Recalled by Friends, Colleagues & Students
Most of the following contributions were received following Graham
Barrett's letter in ‘Chemistry in Britain’, the remainder from letters
received after Charles's death. Many thanks to everyone who
wrote. I've edited people's recollections only slightly and arranged
them in approximately chronological order.
From Ted Searle:
I started full time at the Poly around the end of 1945. The organic
research lab was fairly small, with two island benches and three along
the sides. Remembering the single door, drop from the windows, use of
solvents and flames, it would probably horrify a modern safety
On 15 May 1946, Charles was brought in and introduced by JK (Dr Joseph
Kenyon, Head of Chemistry). The next day Charles came in and chatted
with us, leading to my non-committal comment 'seems quite
agreeable'. We worked on adjacent benches, though I only remember him
distilling methyl methacrylate prior to experiments with it. The
pleasant smell remained in my mental card index (or floppy disc?) for
fifty years before I eventually recognized it when having an
impression taken for a denture. I did however know of his earlier work
elucidating the structure of arachidonic acid. He started lecturing on
23 September, and six days later blew up the sodium lamp I had bought
for polarimetry the day before – comment not
We frequently had a boat on Battersea Park Lake summer lunchtimes. On
one occasion CLA took the opportunity to dispose of a bottle of
degraded sodium under oil, made sure nobody was looking, and lobbed it
into the water, where signs of reaction soon appeared on the
surface. The bottle is probably still there.
In the 1940s, we always wore neckties (except possibly in
heat-waves). One day Ian Anderson greeted CLA with ‘Where's your tie,
Charlie?’ CLA clutched his neck, said ‘B––––– women sat opposite me at
breakfast and never said anything!’, and went straight out to buy
one. He was shortly due to lecture.
In addition to walking and boating, groups of us also went to the
theatre, and Charles came to some of the Poly. Gilbert and Sullivan
performances in which Jeanne, Bob Crick and I were involved (the
Cricks kept it up for over 50 years).
In July 1947 a large group of us went to the Faraday Lecture given by
Sir Robert Robinson, PRS, recorded in Brock's history of chemistry as
an ‘embarassing lecture’ which had his chemical rivals Hughes and
Ingold exchanging 'indulgent bemused glances'. My recollection (not
recorded) is of Charles after perhaps five minutes muttering ‘He's
drunk – I'm not staying here’, getting up and walking out.
The Collège Franco-Brittanique in Paris was then offering
two-week stays there, and I think I probably persuaded Charles to
accompany me, travelling on 1 September 1947 via Newhaven-Dieppe to
Paris St-Lazare. In the evening we went out for a glass of wine,
served with the meaning comment ‘Service non inclus’
The next day there were time-consuming formalities with police and
town hall regarding rationing, etc., but we spent several days
exploring bits of the city and we had a train trip out to walk in some
country. Barely two years after the war ended in Europe, food was
pretty poor there, and on the 8th Charles was depressed after a bad
night. I said there was no need to stay if he did not want to, and I
saw him off again on the 09.30 train on the 10th, looking cheerful
once more! I saw the two weeks out.
On 6th May 1948 Charles was in a staff-student cricket match, his
first since 1927. I was in a similar match, after nine years, on 1
July, being bowled first ball, but do not know how Charles had performed.
I was spending less and less time in the lab, working on my thesis,
Charles giving me helpful advice. I submitted my thesis in October and
had my viva just before Christmas. After a number of interviews, I
started in mid-November in a post at the University College Hospital
Medical School. I continued for a while with some evening teaching and
in the Operatic Society. Jeanne and I were married in 1949.
Jumping on to 1953, when I had moved to the Royal Free Hospital School
of Medicine, CLA came to dinner and we discussed a possible student
project, later discarded.
