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Sunday, 13 August 2017

My Heroes (42 ): Rosalind Franklin

This is also a series that I have ignored for a while. I started it eleven years ago....
The name of Rosalind Elsie Franklin (1920 - 1958) should be as well-known to us as those of James Watson and Frances Crick who were awarded a Nobel Prize for their discovery of the structure of DNA but it is not. She died at the tragically young age of 37 of ovarian cancer. That, however, is not the only tragedy in this story.
I like this picture of Rosalind as a young woman; actually she was only ever young.
Her inspirational work as a x-ray crystallographer had set Crick and Watson on the road to discovering the double-helix structure of DNA in 1953. They based their research on her earlier findings. They were awarded the Nobel Prize along with Maurice Wilkins in 1962 but the prize is never given posthumously so Rosalind was never properly recognised. It is a matter of conjecture whether she would have shared the award anyway; she was shamefully treated by her male colleagues at the time which was the norm in the 1950s. She was not a feminist and was not known to have complained about her lot. Maybe if she had been born after the war things may have been different. 
Franklin was born to a prominent Jewish family in Notting Hill, London in 1920 and excelled as a student, later studying at Cambridge University.
X-ray crystallography is the branch of science that is able to show the shape of objects at the atomic and molecular level. It was a famous photograph known as 'Photo 51', taken under her direction, that led to the the double helix discovery.
Photo 51
She is buried at Willesden Jewish cemetery in north London. (Where, incidentally the prayer hall has just been given Grade II listed status by English Heritage.) This is the inscription on her tombstone:



מ' רחל בת ר' יהודה
25TH JULY 1920 – 16TH APRIL 1958
ת נ צ ב ה 
[Hebrew initials for "her soul shall be bound in the bundle of life"]

PS: I have just realised something that must have drawn me to Rosalind Franklin: she was born and died in the same years as my own mother who died of thyroid cancer which was untreatable in 1958 - and she looked like Rosalind!
I'm listening (appropriately for this post!) to the beautiful and very moving Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi's opera Nabucco.
Click HERE to listen. The whole cast appear to be visibly moved by the event.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Fitzrovia, London

Fitzrovia is an informal area in central London, north of Oxford Street and consisting of less a square kilometre of prime property and possessing a rich history. The area is named after the Fitzroy Tavern, a pub situated on the corner of Charlotte Street and Windmill Street within the district. The name was adopted during the inter-war years, initially by and later in recognition of, the artistic and bohemian community habitually found at the public house. Inside there are photos of Dylan Thomas, Augustus John, Jacob Epstein and George Orwell among others, seen drinking there. The name Fitzroy comes from Old French meaning "son of the King", generally being the name given to a King's illegitimate offspring.
Fitzroy Square, designed by Robert Adam, is  one of the finest in London.
It is often used as a feature film and TV drama location especially as it traffic-free.
The garden in the centre of Fitzroy Square is private; all the residents have a key. However, you can admire a sculpture by Naomi Blake just inside the railings - see my post about her HERE. Two sides of the square are faced with Portland stone, like many of the important buildings in central London. Because of the intervention of the Napoleonic wars the later sides were finished in stucco plaster due to financial restrictions. 
Charlotte Street is famed for it's restaurants, many of them are long-established.
Many famous residents have lived in the Square including Virginia Wolff and George Bernard Shaw (same house - different times; what a couple that would have been!)
The King and Queen pub in Foley Street (where Charles Dickens once lived) is where, in 1962, Time Out magazine said one of the most important gigs of all time was played. That was where Bob Dylan played outside of the USA for the first-ever time.  
Charlotte Street is famous for restaurants and the Scala cinema and theatre, since demolished, is where the concert and some exterior scenes of The Beatles 'A Hard Days Night' were filmed.
Many media companies are based in the area now and the most famous of these, since relocated, was Saatchi and Saatchi. They grew to be the world's largest advertising agency while they were based there.  Famous Fitzrovia residents have included Robert Louis StevensonJames McNeill WhistlerRoger Fry, Guy Ritchie and the novelist Ian McEwen. Madonna has lived there and Lady Gaga bought a place with a roof garden five years ago.
Colville Place, Fitzrovia. Photo: Silver Tiger
I'm listening to  Amy Winehouse singing 
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?
We really lost the very best when she died.
Click HERE to listen.