Keith Thompson and David Pugh

The following contains some personal reminiscences about two friends and colleagues in the sea level community.

Reminiscences of Keith and David

by Philip Woodworth (phil dot woodworth at gmail dot com)

Keith Thompson

On 11 July I received the bad news in an email from Natacha Bernier that Keith Thompson had been seriously ill with pancreatic cancer for the previous few weeks. He had been admitted to the Hospice Halifax the week before. By the time I had replied to Natacha’s email, Keith had died peacefully in the hospice.

I first became aware of Keith when I joined what was then called the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences at Bidston Observatory in the summer of 1983. By then Keith had left Bidston to take up his new job at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada where he remained for the rest of career (see below). To some extent I took over Keith’s role, researching into changes in mean sea level around the UK and the rest of the world. I felt that I knew him because I had read several of his papers on this subject (I still use some of them). However, as far as I recall, the first time I actually met Keith was when I visited Dalhousie a few years later during a sea level field trip around the Bay of Fundy.

Keith was a very hospitable character who had me around to his house for dinner the day after I met him. (I decided to take a couple of bottles of wine, not easy in those days when alcohol could be obtained in Halifax only from special stores where the bottles were wrapped in brown paper bags.) That was to be the first of many times we met. Of course, we corresponded by email in between. I was later pleased to visit Dalhousie again as an examiner for one of his PhD students (Simon Higginson). The day before the examination Keith drove me around a good chunk of Nova Scotia and we chatted about what he was working on then, such as statistical techniques for parameterising extreme sea levels, and the various colleagues we had in common. At about the same time, Keith and I became members of a working group for the European Space Agency on using space gravity data, that was also a very enjoyable experience.

The thing about Keith that struck me was that he had an active life in addition to his career in oceanography. For example, I knew he was especially interested in music and played guitar in a band. Andrea Christians in Halifax told me in an email how much Keith loved bass guitar; he would make her listen to different bass tracks all the time. From an obituary, see link below, I learned that this was something Keith had inherited, his father Eric being a talented musician on violin and oboe. Keith learned to play classical guitar in his early years, and then turned to the bass guitar, playing with the Halifax Music Co-op, as well as with small groups and friends. He also enjoyed watercolour painting, and in the last year he was becoming skilled in the art of stained glass. At a gathering on 20 August at Dalhousie there was a showcase of some of Keith’s artwork and music with his band playing in the background.

But back to his career in oceanography. Keith became an Emeritus Professor at Dalhousie University with joint appointments in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and in Oceanography. Keith had obtained a BSc in Mathematics in 1973 and an MSc in Fluid Mechanics in 1974 at the University of Manchester, and a PhD in Oceanography in 1979 at Liverpool. After arriving at Dalhousie as a post-doc, he quickly became a faculty member, and he was later to become head of department. Part of his work focused on coastal forecasting for Canadian waters, including a storm surge prediction model that is now being used operationally. He also wrote excellent papers on ocean dynamics and circulation (thanks no doubt to his background in fluid mechanics), tides, statistics of extreme sea levels, marine geodesy and aspects of marine biology. He held a Tier I Canada Research Chair in ‘Marine Prediction and Environmental Statistics’ and sat on international committees including the Coastal Ocean Observations Panel of the Global Ocean Observing System. He was a recipient of the J.P. Tully Medal in Oceanography from the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society in 2016, and three of his PhD students went on to become faculty members at Dalhousie.

Keith is survived by his wife, Ingrid Peterson; his son, Peter Thompson; and his brothers, David and Graham.

I have often wondered (one of life’s ‘what ifs’) what would have happened to me if Keith had not decided to move to Canada, as his departure resulted in a vacancy on sea levels at Bidston. Therefore, I have always been kind of grateful to Keith, in a strange way, for moving on. As things stand, I am just pleased to have had shared interests with him and, in retrospect, I wish I had been able to work with him more, I would have learned a lot.

Photo of Keith Thompson
Keith Thompson

Some links:

David Pugh

David Pugh died on 1 August while on a walking trip in Wales, just a few weeks after Keith. There is an obituary for David on the National Oceanography Centre web site which you must read (see below). That web page gives some background to his life and career and leads to a more complete document with some photographs.

I was honoured to be asked to say a few words about David’s career at his funeral on 31st August. One thing I was keen to mention concerns what he did after retirement. At a time when many people would decide to take it easy, David returned to doing research, mostly with former colleagues like me. For example, we together made measurements of the tide in Loch Ness. Other things he took on with completely new sets of people – for example, his recent work on tides and sea levels in Ireland where, partly thanks to David, there is now an active tidal research group. Even in retirement, David managed to publish at least one major science paper each year.