On a snowy 8 March in 1958, Charles came into the Cancer Research labs
in Birmingham, after driving in his Standard 8 from Coventry where he
had lectured the previous evening. After a quick tour of the labs,
Medical School and University, he drove me home to Marlbrook, and we
walked up onto the Lickey Hills after dinner. He brought chocs for
Jeanne and me, and toys for the boys. Peter (who called him 'Grandpa'
at first) was thrilled with his plastic van and took it to bed with
him for a long time afterwards. The next day we drove to the top of
the famous Lickey Incline; we only saw a down train, missing the
impressive sight of a steam train being banked up as it was
Sunday. Charles left in the snow the next morning.
Charles and I also met briefly at the Memorial Symposium for
Dr. Kenyon, at which he spoke, then finally in Farnham in 1983.
From A.C. Littlejohn:
I was a Chemistry student at Battersea Poly during 1947-50 and thus
was one of Dr Arcus' first batch of students. He lectured us on
Organic Chemistry throughout our first year. This was a time when, by
government decree, 90% of student places had to go to ex-servicement
who had missed normal opportunities as a result of war service, and
this meant that the student body was very mature/stolid by normal
standards. I was one of the few schoolboys in the 1947 intake whilst
my partner in laboratory exercises was an ex-Lt. Commander RN, married
with two children. In this environment, Charlie Arcus' air of slight
eccentricity/rebelliousness provided a very welcoming lightening touch.
Dr Arcus had the sort of aura that attracted apocryphal stories. The
one that I recall most clearly was that his research work involved
significant quantities of metallic sodium and that the sodium residues
were not easy to dispose of, probably due to a shortage of solvents at
this time. Folk-lore held that Charlie carried his residues home with
him in a paper bag and dropped them into the Thames as he walked over
Chelsea Bridge. On one occasion, reportedly, the bag dropped
alongside a passing string of barges, (in those days strings of barges
carrying coal upstream to powerstations and gasworks in Chelsea and
Fulham or waste paper to recovery mills in Battersea, were a common,
quite frequent sight). The reaction of the sodium with the Thames on
this occasion released a remarkable flow of unprintable invective from
the bargee/steersman. We always regarded this story as ‘given truth’;,
but had no clue as to its origin.
From Professor G.V. Boyd:
I think I was Dr Arcus's first research student, at Battersea
Polytechnic from 1948-1950. He supervised my work in a subject
connected to stereochemistry and reaction kinetics (see J. Chem. Soc.
There was one laboratory for research in organic chemistry. Since
Dr. Arcus also had a place there I saw him nearly every day. I found
that he was a good chemist, imaginative and erudite, always ready to
discuss my results and to offer suggestions. It was a pleasure to work
with him and I learnt a great deal.
Dr. Arcus was very reserved; he never talked about his private life
and I really knew nothing about him. We discussed only chemistry. He
had a dry sense of humour which I very much enjoyed.
I owe a great deal to him for his advice when I applied for my first
appointment; I shall forever be grateful to him.
From Professor John Salmon:
I met Charles Arcus when I joined the staff of the Chemistry
Department at Battersea in 1948.
I remember him as a shy man with a manner that could be quite gruff
until he got to know you. It was then that you realised he was a warm
hearted person, with a marked sense of fun, which was often only
revealed by a twinkle in the eye accompanying some dry comment. He
was a most conscientious and loyal colleague, who took his teaching
responsibilities most seriously. I think the first year students were
rather in awe of him, but as they progressed through the course they
got to know him better and there was never any shortage of final year
students wishing to do research under his supervision on graduating.
Supervising research students was one of his fortes and he inspired
deep respect and affection among those who worked for a PhD under his
guidance and that was something that they carried with them during
their subsequent careers. He was particularly helpful to them as they
embarked on their research, which was an activity very different from
that of undergraduate study and one requiring a period of adjustment.
His own research and that of his students was published in a series of
papers that commanded the respect of those working in the field. As a
result, funding from bodies such as DSIR and the Science Research
Council (now both defunct I believe) was forthcoming to support his
research. Although his work did not reach a wide audience – he rarely
attended professional conferences or presented papers, the quality of
his research was such that he was awarded one of the first ever
Readerships in a Polytechnic, a position confirmed by the University
of Surrey when it was established.
