The weather – and Weather (1)


What is it that moulds the life of man? Responding to this phrase from a poem by Charles Kingsley, E. L. Hawke suggested in his article Humour in meteorology (1946) that it is the weather but to its four enthusiastic founder-members it could just as well have been Weather. These four were Andrew Drummond, working at Kew Observatory on the measurement of solar radiation, J. S. Forrest, one of the first meteorologists to be employed full-time by industry, Roger Meetham, author of a classic book on atmospheric pollution and R. M. Poulter, perhaps best known for his index of the quality of individual British summers. When, in 1948, Andrew left to take up an interesting job in South Africa, I was happy to take his place as an editor: a task that proved to be more time-consuming, but also more absorbing, than I had expected.

In those early days, the tasks were shared more-or-less evenly between the editors: soliciting articles, selecting the material for each issue, checking the page-proofs, making a mock-up of the issue (using scissors and paste) and writing an editorial. We aimed to start most of the major articles at the top of the page, so were sometimes quite ruthless in our editing, cutting out superfluous phrases (such as it goes without saying) or removing a sentence or even a complete paragraph. I do not remember ever receiving a complaint from an author! We used to meet every month for dinner at a London restaurant for a final check of the issue and to discuss future plans. In one rather snooty restaurant we were told to stop working or to leave, as business meetings were not allowed. We left, and thereafter dined in a more modest establishment.

As Weather was aimed primarily at amateur meteorologists, we rarely published anything which included mathematical equations and we always tried to include something humorous, such as the afore-mentioned article by E. L. Hawke. Regular contributors along these lines included C. A. Wood, a school master, and A. J. Whiten, a London taxi driver. My only personal similar effort, Sick leave, is reprinted immediately following this article.

Some of our ideas for keeping the magazine interesting did not work. For example, in January 1949 I initiated what was intended to be a series of brief biographies of outstanding living meteorologists by writing about Lewis Fry Richardson, who happened to be a close family friend. In reply to my request for a photograph, he wrote that he thought it would be irrelevant, for the inside of my face is more interesting than the outside. The only immediate reaction to the article (Ashford, 1949) came from L. C. W. Bonacina at the next Society meeting: I enjoyed your note about Richardson, but I didn't know he was dead. Whether or not this remark was responsible, that was the end of the series.

As has been referred to in recent issues (Currie, 2010; Selfe, 2011), in 1950 we received a spate of letters protesting about the abrupt termination of the popular Airmet broadcasts, which had provided a 24-hour service of weather reports and forecasts for British met stations (e.g. MacBride, 1950). Council decided that the Society should organize a petition urging the Government to restore the service, and requested the editors of Weather to make the necessary arrangements. As I had by then become the longest-serving editor, it fell to me to assume the main responsibility. I reported in an anonymous article in the December 1950 issue that more than 21 000 people had signed the petition: they included a wide range of industrialists, numerous farmers and sailing enthusiasts, a large number of pigeon fanciers and more than 400 housewives, at least one of whom found the service useful for deciding when to wash my smalls (Weather editors, 1950).

That article turned out to be my last contribution to Weather in my capacity as an editor, for I was already training to take charge of the weather service in Gibraltar. A wild rumour circulated that my posting was not entirely unconnected with my close involvement in the Airmet petition! In fact I had received tacit approval from Meteorological Office headquarters and I even had a congratulatory telephone call from none other than J. M. Stagg (of D–Day forecast fame) telling me that that the results of the petition would be useful in planning the best way of presenting weather information to the public.

Weather had indeed helped to mould my life during those exciting three years. I am sure that it is having a similar influence on the life of the present editor: I only hope that he will not be too ruthless in editing these rather rambling reminiscences!