I was born on the 19th December 1935 in the Married Families Hospital in Mount Batten Air Force Station near Plymouth. T.E. Lawrence had died less than a year previously. My father Syd had known him in Mount Batten several years before, and in other locations. My father had served in the army and then for many years in the R.A.F. When I was born his rank was Warrant Officer, the highest non commissioned rank. My father's autobiography deals with these matters. I know that we then had some time in the R.A.F. Station at Abingdon, near Oxford, and Kenley, south of London. I have always thought that at the age of two we moved to Singapore, but that cannot be true, because I believe we spent only three years together in Singapore. This would mean we went to Singapore in 1938 or 39, when I was four.
My sister Margery is 29 months older than me.
I have some memory of an hotel where we first stayed in Singapore, and a lot of recollection of our house later at 15 Tanglin Road. There was a dip in the road which we could see from the back windows. The annual rainfall was 200 inches. When the rain fell, first the cars got stuck, but the last thing to get through was the rickshaws. I remember the bats flying about in the house, and later the bombing by the Japanese. One landed quite near to our house, and shook the paint off the walls. A Chinese family worked for us, and lived in the back of our house. There were three generations, the youngest being A I. The grandmother was A King, and I also remember A Heyah. I remember my school, King's School, and the trench they dug in the garden as air raid shelter where we went during the bombing.
Two weeks before the Japanese captured Singapore, my father got a place for my mother, sister and me on one of the last boats to get away from Singapore. The ship had been bombed before we got onto it, and five Australians killed. For this reason, it only went to Colombo, Ceylon. Here we were put up in a requisitioned hospital up in the hills.
My memory tells me that our ship was one of the last four, two and two, to get away from Singapore. One of them (from the other two) was sunk with one survivor, or perhaps none. My sister recently said our ship was bombed while we were on it, but I have no recollection of that.
From Ceylon, my mother had the choice of England, Australia or South Africa. Since my father had been so well received in the first world war when torpedoed off Cape Town, she chose South Africa, and a second boat took us to Durban. We were put up in a hotel 100 miles south down the coast in Margate. We spent six weeks there. Before leaving the boat from Ceylon, my mother saw an advert in the paper (which a sailor dropped – we were not allowed off the boat because of an epidemic in Durban) for a job in Cape Town University, and she got the post by letter. Some of the lecturers had gone off to the war.
We got on a train which took three days and two nights to get to Cape Town. The train stopped for us to have meals, but we slept on the train. Professor Brown, head of Mathemtics Department, was at Cape Town station to meet us. My mother Enid was the first woman lecturer to work in the university. He put us in a boarding house, Rosendal (now gone), in Rondebosch, on the main road in Rondebosch below the university. Every Sunday we would take the train to Cape Town and visit the forces' Married Families Club. On one side of a door was a notice; "Missing, reported killed". On the other side of the door was a notice "Missing, reported prisoner." After a year, but later my mother said it was two years, my father appeared in the list of reported prisoner. The strain on my mother must have been enormous. That day was a very happy day.
My sister and I went along the road to Rustenberg Girls' School, which took a few boys in the first form. Problems developed, because I would give my sister the slip on the way home along a busy road, so I was transferred to Rondebosch Boys' Preparatory School (RBPS, Roast Beef Pork Sausages), where I spent three years. I learnt Afrikaans every second day. We took holidays in Montagu and French Hoek, both of which I returned to visit in around 2000, 56 years later. (I have also returned to and again slept in the train which took us from Durban to Cape Town, now owned by the Kulper family and stationary in Robertson.) We lived mostly in Rondebosch, in the Ormonde Hotel (now gone) by the station and in the home of Sister Botha, but also for a short while in Claremont.
I had a mastoid problem, which had been lethal only a few years before. However, now we had the miracle drug M&B , the precursor of penicillin, which made survival possible. It had only arrived a little before, in 1938. Operating then was dreadful. A mask was put over the nose and chloroform poured on. I had dreadful nightmares of a certain kind for years, and found that others under chloroform had a similar nightmare - horrible music and dancing, lighted figures. Nowadays anaesthetic is so much better. The first time the wound was dressed, I was put under again. Then not long after I was again put asleep to take my tonsils out, which was often done at the time. They were partly blamed for the mastoid.
The strain on my mother must have been enormous, risking having only one child, not two, for her husband to come back to.
One day in 1945, when I was ten, my mother told me we were getting on a ship to England next day, but I must not tell anyone. Cape Town was full of notices saying "Don't talk about Ships or Shipping" http://www.fad.co.za/Resources/memoirs/nicholson.htm . I sat next to another boy in class, knowing that my desk would be empty next day, and the children and the teacher didn't know. We got on the Mauretania, one of the four largest ships in the world. Two walks round the deck was a long walk. I was put with boys, away from my mother and sister, in a cabin for two but now with ten bunk beds. I tried to go around with the others, but they were older than me and I became isolated. My sister's birthday, May 20, as on the boat. It was between VE Day and VJ Day. Even after VE Day we still had to have the porthole closed in stifling Equator weather for fear of Japanese submarines. We stopped at Freetown but were not allowed ashore because of yellow fever. We saw the west coast of Ireland, and finally docked in Liverpool after ten days at sea. England seemed very primitive to me, with men manually handling barges on the canals.
