THE RIO CINEMA in London’s Kingsland Road district (in Dalston) is a fine example of a film theatre constructed in the Art Deco style. It was designed by Frank E Bromige, who specialised in designing cinemas in that style, and constructed in 1937 on the site of an earlier Edwardian-style film theatre, which first opened in 1909. The Rio has been showing films ever since then. Since 1976, the Rio has been run successfully, and independently of any cinema chain, as a not-for-profit charity. The cinema’s Art Deco exterior has been faithfully maintained and the interior’s original design has been reconstructed. There are two screens. The largest one, the main auditorium, looks much as it might have done when it was built in the late 1930s. There is a smaller auditorium in the basement. This has a large screen and comfortable raked seating.
Today, the 18th of March 2023, we watched a film in the smaller auditorium. Called “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom”, this film was shot mainly in the tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. It is a beautiful film, beautifully made. Without giving the story away, it is about the experience of a young Bhutanese teacher sent from the capital to teach in a remote village called Lunana. The tiny elementary school in that high altitude settlement surrounded by breathtakingly attractive mountain scenery is the remotest school in the world. The film shows how Lunana impacted on the young teacher and vice-versa.
Apart from having a good story, some humour, and much emotion, the film provides a fascinating view of Bhutan. “Lunana” allows the viewer to realise the spectacular nature of the country’s landscape and rural traditions. What particularly interested me was the depiction of a lifestyle so remote and different from what we are used to here in the west and in many parts of India, even also in the urban areas of Bhutan’s neighbour Sikkim. The subject of global warming is introduced, but in a quite subtle way. The villagers in Lunana are portrayed as being simultaneously innocent, playful, spiritual, and philosophical. Although “Lunana” is a highly enjoyable film and Bhutan is portrayed in an affectionate and appealing way, I felt that the country, which is undoubtedly spectacularly attractive, is not one that I am in a hurry to visit. It is an unusual and unique film, and it was appropriate to have watched it in one of London’s unique individual cinemas.
CAMPDEN STREET IN Kensington is a short thoroughfare running between Kensington Church Street and Campden Hill Road. On it, there is a distinctive building called Byam Shaw House. Until 1990, this edifice with its large centrally placed, north facing window was the Byam Shaw School of Art, which opened in 1910. Named at first as ‘Byam Shaw and Vicat Cole School of Art’, after its founders, Rex Vicat Cole (1870-1940) and John Liston Byam Shaw (1872-1919), it soon became known as the Byam Shaw school.
John Liston Byam Shaw is also known as ‘Byam Shaw’. He was born in British India, in Madras (now ‘Chennai’), where his father was registrar of the High Court at Madras. In 1878, the Shaws moved back to England, where they lived in Kensington. At an early age, he showed artistic promise and at the advice of the artist John Everett Millais (1829-1896), he entered an art school in London’s St Johns Wood. As he grew older, Byam’s works attracted less interest and he turned to teaching to earn a living. In 1910, he and Cole founded the art school in Campden Street. Sadly, Byam Shaw died during the great influenza epidemic that followed WW1.
The school in Campden Street has produced several significant artists including Winifred Nicholson (first wife of Ben Nicholson), Bernard Dunstan, Yinka Shonibare, Mona Hatoum, as well as stage designers, stained-glass makers, and actors. The inventor James Dyson also studied there. In 1990, the school moved to larger premises in Archway, and in 2003, the school was absorbed into the Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design. Byam Shaw would have been pleased to know that his school produced such fine alumni. Guy Burch, who studied at the school between 1981 and 1984, wrote:
“The innovative independent Art School founded in the early 1900s, Byam Shaw had an open studio policy that suited my inability to fit into categories marked ‘painter’ or ‘sculptor’. Most art schools at the time made you choose one or other with cross-media working tending to be discouraged. Their studios allowed you to move between them. I was in the ‘Image Studio’, and worked on collage, painting and mixed media installations.” (http://www.guyburch.co.uk/?p=4358)
I feel it is a shame that the building in Campden Street, which has now become a block of flats, is without any notice commemorating its former use.
ON OUR WAY FROM Hyde Park Corner to Lowndes Square (in London’s Belgravia), we wandered along a thoroughfare that was new to us, Kinnerton Street. This gently winding road is lined with mainly picturesque buildings and is punctuated by narrow cul-de-sacs, such as Capeners Close and Ann’s Close. At its southern end, the buildings along Kinnerton Street look newer than the others.