I think there were several reasons why he did all this work in retirement. Partly it was because he liked to travel to new places around the coast. Also, there was the satisfaction of obtaining reliable data from instruments that he had helped to develop and trusted, and using that data to learn something that was scientifically useful.

But I would like to mention how I came across David. By 1983 I was at a turning point in my career in physics. I had been working abroad but I was interested in returning to somewhere in the NW of England for both personal and professional reasons. Then I saw an advertisement for a job at Bidston. It was located near to where I wanted to be and I knew the Observatory well from having been born nearby. However, my bad luck was that there was a better candidate (Colin Stephens) who landed the job and made a great success of it thereafter. Fortunately for me, David Pugh was a member of the interview board and at the end of the interview he mentioned that there might be a more suitable position coming up at Bidston before long. I can’t recall how I spotted that later advertisement for a job in tides and sea levels. I can’t remember if David alerted me to it or what, but I did indeed apply and the rest is history, as they say. David was on the board again, along with David Cartwright and Tom Allan from Wormley.

Therefore, I have always been grateful to David Pugh for recruiting me in this way. I became his sidekick to some extent by taking over from him as director of the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level (where Elaine Spencer had been on maternity leave) and then as chair of the Global Sea Level Observing System. He also became a good friend and a sounding board for many things.

I’ll miss my many travels with David in retirement to places as far apart as the Falklands and Shetland, and the many shorter trips to Paris for meetings of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of which David was Chairman for several years. I’ll miss our visits to the good restaurants that he had a knack of discovering (in Chester we had many lunches at the Albion pub). The UK marine community will miss one of its leading and most active members.


Photo of David Pugh
David Pugh

Singing with Keith Thompson

by Sylvia Asquith

In the late 1970s, Keith became friendly with Charles Smith, probably from sharing coffee breaks at 11 am. Charles was in the Computer Section at Bidston. I think at the time Keith was involved in research work and studying for his PhD. The one thing they had in common was a love of music, and as they both had guitars, they would play privately somewhere in the Proudman Building during lunch break. They found out that I was a singer and asked me to join them! So we had a tryout one lunch hour – a few folk songs altho’ they could both play classical as well.

It went together fine and as I had lots of sheet music at home, they came over to Bebington where my husband David and I lived with our family for practices. Keith played from the music or by memory and Charles put a harmony into the melodies. He composed too and wrote a “Bidston Reel” which they played together and it’s really catchy and tuneful.

David recorded lots of our music on a cassette recorder and so we decided to go to a folk club and offer to play! We needed a name, so I came up with “Quick Silver” (our initials CKS in the centre!). After lots of lunchtime practices and some at my home we decided to go to Rhona’s Folk Club in Parkgate where there was going to be a “Singer’s Night” on a Sunday where they met every week.

We’d chosen one of Nana Mouskouri’s songs “The White Rose of Athens” and the “Bidston Reel”. We felt a bit nervous but thankfully it went down very well, and we were invited for the following week when Jacqui and Bridie were also appearing. They were both well-known singers, so this was a great compliment, so what a good start!

From then on, we got lots of engagements and charity concerts. However, all good things come to an end and Keith began to feel his work was affected and he needed to study in the evenings towards his PhD. So “Quick Silver” was no more!

Keith went to Canada about 1982-3 and didn’t return to Bidston but Judi Wolf will be able to tell you about that. I understand he got married later on. Charles left Bidston and returned to London and got a job at a Care Centre for the Blind in their computer department and generally helping with the running of it. He visited Bidston friends and called to see us which was nice. He still played his guitar and had a cassette of “Quick Silver”. Happy memories! I was sorry to hear of Keith’s death – he was a nice gentleman.

An Appreciation of David Pugh

by Graham Alcock  (1705ga at gmail dot com)

Some people are lucky enough to have known others who have had a profound beneficial effect on them at turning points in their lives: perhaps an inspired teacher or a supportive grandparent. For me, David Pugh featured in no less than five such key moments in my scientific life.

I first met David at Bidston in 1972, when he had just returned from installing offshore tide gauges in the Wash with Doug Leighton. This led to my first scientific paper (with David as senior author) on using sea level to make geodetic levelling connections.

In 1978, David was invited by the Open University to contribute to its new course in Oceanography, by teaching the physical oceanography component in its Northwest Region. But he suggested that I be appointed instead – thus opening up my long (until 2011) and thoroughly enjoyable OU career.

