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Passing the time with medicine


Broad academic discussion as a student
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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There were… at that time in Johannesburg, there were lots of people who had become great admirers of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and, in fact, many came to Cambridge; Duncan Linney was one of those people who had become… come to sit at the feet of Wittgenstein. And of course logical positivism was 'in' in those days, and we used to have many discussions in this field of which we'd come to the conclusion that the fundamental question in philosophy was: 'define define', which was always a good remark to be said after a long discussion; you could ask, 'Define define'. So there's all that kind of student turmoil, and of course, all of this spilled over into other things; I had very good friends who were highly interested in the arts, Stanley Glasser being one of them, and so music… in fact we actually made a film. All of us together: I wrote the script, my wife played the main part, it was produced by Stan, it was filmed by his brother, and I have to tell you that what we decided to film was a story from a Dylan Thomas book, which… which was Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, one of his portrait… no, that's… that's… is that the book? Anyway, it was a Dylan Thomas book of stories, and of course we tried to recreate this Welsh town in Johannesburg. None of us had ever been abroad, and so from this description… I can't even remember the story, I just wrote the script and the movie was made… it was actually shown. Bill Coker, John Coker's younger brother, played the lead part. Music was composed for it, but... and when I saw it and when I first came… when I then came to England and saw Wales, I just… I just began to realise how wrong we'd got everything, because to try and  trans...transform that… however, it was just the picture of the times that you'd try your hand at anything, you see, so we did lots of these things as students; it was all very exciting.

South African Sydney Brenner (1927-2019) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. His joint discovery of messenger RNA, and, in more recent years, his development of gene cloning, sequencing and manipulation techniques along with his work for the Human Genome Project have led to his standing as a pioneer in the field of genetics and molecular biology.

Listeners: Lewis Wolpert

Lewis Wolpert is Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology of University College, London. His research interests are in the mechanisms involved in the development of the embryo. He was originally trained as a civil engineer in South Africa but changed to research in cell biology at King's College, London in 1955. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1980 and awarded the CBE in 1990. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999. He has presented science on both radio and TV and for five years was Chairman of the Committee for the Public Understanding of Science.



Listen to Lewis Wolpert at Web of Stories



Tags: Johannesburg, Cambridge University, UK, Wales, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Stanley Glasser, Dylan Thomas, Bill Coker

Duration: 2 minutes, 54 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 24 January 2008