Friday, 26 July 2013

Futures Past: SF History in Leeds, P.5 Professor Cyril Oakley

Professor C.L. Oakley (1907-1975)
David I. Masson was previously featured on this blog for his role in founding the University of Leeds SF collection by donating books from his personal library. The rest originated in the gift of Professor Cyril Leslie Oakley, who began in 1971 to present his own extensive collection of science fiction literature to the Brotherton Library's Special Collections.

Appointed Brotherton Professor of Bacteriology at the University of Leeds in 1953, Professor Oakley was a founding fellow of the College of Pathologists and at various times edited the Journal of Pathology and the Journal of Medical Microbiology. He was awarded a D.Sc. by the University of London in 1953, elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1957 and made a CBE in 1970. He died in 1975.

Sadly, there are few that now remember Professor Oakley but SF was just one of his many and varied interests. Former students and colleagues can recall a lecture on ‘Bug-eyed Monsters’ addressed to members of the Medical and other student societies. These were illustrated with slides of the magazine covers that later formed part of his gift, notably Amazing Stories and Wonder Stories, which have recently been made available online. It doesn't seem too much of a stretch to assume that Oakley's interest in SF was informed by his career as a scientist, and whether his lecture was delivered in a serious manner or just for fun (one would guess the latter), it is still indicative of the extent to which these realms were more closely aligned in the past than perhaps they are today. The time when SF stories were regarded as the speculative branch of science as opposed to complete fictions are therefore within living memory, and it's a period I'd like to explore further in this blog.

This post adapts text from the booklet Visions of the Future: The Art of Science Fiction by Paul Whittle and Liz Stainforth.

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