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My sisters


My creative and athletic mother
Avrion Mitchison Scientist
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I don't what her very first works were, but when she was- she must have been 15- 14 or 15 in Oxford in her mother's house- she wrote a play which was produced in New College cloisters and there they all are, the cast, with Jack and my father who was a great friend of his, also in New College, and so she had it in the blood. And, she- they had plenty of money, that was very important. You see her family wasn't at all wealthy. They were- they were very comfortably off and her mother had been an heiress, but she didn't have a lot of money, but my father did have a lot of money. Not- he wasn't enormously rich, but he was very comfortably off, and they had servants, and she left things to servants. We were brought up by nurses, by a nurse and nursemaid and occasionally, I think, two nursemaids when there were five little children squawking away Would she be locked in a room writing? Yes, she would lock herself in a room. She- yes, she had a huge desk downstairs at Rivercourt. Rivercourt is now- where she lived is now- belongs to the school there. And later, during the 1930s, an avant-garde architect called John McGregor designed and they had built, a building in the back of the garden which had a squash court for my father, and down below they had a study for my mother and then a garage for the car. And, the- the- what she wanted was peace and quiet, a desk, and bars in the walls for her- I think they were then called Swedish exercises, where you hung from your arms then you swung around, so she did that as well. And, she liked that sort of thing, she was always a keen swimmer. And what about her African connection? That was much later. That must be- was that perhaps after my father died even, it might have been, or around that time. She- she'd always been keen on the people of the Empire, so to speak. She inherited part of that from her mother who was a real old Tory and an Imperialist in reality, but who had, you know, thought the British Empire was the greatest possible thing. And of course, my mother hated all that, but at the same time she was completely part of it, in a way. She just didn't want to be bossed around by whites but she thought all these coloured people were lovely. So she- The British Council sent a group of people round from Africa to visit her in Scotland. She was a- she did quite a lot of that. She liked being a hostess, she liked hostessing, and she liked explaining what a great character she was. Terrible show-off. And one of them was the hereditary Chief Elect, I mean, he hadn't inherited yet, but he would be, of the Bagakwa in, what was then, was it, Bechuanaland, or it had been changed by then into Botswana. And she sort of, kind of, swept him off his feet and said, well, I'm coming to- to visit the tribe now. So, she did that every year for a long time. And she was nice to tribal people, the members the tribes when they came to Britain, as they did to train as nurses or- especially the young women, and she talked to them about birth control, which she thought she knew a lot about. I expect she was a little bit a rusty by then but at any rate, it was- it encouraged them in the right direction, and so on.

Avrion Mitchison, the British zoologist, is currently Professor Emeritus at University College London and is best known for his work demonstrating the role of lymphocytes in tumour rejection and for the separate and cooperative roles of T- and B-lymphocytes in this and other processes.

Listeners: Martin Raff

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Duration: 4 minutes, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008