Sir Hermann Bondi

Letters to the editor

Norman E. Butcher writes:
Professor Sir Hermann Bondi (obituary, September 13) had a remarkable ability to hold an audience. On December 1, 1967, he delivered one of the most memorable Friday evening Discourses at The Royal Institution in London.

On Gravitation, he kept his audience spellbound for the allotted hour, completely without notes or illustrations of any kind.

Years later, at an Open University science summer school at Stirling University, I spotted a student with a close resemblance to Sir Hermann. Indeed, his name was Bondi and he was a cousin of Sir Hermann. He told me that he had never previously done any science and felt he had let his family down. The OU gave him the chance to rectify the situation.

Canon Bernard Dagnall writes:
Professor Sir Hermann Bondi (obituary, September 13) showed great gifts and skill as a teacher. When I read chemistry at Kings College London we had the option of an extra year-long mathematics course. We expected it to be taken by the newest recruit to the staff. I was surprised and delighted when it was taken by Professor Bondi himself. He transformed the subject by treating the course as a jungle. Each mathematical function and formula was brought to life and he endoweded them with the spirit of jungle animals, thus ensuring that the most obscure aspects of mathematics became as lively and attractive as his personality.

Though I have never had to use a Laguerre function since, I am sure I would still recognise it by its lion-like roar.

Dr Harry Stopes-Roe writes:
Sir Hermann Bondi was always an accessible and active participant in the affairs and conferences of the British Humanist Association, of which he was president from 1982 to 1999, not 1990 as you state.

He and his wife, Christine, were particularly interested in India. He received two prestigious Indian awards, and divided the large sum of money he received from the Birla International Award between the Atheist Centre in Andhra Pradesh and woman's health projects in Mumbai. His gift to the Atheist Centre established an educational Science Museum. Hermann was a humanist by his head and by his heart.

He was a warm and entertaining friend, with exhilarating knowledge and experience.

He had a fund of entertaining stories, and an amazing knowledge of European train timetables.

Norman Williams writes:
When I was a student in Cambridge in 1946 Hermann Bondi lectured in Statistics to the Natural Sciences mathematics students. He was a brilliant lecturer. His piece de resistance involved the correlation between figures relating to Russian cavalrymen injured by their horses in the Crimea with the binomial distribution. This was such a popular lecture that it was regularly attended by students who had heard it in previous years and who crowded the back of the lecture theatre to hear it again. When he triumphantly produced the high correlation there was invariably a storm of applause from all present.

Sir James Nursaw writes:
Meeting Hermann Bondi again, I introduced myself as one of his failures, for I had attended his lectures at Cambridge but then turned to law. He replied: "Then you must meet my wife. She is one of my successes -she attended my lectures and married me."

Jonathan Bates writes:
I particularly remember three things from when I worked with Hermann Bondi. First, he justified any new experience -even if just trying an interesting dish -as being something we should do "in the interests of science". Secondly, he delighted in studying railway and airline timetables and trying to find a way of making a journey that I could not rival -although I recall a happy smile spreading over his face when I found a way for him to travel from Carlisle to London on a Royal Mail plane. Thirdly, his glorious and loud laugh. As you record, Hermann was a humanist, but he was also a great human being, who took delight in the ordinary, who encouraged talent wherever he found it, and who was a true polymath.

Anthony Joseph writes:
Growing up in Birmingham in the l950s as a contemporary (but no relation) of Nathan Joseph (obituary, September 15), I might have predicted that he would make his mark in entertainment. As a teenager he was already much involved in producing revues which delighted the local Jewish community (he was always conscious of his roots and reciprocated the warmth it extended to him).

He was also a contemporary of mine at Cambridge (a scholar of Queens' College, not Kings as given in the obituary) and it was apparent then how much he contributed to university entertainment.

My late wife, herself a professional musician, was impressed with his musicality, his sense of theatricality as expressed in his productions and his uncanny ability to discern talent. An especially memorable event that he masterminded in London in the 1960s was an evening devoted to poetry readings and songs from the First World War. Nat persuaded Robert Graves to participate and to read some of his own work, which ensured a large audience.

A slight, dapper figure, Nat had an unexpectedly impressive speaking voice, combined with an incisive wit, which he used to brilliant effect as a mimic. He was also skilful at parody and perceptive in emphasising the comic aspects surrounding even the most serious situation.

Copyright (C) The Times, 2005