Morris Dancing Boffin

Francis Spufford, in Backroom Boys : The Secret Return Of The British Boffin:
I was collecting interviews for a radio documentary, and I had already gathered enough of the ethos of the rocketmen to know that Mr [Roy] Dommett was an eccentric in some ways. Those who survive from the heyday of British rocketry all live in detached, modern houses in Home Counties commuter villages or Midlands suburbs. So does Mr Dommett. He, like them, drove home every day from establishments shrouded in secrecy to family tea and an after-supper pint in the Green Man. But he inhabits a much shaggier version of suburban pastoral than his colleagues. Their houses are ultra neat, with outbreaks of supernaturally competent DIY, like externalisations of the kind of mind that adjusts a complex system until it’s just so. His is surrounded by a runaway experiment in growing wildflowers, and has a car in the driveway which has been awaiting repairs for many months. Inside, rampaging grandchildren zoom about. A keen Morris dancer, with a countryman’s voice, he was largely responsible for Chevaline, the naval update of Polaris, in the 1970s. As I talked to him, he sat by his fire; an old Panama hat wobbled on top of the stack of books next to his armchair. It gave him quiet satisfaction that he looked less like Dr Strangelove than like Falstaff, or some other figure of innocent pleasure out of deep England. Another of the rocketmen I talked to spotted him by chance once in Bristol. ‘These Morris Men came dancing up the street, led by this big fat bloke in a kind of Andy Pandy outfit, who was bopping people on the head with a pig’s bladder — and I said to my wife, “Sweetheart, you won’t believe me, but that man is one of the brains behind Britain’s nuclear defence.” ‘

One thought on “Morris Dancing Boffin

  1. Frank, Frank, an urgent word of warning!! Back off the morris!! No, in serious, deadly ernest I implore you to go no further… There are dark forces at work in this land… I can say no more. I have probably said too much… I have to go now. Someone is knocking on the front door with what sounds like a pigs bladder on a stick…

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