Mother, sister and I went by train down to Brighton, and lived with my mother's parents in the house they had had built some years before, Brynelen, 59 Withdean Crescent, Brighton. My grandparents were new to me, as were all my other relatives, since we left England when I was four. I was sent to school nearby at Loder Road Primary School, while my sister went to Varndean Girls' School. My grandfather, and later my mother, both taught at Varndean Boys. The boy next to me in class asked me where I had come from. When I replied; "Cape Town," he said; "You haven't." The boy next to me at lunch told me he and his dad had lived in Cape Town in a shack in the jungle. He regaled me with all their adventures in the jungle, including snakes.
The Brighton schooling had suffered from the bombing, and I was way ahead. Also, the children were from a poor area. So soon I was transferred to the higher, top class in the school. Thus began my schooling with children a year older than me, which continued.
After two or three months my father arrived in a taxi early one morning. We had not seen him for nearly four years, since I was six. We welcomed him, and then went off to school. When I told the boy next to me in class that my father had arrived home, he asked me why I had come to school. It had not occurred to me or my mother that I might stay at home.
Stories on the Japanese atrocities were coming out. For ten years my father did not tlak about Japan. My father went with us to the sea front, and he would dive into the requisitioned hotels and tell them he had just arrived from Japan, and had they any chocolate? He would then come back across the road and give us chocolate, which was rationed. He himself was on double rations in his ration book. As I remember, I don't think we could go on the beach, which was still covered in barbed wire to repel an invasion.
I know that when my father was sent on a "refresher" course at Cranfield, we went to Sleaford nearby for a time, staying at an hotel. In 1942 he had been Signals Officer in Seletar Aerodrome, Singapore, but due to the war he didn't know about radar. He obviously needed a crash course.
As always, life was not good with the grandparents, and we were glad when my father was "posted" to Middle Wallop Aerodrome, Hampshire. There our family life returned after a five year gap, in No. 5 OMQ (Officers' Married Quarters). My mother pressured the headmaster of Andover Grammar School, Mr. Denyer, to let me take the 11+ entrance exam a year early, rather than spend a single year in an interim school. Since the 11+ exam had already taken place, my mother Enid took me from Brighton to Andover for a special, late exam. It was invigilated by the headmaster. I suspect that my mother's impressive academic credentials carried me through this tortuous path, rather than merely my own efforts. Thus I carried on, small for my age, with children a year older.
I was put in the A class, there being also a B class. Roy Palmer was better at maths than me. He would score 96, I 86, and the third pupil 76. I think it was very useful for me to encounter a pupil so early who was better at maths than I was. I wonder what happened to him? I performed reasonably but not remarkably in all subjects.
One winter during our stay in Middle Wallop was extremely harsh. The water froze in the underground pipe leading to our house. My father Syd dug a trench and lit a fire by the outside wall along its path to unfreeze it. During the night, pipe after pipe in the roof would burst with a loud report. Every blade of grass had ice collected round it to a radius of half an inch, making the countryside look like fairyland. The road to Andover broke up and the buses stopped going, so I cycled the six miles to Andover to school. I don't know what my sister did about it. I remember that she did not cycle with me, but I went on my own.
I played right back in the school under 14 team, which involved travel to local schools, including, I believe, Marlborough School.
Our Latin teacher was so strict it was dreadful. A pupil did not dare move an arm. So I dropped Latin when I transferred to Holyhead County School, only to have to take it up again there in the sixth form when I decided I wanted to go to Cambridge, who demanded Latin nearly up to O level standard. Half way through the sixth form I took and passed O Level Latin.
Mr. Ossipov was a refugee from Tsarist Russia, and taught us mathematics. He had a totally wrong attitude to maths, and I reported the problem to my mother, who had passed top in her maths finals in London University, gaining the Lubbock Prize. Her name at the time, 1924 and 1925, was Enid Jones. Among his other errors, Ossipov bullied pupils so that they spent most of their time on maths, thereby getting good results. The head, Mr. Denyer, a classics scholar, would be unable to see that anything was wrong. However, I saw that I was going to become Pig in the Middle between my mother, a talented mathematician and a qualified teacher, and Ossipov. So I was very relieved that after three or four years, in 1950, my father was "posted" to Valley RAF, in Anglesey. We looked on the map in the encyclopaedia, and saw that Anglesey was empty, which it more or less turned out to be.