The street was originally built for dwellings of those who serviced the far grander buildings that line Wilton Crescent and Wilton Street on the Grosvenor Estate, that began to be built on in earnest during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Kinnerton is the name of a village in Cheshire associated with the Grosvenor family who developed the Estate that includes large parts of Belgravia and Mayfair. Until well after the middle of the 19th century, the street, which was occupied by servants, shopkeepers, tradesmen, and animals, was rather a slum. In more recent years, the street, once the home of the poorer classes, has become gentrified.
Although we were unaware of it when we visited Kinnerton Street, it occupies an important place in the history of medicine. St George’s Hospital was founded in 1733 and later located in a building designed by the architect of London’s National Gallery, William Wilkins (1778-1839). It now houses the upmarket Lanesborough Hotel, which is a few yards from Kinnerton Street.
From the start of 19th century, medical education in England became more structured than before. Pupils at St George’s Hospital were:
After a dispute between the surgeon and anatomist Samuel Armstrong Lane (1802-1892), who had graduated at St George’s and ran one of the anatomy schools (at 1, Grosvenor place; https://livesonline.rcseng.ac.uk/), and the authorities at St George’s Hospital, the latter decided to set up its own dedicated school of anatomy, whose activities it could control. This led to the physiologist and surgeon Sir Benjamin Brodie (1783-1862) buying a house on Kinnerton Street.
Brodie leased the house to St George’s Hospital for use as an anatomy school. It housed an anatomy theatre, a lecture room, and a museum. Until Lane’s school closed in 1863, it was one of two rival anatomy schools serving the students of St George’s. Even though students were taught medicine at St Georges from its inception, a medical school was not formally established until 1834. It was housed in the house on Kinnerton Street and inaugurated in 1835. During the opening ceremony, an Ancient Egyptian mummy was dissected. The school remained in Kinnerton Street until it was moved nearer to Hyde Park Corner in 1868.
Where exactly was the school? Ruth Richardson wrote in her “The Making of Mr Gray’s Anatomy” (published in 2008):
“In addition to its unostentatious frontage on Kinnerton Street, the medical school seems to have had its own discreet rear entrance. Old maps show there to have been an access way bridging the Serpentine River at the back of the building, by which deliveries and collections could unobtrusively be made. It connected to Williams Mews which still joins William Street via an alley … Today, though, this way across the old river has disappeared, entirely blocked by a high wall … The Kinnerton Street Medical School was a large, austere, functional place. Renamed, it still stands, dark and private, enclosed within its own solid walls.”
Based on this information, I looked at a map surveyed in 1869 and found College Place, which was located between Kinnerton Street and the short William Street. It does not appear on current detailed maps. The northern end of William Mews lay close to College Place. A modern description of Kinnerton Street (https://issuu.com/chestertonhumberts/docs/low_res_grosvenor/66) includes the following:
“Studio Place, renamed in 1931, was built as College Place in 1844. It contains Bradbrook House, which until the 1890s, was a series of schools of anatomy.”
In case you were wondering, the Serpentine River, mentioned above, was another name for the now subterranean River Westbourne, a tributary of the Thames. From the eastern end of the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park, it flows south between William Street and William Mews.
All of this, interesting as it is, becomes more interesting to the general reader, who, even if not connected with medical science, will likely be aware of the book, “Gray’s Anatomy”, whose title inspired that of a TV series. Written by Henry Gray (1827-1861), this famous textbook of anatomy, which is still used, was first published in 1858. The first edition was dedicated to Brodie, who established the anatomy school in Kinnerton Street. In 1842, Gray enrolled as a student at St George’s Hospital and it is highly likely that he honed his knowledge of anatomy at Kinnerton Street. By 1853, Gray had been appointed a lecturer of anatomy.
In a review of a book about Gray, Caroline Rance wrote that:
By walking down Kinnerton Street, as we did recently, maybe we were walking where once the famous anatomist, Henry Gray, used to enjoy a spot of fresh air after hours of dissecting corpses or whilst walking to his home on nearby Wilton Street.
