by Dr. Sydney Ellerton
So it was time to say goodbye to Bangor, Bangor of happy memories, and to begin something new and for a while utterly uncertain. I had applied for an Agricultural Research Council Fellowship, of which only four were awarded in the whole country each year. There was an interview in Westminster with what appeared to me at the time to be a panel of incredibly ancient gentlemen. Much later in life I sometimes sat on rather similar panels and no doubt the young aspirants thought just the same about me. But they proved to be really nice guys, for they said “yes” to me, or at least the answer came through the post a few days later. The award was for £200 a year and, most unexpectedly, the Cheshire County Council extended their grant of £75 for a fourth year to show their appreciation for my success.
Where to go was the next question. I sought advice from my friend and former schoolfellow Kenneth (later Sir Kenneth) Mather. He strongly advised me to go the John Innes Horticultural Institution, then at Merton in South London. The John Innes certainly had a greater concentration of eminent geneticists and cytologists than elsewhere in Britain at the time. However, having sought the advice I ignored it and opted for Cambridge. In retrospect, I believe my choice was made for two reasons. Firstly, I had secret doubts about my possible devotion to pure science and in Cambridge there was the very practical Plant Breeding Institute, then part of the university, and I was hooked on plant breeding. Secondly I was attracted by the glamour of the ancient colleges and their surroundings, which seemed almost dreamlike to one brought up in an unsophisticated village community.
I got a little of the flavour of Cambridge by spending some weeks of the summer vacation of 1935 at the Plant Breeding Institute there, working with G.D.H.(Douglas) Bell. He was then a barley breeder and lecturer in agricultural botany in the university. Eight years earlier he also had won an A.R.C. fellowship from Bangor. He later became head of the Cambridge Plant Breeding Institute, the P.B.I., during the time when it was divorced from the university and became a large A.R.C. research institute on a new site at Trumpington, on the other side of Cambridge.
All was very simple in those days. There were two or three rooms in the old School of Agriculture downtown in Downing Street and there was Cage Field up the Huntingdon Road, a couple of miles away, near Girton. We therefore travelled, on the inevitable Cambridge bicycle with wicker basket attached, between the two. This could be abused, because it was not easy to be sure where anybody was at any particular moment. There was one technician who was in a dance band. Staying up half the night with his band, he was not that assiduous at work. He got away with it for a long time, until a member of staff, on a day off, ran into him on the Newmarket racecourse!
Cage Field was where the field plots were situated, either in the open field or, a few of them, in the galvanised wire netting cage that gave the field its name. By the time I was there most of the zinc had weathered away, the wire was rotting and the plants near the edge of the cage were very much dwarfed by zinc poisoning. Wheat plants with thin stems six inches high were all that could be grown close to the wire, and then there was a gradient upwards to nearly normal height in the centre. The only building on the site was a long single-storied structure at one end of which was a single room with a black cast-iron ‘Tortoise’ stove in the middle, while the greater part was open-sided with wire netting to keep the sparrows out when sheaves of corn were stored there.
A senior member of staff was Herbert Hunter, formerly a barley breeder for Guinness in Ireland. He was a rather plump, tall, rosy-faced man, a bon viveur given to cashing in on his breeding of malting barleys by accepting hospitality from his brewer friends. We knew which pub to find them in every Saturday morning. Hunter was no great genius, as will be seen later. Professor Sir Rowland Biffen, the emeritus head of the Institute was very different, having had a brilliant career. Though recently retired when I first knew him, he was sharp as a needle. He used to wander round the trial field and chat with the newcomers like me, very informally and very helpfully. Prof. Engledow, the current head, was never there. Not quite never; I saw him looking round the plots just about once a year, a tall, slim, blonde figure with a moustache and rather thick glasses. Nearly all the time he was away, serving on some government commission or other, for which he was eventually awarded a knighthood. Then there was a head field hand, Maurice Buck and two assistants, John Palmer and Kenneth Hedge. Engledow was nominally in charge of the wheat breeding work, but Buck did it all for him. Bell, in charge of barley breeding, was both present and competent. He was also a university lecturer. George Carson, from Northern Ireland, was in charge of oats. A small amount of breeding of crops other than cereals was in hand. Red clover plants for crossing were put in netted enclosures and bumble bees were introduced to do the crossing. These were caught in the wild and there was a problem. They had doubtless been visiting other red clovers and had pollen on their bodies, so they were dipped in alcohol to kill it. Have you ever seen a drunken bumble bee? We found them quite amusing. There was other breeding as well, for instance H.W.Howard bred potatoes.
