Alan Meets Fred Hoyle

It was in the early 70s and we were all postgrad mathematicians at Leeds, me, Alan, Dave and the others I knocked about with. And we were all going on a free trip to Bradford, about 12 miles away, to see Fred Hoyle give a lecture on his current thinking. He was perhaps the most famous populist astronomer of the day, and renowned for not believing in the Big Bang Theory.

We got a coach to Bradford, or was it a train, I forget now. Anyway, we arrived very early and so looked for the nearest pub. There were eight of us. We had two or three drinks, played Lennon’s Working Class Hero on the jukebox, argued about politics and agreed that it was indeed ‘something to be’. Then we headed for the university and found the lecture theatre just in time. It seated over a hundred. It had only one way in or out, a side door at the front, and only one way to the back row! Sheepishly, but noisily, we climbed the central steps past academics and professors to our hiding place at the back, our own masters from Leeds looking daggers at us. We would have to behave from now on.

The great man was introduced to us by a Bradford prof, duly received a huge round of applause, and began his lecture on his steady state theory. All went well for twenty minutes or so. Now, we postgrads had had a few drinks, but we were young. No problem surely! My mate Alan suddenly felt the call of nature. Without warning he rose to his feet and moved sideways to the central aisle. We were gobsmacked! Surely not! Alan had big feet, big shoes and in no way could be described as dainty. He clunked his way down the steps, Fred Hoyle stopping in mid-sentence and staring at the descending student. The room was completely silent except for Alan’s ungainly footfall. As Alan reached Fred Hoyle he nodded at him knowingly, turned left, opened the exit door and disappeared.

I stared at Dave next to me. Dave stared back. At least he’s gone, I thought, but we could be in trouble. We were representing Leeds University after all. Anyway, never mind, he’s gone. Fred Hoyle resumed. All was calm. And then, yes, a few minutes later, Alan re-entered the lecture theatre! Fred Hoyle stopped and stared. Alan nodded at him, just as before, climbed the steps just as noisily as when he left, and resumed his seat. I put my head in my hands in disbelief. We’ll get done for this, I thought.

Fred Hoyle, consumate professional speaker, finished his extremely interesting presentation and received a great ovation. The academics left the lecture theatre whilst we eight stayed put a while to let the dust settle. We then sneaked out of the building and legged it to the nearest watering hole to recommence our drinking, despite events! It was only late afternoon, after all. For Alan, his visit to Bradford was not over and would become even more memorable!

Our early evening pub crawl in Bradford, after Fred Hoyle’s seminar, went rather well, eight friends having a few drinks, talking about everything students talked about in those days, putting the world to rights. Alan’s indiscretion was ignored for the time being, although nobody could understand how he had dared come back after going for his comfort break in the middle of such a public lecture. Luckily, we never ran into any of the Leeds academic staff who were no doubt livid, ‘letting the university down chaps’.

Now, in those days pubs closed quite early, at eleven o’clock as I recall, with last orders around half ten. The eight of us were very merry by then and as we walked the streets, in search of a final destination, Alan spotted a pub in the distance.

With drinking time running out he shouted, ‘My round guys, I’ll run ahead and get them in!’

With that he ran off. What happened next still fills me with guilt, although I don’t recall whose idea it was. The remaining seven of us stood a while and somebody suggested that it would be so hilarious if we actually went to another pub we could see close by, not the one Alan was heading for. We’d have a drink there and make Alan sweat a bit. Funny eh? Well, we were pretty drunk. So, we went to the other pub, had a quick drink, forgot all about Alan, hurried to the station and got the last train back to Leeds!

Now, this is my memoir. But what happened to Alan? Well, this is what he told us the following day. I kid you not.

By half past ten Alan was quite drunk. He burst through the pub door and ran up to the bar, somewhat unsteady and out of breath. He ordered eight pints. The barman duly obliged and Alan carried them over to a single table, on a rather large tray, and sat, waiting for his seven comrades in arms to arrive, which, of course, we did not. He began to drink his first pint, the barman staring at him, quite perplexed. He finished the pint. We had not yet arrived, so he decided to tackle pint number two. He kept nervously glancing at the entrance door and at the barman who continued to stare at him in puzzlement. Between half ten and eleven o’clock, Alan drank, to the best of his recollection, four pints of bitter. It was closing time and, with four full pint glasses remaining on his tray, he left the pub completely blitzed out of his brains, alone in a strange city, no idea what to do or where the rest of us were. In fact, we were merrily travelling from Bradford to Leeds on a comfortable warm train.

However, for Alan, his night time adventure was not at an end.

So, after being thrown out of the pub at closing time, and being very much the worse for drink, Alan stood alone in a Bradford street assessing his predicament. Basically, he was lost, didn’t know where the station was and was aware that he was rather drunk. Well, Leeds was only eleven miles away, after all. He would walk home! (You may, dear reader, regard this decision as not sensible, but then again, you may be sober!)

Alan walked a while until he came across a sign for Leeds and then set off, soon leaving Bradford and heading off into the countryside along a relatively small road. It was, by then, extremely dark but he did manage to avoid being run over by any of the few cars that passed him by. He didn’t even bother trying to thumb a lift. Yes, he was definitely drunk!

After walking for some time he was, yet again, very much in need of toilet facilities, a recurring theme you may say. He was walking next to a wall and decided to climb over it for privacy, finding himself in a wood. He selected the nearest tree and relieved himself against it. What he did next was, perhaps, not too sensible. By now he was very tired. He was alone, in pitch blackness, in a wood, halfway between Bradford and Leeds. He decided to lie down for a few minutes, to have a rest. He went out like a light, asleep in seconds!

A few hours later the sun rose, the various birds in the wood began their dawn chorus and, no doubt, several squirrels stared down at a now more sober drunk suddenly waking up, thinking ‘where the hell am I?’ Alan was absolutely frozen and feeling rather unwell but, at least, had not died of hyperthermia overnight.
He stood up, gathered his thoughts, and climbed back over the wall. Ah, he thought, and set off again for Leeds.

Meanwhile, another day had dawned for his seven comrades. Back in Leeds, as dedicated postgraduate students we had gone into university as usual, as happy as Larry. By half past ten we’d all done some work and had met up in the staff lounge for a coffee and a chat. Mates relaxing together as we always did. At around eleven o’clock we were suddenly aware of a Robinson Crusoe like figure coming through the door, looking very dishevelled and worse for wear. It was Alan and, believe it or not, he had a huge smile on his face. There was a chorus of ‘where the bloody hell have you been!’ followed by a garbled explanation and much hysterical laughter. What a guy!

Every time I recall this story to myself I laugh out loud and find it harder to believe. However, it is a true story of a great guy, a good friend and a true gentleman.