A DENTIST NEEDS manual dexterity and good powers of observation (amongst many other skills). My PhD supervisor, Robert Harkness, used to teach physiology to the first year (pre-clinical) dental students at University College London. He not only encouraged them to learn the rudiments of the subject but also how to improve their dexterity and skill in observation.
While the students were under Robert’s care, he tried to instil in them something of his spirit of scientific curiosity. Each student had to carry out an investigative project as part of the physiology course. This had to make use of the students’ powers of observation. He felt, quite correctly, that a good physician must be very observant. He had students, with their pencils, watches, and notepads at the ready, measuring, for example, the blink rates of people travelling on the Underground, or how many times a minute peoples’ jaws moved whilst chewing gum, or how often and for how long people scratched their heads. Projects like these, simple though they sound, honed the students’ ability to observe carefully. These projects also helped to instil something else in some of the students: many of them went on to have academic dental careers.
Robert had great manual dexterity and knew that development of this in his students was of great importance to those aspiring to practise dentistry. When he or his wife Margaret was interviewing prospective students, they always enquired whether a candidate played a musical instrument or enjoyed making models or sewing/knitting/embroidery. If they did, then there was a good chance that the candidate’s manual dexterity would be sufficient to perform dental procedures. Robert encouraged this in the practical physiology classes that he arranged for his pre-clinical students. Typical of this was his insistence on the use of the archaic smoked drum kymograph.
Most students doing experiments in physiology would record results from their experimental set-ups, be it a contracting muscle or a stretch of live nerve, on an electrically operated pen and ink tracing that produced a graph on a piece of paper tape. All that was necessary was to plug the measurement transducer out-put lead into the electronic moving chart recorder and wait for the results.
Robert insisted on his dental students using a kymograph with smoked paper, a mechanical predecessor of the modern electronic equipment. A sheet of white paper had to be attached around the outside of a metal cylinder (drum). This had to be rotated carefully above a smoky flame until the entire surface of the paper had been uniformly blackened by a thin layer of charcoal particles. Without disturbing this fragile black layer with a stray finger or thumb, the smoked drum had to be carefully attached to the vertical spindle that emerged from a cylindrical motor. The experimental tissue – often the students measured the contraction rates and strengths of lengths of rodent gut – was attached via a thin cord to a delicate lever which had a sharp point (stylus) at one end of it. This point was then placed against the smoked paper and then the motor was activated, causing the drum to rotate at a known speed. As the gut contracted, it moved the lever up and down which in turn caused the sharp point to displace carbon particles beneath the stylus point to leave a white tracing on the slowly moving blackened paper covering the metal cylinder. When the tracing had been made, it had to be removed from the drum without smudging it, and then immersed in some liquid, a smelly lacquer, that fixed the image to the paper. This procedure, I can assure you, is no less demanding on one’s manual skills than, say, preparing a tooth for an inlay or a bridge abutment or placing an implant.
Many generations of Robert’s dental students remember him fondly. Recently, someone with whom I studied dentistry at University College reminded me about his curious laboratory coats. He did not wear the long white coats that most scientists and many medics normally use. Instead, he wore a long coat coloured brown or ochre. Why he wore a lab coat that looked more like the work wear of an old fashioned grocer I have no idea – I never thought to ask him – but Robert did many things in his own inimitable style. Often his approach to things seemed eccentric at first sight, but usually after reflection you would realise that there was a lot of sense in what he did and how he did it.
“HISTORY IS BUNK”. So, said Henry Ford in 1916. Although he meant something different to what I understood by those words, I feel that they apply very well to the history lessons that I had to suffer at school until I was about 14 years old. It was not that I had no interest in history when I was a child but the way it was taught at the schools, which I attended, put me off studying the subject any longer than I needed.
At the Hall School in Swiss Cottage, which I attended between the ages of 8 and 13, history was one of the subjects that had to be learnt in order to pass the Common Entrance examination that would admit me to a private secondary school. Each school year, we began British history with the arrival of the Romans in Britain and worked through the centuries until we reached the end of the 19th century. The emphasis was on chronology of events rather than what happened, and why it did, and, what were its consequences. We were being trained to answer idiotic examination questions such as:
“Put the following in chronological order: Archbishop Laud, the Corn Laws, Lady Jane Grey, Plassey”
To know their dates was important. To understand their roles in the history of Britain or elsewhere seemed irrelevant. You are probably beginning to get the idea of why history taught like this failed to capture my interest.