Mechanisation hardly existed and all the cereal plots were sown with the aid of a multi-pointed dibber, which was pressed into the soil with the foot to punch 22 small holes in a four-foot row. Seeds from one parent ear would be dropped individually into the holes, without mechanical aid of any sort. This was where the Tortoise stove came in, because in the late autumn it could be very cold and one’s hands became impossibly stiff for a job which required quite a lot of dexterity. The cast-iron stove had a pipe that went up through the roof-ridge, and this was an excellent hand-warmer.
In the early summer there was a part-time assistant: he appeared when the cereals began to ripen. He was ‘Arthur’, pretty decrepit and with a walrus moustache, a puffed-up face and a complaining look. He used to corner members of staff who had doctorates and, thinking that they were medical doctors, would ask them whether whisky would be good for this or that complaint, real or imagined. He was always assured that it would be the best thing in the world. Arthur’s job was to fight a running (and usually losing) battle with the local sparrow population. They had worked out exactly how to thwart his efforts by moving to another part of the field when he got too close.
Later I learnt why the P.B.I. was run so cheaply. Biffen was one of the small group, which had also included Punnett and Bateson, who had been working on the basics of genetics in Bateson’s garden in Grantchester just after Mendel’s Laws had been rediscovered. They had shared one gardener between them. They did their work on a shoestring because at that time they had failed to interest the university in funding this new-fangled study. Biffen had developed the habit of parsimony and made extremely modest demands for funding for the P.B.I. and even then often did not spend it all and returned part of the grant. So when I was there the Institute was getting less than a third of the funding which went to the Welsh Plant Breeding Station in Aberystwyth. Biffen was brilliant as a breeder and was the first to produce a disease-resistant crop variety, the rust-resistant ‘Little Joss’ wheat. He was also the first to demonstrate the heritability of baking quality in wheat, with his variety ‘Yeoman’.
The summer of 1935 was sunny and the ancient college buildings of mellow stone, in their setting of green lawns were idyllic, especially the area bordering the river not very romantically referred to as ‘the Backs’. Near to the river picnics were permitted but closer to the colleges the lawns were sacrosanct. The grass was reserved for fellows of the appropriate college and even they had to behave in a decorous manner! The most impressive lawn was at King’s College. Enquirers were told that the key to its perfection was quite simple. Just mow it, roll it and generally nurture it for 400 years!
The favourite recreation on the river was punting, which meant propelling a heavy teak punt with a wooden pole around ten feet long, tipped with a two-pronged metal fork. Steering was a trick to be learnt and the bed of the river varied from place to place from gravel to rather glutinous mud which held the pole quite tight. A quick and well-timed twist would release it, but newcomers sometimes held on too long and had a wetting. Usually this did not happen on the first time out, or even the second, but when the newcomer suddenly felt falsely confident. Once I was out with a friend with the splendidly Irish name Cormac O’Ceallaigh, when he fell in with his pipe in his mouth, coming up a moment later with the pipe still firmly clamped between his teeth. A tenacious lot, the Irish.
After learning the tricks, punting trips became more ambitious and the cushioned seats were ideal for taking the girlfriend up to Grantchester for a cream tea at the Red Lion or maybe for just lingering in some secluded backwater. Those of us in ‘digs’ could come back in the small hours of the morning, not officially allowed but widely condoned. It was harder for those with college rooms. It was a misdemeanour, with a small fine, to be out of college after 10 p.m., but a major felony to be out after midnight without previous permission. The bookshops encouraged the miscreants, however, by stocking a book that gave details of how best to climb into each college at night. This was rather tough on the students who had rooms on the route. They were prone to be disturbed by late-comers passing through at any time of the night.
Lilian was by now long since back from France and teaching at Frays College, a private boarding school in Uxbridge, Middlesex. She had a pretty thin time of it there, with endless hours of duty and a pokey room, not very good food and a derisory salary. Jobs were very hard to get in the 1930s. Her predecessor in the post was none other than ‘Mr Blair’, who was George Orwell of ‘l984’ fame. By this time he was on the slippery slope of alcoholism. Every Sunday there was a rail excursion from London to Cambridge, fare four shillings. Lilian would come as often as she could get away and I would meet her at the station, well on the southern side of town. When the railways were being developed, the town councillors of Cambridge decided that they would not have the new noisy, smoking monsters within their town. So after meeting we had a bus journey to the town centre and another up the Huntingdon Road to my rooms. Halcyon days they were. Sometimes I did the travelling and went to Uxbridge and also we spent an occasional weekend together with our friends Beth and Arthur in Harrow Weald. More often, however, the all-pervading duties of teaching in a boarding school meant that we could not meet.