In 1981, David was a member of the panel which selected me to succeed Jerzy Graff as head of the Tidal Computation and Statistics Service when Jerzy left the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences (IOS) for private-sector marine science. This was a sea-change (pardon the pun) for me because it had become clear that I did not have the first-class mind to be a “prime-mover” researcher, but I found my niche in scientific administration, especially in marketing and publicising Bidston’s science and technology. Over the years, I developed the Section into the Information and Applications Group. (Ironically expanding the commercial exploitation of Bidston’s work that Jerzy hadn’t been allowed to do years before.) David was involved in that turning point. He told me many years afterwards that the Panel Chairman, David Cartwright, had remarked on my “nice suit” (ex-wedding 8 years earlier), so perhaps that got me the job!

Together with Klaus Wyrtki, David had the idea of a global network of sea level stations, which was developed as the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Global Sea Level Observing System  (IOC GLOSS) project. That involved meetings in the various IOC regions to explain the national, regional and global importance of measuring and analysing sea level, so encouraging and supporting the installation and maintenance of tide gauges.  I don’t think David fancied going to Tanzania for the East African Region meeting and so he asked me to go as the so called “GLOSS sea level expert”. That was the start of my involvement with GLOSS, including organising the regular GLOSS Training Course at Bidston for tide gauge technicians from Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and South America, and attending the regular GLOSS meetings around the world. I have a photograph of three generations of PSMSL Directors: Geoff Lennon, David and Phil Woodworth cavorting in a (rather grotty) motel pool in Miami.

David’s final impact on my career was when I took early retirement in 2000.  Over a few years, he contracted me to write one report reviewing Earth data sources for FAGS (the Federation of Astronomical and Geophysical Data Analysis Services, the organisation that coordinated the 13 major organisations providing global geophysical data), and then a report (with Lesley Rickards and Gaynor Evans) for the UK’s Inter-Agency Committee on Marine Science and Technology (IACMST) on  the climate and trends in maritime data in UK waters, later updated for the Department of Environment. This meant that I was gradually able to tail off my involvement in oceanography rather than have an abrupt end to my career.

Five turning points in my career, all influenced by David. Thanks David, I won’t forget.

A Recollection of David Pugh

from Tony Rice (ricetony01 at gmail dot com)

I was pleased, but also of course sad, to read the obituary on the NOC web site of David who was, indeed, very good company and a great raconteur. I liked him very much, although he could sometimes be slightly pompous! Hence, I offer the following story that he would probably have told against himself.

Sometime in the 90s we both attended a conference in Edinburgh. We had arranged that he would meet me off the train at Waverley and have a meal together. Accordingly, when he met me, he said that he would take me to a rather nice little restaurant that he had found. However, it was a hot day and I was not wearing a tie, so David said that it would be possible that they wouldn’t like this, but he was sure that they would lend me one. On arrival at the restaurant, I went in first and asked the maître d’hôtel if I was sufficiently well dressed. With a twinkle in his eye and clearly recognising David, he said “Well sir, you are perfectly OK, but I am not so sure about your friend”.

To his credit, David saw the funny side and we had a very pleasant evening.

Thoughts of Keith Thompson

by Judith Wolf (wavefollower at hotmail dot co dot uk)

Keith Thompson was already there when I joined IOS Bidston in 1976. Keith was doing a part-time PhD and it gave me the idea that I could do the same.  I don’t remember which year he joined Bidston or exactly which year he graduated. After that he was offered a year’s sabbatical at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada which he took on the understanding that he was coming back. However, he got head-hunted and never returned which was frowned upon because IOS had supported him to get his PhD.

I went to Halifax for a 2-week visit in 1986 in which I gave a talk at the Bedford Institute/Dalhousie University on the coupled wave-tide-surge modelling I was doing. Of course, I visited Keith and Ingrid who were very hospitable. I remember them taking me to a show and giving me fresh lobster for dinner.

Some Thoughts of Keith Thompson and David Pugh

by Trevor Baker

Keith Thompson

I think that Keith Thompson started in 1974, when I was on sabbatical in the USA.  For some reason, there was no Civil Service person on his interview panel (for establishment) and so Keith was interviewed again in 1975 and I was on that panel.  When Geof Lennon left, Keith felt that David Cartwright was not interested in his work, so I tried to encourage him to continue his mean sea level research. I think that he probably made the right decision by going to Canada eventually.

At that time, IOS Bidston was managed remotely from IOS Wormley. Just to give one example to illustrate the problems associated with that, Henry Charnock (overall IOS Director) was visiting Bidston and found that he had some spare time, and he thought that he would pop into a few offices and talk to any scientists who were around. He went to see Keith Thompson, but after several minutes Keith was struggling to answer Charnock’s questions about Earth tides. Keith realised that Charnock had people mixed up and said that he should speak to me in the next office!

