at secondary school. Comments on importance of free school meals for own family. Detailed comments on usefulness to self in later life of own relations with children from different backgrounds at secondary school. [1:24:56] Comments on teaching and learning in science at secondary school, with related stories; current concerns about disadvantages of teaching of ‘combined science’ by single teacher; own choice of A-Levels (mathematics, chemistry, economics); interest in physics developed through intensive physics course at beginning of chemistry degree, UOM and through preference for physical and theoretical chemistry (over organic chemistry). Comments on specialisation in spectroscopy during degree; PhD involving spectroscopy. [1:34:12] Comments on ambition, as A-Level Student, to pursue career as chemical engineer on oil rigs with related story; effect of ‘working class’ background on care taken to choose degree with clear application. Story of conversation with teacher concerning decision to read chemistry rather than economics. Comments linking own interest in economics with parents’ skill as business people. [1:37:18] Further comments on own outlook as A-Level student considering higher education, including extent of material ambitions, belief that chemistry was more likely than mathematics to lead to a ‘good job’. [1:39:57] Positive comments on encouragement of parents. Comments on inability of parents to advise in detail on degree choices or on preparation for a technical career.

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