First we rented rooms in Mrs. Williams' house in Caergeiliog. She always had the radio blasting out just below my bed upstairs, so it was a relief when my father "requisitioned" "The Bungalow", Bodffordd, on the main Bangor road 12 miles from Holyhead.
My sister and I had been put into Holyhead County School, the first ever comprehensive, with 1,000 pupils after the 350 of Andover Grammar School. Instead of classes A and B, they went from A to F. Thus, half of my secondary schooling was in an ancient grammar school, founded 1569, and the second half in the first comprehensive (all calibre) school. The school was not good, with many teachers who I think were unqualified. I was a year young, and the Labour Government decided that under-age pupils could not take O Levels (Ordinary Levels) until they reached 16. So I went into the sixth form knowing that a year later I would have to take exams in a variety of subjects.
I could not make head or tail of the Chemistry teacher, or of my text book. I could not find out what a "gram mole" was. I felt I was heading for trouble if I took the usual Maths, Physics, Chemistry for A level (in the sixth form, usually for age 16 to 18). However, fortunately it was discovered that one could take Pure Maths, Applied Maths and Physics, so I avoided Chemistry.
Sam Richardson, my maths teacher, gained the third from top first (as against my mother's top) in Nottingham University, who took London exams. He knew what he was talking about. However, I decided that I must not listen to the Physics teachers, who were no good. They would not give me the syllabus, so I resorted to working my way through our three Physics text books. However, most of my time was spent on maths.
During my second year in the sixth form, Sam Richardson gave me a total of fourteen lessons in the week. On Monday, when I think I had five, I always went home with a headache. For maths, I had Sam, whom we called Dixie, an excellent teacher at school, and my mother at home. To some degree my father, a Signals Officer, could help me with physics. So in spite of the poor school, I was very well served. This led to my gaining a State Scholarship in a year when 2,000 were granted nationwide. This was an entree to any university in Britain except Oxford or Cambridge.
I liked ball games, but not racing. However, each year I would enter one race. One year, Bassett, a great gorilla of a man, discovered that I was the only person entered for the 440 yards race. After the Victor Ludorum, he inveigled himself into the race. On the day, with the whole school watching, I was pitted against Bassett. At that age, the 440 was not a sprint. I started off on the outside lane, running a planned race, and Bassett came storming past me. I then sprinted, but could not catch up with him. I trailed in long after him. This was a terrible blow to my self esteem, and I began training. I had already been doing a lot of bicycling and mountaineering - Snowdon being only 20 miles away - but now I exercised in earnest. I carried on for sixty years. That is why, when disaster struck when I was 72, I was over-fit, and survived. See "17 months" . I asked the surgeon why I had not died, and he replied; "Because you were so fit." My G.P. said I had the constitution of an ox.
On my sit-up-and-beg bicycle from Middle Wallop I cycled from Mona, in the middle of Angeley, to Bettws y Coed, down to Llandudno, and home along the coast - 110 miles I think. I dreamt of a racing bike, however. One evening I came home to find it in the hall; a Raleigh Lenton. My father had got it for me. Next Saturday I cycled 135 miles, but everything on the brand new bike kept working loose that day. However, the most I did was when I was about 20 - 169 miles. I finally lost the Raleigh when I returned from the USA in 1968. Many years later, when I was 59, I wondered if I had deteriorated, and so cycled 206 miles (on another bicycle), showing that I was fitter than when 23, when the most I cycled was 169 miles. Disaster hit me 13 years later, but I survived. All my life I told doctors I was outside the normal range for fitness. That was thanks to Bassett.
We could see the Snowdon range from our house, and the perfect day for me was to cycle from Mona to Idwal Cottage, do the Idwal Skyline - Y Garn, Glydrs Fach and Fawr and perhaps Tryfan, and cycle home. I think I got the Idwal skyline down to four hours.
If there were three of us conversing at school, the other two would speak to me in English, but to each other in Welsh. I later came to say that I was more at home in the USA than in Wales. However, paradoxically, the school reunions I went to were Holyhead, and I found I was very welcome. I then learnt that they were on the defensive, because they lived in Holyhead, but I had been all over the world.
Because of Bassett, I later won the 440 yards in the Anglesey County Sports, and the 880 years in the two county sports in Bangor. The first win meant I was in the county team to race in the Welsh National Sports in Aberystwyth. The coach took us to Aberystwyth, where I was outclassed. The masters had told us we had to leave early because a member of the team had to catch the last bus to Amlwch. However, he himself told us that that was not true. So all the boys, including the captain, hatched a plot to arrive some two hours late. I was not keen to do so, but showed solidarity, and went off with two younger boys to play clock golf to get through the time. When we came back two hours late, we found that everyone else had arrived on time, and waited two hours. That meant that I, a prefect, had misled two younger boys.