I remember that Keith was a good guitar player, which was useful for some of the parties at that time.

David Pugh

David Pugh started at Bidston at about the same time as me (late 1969). He and Kevin Taylor were long suffering fans of Everton.  I well remember David taking me and Tony Lambert (at Bidston on a one-year post-doc) to see Everton in 1970, with just a few games to go before they won the title. David emphasized, quite rightly, that we should look closely at Colin Harvey and Alan Ball, who were the midfield engines of the Everton team.

In 1970, David, Tony Lambert, Ian Ainslie and I would play football at lunch times. We would use pullovers as goal posts at the bottom of the hill (the flat area on the right at the bottom) and kick a football about for some fun and exercise. At about that time, somebody arranged a football match in which an IOS Bidston team took on a team put together by the Liverpool University Oceanography Department. After a few minutes of the game, David ran through but found his way blocked, so he passed to me and shouted ‘shoot’.  I did and the ball surprisingly flew into the top right-hand corner of the net. Tom Dugdale (in Bidston Administration but not yet the Administrator) was the referee but we lost the match anyway. In the summer of 1970, we had a flat in Park Road South and for the England vs. Germany World Cup game in Mexico, I invited David and a few others around for beers to watch the game. It was a very enjoyable evening until the England collapse in the second half, after Alf Ramsey took off Bobby Charlton.

To add to the mentions of David’s career in the obituary on the NOC web site, in the 1970s there was a major programme of measurements on the Inner Dowsing (an off-shore platform near the Wash off the east coast of England). This involved Doug Leighton visiting Inner Dowsing regularly by helicopter. Ian Vassie and Graham Alcock (see above) were involved in the analysis of the data. Graphics software at that time was fairly primitive, but I recall writing a program in 1971 to plot tilt ellipses at Llanrwst (as part of research on Earth Tides). This turned out to also be useful for plotting current ellipses and was used by David for some of the plots in his 1987 book.

Whilst I was on sabbatical in the USA in 1974, David used his experience of working at the MoD to set up a Whitley Committee (a local committee containing management and union representatives) with himself as chairman of the union side. He thought that would help the newly appointed director, David Cartwright, handle some of the administration issues at Bidston. When I returned from the USA he persuaded me to take over as chairman of the union side. It was a bigger task than I expected, because at that time we had a head of administration that didn’t particularly like scientists. Fortunately, before most meetings I received a confidential phone call from somebody in admin telling me what this guy was up to, so that I was forewarned and could get around the problem!

One important thing that David did, while being Chairman of GLOSS and President of the Commission on Mean Sea Level and Tides of IAPSO, was in getting measurements of the geodetic fixing of Tide Gauge Benchmarks off the ground by setting up the so-called ‘Bill Carter committee’. The photograph below was taken at Woods Hole in November 1988 (unfortunately Dick Peltier, Dick Rapp and Bob Schutz were not available for the photograph).

Bill Carter committee at Woods Hole, 1988. Back row: David Enfield, Christian Le Provost, Bill Carter and David Pugh. Front row: Claude Boucher, me (Trevor Baker), David Aubrey and Mark Zumberge.

A football photograph

from Ian Ainslie

The photograph below refers to another of the football matches with Liverpool University mentioned in the contribution from Trevor Baker.

Probably just over 50 years ago, the Institute of Coastal Oceanography and Tides (ICOT as it was then) played the first of a series of 2 or 3 football matches against a team from Liverpool University. I think the game in Liverpool where this picture was taken was won by us (ICOT). I think the score was 4-1 but perhaps that was no surprise when you see that the referee was Dr. Rossiter (ICOT Director). His son David was also in the team.

I think Tom Dugdale was about 47 then at a time when I marvelled how he was still playing football and cricket at that age. Little did I know then that I would play until I was 60 and only then did I stop because I left Keyworth to move back to the Wirral.

Photo of ICOT football team
ICOT football team. Top left to right, Roger Flather, David Rossiter (the Director’s son), Richard White, John Howarth, Graham Jeffries, Trevor Baker, Tony Bowen, Tony Lambert and Dr. Rossiter (referee). Bottom left to right, me (Ian Ainslie), Izzy Crown (husband of Pauline Crown who was a secretary at Bidston), Tom Dugdale and David Pugh.

Some Memories of David Pugh and Keith Thompson

by Jerzy Graff (jerzy dot graff at gmail dot com)

I was fortunate to know both David and Keith during their formative years at Bidston Observatory and like many others I am greatly saddened at their passing.

