Sir Michael Cometh

Sir Michael Atiyah is coming to Cambridge at the start of the new academic year. Sir Michael will take up residence as Master of Trinity, replacing the retiring Sir Andrew Huxley. The Archimedeans wish him well there, and also at the new Mathematical Institute, which he will head when it is founded.

This is not the first time Sir Michael’s return to his alma mater has been mooted; it was in the air when the mastership last became vacant. The incident was recorded in Eureka 45 thus:

Sir Michael Atiyah
Was coming here,
But the fellows of Trinity
Showed no affinity.

The appointment was the subject of a charming but wholly fictitious story in the Observer newspaper, who linked it with the position held at the Universities’ Funding Committee by Peter Swinnerton Dyer, another distinguished ex-Trinity mathematician and a contemporary of Sir Michael. Sir Peter is Chief Executive to the U.F.C.’s Chairman, Lord Chilvers, and is rumoured to be a continuing thorn in the side to the Prime Minister and to that extremely right-wing peer. According to the Observer story, Downing Street hinted that he might be appointed as Master of Trinity, and the fellows, detecting an ulterior motive behind the announcement, created. In fact when the appointment came due the Prime Minister had other things on her mind, having lost a couple of Cabinet ministers recently in a well-publicised manner, and was more than happy to rubber-stamp the first choice of the Trinity fellows. I am tempted to break into verse myself:

Professor Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer
Rose progressively higher and higher
In the Universities Funding Committee,
Which the P.M., in retrospect, thought was a pity.

Let the last word, however, go to John Greenlees, who penned the original clerihew about Atiyah. He writes:

Sir Michael Atiyah
Was opposed by a peer,
But the fellows of Trinity
Weren’t awed by nobility.

Reproduced from Eureka 50 page 59.
HTML conversion Copyright © 2004 The Archimedeans.


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