Something unpardonable about the teaching of history at the Hall was that although we had to learn the dates of important battles that the British fought overseas, we had no idea of their significance. It was like learning about a series of football or other sporting results. For example, it was long after leaving the school that I began to understand why our ‘team’ was sent abroad to fight Napoleon. It was not simply to notch up yet another British victory at, say, Waterloo, which is what I was led to believe at the Hall, but to combat a force that was invading most of Europe. The same is true of British victories in India and North America. It was vaguely satisfying to know that we had ‘scored’ well at Arcot, Plassey, and Quebec, but I was not aware that the reasons for these battles were ever explained to us.
Well, with the help of my mother, who spent many hours of my spare time cramming the historical facts into my head, I was successful at the Common Entrance examination and gained admission to Highgate School. As far as history was concerned, things did not improve at my new school. Our class was taught by the eminent historian AW Palmer, who eventually gave up teaching to devote his time to writing books on a variety of historical subjects, many of which I now find interesting. However, it was our fate to have to study the history of the USA. We had a textbook with an orange cover, whose title and author I have long forgotten. Neither this nor Mr Palmer managed to excite in me any interest in the undoubtedly exciting history of the USA. So, when we were given the choice of dropping either physics or history, I abandoned the latter. In my time at Highgate, history was alternative to physics, geography to chemistry, and Latin to woodwork. I chose chemistry and Latin in addition to physics.
When I was about 16, I used to walk from our family home to Finchley to visit my father’s colleague Kurt Klappholz and his wife Gwyneth. I was fond of them as well as their two children, one of whom was named after me. Gwyneth taught history at a local school and quickly realised that although I was not taking her subject at school, I was, in fact, quite interested in it. She recommended that I read a series of books written by the historian Alistair Horne. He wrote history in such a way that reading it was as enjoyable as reading a gripping novel. Everything he included in his narratives was reliably sourced. His books are both scholarly and engrossing. Through reading these books and discussions with Gwyneth, my interest in history grew and grew. I am eternally grateful to her for this.
If, God forbid, I should ever decide to study for another degree, I would head for a course in modern history. Far from being ‘bunk’, history is most important. As someone said to me recently:
“The future is a plant that grows in the soil of the past.”
And in the words of the philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952), who influenced Bertrand Russell among others:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
I hope that we can learn from the past (by studying history) and avoid repeating the mistakes, which were made then, in the future. But maybe, I am being a little bit over-optimistic.
DOES IT REALLY MATTER how an ancient Roman, may his or her soul ‘requiescat in pace’ (RIP), pronounced the letter ‘V’? It did to the Reverend Gowing, one of my teachers of Latin at Highgate School back in the mid 1960s. Did they pronounce V as in ‘verb’ or as ‘w’ in ‘word’? To vee or not to vee? That was the question in my mind. At the school I attended before Highgate, we pronounced the Latin v in the same way as the English v. Oddly, I felt disturbed that Gowing believed that the toga clad Romans pronounced it as a w, as in ‘wobbly’.
We questioned Gowing about this problem. Our venerable teacher decided to prove to us that he was right, that the Romans pronounced ‘veni, vidi, vici’ as ‘wayny, weedy, weeky’. His method of proof involved use of technology that was unavailable to Julius Caesar and his contemporaries.
One morning, Gowing brought a gramophone (a name derived from two Ancient Greek words) record player into our Latin classroom. He placed a record on its turntable and told us to listen very carefully. We heard someone speaking in Latin, and … enunciating words beginning with v as if they began with w. QED (three Latin words that do not contain the letter v), our Latin teacher believed.
The Reverend Gowing was old enough to believe that the gramophone record was a technical miracle that could capture the voices of those who died long ago, even around the time when BC became AD. It still amazes me to think that Gowing might have believed that. However, his ‘proof’ of the pronunciation of the Latin v did not convince me.
Some years later, I mentioned the V/W controversy (not ‘controWersy’) to someone who had a degree in linguistics. Her view was that the ancient Romans were more likely to have pronounced v as v, and not as w. Her reasoning was based on the evolution of languages derived from Latin. For example, we neither watch a ‘wideo’ nor do we say say: ‘in wino weritas’.
Unwittingly, Reverend Gowing did something important for our class with this discussion about v. He made us question the academic authority of teachers and that is important if knowledge is to advance.
