David Davies: the Department of Geodesy and Geophysics, University of Cambridge in the 1960s

David Davies describes the Department of Geodesy and Geophysics in the 1960s, central to the revelation of plate tectonics, including the presence of Sir Edward Bullard.

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I show up on the 1st of October at Madingley Rise, there are probably – there’d be probably about ten to fifteen research students, about six or seven staff and I come in and I – and there’s two secretary – no one secretary then, the famous Molly Wisdom who you will hear about from other people too. Molly Wisdom, a sort of rather tigerish secretary to Teddy Bullard and to anybody else in the department really, with a rather loud voice who Teddy had to put a double covering on his door to keep the sound of her out. Anyway she – the first thing she says, ‘Oh, we’re going to call you Dai,’ and that was where that started and I couldn’t get rid of it from then on because everybody did call me Dai. And it was great fun really, although it didn’t seem like fun at the time always because you were working against the clock and things didn’t always go – go well. And we all sort of shared a big room in Madingley Rise during the daytime when we sort of made plans and wrote – wrote things down and in the evening we probably all gathered in the workshop to carry some of them out. Every – every morning and afternoon the whole department would meet around the coffee – three or four coffee tables in the coffee room and there’d be perhaps twenty-five of us or so there. Some would always be away, Drum Matthews was away when I arrived, he was at sea doing something or other. But they would – so there’d be a lot of interchange, we didn’t sit by disciplines as it were, you just sat next to somebody and chatted, ‘What are you doing now?’ and, ‘Oh gosh, yes this is difficult.’ But Teddy was always the most interesting centre of attention ‘cause he would come in and it was a real treat sitting by Teddy ‘cause Teddy would have some idea or other he wanted to try on you. And he used to narrate – some of his stories came up again and again, ‘cause Teddy had been around a lot, he’d been – he’d been in Canada, he’d been to Toronto, professor of physics in Toronto, he’d been at the National Physical Laboratory, he’d been on lots of cruises, he’d been during – in the war and he’d got lots of experience. And he had extraordinary intellectual ability to put things into numbers, and I learnt a lot just by listening to him. You know, somebody would say, ‘Well I wonder if the Earth’s vibrations could be affected by such and such,’ and he’d say, ‘Well look, the viscosity is ten to the nine, the Earth is ten to the eleven grams, blah blah blah, so the answer has to be no, it’s a millionth of the size of what you’re,’ he just had this sort of ability at his fingertips. So it was a – it was a very exciting place.

  • Interviewee David Davies
  • Duration 00:02:56
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 12/15/2011
  • Shelfmark C1379/60

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