"So Farewell Then" a recently published memoir by Wendy Cook, Peter Cook's first wife and mother of his children ,is a remarkably balanced book about life with this enormously talented but eternally selfish man, who every day got up and did exactly what he wanted to do, and fuck everyone else.
There are many new, entertaining anecdotes and stories that afford an insight into this mercurial rogue and the band of 60's and 70's troubadors and hangers on - many a name is dropped, along with some fascinating hints about how to make a really good vichysoisse and the correct way to knead a Mallorcan bread bun.
One story that strikes and resonates concerns Francis Crick, co-inventor of the structure of DNA with James Watson (see pic) - Wendy's lifelong friend Ros Myers, from her days at the Slade had "taken up" with a haematologist at Cambridge Dr John Smith. As a result
...." there were "many friends" and outrageous parties often at the house of Francis Crick, whose ground breaking work on DNA,, with James Watson, had set him apart from other mortals. It was interesting to witness such a brilliant man behaving in such a puerile manner at social gatherings, for example often looking up the au pairs skirt."
In researching some of the history of drugs and the activities of Richard Kemp and his girl friend Christine Bott, whose pioneering development of domestic scale LSD manufacturing was so rudely interrupted in Operation Janet a curious claim was unearthed about Francis Crick.
In an article in the Mail on Sunday on August 8th 2004, just after Francis Crick died Alun Rees published an article in which he relates that Nobel Prize genius Crick was high on LSD when he discovered the secret of life , which is a fascinating footnote note on Francis Crick's role in the history of Richard Kemp and his magical chemistry set.
Francis Crick was, (like many at the time) intrigued by the books of Aldous Huxley, The Doors Of Perception and Heaven And Hell which detailed his experiments with botanical hallucinogens such as , mescaline the active ingredietnt of peyote (both tedious and worth reading only for their historical inetrest) . Crick helped found Soma (the universal state provided sedative in Huxley's Brave New World ) and signed a famous letter to The Times in 1967 calling for a reform in the drugs laws.
Apparently Crick was familiar with American writer David Solomon, a supposed friend of East Coast hippie LSD guru Timothy Leary who had come to Britain in 1967 on a quest to discover a method for manufacturing pure THC, the active ingredient of cannabis. This threw together Solomon and Richard Kemp a clever biochemist and thus was founded the original illicit LSD manufacturing business.
Rees explains that ....
"Dick Kemp told me he met Francis Crick at Cambridge. Crick had told him that some Cambridge academics used LSD in tiny amounts as a thinking tool, to liberate them from preconceptions and let their genius wander freely to new ideas. Crick told him he had perceived the double-helix shape while on LSD."
The truth of course is a litle more mundane. Briefly, Maurice Wilkins was working in John Randall's laboratory at King's College, London and was joined in working on X ray diffraction crystalography of deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA by Rosalind Franklin.
Whilst colleagues, Wilkins behaved in a (then) typically male authoritarian way MCP or male chauvinistic pig - a phrase that seems to have died) and Franklin resented this ( she was also an elite, wealthy, Francophilic Jewish, proto- feminist given to theatrical tantrums), so there was a degree of friction between them. Although disputed it appears that Wilkins showed Watson one of Franklin's crystallographic portraits of DNA. (above)
Sight of these X rays , which J. D. Bernal called , "the most beautiful X-ray photographs of any substance ever taken." were seized on by both Watson and Crick who fitted the jigsaw puzzle together from the prior work of many others, not least Erwin Chargaff who identifed the equivalence of the the Purine and Pyrmdine bases, Linus Pauling's work (his son Paul worked with them_ and of course Avery whose work had shown that it was DNA that transmitted genes in vivo, proven in the famous "Waring blender experiement" of Hershey & Chase.
In an unorthodox fashion their stunning and original insight was published as a letter in Nature in 1953 - "A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid" by J D Watson and F H C Crick. Nature 1953, 171:737-738 .. and the rest as they say is history.
Franklin died of ovarian cancer in 1958 at the age of 37, 4 years later Crick, Watson and Wilkins shared the Nobel prize for their work on the double helix structure of DNA.
Did Crick resolve the puzzle of DNA when under a drug induced haze ? We will never know, it is a fanciful theory but one which can never be resolved. What is certain is that the structure of this most fascinating molecule relied upon Watson's sneak preview of Rosalind Franklin's X-ray - No 51.
What is also certain is that the structure would have been resolved others then working in the field - what is also certain is that those two dined out on it for the rest of their lives, so perhaps ading a soupcon of LSD made the telling of the tale a little more exciting -- and thereby contradicting Einstein's remark, "that a scientist makes science `the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way the peace and security which he cannot find in the whirlpool of personal experience."
PS It is interesting to note that Franlin's subsequent elucidation of the structure of the yellow Tobacco Mosaic Virus Her elucidation of the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus could have resulted in a Nobel prize but her junior collaborator on the project , Aaron Klug, did and he cited Franklin as his greatest mentor in his Nobel-prize speech . In accepting their Nobel prize, neither Watson nor Crick mentioned their indebtedness to Rosalind Franklin.
"Rosalind Franklin was a very intelligent woman, but she really had no particular reason for believing that DNA was particularly important. She was trained in physical chemistry. I don't think she'd ever spend any length of time with people who thought DNA was important. And she certainly didn't talk to Maurice [Wilkins] or to John Randall, then the professor at Kings".
James Watson quoted in Nature, 302, 21 (April 1983): 653. April 1983.
There's a myth which is, you know, that Francis and I basically stole the structure from the people at King's. I was shown Rosalind Franklin's x-ray photograph and, Whooo! that was a helix, and a month later we had the structure, and Wilkins should never have shown me the thing.
I didn't go into the drawer and steal it, it was shown to me, and I was told the dimensions, a repeat of 34 angstroms, so, you know, I knew roughtly what it meant and, uh, but it was that the Franklin photograph was the key event. It was, psychologically, it mobilised us..."
James Watson, Center for Genomic Research Inauguration, Harvard. September 30, 1999.
"One 35 years old, with the looks of a fading racing tout. . . an incessant falsetto, with occasional nuggets gleaming in the turbid stream of prattle. The other, quite undeveloped. . . a grin, more sly than sheepish. . . a gawky young figure." Crick and Watson, he said, looked like "a variety act." Erwin Chargaff
Rosalind Franklin and DNA by Anne Sayre
Picture of the famous Franklin X ray : Sodium deoxyribose nucleate from calf thymus, Structure B, Photo 51, taken by Rosalind E. Franklin and R.G. Gosling. Linus Pauling's holographic annotations are to the right of the photo. May 2, 1952
Linus Pauling and the Race For DNA - A documentary history.
A superb presentation of the history (if at time absurdly melodramatic) of the way the structure of DNA was finally resolved.Original papers, letters.