True to the spirit of what I have just written, I have just challenged what I have long believed. I decided to look at various sources (on the Internet) to see what they say about the current understanding of the pronunciation of V in Latin. First, the English V and U are both represented by ‘V’ in Ancient Latin. Thus, on an Ancient Roman statue of Julius Caesar, one would read ‘JVLIVS’ rather than ‘JULIUS’. Also, it appears the pronunciation of the written Latin V varies. It seems, although I do not know on what evidence this is based, that the Ancient Romans probably pronounced v as the English say ‘w’ or even ‘oo’ (JVLIVS is a good example of this). Whether it was pronounced as ‘w’ ou ‘oo’ depended on the letters close to it in a word. For example, the name ‘FLAVIVS’ would have been pronounced ‘Flawioos’. So, our Reverend Gowing was at least half correct, and us doubters in his class were all in the wrong as far as usage of Latin by the Ancient Romans is concerned. However, as time passed and the Roman Empire declined and fell, languages related to, or descended from, Latin adopted the V pronunciation, as did ecclesiastical users of Latin.
Finally, I have looked at the Latin textbook, which we used at school, “The Revised Latin Primer” by Benjamin Hall Kennedy. Had I not been so averse to opening this much-hated book, I would have discovered that its author, once a Fellow of St Johns College, Cambridge, wrote that ‘v’ is a “Labial Spirant (sounded as w”). If only I had taken more interest in this book instead of avoiding it whenever possible, I might have been more convinced about my teacher’s opinion about the Latin V. It seems as if I really do owe Reverend Gowing a belated apology.
[This is a somewhat new version of something I wrote earlier]
I was a pupil at London’s Highgate School when I was studying to take state examination, then known as ‘O Levels, taken by 16 year olds. I was studying for 9 subjects, but decided to drop one of them, German. Its grammar was beginning to defeat me and to jeopardize my chances of success in the other 8 subjects.
German was not the only language that was causing me trouble as I approached the O Level exams. Unknown to me and possibly unnoticed by our English teacher, Mr B, my command of written English was insufficient for me to pass the English Language O Level exam. It was the only O Level that I failed. I passed the other subjects, but without displaying much academic excellence.
My failure to achieve the pass marks in English Language cannot be blamed on anyone except me, but there were factors that predisposed me to downfall.
During the examination, I attempted an essay that asked the candidate to discuss whether or not it was fair that pop musicians often earned more than nurses. Being by nature somewhat contrarian, I decided to write an essay in defence of the high remuneration of pop musicians. This idea, to which I no longer subscribe, expressed with poor grammar and spelling, cannot have made the person marking my paper feel sympathetic to me.
The other predisposing factor was our teacher Mr B. He was far more interested in using class time analyzing the poetry of Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin than ensuring that all of his charges were proficient in basic skills such as grammar and essay writing.
Failing English Language did not prevent or delay my commencing the subjects in which I was to prepare for the A Level examinations that were required for admission to university.
One of my three A Level subjects was biology. The senior biology teacher was Mr S, affectionately known by his first name George. He set us three essays per week. On Saturday mornings, we had a double-length period (one and a half hours) with him. During this, he went through our essays, pointing out their good points and bad ones. The essays of one student, ‘P’ were particularly dreadful. His spelling was awful as was his punctuation: there was none except a full stop at the end of each foolscap page. And, to my annoyance and surprise, P passed English Language O Level at the same time as I failed.
Six months after failing my English Language O Level, I took the exam again. I passed with a good grade. I believe that I had learnt a great deal about essay writing from George’s Saturday essay critiquing sessions. I shall always be grateful to him.
On Saturday mornings, parents thinking of sending their sons to Highgate were shown around the school. The biology laboratory, where the essay classes were held, was on the tour. George, who was a genial old fellow, allowed us to relax during the Saturday morning classes. However, he always told us that if we heard the door to the laboratory being opened, we were all to act as uf we were concentrating on something serious while the parents peered in.
On Friday afternoons, we had a three hour practical class during which, for example, we dissected the parts of dogfish not required by fishmongers. Friday lunchtimes found George drinking in one of Highgate Village’s numerous quant pubs.
George used to arrive at the Friday afternoon practical classes having drunk far too much. For the first hour of the class, he was a menace, arguing with anyone unwise enough to approach him. After about an hour, he used to sit down and fall asleep. The last two hours of the class were supervised superbly by George’s deputy, Mr Coombs.
