Oral history of British science
Humphrey, Nicholas (1 of 13). An Oral History of British Science
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Science and Religion
2016-05-24, 2016-05-31, 2016-06-02, 2016-07-05
The British Library and interviewees' home, Cambridge
Humphrey, Nicholas, 1943- (speaker, male)
Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)
Part 1: [Session one: 24th May 2016] Nicholas Humphrey born 27th March 1943, London. Comments on life of father, including birth (1915, Yorkshire), work of paternal grandfather as engineer and inventor of 'Humphrey Pump' (description of this) and his unsuccessful investment in Aswan Dam, reasons for emigration of paternal grandparents in 1949, father's academic ability including winning of scholarships to Winchester School then University of Cambridge [UOC], father's joining of communist party at UOC (story of he and his friends deciding on their careers in relation to political commitments), father's medical research, (own involvement in left wing politics, especially Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament [CND]), father's career in immunology including service as Director of the National Institute for Medical Research [NIMR], death in 1987 (with related story). Comments on parents' lack of/limited interest in religion, with discussion and stories of paternal grandfather and his sister: "devout Christian" 'great aunt Edith' [GAE]; GAE's work as research chemist and first British woman to be awarded PhD in chemistry. Mentions her 'New Scientist' interview, aged 100. Story of GAE's work for Sanderson's wallpaper company following PhD; her relationship with 'Mr Sanderson'. Comments on presence of scientists in own family, including GAE and maternal grandfather AV Hill. [13:39] Comments on life of mother, including her relations with her father AV Hill, strictness of her upbringing, her work as a psychoanalyst (mentions AVH's view of Freud); mother's relations with siblings who tended to be more dominant, including Polly Hill (later an anthropologist); differences between character of mother and that of siblings; mother's niceness. [18:37] Comments on childhood homes. Story of early memory of experience of bombing in World War Two [WW2]. Description of large house moved to in 1949, including memories of people here including mother, father (with story of observing and conversing with father), Stephen Hawking, story of mural painted by young resident, attic. [28:44] Comments on preparatory school attended: 'Belmont', Mill Hill. Story of attempting to sneak into monastery opposite. [30:12] Comments on time spent, as a child, with mother; mother's work as doctor in old people's home (with story of joining her at work, spending time with particular resident, her clock now owned by self); mother's view of father's "extreme leftwing politics"; mother's political outlook. Mentions story of mother discussing assassination of Margaret Thatcher. Detailed comments on mother's move from being a psychiatrist in the National Health Service to private practice as Freudian psychoanalyst (with related comments on her view of own books). [36:23] Comments on parents' pride in own work against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, including membership of CND, involvement in Aldermaston marches; father work in this area, including medical research and founding of the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons. Story of own BBC Bronowski Memorial Lecture 'Four Minutes to Midnight' (1981) on the psychology of nuclear weapons, resulting in end to this lecture series due to Government pressure on BBC (mentions end to employment at BBC of producer David Paterson). [42:44] Comments on time spent, as a child, with father, including gardening, visits to his laboratory [at/of NIMR], family holidays, with story of father swimming out to sea, little or no discussion of religion, discussion of politics, father's positive/trusting view of others. [48:22] Comments on use of workshop at home. Mentions photography; playing of croquet. [49:16] Comments on maternal grandparents AV Hill and Margaret Keynes, including stories of Sunday tea parties at their house in Highgate, presence of German Jewish scientists supported by grandfather. [55:16] Story of recent visit to maternal grandparents' house, noting alterations made to it by new owner; move of maternal grandparents from London following suicide of their son Maurice Hill [MH] in 1966. Comments on own relations with MH, with story. Further comments on AV Hill, including his character, background, education, work as MP. [1:02:33] Comments on maternal grandmother, including her background and education, academic success of her siblings (including John Maynard Keynes), her homosexuality, her marriage to AV Hill. [1:06:50] Further comments on suicide of MH. Story of treatment of Hill family, following MH's suicide, by psychoanalyst Marie Singer; Dian Fossey's [DF] own therapy with Marie Singer (including comments on DF's racism).
Life story interview with Professor of Psychology Dr Nicholas Humphrey