I think I found out later that on a previous trip to the National Sports, a student had got out of the coach for a walk and fallen off a cliff, ending up dead. So misbehaviour on these trips was not regarded as minor.
Next Monday I went to the Head, and received little sympathy. Then at Assembly, I took the precaution of removing my prefect's badge. The head called me up in front of the school, and told the school what I had done. He told them he was withdrawing my references to Cambridge etc. In the event he did not. After all, I was the chance for the school to get someone into Cambridge for the first time.
The other main scandal I got involved in was when we were in a little room on our own "revising". There was a trap door into the roof, and I went in there and along the rafters. The others shut the door on me, and in the dark I put my foot through the ceiling into the Domestic Science classroom. The teacher got very excited and ordered all her students out of the room. We went round the corridor, and I said I had not done it. But then I looked down and saw all the white on my trousers. The Head turned up and said I would pay for the damage. However, I suspect he saw it all as funny, and I never had to pay. The teacher was a large woman, and excitable.
Miss Bullough, our English teacher, convinced me that I could not write. (Similarly, art teachers convinced me I could not do art, so I never did.) It took me decades to get over Miss Bullough, and realise that I wrote well.
During "Speech Day", the head boy and head girl would give a speech/vote of thanks to the guest speaker, who was Cledwyn Hughes, the Labour MP for Anglesey. Our year we did not have a head boy selected, and the head asked me to do it. Miss Bullough asked me to give her what I proposed to say, and then altered it massively. One key point was that I thought the speech should be short, and she insisted on it being long. I also thought the teacher should not have written it. I asked the head to support me in this, but he refused to. I dug my heels in, and avoided her for the critical days, ignoring messages telling me to go and see her. On the day, she could not stand the worry about what I might say, and left the hall - a local chapel. My brief speech went down very well. I think everyone except Bullough and the deputy head preferred brevity. The deputy head got at Jean Davies, who seconded my speech in Welsh, and it was much longer.
My father having retired in February, my parents stayed on in Anglesey until June so as to facilitate my taking A level exams. They then went back to Brighton, where my mother's father begged them to look after him in failing health.
At the end of Anglesey, my sister and I cycled up to the Lake District, then across to the east and then down to Barnsley, there to visit our great aunt Hope, who was on her death bed. We met her walking down the road.
My mother had gone to look after her, and her mother Edith came too. She had snubbed Hope her sister for decades, ever since the third sister, the peacemaker, Louie, died. They soon had a blazing row, which revived Hope. That was why we met her in the road, not in bed. It was thanks to her hated sister.
The Welsh results came out before those in England, and gave me an advantage. I immediately applied to every college in Oxford and every college in Cambridge. Pembroke College, Cambridge, gave me an interview and then rejected me. Then Mr. Sandbach at Trinity College, Cambridge, accepted me without interview on condition that I pass another minor maths exam, which I fully expected to do. The entrance was for three years later, the idea being that it was better if students did their two year National Service before going up to college. I was too young for National Service, having left school at seventeen. So I began a course at Brighton Technical College to cover the first year or so. However, the Principal of the college came to the workshop where I was doing Engineering Workshop Practice, and told me that it was possible to get early call-up, so as to be ready for Cambridge a year earlier. So I left his college and went into the RAF before the prescribed age of 18. My intake were some of the last to have to do National Service.
Although I had lived on RAF Stations in married quarters, I was shocked when I myself became an airman. The instructions told us to bring minimum civilian clothing, so I did. Then we were left standing in formation in the rain for long periods each day. This was at Cardington, the induction centre. You could see the enormous hangars for the airships. After a few weeks we were moved to Basic Training at Hednesford, north of Walsall. The eight weeks there were appalling. The drill corporals were sadistic and covered their behaviour as supposedly being disciplinarian. However, they were so rude to their officers that this was obviously not true. I further deteriorated, trying to get fit enough to report sick. Finally I succeeded in going through the arduous process of reporting sick, and was put in hospital. So I "passed out" from hospital, and went home to Brighton for two weeks. However, it took me more than the two weeks to recover from the experience. At Hednesford, the food was appalling. The NAAFI was always closed. We were out in the country, with no other way to get food. One day I was on cookhouse duty, and 200 rashers of bacon were cooked. Airmen were at the counter asking for more food, and refused. I was told to take the rashers and give them to the pig swill man. A decade or two later, I heard about scandals in other basic training camps, where the food had been sold off, but not about Hednesford. One meal was potato mash and cheese-and-potato mash; nothing else. The officer came round asking for complaints, which was ridiculous.
In interviews, aiming to be an engineer, I said I wanted to be a tradesman, not an officer. The tow possible officer positions were Stores or Education. My interviewers could not understand someone preferring to stay in the ranks.
