B H Edwards, Biology

Brian Edwards in the Biology laboratory, 1963

When at the age of 15 in 1960 I had decided that my destiny lay in some area of Biology, there was no other choice for me at KES than to opt to study the 3 sciences at A Level; Chemistry, Physics and Biology. There was a select group of about 8 of us in this position, and in September 1960 we were introduced to Brian Edwards then, I think, a newly qualified teacher, who as it turned out was to be our mentor for 3 years. I remember he lived in a flat just opposite the school on Glossop Road. I can think of at least 5 of us in that group who have spent a good career in Biology (in the widest sense), Stephen Harston, Brian R Edwards (no relation), Roger Harrison, Jeff 'Will' Wood and myself, and there may be others with whom I have lost all touch. I remember Roger Bayston for example went to one of the Sheffield Hospitals to be employed as what was then called a Pathology Technician. The Head of Biology was I seem to remember a contemporary appointment, John Juan Head, but for some reason he never taught our group as we progressed through to the Upper Sixth form.

The earliest lesson I can remember Brian Edwards gave was a lecture style session on Euglena. (In later years I was to learn about the now long defunct method for assaying Vitamin B12 activity through the growth of Euglena gracilis). He told us he was going to teach in a University style, on the assumption that was where most of us would be heading. This was augmented by more familiar teaching methods. At the end of that lecture he said, “I know most of you will now be wondering why on earth did I opt for Biology,” but in fact we had coped with it pretty well.

We had been taught very little science to that point and were about to embark on serious science, unaccustomed to the intensive practical work which science is, not only in Biology, but also of course in Physics and Chemistry. I really don't have any familiarity with today's A level syllabus but suspect it is somewhat different from then. For example we were less than 10 years on from Watson and Crick's unravelling of the genetic code, and though it was referred to, there certainly wasn't any molecular biology in the syllabus: Gregor Mendel, yes, but Watson and Crick, no. I remember he told us it was considered Mendel's results were too exact and he had either fiddled them or had had the luck of the devil, which would have been quite surprising for a monk.

Brian Edwards guided us through the vagaries of plant, microbial and animal biology. I recollect most of us were somewhat less interested in the botany element, preferring the Human Biology, which was ironic given that Brian's degree was in Botany. We often used to discuss the comparative biology of plant and animal life, and to those who believed the animal form was in some way superior, he simply looked out of the window and commented, “the plants seem to be doing OK.” He encouraged us to study ecology in the regenerating Oakwood at Blackamoor Plantation. He guided us through the evolution of the invertebrates and vertebrates through lectures and practical work, including the skills of dissection of the earthworm, the dogfish, the frog and the rat. Most of us ravenously devoured the Human Biology elements of the course. In those days an important biological skill was the illustrative recording of dissection and microscope work, which most of us were hopeless at at first, but he patiently taught us to “draw what you see” whether it be the dissection or through the microscope. In those days the course demanded we learnt to cut our own botanical slides with the use of a cut-throat razor. I'm sure the Health and Safety Executive wouldn't tolerate one anywhere near a class today, but then it was a skill that had to be learnt. He set us an A- level essay every week, right from day 1 by which we were expected to develop the appropriate skills when the days of examination reckoning came. He encouraged us to give our own talks. I remember speaking about Marine Mammals to the Biological Society, and in the class about the relationship between smoking and lung cancer.

Brian Edwards (right) in the make-up room, Richard II, 1963 making up ?Stephen Ridgway.
His wife, centre background, pupil unknown.
Paul Goldfinch (The Duke of Aumerle) on the left – unknown make up artist.

We got to know him better too, perhaps, through the Drama Society. None of us were the thespian stars of the school, but several of our names (indeed all the 4 above) can be found in the annual productions of Shakespeare at which the school excelled. Brian Edwards' contribution to these enterprises was in the make up room where he was ably assisted by his wife.

Given the numbers of us who owe our careers to those lessons, it goes without saying that he was an excellent teacher, my own personal gratitude to him being exhibited in the shape of a an A level grade A and a Distinction in the optional Special Paper.

The combined chemical forces of E. L. Vernon, Jock McKay and Charlie Hall got me an A in Chemistry too. I have had a good life in Biochemistry, and maybe there is a bit more to come. I owe it to Brian Edwards. He left KES, as we did, in 1963, in his case for Kesteven Training College.


David Cook, Apr 2005