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A career-changing encounter

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A wonderful early life
Antony Hewish Astronomer
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Well, I had a wonderful early life. I was born in Fowey, which is South Cornwall, where my father was a banker, but we moved pretty quickly to Newquay on the North Cornish coast, which is well known now as a surfing place. But in pre-war days it was absolutely wonderful, and I was brought up there until I was 18 or 19 actually, and I had a wonderful Cornish childhood. I was sent away to school, but school holidays were fishing and building boats and sailing and fishing and surfing, and doing all those lovely things you do in Cornwall. And I was the youngest of three brothers; my… middle brother, John, we… were close together. He was 3 years older than I was and we did most things together, building boats and just enjoying… enjoying Cornwall during the holidays, and I really can't think of anything nicer than that. When I look back on that I realise how amazingly lucky I was, actually.

[Q] And what were your particular interests at school?

Physics, although we weren't taught terribly well. But I… was always interested in how things worked actually, taking things to bits and usually breaking them in the process. But at home I loved making models, model aircraft and building clocks and playing with explosives, and actually doing quite dangerous things like pulling the electricity out of the wall, you know, dismantling the nearest light switch and connecting up to it, and trying electrolysis experiments and things like that, crazy things which didn't usually work.

And my father was manager of the bank; we lived above the bank in Newquay and I sometimes used to fuse the whole system, of course, and plunge the bank into darkness, so I wasn't very popular. But I just had a wonderful childhood, fairly unrestricted, doing what I wanted to do with my brother, and just got interested in hands on, how things work and that… I think that was what started my interest in physics, really.

Born in 1924, Antony Hewish is a pioneer of radio astronomy known for his study of intergalactic weather patterns and his development of giant telescopes. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1974, together with fellow radio-astronomer Sir Martin Ryle, for his decisive role in the groundbreaking discovery of pulsars. He also received the Eddington Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1969.

Listeners: Dave Green

Dave Green is a radio astronomer at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. As an undergraduate at Cambridge his first university physics lecture course was given by Professor Hewish. Subsequently he completed his PhD at the Cavendish Laboratory when Professor Hewish was head of the radio astronomy group, and after postdoctoral research in Canada he returned to the Cavendish, where he is now a Senior Lecturer. He is a Teaching Fellow at Churchill College. His research interests include supernova remnants and the extended remains of supernova explosions.

Tags: Cornwall

Duration: 2 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2008

Date story went live: 25 June 2009