A mistake was made by the bureaucrats in RAF Cheltenham. Those adjudged capable of taking the radar or wireless fitter course were wrongly sent to St. Athan, Glamorgan, on the Airframe Fitter course. I was one of them, and began a six month technical training. Towards the end, a senior officer came round and was given one airman to interview. It turned out that this airman had been studying aeronautical engineering at Imperial College. He said he had wanted the Radar course. When the officer asked if there were any more like him, he replied that the whole class were. However, it was too late to transfer us all.
After a couple of weeks on leave after St. Athan, I was transferred to Fassberg, near Goslar, in central Germany. This was because I had asked for a home posting so that I would be able to take the outstanding maths exam to get into Cambridge. My father told me afterwards that it was often the case that the (Cheltenham) clerks would transfer airmen to the opposite of what they had asked for, when they were themselves asked for a preference. The trick was to not ask for what you really wanted, and then you had a chance of getting it.
The boat took me from Harwich to Hoek van Holland, then on by train to Fassberg. It had been a German air station, very i9mportant during the Berlin airlift, and was buried in the forest Luneberg Heide. The forest was flat, so there were no views. I was there for a very depressing 15 months.
On arrival, I promptly bought a Deutsche Fahrad, and cycled through the forest a great deal. I also took my bicycle to the West Hartz Mountains and stayed at Youth Hostels. The border with the Russian zone went through the middle of the Hartz Mountains, so I saw the sentries at the top of high lookout towers. My own station, Fassberg, was the nearest to the Russians except for those in Berlin. There were three parallel fast roads 20 miles direct from us to the border, so I was very concerned that there seemed to be no preparation for a move by the Russians, although 1955 was a tense international period. There was no loudspeaker system to say the Russians had attacked. I decided to wait for 20 minutes for instructions, and then cycle away. The trouble was, the tree trunks in the forest were too thin, and I would be seen from a long distance.
I was put into the bays in ASF, where we did the second line servicing. Ejection seats, wheels and fuel tanks were my personal responsibility. I was always fearful that when I cut the locking wire securing the ring on the wheel hub, a piece might fly off into a tyre nearby.
Standing outside the ASF hangar one day, I saw one of our planes passing by explode. Two planes, Venom fighters, caught fire that day, but the other one managed to land. The other pilot died.
There was a panic in ASF, everyone wanting to know the number of the plane that exploded. I went to my records and found that apparently I had just installed the main fuel tank. It was a relief when I later found that the plane had another number.
I was one of those detailed to go out and collect the pieces of the pilot, but I was withdrawn from the list at the last minute. My replacement, whopicked up a glove and found a hand in it, was resentful, believing I have manipulated my way out of the detail.
It was investigated, and found that when a Venom did a roll, a pint or two of fuel was released from the main fuel tank because the pressure relief valves were set wrong. Fuel tank, engine and pilot were all close together in the Venom.
Finally, after a miserable, dreary fifteen months, my demob date came close. We had paper 2nd TAF (Tactical Air Force) money, so I had to go to HQ to get it changed into real money. However, Accounts had lost a lot of money in their accounting, and were not interested. I sat on the floor in the corridor reading a book. The SWO (Station Warrant Officer, in charge of discipline) came and stood over me. He told me to go into his office. In the resulting interview, he held his bloated face inches form mine, which was repulsive. I did not think of shutting my eyes. "What were you doing sitting on the floor in the Queen's uniform?" - "I had been waiting a long time, and that was the limit." - "A serving man knows no limit. What would your father think. He wouldn't forgive you." – “My father is a Squadron Leader. I am sure he will forgive me." - "What were you in HQ for?" I recounted my need to convert into real money. - "You are being demobilised then." - "I had intended to, sir." - "Here am I, up in the air." I expressed astonishment. So he said it again and again, more loudly. Then; "Are you deaf?" - "No, sir."
The trick was that in earlier days I feared going "over the wall" - being punished by incarceration - but now I didn't, because after incarceration there would not be time for me to be sentenced to more punishment. So it was the one time I could have fun, just before demob. He finally said; "We will see you tomorrow, then."
I knew he was likely to lie in wait for me and delay me so that I would miss my train home to demob in England. As a result, I had to farm out my paper money at Hoek van Holland, and collect the real money back from other airmen in Harwich. Fortunately, it all came back.
Customs were wise to the idea of hiding a diamond ring, which was taxed in England, inside a bottle of Brylcream hair cream. One man I heard of had a bottle of Brylcream, and after passing through customs he found a diamond ring in his new bottle, after a swap by Customs.
I carried three big kit bags, which was too much for my slightly injured leg, injured during a football match. Later it became clear that internal bleeding continued in the lower calf. I registered sick, and so was allowed to hobble along on my own rather than in formation in RAF Innsworth, near Cheltenham, during the lengthy demob process. When I got home to Brighton, our family doctor sent me to the hospital. I believe someone had recently died from a growth in their leg, so they took no chances, and made a long cut more or less from knee to foot, which is still very clear. Before the operation I had a lot of doctors at the bottom of my bed. However, then they found only a clot of blood, they lost interest.