I joined the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences (IOS) Bidston in March1974 as head of the Tidal Computation Group which was being temporarily managed by David Pugh. My background was applied maths and fluid dynamics with programming experience using some of the latest main frame computers of the time while working at the DoE HECB (Highway Computer Engineering Branch) in London. I knew nothing about tides but equally was looking for a route out of programming.

My task at Bidston was to modernise the production of tide table predictions to match the introduction of modern computer typesetting systems being introduced for production of Tide Tables by the UK Hydrographic Department in Taunton. At that time tidal prediction computation at Bidston covered ports across UK, Europe, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and parts of the Americas. The procedures which had evolved from pioneering researches at Bidston and development of the “Tidal Prediction Machine” were still relatively primitive and involved predictions being computed by an old KDF9 computer in Liverpool and punched paper tape output delivered back to Bidston to drive IBM printers generation fully formatted A3 size Tide Table pages for each port which, after checking for errors using comptometers to aid the differencing of times and heights and photographing the pages for archiving, were sent to Taunton for off-set-litho printing of official tide tables. At the same time Bidston was transitioning to use a new powerful IBM computer so the modernisation task was transformed into creating in-house software that moved the tide prediction systems onto the IBM and generated specially coded magnetic tapes that could directly drive the new Linetron systems at Taunton for producing Tide Tables. Valerie Doodson who was involved in the earlier use of Tidal Prediction Machines at Bidston was responsible for managing the production and administration of Tide Table work and coped superbly with the transition to a modern production system. The challenging software development was undertaken by David Blackman who I recruited in 1974 and who proved to be one of the finest programmers I have ever worked with.

By the time I left Bidston at the end of 1981 national capability for producing Tide Tables meant that predictions for Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore were no longer prepared at Bidston and the UK Hydrographic Department was also beginning to take over predictions for UK and European ports.

David Pugh

During my time at Bidston, David and I had a fairly terse relationship due to our competing research interests in extreme sea level studies. David and Ian Vassie were pioneering the new joint-probability method of analysis, whereas I was extending the classical scheme of handling annual maxima pioneered a decade earlier by Lennon and Suthons. Around 1978, David chose to move to the Natural Environment Research Council headquarters in Swindon on a “fast track” pathway into management. It was all the more amazing how he re-engaged with his tidal research interests so successfully all these years later. I left IOS in 1981 and moved into the commercial oceanography sector with one foot still in the tidal research domain and here the tale begins.

David was always a smart if not dapper dresser with his standard attire of double-breasted blazer and grey slacks, a fashion that I myself adopted from 86/87 onwards. Over the years, we kept bumping into each other at various European Commission meetings or conferences, and, on one occasion, I recall David remarking in his imitable way “I like your blazer … where did you get it?” …….. “I had it made in Hong Kong … by a tailor on Lockhart Road” …. knowing full well that David would have no idea what the significance of Lockhart Road meant. Stony silence and change of subject.

In more recent years, at the inauguration ceremony of the exhibition of Tidal Prediction Machines at the National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool, we met again and, while heading downhill to lunch afterwards at his favourite eatery, he was obviously taken by my light tan classic brogue shoes and remarked “I like your shoes .. where did you get them” … TK Maxx I responded. A happy smile and David insisted he pay for lunch.

David was a nice chap and, when we were both at Bidston, we saw each other socially and played footie together. It so happens that later, when I was at British Maritime Technology (BMT) in 1985-2009, one of my senior colleagues there was Andrew Docherty. He had also played footie with David, at Cambridge where they were contemporaries. Even spookier, Andrew was brought up in Claughton village just down the road from us!

Keith Thompson

Keith Thompson was one of the bright young things who arrived at Bidston while I was there. He went on to carve out a memorable career in tidal research after having been guided on his way by Norman Heaps and others. Alan Davies, Judith Wolf and Roger Proctor were also newcomers at Bidston at the time. At that time, Keith was researching the variations in mean sea level (MSL) around the UK. Because my own work on annual sea level maxima around the UK ran in parallel with Keith’s work on monthly MSL variations at the same locations, we often engaged in discussion, with me benefiting the most in any knowledge exchange. We both submitted our respective papers covering more than 60 ports in 1979 with Keith’s work a steppingstone to a highly formative career at Dalhousie University in Canada. At Bidston, Keith somehow always seemed to be a young, eager and happy-go-lucky post-grad who was a long way from taking on the mantle of responsibility which he acquired in Canada.

Although we exchanged the odd email over the years we never met again.