I have referred to Charles' sense of humour, and can still recall the
story of his setting fire to a lab boy's trousers (the owner was not
in them at the time!) at Prices Candle factory. Another occasion
relates to the University of London's requirement for an assessment of
each student's practical work to compare with the result of the
practical exam (in case of mishap during the latter, which was not
strictly the student's fault). Those responsible for providing the
information at Battersea were sitting in conclave with Charles sitting
a bit to one side with his mind on other matters. When the majority
were uncertain of their grading of one student, they appealed to
Charles for his verdict; he looked up briefly, said ‘Good student,
keeps quiet’ and resumed what he had been doing.
Another story which he told from his school days revealed that he and
his fellow pupils at school used to travel home on the top deck of a
tram, and run in unison from side to side until they had rocked the
tram off its rails!
He had obviously spent a fair bit of time at the British Museum and
was very knowledgeable on, amongst other things, Egyptology. A man of
From Norman Long, Peter Jackson and others:
I was part of the undergraduate group at Battersea in 1949-52, some of
us just demobbed from the forces, some straight from school. The
following are just some of our recollections.
One of our colleagues remembers ‘Charlie’ saying ‘if one can formulate
a product containing water, one should make a profit; if one can do
this with a large amount of water, one ought to make a large profit’.
Another colleague, a rather loud excitable chap, was unusually subdued
on returning after the summer vacation. Charlie asked what was wrong,
to which our friend replied ‘I can't put my finger on it, Sir’. The
whole lecture theatre burst into laughter.
Another fellow was given to asking long complicated questions which
were boring but had the object of showing off his knowledge, or so he
thought. One such question was tiresome and very long and convoluted,
and he prefaced it with ‘This may be a silly question, Sir, but if
...blah ...blah ...blah ...’ Charlie waited for the end of the
question and replied ‘Yes, it is a silly question’, and carried
straight on with the lecture.
On another occasion, Charlie was asked an abstruse question to which
he replied, with marvellous confidence, ‘I don't know – and if I don't
know, nobody else does!’
One day, while we were being shown pictures and formulae on an
epidiascope, the lecturer was called out of the room and a wag slipped
a picture of a nude onto the machine. On returning, the lecturer
switched on the machine and switched it off immediately, so there was
only the slightest glimpse of the lady. Without a word, the picture
was removed and the formulae reappeared – this had obviously been tried before.
Charlie was teaching us about a group of chemicals which included
skatole. This, it transpired, owed its fame to being the
odour-producing principle in dog faeces, which produced much mirth in
our undergrad minds. Charlie observed ‘Some of you will remember this
and forget the other members of the group, and you will fail your
exam’. The laughter stopped abruptly.
Whilst teaching us about di-carboxylic acids, Charlie observed that if
you took the first letter of the name of each of them in homologous
order you got OMSGAPSAS. This proved a useful mnemonic for me and a
few years ago when we were at our reunion I asked if the others knew
what OMSGAPSAS meant. After 40+ years everyone could remember,
eg. Oxalic, Malonic, Succinic, Glutaric, Adipic, Pimelic and so on.
From Professor E.A.C. Lucken:
I studied for my BSc in Chemistry at Battersea Polytechnic during the
three academic years October 1950 to October 1953 and of course
followed the lectures given by Dr Arcus – or Charlie Arcus as we
always called him – during that period. His presentation of basic
organic chemistry was always clear and well presented; it was a
subject he obviously loved. After my BSc I arranged to do a PhD under
the direction of Alwyn Davies, but at the last moment the arrangement
fell through and I therefore turned to Dr Arcus, who kindly took me
under his wing and I started work with him on the decomposition of
organic azides, a variant of the Schmidt Rearrangement.
For several months I worked happily under his direction in the organic
chemistry lab at Battersea Polytechnic, a lab still frequented by
J. Kenyon, FRS, the former head of the department. Each time we met
to discuss my progress, Dr Arcus would make a note of our conclusions
and projects for further work in a duplicate memo book – one page for
me and the carbon copy remaining in his notebook for him. Every few
weeks Dr Arcus and his research group would go to the pub across the
road for a drink before we went home; Dr Arcus' preference was, I
think, Stella Artois lager.
