My interest in science was first aroused by Jack Turner, who brilliantly taught me (and Adam Hart-Davis, who was in the same class as me) mathematics between the ages of 8 and 13. I was also inspired by semi-popular books on astronomy and cosmology – by Arthur Stanley Eddington, Fred Hoyle, James Jeans and others – that I acquired from my maternal grandfather’s library after he died. Like my paternal grandfather, who died while I was an infant, my maternal grandfather had a first in mathematics.
I remember reading Fred Hoyle in 1954, when I was 11 years old, and deciding that I wanted to become a theoretical physicist or astronomer. I was attracted by Hoyle’s declaration that new theories are often controversial, and no theory is final. Nevertheless, I was totally convinced by his dismissal of the Big Bang, and his advocacy of continuous creation. His wit helped – for example, in a discussion of the vast number of planets in the visible universe, he says: ‘I find myself wondering whether somewhere among them is a cricket team that could beat the Australians.’
I conclude that great teachers and inspiring popularisations make scientists.