But I have run on ahead. In the summer of 1935 a decision had to be made. That was to choose, and to be admitted to, a college. Cambridge, like Oxford, grew up in the days when there were a lot of separate small colleges in which all the teaching was done. The main subjects were classics, theology and mathematics, none of which needed much in the way of facilities. The ‘university’ was in effect a set of offices and its function was to set examinations that were taken by the students of all the colleges. This ensured a uniform and respected standard for the degrees. Almost the whole aim was the education of clergymen, so it is not surprising that many colleges had names like Christ’s, Jesus, Corpus Christi, St. Catherine’s. It seemed very odd for a while to hear a student say that he “was going to Jesus”, merely meaning that he was going over to the college to meet somebody. Later and particularly in the nineteenth century, subjects such as chemistry, physics and biology reared their ugly, secular heads and it was then quite impractible to have all the facilities required in each of fifteen colleges. Hence the colleges gradually became little more than Halls of Residence and the University put up appropriate buildings and took over all the teaching, both of the new subjects and the old.
It didn’t matter that much which college was chosen. I picked on ‘Kees’, officially Gonville and Caius. It had been Gonville Hall, founded in 1384 on a different site, but it had somehow got into a mess and was refounded on the present site in 1561 by John Kees. In those days students had to speak Latin during dinner in college and everybody, including even the Master, was given a Latin name as near as could be to his own. So ‘Kees’ became ‘Caius’, but the name of the college was still, quite illogically, pronounced ‘Kees’. The new college was given a brand new set of statutes. One of them was that “No scholar shall be elected who is deaf, dumb, deformed, a confirmed invalid or a Welshman.” In 1561 the Welsh were prone to make a nuisance of themselves by prodding away at the English on the borders and they were therefore not at all popular. Nowadays John Kees wouldn’t get away with a statute like that and even when I was there the Welshman bit was circumnavigated by setting up some scholarships, the Rhondda scholarships, open only to Welshmen. Maybe they had the best deal of all in the end.
John Kees was keen on symbolism. The way into the college was through the Gate of Humility. Leading to the older buildings where the chapel, dining hall and other facilities were located was the Gate of Virtue. Finally students about to get their degrees were led out to the nearby Senate House through the Gate of Honour. The gates were inscribed Humilitatis, Virtutis and Honoris. There was another gate near the college bathrooms and lavatories, which (until it was removed by some over-zealous official) was inscribed Necessitatis! Any removal of this sign did not last long. Someone was bound to restore it very soon. The college did have bathrooms, as did they all by the 1930’s. It is said that St. John’s College only got its bathrooms a few years previously. The matter had been debated from time to time by the dons and it had been decided that, since the terms were only eight weeks long, bathrooms were hardly necessary! Even in my day, many of the licensed lodgings in the older parts of town were not equipped with bathrooms and students could be seen walking through the streets in a bathrobe with a towel over their arm, whatever the weather, heading to or from the college baths. You had to be keen to be clean!
Cambridge was very much aware of its long history and held on to many old privileges and traditions, at least in symbolic form. During term time there was a Sunday afternoon service in Great St. Mary’s church, which was attended by the Vicechancellor and other university dignitaries, who processed from the Senate House to the church in full academic dress of long gown and mortarboard, the facings of the gown decorated with gold embroidery. With them were three university servants, attired in morning dress complete with top hat, carrying the symbols of office. One of them carried a mace and the other two walked behind him, side-by-side, one carrying an ancient volume of the university statutes, heavy, leather-bound and suspended from chains, and the other carrying a butter measure. This latter was a relic of the days when the town traders were notorious for cheating students by giving them short measure. Meanwhile in the tower of Great St.Mary’s the bellringers drowned the whole scene with riotous sound. There were some ancient rites, and indeed rights, which would have been very difficult to observe, like practising archery on Saturday afternoons in Petty Cury, clad only in Lincoln Green. Petty Cury was then a busy one-way street; now it is a shopping precinct teeming with people.