It was wonderful to be home after three weeks. Although I could not walk, I could cycle, and went cycling up in the South Downs above Brighton. The cut began to open up. Extraordinarily, our doctor pulled the sides together with sticking plaster, which worked.
I failed to get Trinity to accept me a year early in 1955, so I had a year on my hands. I was going to study Engineering. After graduation, a graduate engineer was then expected to do a shortened two year "apprenticeship", as opposed to the usual five years. So we got the idea of my doing one of those years immediately, before college. My uncle Canon Stevens was Industrial Chaplain to the Bishop of Birmingham, and had very good links with the Birmingham firm Lucas. He got me into Lucas for the year. He also found a room for me in the Snow Hill Y.M.C.A., now a doss house for the homeless.
So began a year attending one or other branch or workshop in the company, which was the largest in the auto industry, making all the electrical equipment for all brands of cars. One month I was in the machine shop with all the automatic capstans. They had oil pouring over the cutting took, and it evaporated. I was appalled at the pall of oil fumes over the whole place. The men wore clogs and no socks, because shoes were wrecked by the oil. I wanted to get those men away from the fumes, and became interested in the idea of automatic control of machine tools. Later, while at college, I spent six weeks in Edinburgh in the Ferranti branch that was developing just that - the first in the world.
At that time, 1955, city smog was appalling in British cities. I remember one day I decided to cycle to visit my great aunt a few miles away, I nearly reached her, but towards the end I had to cross a cross roads. Even though I used to cycle standing up with my head poked forward, I could not see enough of the kerb to be able to see whether it was straight or curved, so I could not go out and across the crossroads. I had to turn round and cycle back to the Y.M.C.A.
I thought that by taking up engineering, I would have to spend my life in cities, where engineering was. In the event, I went into electronics, and electronics companies took over stately homes in the countryside, so I had a much better life than I had expected. However, the prospect of having to attend work for 49 or 50 weeks of the year for the next 40 years was not pleasant. The working day for staff was 37 and a half hours per week.
In 1959, on leaving Cambridge, Gordon Scarrott , head of R&D, gave me a job at Ferranti, Manchester. The first computer I worked on was the Ferranti Sirius Computer . (Also here and Wikipedia .) I did some of the design, including the “divide” instruction, which was achieved by successive subtraction. It had magnetostrictive delay line memory, and I designed the replacement, the magnetic toroid core memory, which was never actually used. Each bit of memory had a toroidal magnetic core which was magnetised in a clockwise direction for a “one” and anti-clockwise for a “zero”. This was much better than our delay line memory.
Publish or Perish or Both. http://www.ivorcatt.co.uk/x435.htm
This section was written in 23 August 1992.
The telephone rang. "This is Clive
Sinclair. We have received a letter from you about your invention, and I
would like to talk to you about it. When would it be convenient for me to
It was ten years since I had patented
Spiral, and many years since government funded projects had proved its
feasibility. These projects had been at Brunel University, Middlesex Polytehcnic and RSRE Malvern. No hi-tec
company had taken it up except Burroughs, now called Unisys, who had spent a
third of a million pounds proving that it was viable. At that point,
high-level politics at company headquarters in Detroit had blocked further
work. Fortunately they had undertaken the work without securing my patents in
any way, so I had a clean property to offer Sinclair, and with it a world
stumbled on it. My career development required that
Heaviside be revived. The discovery of an unpublished biography written in
1950 by his best friend Searle would be a major element in the resuscitation
of Heaviside. I had completed editing this biography with Freda's help some
years ago, but then she had blocked its publication giving specious reasons.
This was the first clear evidence that she was attacking my career, which had
begun to nourish her envy.
Selling the Crown Jewels
"Would you buy a diamond from a man
who came to the back door and offered it to you for two pounds?"
I told Sinclair that I must have royalties, and that was my main interest. Once I had said that, he knew that I was not a con artist, and he could go for buying me out, a course which would give him a much cleaner situation later on. So this is what happened, leading to my offer to sell out for two million pounds plus a job at a salary of thirty thousand pounds a year, this last having been suggested to me by Bill Miller.
These ideas are partly proved by the fact that, when later on I walked out from a deal which would give me one hundred and fifty thousand pounds, leaving Sinclair and his Managing Director empty handed, Sinclair next day was very happy when he signed an increased deal giving me two hundred thousand pounds in cash. By walking out, I had enabled him to demonstrate the importance of the matter to his staff.
[written by Ivor Catt in 1991 about events in the early eighties.]
This was the biggest prize of my life. It was my chance to make a major impact on the industry and also make a lot of money. The latter was unimportant, because if Spiral achieved its potential I would be wealthy anyway. One does not create a multi-billion dollar industry and remain a pauper. However, the very process of appearing indifferent to financial gain for myself could scupper the project, in the same way as being too grasping could scupper the project. I had to walk the broad path between these two dangers, this broad path probably being flanked by two hundred thousand pounds on one side and two million plus royalties on the other.