George was a wonderful teacher. He inspired his pupils’ enthusiasm for biology. Like my PhD supervisor, Robert Harkness, his range of interest extended from microscopic intracellular detail to the whole organism. Once, when walking to the Dining Hall with George, he stooped down and picked up a fallen tree leaf. He asked us what kind of tree had produced it. None of us knew. He said:
“That’s the trouble with you youngsters. You know all about DNA, but you cannot recognise a leaf from a plane tree.”
George was, as far as we knew, probably celibate. When we reached the part of the biology syllabus that dealt with human reproduction, he told us:
“You know all about this. You can read up the details in the book.”
I have wandered from my starting topic somewhat. Maybe, you were beginning to believe that I was trying to distract you from my sad performance in English and from thinking that, given my record, I have great ‘chutzpah’ writing and publishing books.
Picture shows coat of arms of Highgate School, founded in 1565
What sparks off an enduring interest in something? I do not know the answer, but let me describe how just one of my interests became ignited.
When I entered Highgate School in north London at the age of 13 years, we were obliged to study both physics and chemistry. The classes for these subjects were held in large laboratories whose walls were lined with locked glass-fronted cupboards filled with a wide variety of scientific equipment and, in the case of the chemistry labs, jars of chemicals in a variety of colours.
At the age of about 15, that was in the late 1960s, we had to make decisions about the nature of our future studies. If you wanted to study science, you kept on classes in chemistry and physics and dropped geography and history. For a course in the arts, you kept on classes in geography and history and dropped the two science subjects. I decided on science. You may wonder why.
It was only the desire to find out more about the stuff locked in the glass-fronted cupboards that made me choose the science course. It was as simple as that! I enjoyed studying scientific subjects and continued to do so until I had completed a doctorate in one of them (mammalian physiology).
Many decades later, I revisited Highgate School and was taken on a tour of its buildings including the Science Block. I noticed that the cupboards in the chemistry and physics laboratories had been replaced. Gone were the glass-fronted cabinets. They had been replaced by cupboards with opaque doors. The contents of these wall mounted cabinets could not be seen without opening their locked doors.
I wondered whether I would have chosen to study the science subjects had I been taught in the newer laboratories where everything was hidden from view.
During the last two years (1968-69) at my secondary school, Highgate School in north London, we were taught about computing. The teacher in charge was one of the pioneers of the computer programming language called BASIC (an acronym for Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code). The first version of BASIC, which was considerably simpler to use than FORTRAN or COBOL, was released in 1964. So, our teacher was advanced in introducing it to us. We learned about creating flow diagrams and then converting them into BASIC.
When I learnt BASIC back in the late sixties, the only computers available were huge main-frame machines that occupied large rooms. PCs and lap-tops were not yet available, or hardly even imagined. The school did not possess a main-frame computer. But, it did possess a keyboard attached to a telephone line. By dialling a number, the keyboard could be connected to a remote computer. It was not possible to type directly into the computer. First the programme that we concocted had to be typed on the keyboard, which converted the programme into a series of holes on a long ribbon of paper. When the programme had been transferred into the punched holes, the remoter computer was dialled, and then the long strip had to be fed into a slot on the keyboard console. Then, the author of the programme had to hold his breath. For, it would be some time before the computer sent back a message that was typed by the console onto its paper-feed. More often than not, the message would convey the sad news that the programme had an error. Then, it was back to the ‘drawing board’ to determine where we had gone wrong.
When the programme was correct, the results were exciting. Some people used the computer to do statistical work, or to generate answers to mathematical problems. I discovered how to make the computer write random poetry. I submitted some of what I produced to the school’s magazine, but it was turned down.
Several of my fellow pupils and I became obsessed with programming. We could not get enough of experimenting with programming. The console was kept locked in a wooden cabinet, which could only be opened by our teacher. Somehow or other one of us managed to get a copy of the key, and, more importantly noticed the number that our teacher dialled to access the computer. From then onwards, we had far greater access to the machine.
The IBM company lent the school a prototype of a table top computer. This could only be programmed using machine language, which is the coding that underlies languages such as BASIC, FORTRAN, and COBOL. Using machine language is real programming, and quite difficult. It was to difficult for me to master even at a very simple level.