The university was strictly an all-male society, doubtless a hangover from the days when it was a group of training colleges for catholic priests. It is true that there were two women’s colleges, so there were slight signs of departure from the unsullied state of pure masculinity. However the members of these colleges, while allowed to attend lectures and take exams like the male students, were not recognised as members of the university. They received pieces of paper which were not degree certificates, but ‘titles to a degree’. This indicated that they would have had a degree had they not had the misfortune to be born female! There was an almost inevitable unofficial name for these titular degrees: B.A. Tits! The men students outnumbered the women by about ten to one. It was just as well that I had Lilian! Nowadays the decay of the university is complete: there are women students in the men’s colleges and men in Girton and Newnham. What a disaster!
Students had to wear academic dress of gown and mortarboard in the streets after 8.30 p.m. or dusk, whichever was the later, and when so clad were not allowed to smoke or enter the public bars of pubs. These and other regulations were enforced by a proctor (also academically attired) accompanied by two ‘bulldogs’ in morning dress. These were college servants, chosen as good sprinters according to their performance on their annual sports day. If spotted doing anything against the rules, the student had to make a quick assessment of escape opportunities. Getting away, or off the streets into the sanctuary of any college, meant that there was no fine. Making a run for it and still getting caught meant a doubling of the fine from 6/8d to 13/4d, i.e. from one third to two thirds of a pound. Graduates paid the double fine in any case, it being held that they should know better. It wasn’t much good dodging down little lanes and side turnings, for the bulldogs knew all of them.
All this was rather fun in its way and at least some sort of acknowledgment of the long history and tradition that was Cambridge. It was of course secondary to the business of getting started on a Ph.D. course. I had declared an interest in plant breeding and its attendant sciences of genetics and cytology. I was therefore allocated to the School of Agriculture, specifically to A.E. Watkins, who became my supervisor. He was sound if not brilliant, but was a really pleasant person to work with. He gave time generously to his research students. In his forties, of medium height and fresh complexion with fair and slightly ginger hair, he lived out at Wendens Ambo, near Saffron Walden, about 15 miles out of Cambridge. He commuted in a Lanchester car, rather superior and of a make long since extinct. After a while I was to be invited to his home for the odd weekend. He had a lovely, charming wife to whom he was devoted and a son who was then in school in Bishop’s Stortford. His life ended in tragedy. His wife died of cancer, his son was killed in the war, and he ended his days in a mental home.
There were several other research students with Watkins at the time. One, an Irishman named J.C. Cullen, was to impinge on my life some years later. Another was H.W. Howard, who became a potato breeder of note and had a genetical hobby. He had rows of jars of woodlice, the kind which roll up into balls when alarmed, and studied the peculiar sex ratios of their progeny. There were two or three other students too.
Mixed with the research there were a number of courses to be taken, such as experimental design and statistics. The more academic aspect of this was taught by a Scottish mathematician named Wishart. The very practical methods of setting up field experiments were the province of Garner and Sanders, joint authors of a book on the subject. They ran a lot of experiments on the University Farm. One of the more amusing ones then current was the conversion of margarine to butter. It was found that, if you added margarine to the diet of dairy cows, you could get about 80 per cent of it back as additional butter! The point of this was that butter cost about four times as much as margarine in those days, so that there was a profit of 300 per cent on the deal.
There were courses in cytology and genetics too, and a bit more science German. I was able to do just a little teaching too, as a demonstrator in the laboratory sessions for students taking the Estate Management course. Most of the students were sons of the landed gentry. Titles were everywhere! I remember compiling a register, and it went something like this: “Name?”….. “Grafton”…..”Initials?”…..”Duke of ‘! Most of the time was free for the research project but it was in no way regimented and there was time to enjoy Cambridge. In the summer there was the river as well as cycling and walking around the countryside. This was flat and open and strange, at least to the north. It was fenland with black soil, soil which quaked like jelly, as became very clear if you stood anywhere near the path of a tractor plough. Having very few trees and wide-open horizons it was bitterly windswept in the winter. The Isle of Ely was only 15 miles away from Cambridge, and was an island of ‘high’ ground in the middle of the old marshland. ‘High’ could mean a very few feet above the marsh and there were place-names like ‘Shippea Hill’, where the ‘hill’ was imperceptible to the eye. Only when the land was flooded would it be noticeable. Ely itself was an interesting little town, with one of Britain’s finest cathedrals. I cycled there with Cormac O’Ceallaigh on the day of King George V’s funeral and took a picture that was awarded the challenge cup in the University Camera Club’s annual exhibition.