First I went for two million plus royalties, and Clive Sinclair argued for less. Then I used Bill Miller as adviser. By good fortune, David Simpson, the Scottish President of Gould Corporation, a four billion dollar hi-tec American company, was friendly with both Bill and Clive, both of whom were trying to get him onto the board of their companies. Bill in his turn used David Simpson as honest broker between himself and Sinclair. In a negotiation, if both parties have access to an honest broker, their difficulties are more or less over.
We reached the point where Sinclair had upped his offer to two hundred thousand pounds plus stock options, giving a deal worth half a million pounds at that time. However, Simpson told Bill, who told me, that Clive was willing to go to double, and that I should hold out for a couple of weeks.
It was at this point that the enemy within played a crucial role. [My son] Malcolm told her [my wife] that he was only pretending to support me, and by this means and by eavesdropping he discovered that Freda [my wife, whom I later divorced], whom I had totally cut off from the negotiations, was about to approach Sinclair with information that I was mentally deranged, and that he should negotiate with her. Malcolm said I would have to close the deal immediately, and forego the second half million pounds. So I closed the deal at two hundred thousand pounds cash plus stock options. In this one episode, Freda fended off half a million pounds which was about to flow into her own family. However, from her point of view, control of the family was perhaps more important than half a million pounds.
[oct98 In the event, the judge confiscated all my assets in the divorce action.]
[oct98. See a very similar situation in Lillian Hellman's play "Toys in the Attic".]
In July 2009 I stumbled on material in my files which show how dreadful was the "conspiracy" evolving around me. My then wife Freda kept inviting a psychiatrist called Dr. Brian Robertson into our house. Sometimes he would be there at 2am. He was convinced that I would become violent unless I took one of two drugs. He kept pressing me over these drugs. I could not throw him out, because that would have been violent. Previously, because of Freda's persistent fantasising about violence in the family, which a self-respecting radical feminist has to be experiencing, she one day asked if she could do anything to improve the fmaily situation. I replied that she could stop this groundless talk about violence. She agreed. Rather than sign a document saying "There is no violenhce in this fmaily," she rather signed the statement "Violoence is not an issue in this fmaily," counter-signed by our adult children. [Blow me, some years later she went to the cour tsecretly and had me ousted form my hjome on a perjured charge of Domestic Violence. Shen I showed the signed and countersigned document to my lawyers, they took no interest in it, and did not use it in the divorce proceedings I later started! Of course, I was later to learn that the secret Family Courts were surreal. I edited a journal on the matter for four years.
Dr J W Ferguson (my GP) 24.7.84
Dear Dr. Ferguson,
Following a meeting between Freda, myself and Dr. Robinson, Dr. Robinson asked me to send this note to you. - Ivor Catt
I have found a letter by him;
Copy of a note from Robinson, Consultant Psychiatrist, to I Catt's GP Dr. Ferguson
"19.7.84. I suggest a general psychiatric opinion from a senior Consultant from the Maudsley Hospital as to whether Ivor Catt is or is not suffering from any form of mental illness. In particular, is there or is there not evidence on clinical examination of paranoid mental functioning? If so, does this amount to psychosis, or is it in keeping with eccentricity commonly found in brilliant people with the accompanying temperament? - Dr. Brian Robinson."
Dr. Ferguson then left a message on Robinson's answerphone, asking him to call back. Instead, Robinson 'phoned me, saying that he thought his note was self-explanatory. I agreed. He then said that he would not do anything further (i.s. not call Dr. F back.)
Dr. F asked to see me, and enquired as to how I felt about such a note being written about me. I was non-committal, but tended to imply that it was fine. (F did not appreciate that had I objected, this would have been evidence of paranoia!) The interview lasted some 20 minutes, and I agreed to pursue the matter now that, as he put it, the issue (of my mental illness) had been raised. Dr F wished to defer to the greater expertise of a specialist of his own GP status.
Dr. F 'poned later, and asked if Clare, late of Maudsley and now of Barts., was O.K with me. I said yes, so an interview is going to be arranged between Catt and Clare. [This contradicts my memopry, which says that Robertson selected Clare.]
This document shows that my memory is correct when it tells me that at the time I felt that the institutions being orchestrated around me by my wife, who had a degree in law, were likely to end me up in jail or in a madhouse. I joked with my work colleague Dr. Bernie Cohen, who was involved with my invention, that I had come up with an invention leading to a multi-billion dollar insdustry, and Society's response was to put me in a madhouse. He told me that it was no joke. He said the work on the invention I would do in the next few years was very important, and it was important that I should not risk my freedom. He said he knew a friend who joked on these lines, and ended up in a madhouse. Once in, he could not get out. That is the background to my action over psychiatrists Dr. Asen and Dr. Clare.
