Scottish Daily Mail
Genius — and reluctant spy
QUESTION Was noted scientist J. B. S. Haldane a Communist spy?
J.B.S. Haldane (1892–1964) was one of the most celebrated scientists in Britain. He contributed significantly to the fields of physiology, genetics, biochemistry, statistics, biometry, cosmology and philosophy.
He’s remembered as an incredibly brave scientist. In physiology, in particular, Haldane conducted daring experiments in testing the physiological effects of poisonous gas mixtures, cold temperatures and higher atmospheric pressures (at the Royal Navy’s secret underwater research establishment), using himself as his own ‘guinea pig’. He was also a committed socialist.
At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, he supported the Popular Front government and was highly critical of the British government’s non-intervention policy. In 1937, he became chairman of the editorial board of the Communist Daily Worker.
Such a high-profile scientist working at the heart of military government was ripe for recruitment by Stalin’s NKVD and GRU (Main Intelligence Agency).
In 1994, the U.S. government sanctioned the release of two million code keys and 750,000 encrypted messages sent between Moscow, London, New York and other Western capitals from 1940 to 1948, and subsequently decrypted, but kept secret during the Cold War.
It identified several previously unknown Russian spies of various ranks, with some obvious codenames. In Haldane’s case he was known as ‘Intelligensia’.
Haldane was recruited by his Cambridge friend Ivor Montagu (codename Nobility) but appears to have been a reluctant recruit. At his first meeting with his GRU handler, Simon Kremer, on July 25, 1940, he declared that ‘he had not obtained a single contact’, though he had been told to do so.
An exasperated Kremer wrote off Intelligensia: ‘He does not deny the main point that for a month he had not been in touch with the British Army colonel picked out for work with us, although the latter does come to London. I have told the X Group via Nobility (Montagu) to give us someone else because of this.’
Haldane’s secret report for the Admiralty, The Effects Of Long Term Submersion In Submarines, made its way to Russia two months after it was released. After the war, Haldane continued to work closely with Soviet scientists. But there was a purge of Russian experts after World War II in which Haldane’s great friend, Nikolai Vavilov, Head of the Institute of Genetics, was dismissed and sent to Siberia, where he died.
Haldane was appalled and left the Communist Party in 1950.
In 1957, Haldane emigrated to India in protest at the Anglo-French invasion of Suez. He worked at the Indian Statistical Institute in Calcutta before becoming head of the Orissa State Genetics and Biometry Laboratory in 1962. He died in 1964.
Dr ian Smith, Cambridge.
QUESTION With the advent of widescreen TVs, why was the aspect ratio of the picture chosen at 1.78:1 rather than 1.85:1 which was one of the ratios for films?
FOR aspect ratios the first number refers to the width of the screen, and the second to the height. In screens with 1.78:1 (16:9) for every 1.78 cm in width, there will be 1cm height. The earliest silent films were projected as a rectangle with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (4:3). With the advent of sound (which was incorporated on the film strip), this changed to incorporate the audio information. Thus film’s original dimensions 1.33:1 were changed slightly to 1.37:1.
This ratio was officially approved by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1932, and so became known as the Academy Ratio.
The rise of TV in the Fifties resulted in film studios looking for new ways to pull in audiences and they introduced the widescreen era. In 1952 Cinerama was launched using a huge 2.59:1 aspect ratio. It used three cameras and three projectors to achieve a wide image onto a curved screen.
In 1953 CinemaScope was launched using a 2.35:1 ratio. It achieved this with one camera and projector, using an anamorphic lens. Since then, aspect ratios have continued to change, but increasingly in line with taste rather than technology. Filmmakers today have a lot of options, but the most common ratios for modern films are 1.85:1 and 2.39:1.
In The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson played around with his ratios. He used the Academy Ratio (1.37:1) in the main body of the film, then switched to 2.35:1 for sections set in the Sixties, and his prologue and epilogue are presented in the modern film ratio of 1.85:1
Widescreen films played havoc with old TVs in the 1.33:1 (4:3 format). This was historically part solved by ‘pan and scan’ technology but would often leave parts of the films missing.
In the late Eighties Dr Kerns H. Powers (Princeton), member of the SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture Technical Engineers) came up with 1.78:1, an aspect ratio that most easily adapted to all the competing shapes within its width and height limits. It is the industry standard.
James Briggs, Basingstoke, Hants.
QUESTION In around 1938, a Paris perfumer invented a scent still in use today. It was mentioned on Radio 4, but I missed the name. What was it?
BORN in Normandy, Jean Patou opened Maison Parry, a small dressmaking salon, in Paris and sold his entire 1914 collection to one American buyer.
After World War I, he reopened the salon under his own name and became known for eradicating the flapper look by lengthening the skirt. He designed women’s sportswear, pioneering knitted swimwear, and the tennis skirt famously worn by Suzanne Lenglen.
During the great Depression, he survived by selling his perfumes, the most famous of which being Joy, billed as ‘the world’s most expensive perfume’. It was a heavy floral scent based on jasmine and rose alongside tuberose, ylang ylang and iris. It isn’t the oldest perfume still on the market. Chanel No 5 was launched in 1921.
anne-Marie Doores, london SW5.
QUESTION I consider the lever to be the most important tool invented by Stone Age man. Which other Stone Age tools should be added to the list?
FURTHER to the earlier answer, all sources I have read simply ignore the importance of the humble over-hand knot, probably first formed from climbing plant creepers or stripped tree bark. It could be used to connect stones to sticks and construct simple clothing.
Don Trower, london.
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