To the south it was different, with the low Gog Magog hills and rolling chalk country around Saffron Walden. On the slopes were thin soils, where the plough had often brought up raw chalk. Lower down, this country was well wooded with oaks and beeches. The area was good for walking, especially along routes like the old Roman road across the hills. The thing to do was to go to Jeremiah’s in Abingdon for refreshments and then walk back along the chalk ridge. There were all sorts of rare chalk-land flowers, orchids, Pasque flowers, little spiny wild rose bushes and so on. There was no wheeled traffic of any kind.
A curiosity of the Cambridge system was that each student had a tutor, quite distinct from his supervisor. It would be fair to assume that the tutor knew something about the student’s research, but nothing of the kind was true. Mine was a very dry lawyer named Wade, and he would invite me and other students along to a very stiff and formal meeting in his rooms once every year. A glass of sherry was proffered. His alleged function was to stand in loco parentis and to take necessary action should we be found out in too much indiscipline. For this function he received a generous fee. I do not know if he had an official sherry allowance!
In term time there was a requirement to dine in college at least four times a week. The college dining hall was oak-panelled and high-raftered, with walls displaying oil paintings of eminent past members of the college, including one of John Kees himself. The windows bore in stained glass the coats of arms of noble past members of the college. There was a minstrel gallery, but in my time never any minstrels. Two long oak refectory tables were arranged crosswise at the end of the hall, the first for the fellows and the second for the graduates. Tables for the undergraduates ran lengthwise. A long Latin grace was said, probably the same as had been used for centuries, but praise be we were no longer required to converse in Latin at table. The meals were good and in one respect very different from Bangor, where the puritanical spirit of Welsh non-conformism still ruled. In Caius there was an excellent wine cellar and beer and wines were served in the dining hall. A strong beer called Dale’s Audit Ale was the favourite.
There was a college chapel, too. Not marvellously monumental like King’s, nor comparable with the more modest chapels of such colleges as Trinity. It was in the renaissance style and rather small, with an apse at the east end and memorials to some of the early college members on the walls. There was an organ, perched up in an oak organ loft. We students (when we went at all) picked up a white surplice on the way in, to give us all the spurious look of angels. Well, not quite.
There was nothing like enough accommodation in the colleges for all the students and the university ran a list of approved lodgings. I stayed with the Conroys in a roomy house up the Huntingdon Road, handy for the town and for the plant breeding station. Another research student, Noel Slater was there too; his specialities were quantum mechanics and organ playing. He was rather fat with a pale and puffy face and was not very well liked. We had separate bedrooms but shared a sitting room. In later years I moved in turn to two other houses in the same area. The last one was in Oxford Road with Mrs White, fat and jolly and a first-rate cook. She produced enormous helpings of food and treated it as a personal insult if any was left. Her husband was a little shrimp of a man and he once confided to me that when they were in bed together it was like being next to a “blooming great tank”!
Everybody in Cambridge had a bicycle and a wicker basket strapped to the handlebars to carry books or shopping was de rigeur. The unscrupulous used to ‘borrow’ bikes, especially if they were late for a lecture. The police ran a special lost bicycle warehouse and from time to time the unclaimed machines were auctioned. I got tired of locking my bike up all the time and painted it a hideous yellow-green in the belief that it would then be too conspicuous to steal. It went the very next day and I never saw it again.
There was a kind of overlapping community life here. There was the college, and there was the department, but also contacts in clubs and societies, with other students from the same school and in many other ways. There wasn’t that much chance of meeting women students because there were so few of them and in any case hardly any of them took science.
I was especially friendly with Leighton Yates and Cormac O’Ceallaigh in the Cavendish, the world-famous physics laboratory. There, Leighton was separating isotopes and Cormac was photographing the tracks of sub-atomic particles in a Wilson cloud chamber. Professor Sir Ernest (later Lord) Rutherford, Cockcroft and others were busy splitting atoms, separating isotopes, studying radioactivity and doing many things that were soon to have enormous military significance. All this was still regarded as pure science and there was no secrecy. I used to wander in and out freely, often seeing Rutherford at work in his corner of the lab, counting scintillations or doing similar work. He could have done with a modem Geiger counter! Peter Kapitza was there from Russia, and a special laboratory had been set up for his low temperature work. When he was recalled to Russia his laboratory went with him.