Unfortunately, neither my work in organic chemistry nor my stay at
Battersea with Dr Arcus was destined to last very long, because in
January 1954 I fell ill and the doctors declared that it would no
longer be possible for me to continue to work in an organic chemistry
laboratory. Thus it was that I became a physical chemist, doing a PhD
under the direction of the late Professor M.J.S. Dewar at Queen Mary
College. However, I am happy to be able to report that my four months
work with Dr Arcus provided the material for my very first scientific
‘Reactions of Organic Azides. Part IV. The Conversion of
9-Alkylfluoren-9-ols into 9-Alkylphenathridines. C.L. Arcus &
E.A. Lucken. J. Chem. Soc. 1955.’
I met Dr Arcus on quite a number of occasions after I left Battersea,
mainly during the first few years while my former classmates still
there finished their Ph.Ds. For my part I was appointed an assistant
lecturer at QMC in 1955 and was promoted to lecturer in 1958. I left
England in 1960 for Geneva in 1960 where I have remained to this
day. Although I regularly visit England I never had the pleasure of
meeting Dr Arcus again, either in Battersea or in the University of
As we grow older the memories of our youth seem to become even more
clear and more vivid so I have no difficulty in conjuring up the scene
as he walked into the lecture theatre at Battersea, wearing his short
white laboratory jacket, shuffled his notes, wrote a title on the
blackboard and turned to the class to begin his lecture. I
particularly recall his kindness and moral support in those difficult
days when I had to confront such a radical change in my life. I
remember him with respect and affection.
From Andrew Loc Ba Le:
As a former student of Dr Charles L. Arcus from 1953 to the summer of
1959, I have many recollections of my teacher and mentor. I have kept
fond memories of him since the summer of 1959 after he had helped me
pass the viva voce for the PhD degree. Since leaving the United
Kingdom for home (Vietnam) at the beginning of 1960 I have always
remembered him as a very patient teacher, not only in the field of
organic chemistry, but also in the English language. He not only
rectified my scientific errors and misunderstandings, he also
corrected my English in the doctoral dissertation that I had to write
and submit to the University of London.
I also remember Dr Arcus as a man of great modesty and for his sense
of humour. For example, when he had finally passed his driving test
and obtained his licence, he said
‘The driving test was more difficult than the DSc degree itself!’
When he was conferred the DSc by the University of London, he
‘All I had to do was stack up the publications of my PhD students,
make sure that they weighed a pound, and they would give me the DSc!’
From Henry Warson:
I was first introduced to Dr Arcus in 1953 when after a lengthy delay
due to the war (my first degree was in 1938), I embarked on a
part-time PhD course.
My recollections are that he was a rotund little man with a slightly
squeaky voice. He was very helpful in giving me necessary advice which
unusually was based on work which I did in my own time in the
laboratories of Vinyl Products Ltd in Carshalton, where I was a
Research Manager. At that time Dr. Arcus had a tiny office in what was
a converted cupboard at Battersea Polytechnic.
I reported to him regularly over a number of years until 1961 when I
finished all the practical work, but changed my post to be Research
Manager at Dunlop Chemical Products.
My thesis was entitled ‘The Initiation of Vinyl Polymerisation by
means of Diazonium Salts’. There was a delay of more than a year
before I could write up the thesis due to the problems of moving from
one town to another. Ultimately Dr. Arcus said very modestly that in
converting my thesis to 2 papers which appeared in the German Journal
'Makromolecular Chemie' I could omit his name as he had conducted my
research from long range.
I have very pleasant memories of Dr. Arcus.
From Leslie Cort:
I knew Charles since 1954 when I joined the staff at Battersea, where
we knew him as a sympathetic teacher and painstaking research
supervisor, as well as appreciating his wider-ranging general and
particular knowledge when it came to doing the Times crossword
I have a vivid, albeit second-hand, memory of him – when he was
selling his house in Ewell, it was apparently not being quickly
snapped up. Dr Irving went to see him and after looking over the
place said that it surely wouldn't be long – after all someone would
look at it and decide that they liked it in the same way that he had.