Remembering the Proudman Building (1975-2013)

Judith Wolf, July 2022

The Proudman Building, viewed from Bidston Observatory, watercolour, painted by Sylvia Asquith
The Proudman Building, viewed from Bidston Observatory, painted by Sylvia Asquith

I started work at IOS Bidston in March 1976. It was a beautiful hot summer and I was delighted to be taking the first step on my career as an Oceanographer. I had graduated in July 1975 with a degree in Maths and Physical Oceanography from Bangor University. In October 1975 I got married and came to live in Cheshire, to join my husband who was posted there by his employer. I looked around for work and wrote to Bidston Observatory, one of the few places in the North West where there might be work in oceanographic research. Unfortunately, there was no vacancy but they offered to keep my name on file. To occupy myself, I started on a PhD at Keele University in the Maths Department, working on semi-conductor physics, modelling a tunnel diode – something I knew nothing about and in which I was not initially very interested. Six months later, just as I started to get the hang of what I was doing, I got a letter from Bidston saying there was a vacancy for a junior scientist and was I interested. Yes I was, so I applied and got offered the job at the grade of Scientific Officer (seeing as I didn’t yet have a PhD).

I loved working at Bidston immediately, it still had a warm family feeling, although by this time there were already about 80 staff, far more than in the early days. Three of us were appointed as ‘new blood’ in 1976, towards the end of quite a period of expansion. Most of the science staff were based in the ‘new building’ as it was known (even until it was pulled down in 2013). It was officially ‘opened’ and named in 1979, as a memorial to Prof Joseph Proudman, professor of mathematics at Liverpool University, and founder and first Director of the Liverpool Tidal Institute. The Proudman Building was a modern concrete structure, nothing like the historical Observatory building, but purpose-built by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), our employer, to accommodate the burgeoning marine scientific research programme. At the time (and for most of my career) we were on Scientific Civil Service terms and conditions, the pay was not the main attraction, but there was a generous final salary pension scheme and retirement was compulsory at age 60. For me this would be in 2013 – a long way in the future, I wasn’t thinking about my pension at that point! In fact I didn’t retire that year as the age rule had been relaxed by then, but it seems somehow significant  that the building had almost the same life span as my career.

The other attraction was that there was a possibility of being able to work for a part-time PhD, registered at Liverpool University. I already recognised that, being one of the only women scientists doing research at Bidston at the time, a PhD would be essential for me to be taken seriously in marine research. Soon after I joined, I was encouraged to go to sea on the RRS Challenger to the Celtic Sea, for the experience, although my work was mainly desk-based. It was great fun and I loved being at sea, taking part in watch-keeping: I shared a cabin with another young female scientist (women weren’t allowed to go to sea without another woman at that time), recruited about the same time as myself, Julia Evans. She was a graduate in oceanography from Swansea, but didn’t stay at Bidston very long, unfortunately, moving away to support her husband’s career in the police service.

I was assigned to a shared office on the 2nd (top) floor, in the Numerical Modelling Group, which was led by Norman Heaps, renowned for his pioneering work in developing numerical models of the sea, especially to study tides and storm surges. Also on the top floor was the Director’s Office (when I joined Dr David Cartwright was in charge) and the Canteen, where people gathered for coffee at 11:00, including some who came over from the Observatory Building, notably Sylvia Asquith and Joyce Scoffield (whose reminiscences can be found elsewhere in these articles). At the time we had a small in-house computer, the IBM 1130, in the basement of the Observatory building, but most of us sent our computing work as decks of punched-cards to the Science Research Council’s mainframe computer at the Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire, about 30 miles away. This meant you had to wait 24 hours before the printout came back, to discover you had omitted a punctuation mark, leading to a compilation error! We all punched our own cards – including the Director.

On the 1st floor there were more science offices. The ground floor was the electronics lab and the Honeywell 66/20 computer room, the mainframe computer for the whole of NERC. It was due to be installed at Bidston in early autumn 1976, but the associated air conditioning plant was delayed and the 66/20 eventually became fully operational at Bidston in January 1978. The following 10 years was probably the golden era of Bidston’s influence and maximum staff numbers. When that computer was removed in the mid-80’s, the Library was installed in part of that space, transferred from the Observatory building, and run by our excellent librarian Kathy Jones, who was so knowledgeable and provided a great extracts service tailored to all of our specialisms. In the basement was the workshop and the ‘loading bay’ where equipment for scientific sea-going expeditions, known as research ‘cruises’, was mobilised and sent to RVS Barry in South Wales, where the research vessel fleet was based. Typically, our work in marine physics/hydrodynamics involved the deployment of offshore tide gauges and current meters and taking CTD profiles at selected stations (a ‘CTD’ – conductivity/salinity, temperature and depth-profile characterised the hydrography of the sea). The place was a hive of activity. At that time, the way we got our funding was from several government departments. A lot of my work was funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), which was responsible for coastal defence. We would receive ‘visiting groups’ of eminent scientists (e.g. Prof Adrian Gill, Sir Herman Bondi and Sir James Lighthill) every five years, who would interrogate us about our work and write a report, generally encouraging us to carry on! We had a lot of autonomy, but our research was, in fact, mostly applied to real world problems, providing information for the shipping, fishing and coastal engineering industries and so it was relatively easy to show its value. It was much easier than in later years when it has become increasingly competitive to win research funding, leading to large amounts of time spent by senior scientists, like myself by that time, in writing research proposals.

