Patrick Blackett: Sailor, Scientist, and Socialist

Patrick Blackett: Sailor, Scientist, and Socialist

Patrick Blackett: Sailor, Scientist, and Socialist

Patrick Blackett: Sailor, Scientist, and Socialist


Such was the incredible presence and raw integrity of the subject of this biography that the author of the foreword is sure that Robert Maxwell would have stayed on the straight and narrow had Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett lived a bit longer.


Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett was, quite simply, the most personally formidable man for whom I have ever worked-or, indeed, whom I ever met, at close quarters. And, others, now passed on, would have said exactly the same. It was not simply that he was a Fellow of the Royal Society-when he became President, he mellowed a fraction, but only a fraction.

It was not simply that he was a considerable physicist and a Nobel prize winner: in the course of 40 years as a Member of the British House of Commons, I have come into contact, as an officer of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee and a politician interested in science policy, with 23 Nobel prize winners. Twenty-two did not daunt me in the way that Pat Blackett daunted me. And he had a capacity to daunt, even the heavyweights of international science. As a young MP, asked to lunch at their club, the Athenaeum, by Sir Howard Florey, FRS, and Sir Lindon Brown, FRS, I had told them that the then Leader of the Opposition, Harold Wilson, had told me that he wanted me to work directly on science policy, to Professor Blackett. Two pretty formidable scientists, themselves, they glanced at each other knowingly, and chimed with a wry smile, laconically, 'We hope that you emerge, alive!'

However, if I found Blackett somewhat nerve-wracking, my wife, Kathleen, did not. His impeccable, naval good manners, combined with an ever-present seriousness of purpose, deeply impressed her. Other women, to whom I have talked about Blackett, would not dissent.

The other 'young man' who was told by Wilson that he should work to Blackett, in 1963, was the Labour Parliamentary candidate for the Buckingham constituency, Captain Robert Maxwell, MC. In Blackett's presence, I observed that Maxwell behaved himself. He managed to bite his tongue rather than offering the bombastic opinions with which he tended to shower the rest of us. Indeed, Blackett brought out the brilliant, imaginative, constructive best in Maxwell. For example, it was for Blackett, in 1963, that Maxwell produced his potentially seminal paper, to the Labour Party Standing Conference on the Sciences, of which I was Honorary Secretary, on

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