The reply was immediate: ‘I've never liked this house. It was my
mother who liked it!’
He was a learned scholar (his DSc was well-deserved and recognized as
such by his colleagues) and a fine teacher. I recall being with him
often at the Examination Halls in Brunswick Square for practical
examination supervision for the University of London, where he always
remembered what it was like for students facing that ordeal, and
I remember his sense of humour too. One day at Battersea he came in
beaming and full of pleasure. He had succeeded in disposing
completely of an old horse-hair filled sofa by rendering it into very
small pieces over many weeks and getting the dustman to take the
pieces unwittingly away. He regarded this as a notable achievement.
In the Common Room at Battersea between lectures we always tried to do
the Times crossword. CLA was routinely called on when we grappled with
clues requiring abstruse or recondite knowledge. He would purse his
lips, think, and then say ‘Is it ..so and so..?’ and it often was, to
his evident satisfaction (and ours).
Two sayings of his I remember, each volunteered:
‘When you buy a house, you want one with a waterworks on one side and
a cemetery on the other – no-one's going to do anything to either of those’
‘If someone in the street keeps noisy chickens and you want to start a
petition against this, don't go to the neighbours, they probably get eggs.’
Whether either of these statements applied personally wasn't clear.
His office wasn't far from the Organic Research lab at Battersea, and
it was an unusual week if he didn't appear in the doorway at least
once with the gentle request ‘Make less noise, please’. He never
stayed to see if it went suddenly quiet.
From Dick Still:
I was at Battersea Polytechnic from 1956-63, both as an undergraduate
and postgraduate student, and worked in Lab 330 – the organic
chemistry research lab. During my time at the lab the following people
were working for him: Mark Alger, Allen Halliwell, Tony Hall, Norman
Salomans and Geoff Morley. He also had a part-time student whose
surname was Randall.
On leaving Battersea in 1963 I became an Academic at the then Hatfield
Technical College which after several name changes became the
University of Hertfordshire. I left there for UMIST in 1970 where I
remained until 1988 when I took early retirement. I have an Honorary
Readership at the Manchester Materials Science Centre and still visit
regularly as I am co-supervisor of one PhD student.
Dr Arcus was known by undergraduates as ‘Charlie Arcus’, but to
colleagues and postgraduate students he was always known as ‘CLA’. He
was a quiet, shy man who seemed to be a typical bachelor, but of
course in middle age, to everyone's surprise, he suddenly announced
his marriage, followed by the birth of two children.
He always wore a white ‘bum freezer’ lab coat when he lectured or came
into the laboratory. He was a wonderful lecturer and everything was
detailed and precise. As undergraduates we always dreaded his
questions; he would point a finger at you and say: ‘That man there!
How do you prepare this body?’ He always called molecules ‘bodies’.
He would go around the class saying ‘Next man! Next man!’ then,
despairingly, ‘Doesn't anybody know? Where's Still? Still, don't you
know?’ Why he picked on me, I don't know – probably because it was a
short and fairly unusual name with a chemical connotation.
As postgraduates, he was very supportive of us and would back you
provided you were prepared to work. He had six or seven people
working for him at a time and he had regular meetings with us, at
which he gave detailed instructions about what was to be done next.
Indeed, he used to write these instructions in a duplicate book and
give us a carbon copy. There was no way we could go in a different
direction to that prescribed. He visited the laboratory every morning
and on those evenings when he was on duty, he would visit again at
night around 8.30 pm. He always asked the same question: ‘Still, what
have you done since I last saw you?’ On one occasion, in the morning,
I replied that I had been to bed, but this did not go down very well!
I think he had a sense of humour, though he always seemed a very
serious man, totally committed to chemistry and research.
He was widely respected by his students, particularly those who had a
more personal relationship with him as postgraduate students. He
instilled in us a love of polymer chemistry and the sense that if
something was worth doing it must be done to our utmost ability. We
owe him a debt of gratitude for this.
