The 60's

David Clark, commenting in January 2013 on the death of Professor G.E. Coates History earlier that month, recalls his first official visit to Durham.

In the last of my three Ph.D. years, I came to Durham in December 1963 to be interviewed for a lectureship. Many things remain in my memory from that time.

I stayed in the Royal County, where I had to seek change to get a shilling to put in the gas meter to heat my bedroom. Right next to the Chemistry Department's entrance was a tennis court. Coates, Musgrave and, I think, one of the professors of physics were on the interview panel. Coates asked interesting and penetrating questions; even at interview his exotic mannerisms were on display. I was relieved to be appointed.

At my Ph.D. viva in the following April with Professor F.S. Dainton as external examiner, Sir Freddy ended the interview by asking me what I was going to do next. Feeling pleased with myself I mentioned the lectureship. 'You can do much better than that.' he said surprisingly.

Coates and Musgrave did lasting good by recruiting people who over the years raised the profile and standing of the Department. [Further recollections from David Clark appear at his research-group page.]

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Elizabeth Wood, a member of support staff contributing in November 2010, recalls early days as a trainee technican.

In the late sixties the Department had about 10 junior technicians and it was our job to clean the blackboards after a Chemistry academic staff had given a lecture. We had a timetable of all the chemistry lectures around the Science Site. We were allocated so many blackboards each to clean. At five minutes to the hour we had to drop whatever we were doing and go to a lecture theatre to clean the blackboard after one of the Department's lecturers had finished; it was usually within the Department but could have been in the Dawson Building or in Physics. We were in trouble if we forgot because it meant the lecturer following had to clean the blackboard and that didn't go down too well. We would be reported to Johnny Owen, the Departmental Superintendent who would pay you a visit and he was a formidable character.

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Jack Yarwood, contributing in October 2011, recalls his experiences as a newly-arrived lecturer.

I remember vividly the meetings of the physical chemistry section in operation when I arrived in 1967. Since the 50s it had been headed by George Kohnstam (at one time, very well-known in kinetics, especially for his work on SN1 and SN2 reactions, which is still highly regarded today). His section leadership lasted well into the 80s; other members from 1967 included Mike Crampton, Lyn Williams, Harry Shearer and a succession of senior demonstrators. These included Dr Helen Boon, Dr Mary Williams, Dr Denis Routledge, Dr Dick Hartshorn, Dr Barry Gregory, Dr David Morgan and Dr Dave Macdonald. [Where are you now? Please let us know if you read this.]

George was nothing, if he was not eccentric, and he was (in)famous for only selectively opening his mail. His office, in which the meetings were held, was literally full of un-opened mail. He had a marvellous approach to decision making - one which I often wished, in later incarnations, I could have adopted! It was basically do as I say. This might have been OK, if he had had any influence in the rest of the dept. However, though a reader, George was never Head of Department and physical chemistry at that time (in fact, at all times, until Robin Harris arrived in 1984) was the poor relative in the Dept. (Much later we were joined by Jeremy Hutson, JasPal Badyal, Andrew Beeby and Julian Eastoe. And things got seriously better.)

George was also into statistics in a big way, and he spent most of his time developing software to do statistical calculations. (This meant that all the Department's output from the mainframe, from day 1, were also in his office.) This seemed very useful for reviewing the papers he was sent by the (then) Chemical Soc. Teaching-wise, he was our expert in statistical thermodynamics. He must have taught the course for many (over 30?) years, and it seemed to me that he set one of a small number of stock questions (which were highly predictable by students – but poorly answered by many). In fact, we all taught the same courses over many many years. I taught 2H spectroscopy for ~20 years and 2H/3H group theory for 18 years. Good for research-time purposes, but probably not too good for our customers.

Examiners meetings were something else. We spent at least one whole afternoon ‘discussing’ the distribution of question setting whereas, after a few years, this could have been done in five minutes by any of us.

Because it was always the same!

I did manage, on the odd occasion, to change the balance of ‘structural’, as compared with ‘non-structural’, content of the papers. But generally, they were well-balanced.

Other memories of the early days include the interview with Geoffrey Coates, which was necessary to spend £120 from Dept. funds on a new IR cell. And the fear that I felt when giving my first few lectures to 2H (even though I had lectured in the States). And the stories which George used to tell about the way Jack Gibby had taught electrochemisty without mentioning electrons! I was given three course titles in 1967, and told ‘to get on with it’ (half a full load, for one year). I spent at least 20 hours a week writing those courses, over the first 6 months, often only a week ahead of the lecture to students. (I am grateful to Dr Mike Crampton for help with some comments, names and dates.) [Further recollections from Jack Yarwood appear at his research-group page.]

Photos in the 60's

The arrival of the Duke of Edinburgh for a visit to the new Chemistry-Geology Building, stage 1, on 14 October 1963.

Graduating in 1960 - Chemistry (59-60 photo); click 1960 to enlarge.

Graduating in 1960 - General Science with Chemistry P (59-60 photo; click to enlarge)

click here for more pictures in the 60's

Anyone with questions about these images, kindly submitted by alumni, should contact

decades/60_s.txt · Last modified: 2019/06/11 20:42 by euan
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