Andrea Morgale recalls the theoretical physicist’s dry humour. Peter Mussard reveals how he used his work to shock parents
Roger Penrose’s reference to the difficulty of organising events for Professor Stephen Hawking (Obituary, 15 March) evoked memories of when, as PR for Dillons Bookstore, my colleagues and I organised one of his first public lectures in London, at the Institute of Education, as part of the promotion for A Brief History of Time. After the (pre-recorded) lecture, accompanied by slides on an overhead projector, Prof Hawking agreed to take questions, which naturally entailed long pauses while he composed his replies one letter at a time. One particularly extended hiatus after a detailed question was followed by what we can now recognise as a typically witty Hawking response: “Could you repeat the question please?” I will remember the glint in his eye, demonstrating his satisfaction at wrong-footing us all. RIP Stephen Hawking, in whatever universe you now inhabit.
• Shortly after starting teaching (early 1980s), I wrote to Stephen Hawking to ask him if he could send me some of his work that I could share with A-level physics students. Shortly after, I received a parcel from his PA at DAMTP (Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics) at Cambridge, which contained documents on “n =8 Supergravity” and “Gauge Symmetry”. Of course I had no idea what it meant, but I copied some of it on to a blackboard under the heading “Year 7 science” before a year 7 parents’ evening. One parent, after looking at the board, said: “School science has moved on since I was a kid.” I wish I’d kept the stuff.