This month sees the end of a three year project to catalogue and share the Papers of scientist Sir Fred Hoyle. The Papers were donated to St John’s College, University of Cambridge, by Lady Barbara Hoyle in 2002, a year after Professor Hoyle’s death. Professor Hoyle was a creative, unorthodox astronomer, who coined the term the “Big Bang”, though he favoured a steady state explanation of the universe. His great discovery was the theory of nucleogenesis, explaining the creation of the elements inside stars. Despite this important work, he (famously) never received the Nobel Prize his achievement deserved. Fred Hoyle had many interests: he wrote music, science fiction and plays, and loved chess and mountain climbs.
And our connection? Professor Hoyle was a Yorkshireman, born in Bingley. And he knew another controversial Yorkshireman, J.B. Priestley. The two co-wrote a play, The Astronauts, around their shared interest in time and the cosmos. The Astronauts concerns the arrival of a spaceship containing humanoid (blue-ish) people from a civilisation now under Antarctic ice. “Astro” and “Stella” have travelled for what seems to be a few years to them, but time dilation has brought them 150,000 years into the future. An unfinished typescript of the play, corrected by Priestley, survives in the J.B. Priestley Archive (ref. 2/1/AST). The folder also contains dialogue notes in what we believe to be Fred Hoyle’s handwriting. The Astronauts was written for the stage, though I think it would have worked well on television.
You can find out more about Fred Hoyle’s life, works and interests on the Hoyle Project website, especially the Fred Hoyle in 10 Objects exhibit, which sums up his life and ideas very effectively using 10 significant items from the Archive.