When I went for my interview at the Physiology Department at University College London (‘UCL’), the other candidates and I were shown the room containing a large computer, which the Department possessed. The staff were very proud of these advance machines that were able to process experimental data in “real time”. Information from the measuring instruments employed in the experiments was converted into numerical data that could then be processed statistically by the computer, and then displayed to the experimenters while the experiment was proceeding.
A week or two after my interview at UCL, I went for another interview, this time at the Physiolgy Department of Chelsea College (now long since closed). After I had been several questions by the Prof and some of his colleagues, they allowed me to ask any questions I had. Having been impressed by what I had seen at UCL, I asked:
“Do you use computers in your department here at Chelsea?”
“Of course, we do, all the time” answered the Prof immediately.
After a short pause, one of his colleagues said:
“Well … actually… we don’t have any computers in this college.”
Then the Prof said something, which I found rather pathetic:
“I can understand that your first choice is UCL. However, we would be happy to offer you a place in our department providing you will promise to accept our offer if UCL does not give you one.”
Fortunately, UCL did offer me a place on their course.
I gained admission to UCL, my first choice amongst the six universities to which I applied. During our first year, we had to take a course in physics. Once a week, we spent an afternoon in the laboratory carrying out practical work. One day, we were asked to write computer programmes to solve a chosen problem. I was the only person (in our class of fifty students), who could complete the task. No one else had a clue as to how to do it. They had attended good secondary schools all over the country, but only mine had offered teaching in computer science.
After that class in the physics laboratory in 1970, I did not touch a computer until about 1997. We bought a PC, because my wife needed one for her studies. When she was not using it, I experimented with it. It operated with one of the Windows programmes. I was flummoxed. It seemed quite different to what I experienced in the late sixties. How was I going to programme it? After a short while, I realised that things had moved on a long way since I learnt BASIC.
Dr Thomas A Quilliam, who died in 2008, taught me general human anatomy during my first year as a dental student at University College London (‘UCL’). His teaching method was quite unlike anything I had encountered before.
At our first meeting with him, Quilliam told us that as he was lazy, he preferred the students to give the lectures whilst he sat and listened at the back of the lecture theatre. He was not kidding, because this is exactly what happened.
We had anatomy ‘lectures’ five days a week and did dissections of a human cadaver on several afternoons. Each week, several students were assigned particular topics chosen from the syllabus. Each student was required to compose a twenty-minute talk on his or her topic, as well as designing simple diagrams, which could be drawn quickly on examination scripts, to illustrate it. For example, I can remember being asked to talk about the lymphatic drainage of the mammary glands. You might well wonder whether this was ever any use during my 35 years in dental practice. I am not sure that it was.
At each class in the lecture theatre, three students gave their presentations. Before that, Quilliam would treat us to short extracts from (usually) American medical education films. I can remember one with the thrilling title “The surgical anatomy of the kidney”. We would watch the first few minutes, before Quilliam switched off the projector. Then, each of the three students who had prepared for that day, gave their presentations. Most students, even the shyest in the class, did a good job, and made useful drawings and diagrams. Some enterprising students even prepared informative models of the anatomical structure they were describing. Every now and then, Quilliam, who sat at the back of the banked seats in the lecture theatre, used to ask a question to clarify what the speaker was saying. If the student answered “maybe” or “perhaps”, Quilliam would say: “That’s a typical University College answer.” Actually, it was. When I was studying physiology at UCL, we were taught to question everything and be reserved about stating that something was a certain fact.
There were 50 students in my year. In all, we must have had at least 150 hours of ‘lecture’ sessions. As three students gave talks each session, this meant that everyone on the course had to prepare about nine topics from the syllabus. This ensured that everyone was likely to encounter at least one of his or her own topics in the final written or viva-voce examination.
You might be thinking that Quilliam really was a bit lazy, but you would be wrong. What his method achieved was very clever, and an important preparation for the clinical environment. Not only did his method avoid hours of having to listen to the same person giving the same lectures that he might have given year after year, but it also taught us to communicate ideas. Quilliam’s method of making us, the students, give presentations was a good training in the art of presenting unfamiliar topics clearly and comprehensibly. In dentistry, especially nowadays (and even when I entered practice), patients like to be kept informed about the nature of their problems and how they can be resolved.