During my PhD studies I got to work with some colleagues at IOS Taunton to help collect and access some of their data on currents in shallow seas. In 1978 I participated in the ill-fated expedition on the charter vessel Gardline Locator in the Bristol Channel during which Martyn Lees from IOS Taunton was tragically lost overboard. I came on watch at 08:00 to be told he had just fallen overboard and be sure to log all activity. There was later a NERC enquiry in London, which I had to attend along with all others on board at the time, to recount the sequence of events as far as knew it. Safety procedures were criticised and improved as a result of this terrible accident.

I finally got my PhD in 1984, around the same time as I had my first baby. I knew if I didn’t get my thesis submitted before that event I might never complete it! I had started publishing papers and attending conferences, both national and international, and got rapid promotion to Principal Scientist in my early 30’s, which was essential to be recognised as a ‘prime-mover’ (in NERC jargon), initiating my own research programme. I carved out an area of research including the coupled modelling of storms, waves, tides and surges, mainly focussing on the NW European continental shelf (with water depths less than 200m as compared with 5000m in the deep ocean). Studying waves meant I worked with an international group of wave modellers and I set up a North Atlantic wave model, which provided boundary conditions for the continental shelf model and allowed us to study wave climate. I also had to acquire wave data to validate the wave model – sadly much of the UK wave observational programme had been closed down in the early 1980’s, particularly with the closure of IOS Taunton. I was responsible for initiating work with the X-band radar system to capture waves from a ship’s navigational radar display, turning up the ‘sea clutter’ and photographing the screen. This led to my final research cruise, on which I was Principal Scientist, observing waves in the Bristol Channel in February 1991 – not glamorous, but we did get some storm winds and good-sized waves!

We were moved over to the University of Liverpool campus in December 2004 and in its latter years the Proudman Building was maintained by NERC with some of the costs being offset by the running of the building (and the Observatory) for low-cost rental accommodation by so-called ‘guardians’. It was finally decided that in order to get a sale of the site, the Proudman Building, of no historical value and purpose-built for science, should be demolished, which happened in 2013. The grassy landscaped patch of ground where it stood does not look big enough to have housed so much activity and achievement.

More information about the history and work of Bidston Observatory can be found in other articles in this series and an article by Eric Jones written for Ocean Challenge in 1999 (Vol 9, No 1, pp 29-35): See also Joyce Scoffield’s book ‘Bidston Observatory: The Place and the People”, pub. Countyvise Limited, 2006. ISBN 1-901231-68-2

Thanks to Phil Woodworth and Ian Ainslie who corrected an earlier version of this article.

Kevin Frederick Taylor

Kevin Frederick Taylor, Head of Marine Engineering Workshop

A personal obituary by Graham Alcock from New Zealand

Kev passed away on 10th May, quickly at home after a couple of years of illness. He joined Bidston in 1970 and soon gained a reputation for his very high-quality precision work in manufacturing our instruments that made Bidston Observatory one of the few European oceanographic labs capable of making measurements in coastal, shallow and deep waters. He was head of the Mechanical Engineering Laboratory at Bidston Observatory. All instruments that went in the sea were manufactured in this facility as none were available commercially. During his career, he made a number of major contributions to advance the design of instruments. He was known by everyone at Bidston Observatory and well liked and respected by them all.

Kev had a great sense of humour and was an excellent raconteur of stories and jokes; an ability developed and honed during his other early career as a cabaret double act playing guitars and telling jokes. I always looked forward to emails from him to NZ with his wit and turn of phrase.

I remember happy times outside work. I remember especially the three holidays that we all went on in 2005 before Iona and I emigrated to New Zealand.

