Friday, 16 November 2012

Ben Elton's Dad

Yesterday, when driving home, I listened to that program that comes on after the evening outing of The Archers on Radio 4.  It involved a discussion with Ben Elton about a new novel he's written.  As a child of the 1980s, I still hold Ben Elton as a kind of hero.  After all, he was partly responsible for The Young Ones and steadfastly opposed the Thatcher government that we were then living through... I even bought his first novel when it came out and read it.  It was okay.  Sort of entertaining and funny as I remember, if not a great literary work.

The interview with him last night was interesting.  His new book is an historical novel about the separation of children in Nazi Germany to split up a Jewish and adopted non-Jewish siblings.  The interest was more in the fact that that very thing had happened to Ben Elton's family, and he described a bit about it.  I though Mr Elton coped quite well with a rather boorish interviewer, and I think I might buy the book now, as it sounds like it might be a good read.  But anyway... part of the interview was about how immigrants, especially those at times of war, are very grateful to the host country indeed for providing safety and a new life.  I reflected, that in some way, I should be grateful to Ben Elton's family for something rather less than bodily safety and a new life - for my current employment.

Lewis Elton, Ben Elton's dad was a nuclear physicist who was the first head of the Department of Physics here at the University of Surrey.  Although the University, and its predecessor institution, the Battersea College of Technology, was rather practically-geared at the time (and still is to a large extent), Prof Elton was a theoretician, rather freer of practical applications than many other academics, and he worked on nuclear physics.  He successfully built up a research group at Surrey that survives to this day as one of only two groups in Britain with current theoretical nuclear physics research.  He brought in Daphne Jackson, who became the UK's first female professor of Physics, and during her years here, the group expanded to include an experimental group.  Now, we are a successful general nuclear physics group, and are known around the world.  While the credit must be shared with all involved, if not for Ben Elton's dad, I certainly wouldn't be sitting here in this office right now.

The picture shows me with a copy of a book by Lewis Elton that I picked up before I had any inkling that I might end up here.  I bought it in a second hand book shop in Oxford when I was an undergraduate.