In one way Rutherford was like Biffen, brilliant but brought up on a shoestring, in his case in New Zealand. His research students spent a good deal of their time building their own apparatus. Very little equipment was bought in, though I suppose that very little was available commercially in those days. When, some years later, Rutherford decided that he wanted a high tension lab with a large Van den Graaf machine costing £100,000, he had no alternative but to seek a benefactor. Luckily he knew the then Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, who was able to engineer a peerage for Herbert Austin in return for funding the lab. Austin was at the time consumed with jealousy because his car manufacturer rival, William Morris, had been awarded a peerage and the title of Lord Nuffield, following his very generous bequests to hospitals. Austin got his peerage much more cheaply.
Dining in College was a requirement, but having lunch in college was entirely voluntary. Four of us, Leighton Yates, Cormac O’Ceallaigh, Freddie Hoyle and I would take it in turn to entertain the little group in Caius, St John’s and Trinity. Many and varied were the discussions, but we were very far from being serious all the time. Cormac, whose surname would be spelt O’Kelly by ordinary mortals, was a cultured Irish patriot with a great sense of humour. He was to have a distinguished career in the field of particle physics. Freddie (later Sir Fred) became one of the world’s most eminent cosmologists, though some knew him as a writer of science fiction. His ideas were usually rather controversial, but he was brilliant. Leighton was always religious and this took him to a teaching post in Salisbury, Rhodesia and there I lost touch with him.
Cambridge had cinemas and also two theatres. The Arts Theatre, in the middle of town, had not long been opened and was most pleasant. Some top-rating shows could be seen there, plays, ballet and even opera. Way up the Newmarket Road was the Festival Theatre. This was a repertory theatre which had nurtured many young actresses and actors who were destined for world fame. A seat in the upper gallery, popularly known as ‘the gods’ used to cost a shilling (5p).
Several of the colleges had fine chapels and King’s College Chapel is still, in my view, simply the finest building in the world, though I admit that I have not seen the Taj Mahal! In the perpendicular style, with huge stained-glass windows and superb fan-vaulted roof, it had been built in the time of Henry VIth. It had a first-rate choir and organist and services there were really like fine concerts. The choir and the choir school have an unbroken tradition of 450 years. The carol service on the last Thursday of term before Christmas, held in candlelight, was superb. It fully deserved, in later years, to become a regular feature of pre-Christmas radio and television, though the lighting for that purpose had to be more than candles.
I often went to the Congregational Church in Trumpington Street to listen to ‘Polly’ Carter. ‘Polly’ because he had a big, rather hooked nose. Once I dropped a clanger with his assistant minister. It did not occur to me that L.M.S. could mean anything other than London, Midland and Scottish. I would be the last to think of the London Missionary Society.
The rules for taking a Ph.D. in Cambridge were that you should be resident in ‘full term’ time for three years. Residence meant living within 2½ miles of Great St. Mary’s Church, but there was an escape clause. It was possible to spend the third year in an overseas university of one’s choice, subject to approval. So this I did, as indeed as I was required to do under the terms of my ARC award. I chose the University of California at Berkeley. I might reasonably have gone to Lund in Sweden, where Mather went, or to Cornell University in New York State. I was nervous about problems with the Swedish language, so Lund was out, and California seemed much more attractive than up-state New York. America in 1937-38, just before the war, was a rare opportunity. In those days such travel was a very much more unusual thing than it is today and it was my first trip out of Britain. Before leaving Cambridge I was called in to see the seldom-seen Professor of Agriculture, Frank Engledow. He said that he wished me to spend my year in America partly in Berkeley, as already planned, but also in visiting research institutes and universities throughout the United States and Canada, wherever cross-fertilised plants were being bred, to study the methods in use. In America the most important cross-fertilised plant was maize, but there were also various vegetable and forage crops and …… sugar beet. Douglas Bell gave me a letter of introduction to Harry Harlan, whom he knew well, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington D.C. This all amounted to a wonderful opportunity.
There was another experience that summer. My friend Kenneth Mather had advised me to go to the John Innes Horticultural Institution rather than to Cambridge and I turned the idea down. But in the summer of 1937 there was a remarkable twoweek summer school at the John Innes. All the most eminent geneticists and cytologists of the day were giving lectures: R.A. Fisher, J.B.S. Haldane, C.D. Darlington, Kenneth Mather himself and other well-known people. It not only gave me an opportunity to listen to them, but also to spend time with them in informal conversation.