From Peter Hallgarten:
It was his early organic chemistry lectures which directed my main
interest into this field. When the time came for post-graduate
studies, I was fortunate enough to have been selected for a group with
him as supervisor for the first three years of lab work and paper
writing. The products with which I worked were some of the smelliest
and least desirable for such a long commitment. The results didn't
follow the planned route, but nevertheless we succeeded in publishing
three papers with new material.
There was much to be learned from his approach which could easily be
translated into everyday life for the lab. He was meticulous in
preparation, with incredible ranges of ideas for potential projects,
and untold patience with all his students. A very good lesson was the
complete minuting of every discussion to avoid any misunderstandings –
very important over the years when memory starts to play tricks.
I am sure that we old ‘330’ laboratory students have many fond
memories of him, not only the work and celebrations but the super
grounding we received in preparation for the real non-academic world
where expressing oneself clearly and simply was the essential formula.
CLA was a lecturer who could teach by inspiring interest so that
students would enjoy the constant ‘puzzle’ of specific reactions and
find it simple to think out possibilities for themselves. He was very
much aware that the class members ranged from those with little
interest beyond passing exams, to those with total enthusiasm for the
I was fortunate that CLA agreed to take me on for 3 years of research
for my PhD. Brimming with ideas, the period was a mixture of good and
sad times. Not everything worked according to theoretical juggling
with formulae, but when things worked 100%, it didn't take long before
a further path into the unknown was planned and then attempted.
CLA was devoted to his students in lab 330. Everyone who started
reached the finishing line, which speaks highly of the selection of
students and more importantly the ideas behind the research projects.
From the students' point of view, we all felt that we were in very
good hands, that even when we made mistakes we were redirected to
correct procedures without anger, often with humour. Guidance was
freely given; we were encouraged to discuss the projects amongst
ourselves, and all the laboratory felt that they were part of a team,
not only for the PhDs but also for publications in important
journals. Generally a late evening worker, CLA joined all our 330
celebrations, with a standard request for 'A Stella' in the Old Grove
pub, opposite the Poly, this at a time when imported beer was very
CLA was a very good administrator, with his energy in the research
projects rather than in departmental politics, which with hindsight
must have hindered his career path to a professorship. All who worked
with him have the highest praise for their time in 330. I like to
believe that all 330 students will have realised and retained the
importance of methodical working in whatever career paths we followed
From Michael Upperton:
He was a very humorous man; it now such a long time since I attended
Dr Arcus' lectures in the fifties, but do recall one story:
Dr Arcus did not like students going to sleep during his lectures and
he had a very salutary way of waking them up by firing a question at
the unfortunate sleepers. One day, he had drawn the structure of a
large organic molecule on the blackboard and said the problem was how
to chlorinate it, he looked around the lecture theatre and espied a
sleeping student. In a loud voice he said
‘You! Yes, you!’,
The unfortunate student woke up covered in embarrassment, looking
first at Dr Arcus, then the blackboard, saying nothing.
‘Now then, look at the molecule on the board.’
‘How would you chlorinate that body?’
Quick as a flash the student replied
‘I would put it in a gas cylinder with chlorine and stand it in bright
Even more quickly, Dr Arcus replied
‘Yes, you could do that – and you would get end substituted sunlight!’
It was happenings such as these that made his lectures memorable.
From Professor Les Larkworthy:
Charles was one of the senior staff at Battersea when I joined as a
young lecturer in 1959. He was well known and highly respected then
as a polymer chemist. As an inorganic chemist, I did not work closely
with him although I did help with the inorganic aspects of the
research a South African student called Neville Agnew did in the
1960's with him. I know that other colleagues thought highly of him
From Professor John Jones:
Dr Arcus, as I will always remember him, was the senior organic
chemist when I joined Battersea in 1961, and it was he who looked
after the organic section and maintained the high research reputation
that it had gained as a result of the work of Dr Kenyon. Had he been
around in more recent times he would undoubtedly have been made a
professor, but in those days the title was rarely given, which was a
From Jon Bacon:
Having graduated from Birmingham University in 1961, I then studied
for a PhD with Charles at Battersea College from 1961 to 1964. A
contemporary was Dick Still, the only one with whom I still have
contact. Others, whose whereabouts are unknown to me, were Mark Alger,
Mike Abrahams, Tony Hall and a chap called Solomons.