Kev was interested in Roman Britain and he, Di, Graham and Iona enjoyed a visit to Hadrian’s Wall in winter 2005 – made more memorable by staying in a Fawlty Towers hotel. The hotel had just been bought by a woman whose previous experience was limited to helping her sister run a B+B. When we said we would like an evening meal, she had to look in the fridge/freezer to see what there was, and while that was being prepared, we had to light the fire in the lounge. We were the only people staying there, but that weekend her family descended en masse and proceeded to drink the bar dry. We had to save the young daughter from falling into the lounge fire. Kev never let me forget about booking Fawlty Towers!

In May we went to Stratford where I had booked us into a traditional country inn and that was OK except for one breakfast, when Kev’s sausages were uncooked. The chef had taken the morning off and given the cooking duties to one of the young kitchen staff. It could only happen to Kev!

In July we went to Cornwall to visit the Eden Project. On the way down, I had researched a Real Ale pub to stop at for lunch; this turned out to be an Indian restaurant in bright orange, much to Kev’s delight! We stayed at a B+B owned by a German and his English wife and on the way down, Kev had joked about “Don’t mention the war” but that is what the German owner himself said to us at our first breakfast!

Another passion of Kev’s, with myself was supporting Everton; through thick and thin; he lived to see Everton beat arch rivals “the Reds” at Anfield in February 2021.

I always stayed with Kev and Di when visiting the UK each year and both Iona and myself were delighted when they came over for Emma and Myles’ wedding and we had a great holiday – no uncooked sausages or Fawlty Towers!

After retirement, Kev was able to spend more time on one of his passions – renovating a vintage Jaguar with Ian Vassie.

So, we have very fond memories of Kev – his contribution to Bidston’s working and social life, and to our own lives, was immense.

We will miss him.

Gray and Iona

My early life at Bidston Observatory

Joyce Scoffield

Originally, from 1955, I worked in the Met Office at Speke Airport (later to be called Liverpool Airport and subsequently John Lennon Airport). I very much enjoyed being a weather observer – sending observations up to the control tower to be passed on to aircraft, but the job involved shift work, which included regular night duties. This was fine till I got married in 1961. At that stage, I became less enthusiastic about shift work and about the amount of travelling involved between Greasby and the airport: bus – ferry – bus – at least an hour each way. I didn’t drive in those days.

So I decided to look for another job. Bidston Observatory came to mind. It was much nearer home and I knew they had a weather station there. So I wrote to the Director asking him if there were any job vacancies. He – Dr. Rossiter – invited me to go for interview and duly offered me a job! It was as easy as that in 1961. Nowadays, with high competition for every post, people can’t believe that it could ever be that easy.

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Reflections on Time

Kevin F. Taylor

I was recently invited to attend a garden party to celebrate 150 years of the Bidston Observatory, hosted by Stephen and Mandy Pickles on Saturday 17 September 2016 in the grounds of Bidston Lighthouse. This gave me a deep sense of déjà vu, as it reminded me so much of my first day as a member of Bidston staff at the start of 1972.

On that day, I drove up the same well-worn drive, past the sandstone wall entrance, and into the grounds. On my right hand side was a lawn that was shortly to be occupied by the new Proudman Building. But in early 1972 that area looked almost the same as it does now, except for a small vegetable patch that was attended to by a Mr. Connell. He and his family occupied the cottages that belonged to the lighthouse and had been built by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. On that balmy Saturday evening in September, I thought it quite strange that, here I was celebrating 150 years of the Observatory, and yet the ‘new’ Proudman Building had been built and demolished (in early 2013) within little more than 40 years, a fraction of the Observatory’s lifetime.

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Directing Bidston

Graham Alcock, 21 October 2016

I joined Bidston in 1972 and took early retirement in 2000, having survived five name changes (Institute of Coastal Oceanography and Tides, Institute of Oceanographic Sciences, Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory, Centre for Coastal and Marine Science and back to the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory). Here are anecdotes about some of the Directors during that time.

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Bidston recollections

John Huthnance, 7 Oct 2016.

I joined IOS Bidston (as it was then) in October 1977. The validity of my appointment could be questioned as the appointment letter came from DB Crowder (the Bidston administrator) who left before I arrived.

It was a good time to join. There were about 80 staff in total, few enough to give a “family” atmosphere with the feeling that everyone knew everyone else. Several colleagues had been taken on during the early 1970s but it was still a time of expansion rather than otherwise.   Scientists like myself had a fairly free hand to pursue promising lines of research within a fairly broad remit. I enjoyed a feeling of support from fellow scientists to do just this. Much of the funding came through a consortium of several government departments with an interest in our research. The negotiations were at some distance from most of the scientists who did not have to spend much time writing proposals, yet it was good to know of “user” interest in our work, always a characteristic of Bidston science. It was still possible to be “the” expert in a topic, a rarity today. I was lucky.

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