My wife said she would divorce me unless I went to see a psychiatrist. I said I would if she came too. We went to Dr. Asen of Marlborough Clinic in North London. At one stage he had my, my wife, children and grandmother in the room with a one-way mirror. After some months he said there was nothing wrong with me. Freda reported this to Brian Robertson, who said Asen was not well qualified.(I checked on this, and determined that Asen's relevant qualifications were of the highest order.) Robinson told Freda that in a case like mine, of a brilliant person, they needed a super-shrink, and recommended the famous Dr. Anthony Clare. I agreed to see Clare, but then played for delay and more and more delay, so the interview never happened.
(I know that a social worker from Brighton assigned to the case of Corinne wrote in his report that Catt was "near to genius". Obviously then a danger to children!)
Corroboration of my memory is in the letter from me to my son (who shortly afterwards died) I have found.
Your contribution last month was very valuable, and I look forward to seeing you at the meeting at 38 Marlborough Place, St. John's Wood, London, at 2 p.m. next Thursday sep. 12. - Yours sincerely, Ivor.
Obviously my idea was that with the whole family there, it would be obvious that the idea of mental illness was a fabriaction, as apparently Asen decided. All this nonsense was going on while I was trying to do a million pound negotiation with Sinclair, the biggest deal of my life. I have always said that 90% of my effort when trying to bring in a million pounds into our family was devoted to keeping Freda off my back.
At about that time I was technical (electronics) consultant to the Greenham Common Women. At Greenham Common . I said to one of the leading ladies that there was a mad shrink in St. Albans desperate to drug me. She said; "Is his name Brian Robinson?" When I said Ies, she said that he came down to Greenham Common and caused a lot of trouble for them.
I phoned Dr. Asen and asked him why he had said there was nothing wrong with me, because surely he knew that if he did that he would be fired. He said that he knew this, but "sometimes it can break the log-jam." Freda continued to see Asen on her own for a year. The central point was that my personality had to be rubbished so that Freda could take over the million pound negotiation with Sinclair. She did not realise, or did not care, that if the inventor himself were discredited, all negotiations would be off. From the point of view of the radical feminist, it was important that successful negotiation should be credited to a woman, or be sabotaged.
Robinson had said he was convinced that if I did not have one of his two drugs, I would do violence on myself or someone else within six months. Six months later, Freda said he had not said that!
oct98. (Sinclair Research's WSI wing came to be called Anamartic.) Catt Spiral was designed to exploit the Array Processor market. Catt Spiral Memory was intended as a taster, because array processing was unintelligible to those who needed to be involved. However, memory was the cuckoo's egg, which took over and went down with the normal RAM, as I always predicted. A large proportion of the time RAM memory was (and still is) sold worldwide at well below cost. From the start, I told Sinclair that semiconductor surface could not compete with magnetic surface for storage, but in around 1984, in our first discussions, he saw a short-term (9 months) window of opportunity because Winchesters (the then name for rotating disc memory) were over-priced. He said he thought he could come to market in 9 months. The first array processor, worked on in Anamartic, was called "Property 1a", which was starved of funds. This, and also Catt Spiral, were obsoleted by my later patent Kernel, which invention I stumbled on seven months after Anamartic, who were developing Spiral, had fired me for the first time. Long after Spiral memory was obsolete and I had been fired, funding continued to be poured into Spiral Memory. This continued many years after Kernel, the invention which obsoleted all that went before, had been published in Wireless World and the Sunday Times. However, Kernel caused Anamartic to hire me back, only to fire me twice more, each time paying me massive financial amends after brief court cases, one of which was Summary Judgement (= a ten minute hearing) in the High Court.
A number or times during the last years of
our marriage, 'Freda said to me; "If you are very successful, you will
leave me." I dismissed such remarks, as I had to. Coupled with
complaints about our lack of income, capital and so forth, they led to a dead
end. They demonstrate a combination of deep intellligence
and insight, and gross stupiditjl. On the one hand,
such a remark was an Ace of Spades in the game of controlling through
imposition of guilt, which was the controlling feature of my marriage, as
"Toys in the Attic" by Lillian Hellman. A play published by Dramatists Play Service Inc., 1960.
Lillian Hellman; "The idea was that a man who has never been successful and honestly believes that that's the way everybody wants it for him in the world. It had nothing to do with sisters or family, only with discovering that, of course, nobody has wanted it for him. Nobody wants success for anybody else, basically. I tried this because it was a very interesting idea, and realized I couldn's do it, but there was the genesis of something and the kernel of something. It became to me a man who had a momentary success, brought up by women who certainly had never wanted him to have that minute of success. That wasn't the way they saw him and they ruined it for him. I don't think that is an uncommon situation." - 1968