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Oxford life


Being offered the Nuffield chair of medicine
David Weatherall Scientist
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Well I didn’t think very hard about Oxford, it just happened. The, in 1973 or '74, beginning of '74, somebody came down to give a seminar from Oxford in Liverpool, and said they want me to ask you whether you’d be interested in the Nuffield Chair. I didn’t know what the hell that was, I’d only been to Oxford once on trip, on a day trip with my parents, so I said- oh, yeah, tell them I’d be interested, and nothing happened, and then the phone rang one day and they asked me to go down, and Oxford does things in the most peculiar ways, I was taken to a dinner, and grilled, well, first we had a dinner and then the chaps wife was thrown out, and there were three of these people and they grilled me for about two hours, and then I heard nothing. And then one day the phone rang, we’ve just had a meeting of the electors of the Nuffield Chair, and we’d like to offer you the Chair, could you let us know by tomorrow? Silly Oxford. So anyway, I chatted with my wife, chatted with John, we decided to, what the hell, be a change, and then nothing happened for six months. I got slightly embarrassed, you know, did I dream all this? And I don’t know whether you remember that wonderful secretary called Mrs Cogley? Yes, yes, yes. I couldn’t ring up Oxford and ask them whether it was all a big mistake, so I asked Mrs Cogley to ring them. And she was away a rather long time, she comes back, she says- you can’t go there. I said why? She says, well, I said to them, he thinks he’s been made a professor in your place, but he’s had no papers, is it a mistake? And she says, there was a lot of rustling, and then this posh voice comes on the phone, it was announced in "The Times" wasn’t it, what more does he want? So that was Oxford, and so, and John was very happy to come down and we’d had another excellent student with us in Liverpool, Bill Wood, who’s gone to Seattle, and he decided to come back, so we trundled down to Oxford and started working things up there in, in about '75,'76, and started with a tiny lab in the old Radcliffe infirmary, but moved up to the John Radcliffe in about '79, where we had reasonable labs. And, and that was a good time, because it was just the time when the current DNA era was really breaking, and one could start to move into Southern Blotting and then very quickly into DNA sequencing, of course.

British Scientist Sir David Weatherall (1933-2018) was a world renowned expert on blood diseases, in particular thalassaemias, and used his expertise to help control and prevent these diseases in developing countries. He founded the Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford in 1989 and was knighted in 1987.

Listeners: Marcus Pembrey

Marcus Pembrey, now Emeritus, was Professor of Paediatric Genetics at the Institute of Child Health, University College London and consultant clinical geneticist at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children London. He is a visiting Professor at the University of Bristol UK, where he was the Director of Genetics within the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children until 2006. A past president of the European Society of Human Genetics, he is also the founding Chairman of the Progress Educational Trust.

Duration: 2 minutes, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2007

Date story went live: 02 June 2008