We all inhabited an old laboratory on the top floor of Battersea
College – Lab 330 – and were a tight-knit and sociable group. Indeed
we commissioned a ‘Lab 330’ tie which I still have! It was green with
a 330 enclosed in a benzene ring in yellow. Dr Arcus inhabited a small
office tucked into the roof of the building and was approached by an
ankle-breaking set of tricky steps. We were called to daily audience
in his office to be greeting by Charles behind his desk in his
characteristic short white lab coat – more a white jacket. We would
discuss progress or otherwise in our research projects and be given a
hand-written set of instructions for the next phase of the
work. Charles would retain a carbon copy.
I also recall that in this office there was a small door into the
attics formed by the eaves of the building. In Dr Arcus' absence one
day we opened this door to see what lay beyond. There, hanging from a
beam on strings, was a parcel done up in newspaper. Fortunately we did
not investigate too closely as we learned subsequently that it
contained a bottle of nitroglycerine! I wonder if it is still hanging
there following Battersea's translocation to the University of
On one occasion I was responsible for accidentally using too much
force when trying to open a large cylinder of boron trifluoride. The
valve sheared off and the lab rapidly filled with very corrosive
fumes. Everyone got out quickly and the door was closed. Dr Arcus sent
Dick Still back into the lab wearing breathing apparatus to open the
windows and to rescue among other things his research notes and a lady
student's handbag. A neighbour of the college, seeing fumes pouring
from the top windows of the college, called the fire brigade who
arrived very quickly. I was not popular with the latter but Charles
was very good in playing down the incident and letting me know that it
was an accident that could have happened to anyone.
Battersea was not a rich college and we were encouraged by Dr Arcus to
be very careful with, and to appreciate, the assets of the
laboratory. This included a cupboardful of ‘Quickfit’ glassware
assembled over the years by Dr Arcus, which was for communal use by
all teams in the lab. It was part of the discipline learned there to
ensure that anything used from this stock was put back in clean
condition. One girl student was suspected of keeping her own
‘personal’ Quickfit taken from the communal stock in her bench
cupboard. This so infuriated Mike Abrahams that he resolved to remove
these communal items from her cupboard before she got in one
morning. Unfortunately for him, she arrived as he was on his knees
with his head in her cupboard presenting his backside as an inviting
target. The young lady took aim and gave him an almighty kick – but
she did put the glassware back eventually.
As mentioned above, money was not plentiful for equipment and we were
encouraged by Dr Arcus to be inventive in the practice of our
research. Rather than spend a lot of money on a simple piece of
equipment, when we could make it or adapt something else, this we were
asked to do. (He followed his own philosophy here, as illustrated by
the simple hasp and padlock which he fitted to his car door after the
normal lock ceased to function!) This attitude to the practical
aspects of chemical research coupled with the rigorous mental approach
demanded by Dr Arcus meant that we left Battersea with an excellent
training as research chemists.
I know that Charles was a very kind man who took a great deal of
trouble to look after the scientific and personal welfare of his
students. He was a staunch defender of their interests. These aspects
of his character were not obvious to those who did not know him. At
face value, he could appear to have a dry sarcasm (which was usually
very funny to those who were not the object of it) and he could be
quite cynical about people and the world in general. This was not the
man underneath and it may be that it was a shield because I believe
he was quite a shy man.
I have another personal connection to Dr Arcus in that he and my
father (Dr Reginald Bacon) were contemporaries at ICI, Blackley during
the war. My father died last year so, sadly, I am not able to ask him
about Charles. However, my mother (now 87) remembers that she and my
father were with him on Armistice Day at the end of the war and