Fred Hoyle An observer of the world and a ponderer on its problems ...


Hoyle inherited his lifelong passion for music from his parents.

His mother had studied music at the Royal Academy and was an accomplished singer and pianist. Hoyle recalls that hardly a day passed without her spending two or three hours at the piano. During the war, with her husband posted in France, she supplemented the family’s income by working at the local cinema, accompanying the silent films. She was dismissed by the manager, as her choice of music – Beethoven sonatas and other classical pieces - was not considered appropriate. She was quickly reinstated when attendance at the cinema fell, for the people went principally to hear Mrs Hoyle play.

His father played the violin. After the war his parents hosted regular musical soirées at home. With his early appreciation of music Hoyle would not ‘learn’ to play a musical instrument as the process and exercises were too boring. While he was rarely known to play, there is reference to him playing the piano in the pub after a day’s outing with the Cambridge University Rambling Club.

Out of the £15 allowance towards the expenses of further education awarded by the West Yorkshire authorities, Hoyle purchased a season ticket for six concerts given in Bradford by the Hallé Orchestra. The programme for his first symphony concert with a full orchestra included Schubert’s Unfinished, Sibelius’ Symphony Number Two and Beethoven’s Fifth conducted by Thomas Beecham.

In later life one of Hoyle’s extravagances was his top of the range amplifier and speakers allowing him to enjoy that first thrill of the live performance of Beethoven’s Fifth and other classical works in his own home.

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Hoyle had an in depth knowledge of music. This was to reveal itself in his collaborations with the composer, Leo Smit, whom he met at a New York soirée in the autumn of 1953. Over several years they worked on an opera entitled ‘The Alchemy of Love’ where Hoyle wrote the libretto. The National Academy of Sciences, through the generosity of the Copernicus Society of America commissioned Hoyle and Smit to write a narrative and music to commemorate the Copernicus Quincentenary. This was first performed at the Academy’s auditorium in Washington DC on 22 April 1973.

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The short track comes with kind permission of New World Records (New York) CD NWCR 826.
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From an early age Hoyle enjoyed the freedom of wandering the moors from his childhood home, often playing truant from his primary schools. With no such facilities available in Cambridge he spent the summer vacations on the hills. The summer of 1934 he spent with his cousin, Fred Jackson, and former schoolmate, Edward Foster, walking in the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District. In 1935 Hoyle and Foster spent six weeks walking in Scotland.

Hoyle returned fitter and stronger than he had ever been. In order to maintain his fitness, he joined the
Cambridge University Rambling Club in October 1935. He was still an undergraduate but many fellow members were already research students. He found their company stimulating and made lasting friendships. They walked the length and breadth of the countryside:

3 November 1935. Temp 62.5F. Warmest November day since 1885. Outing to Royston, Barley, Gt. Chisall, Elmdon, Littlebury Green and Saffron Walden.

During the summer terms of 1936 and 1937 the club varied its routine with several outings on the river canoeing and swimming. This was one of the happiest periods of his life where he was thoroughly stimulated by his work and had little in the way of responsibilities, financial pressure or stress.

Prior to his graduation in 1936, Hoyle was introduced to hitch hiking by an American member of the club, Ivan Inksetter, on a trip to Cornwall. Hoyle greatly enjoyed the wildness and ruggedness of the north Cornish coast. The area around Bedruthan Steps became the location of a wartime experiment and of several family caravanning holidays.

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When struggling with a problem Hoyle would often take to the hills, which enabled him to clear his mind and wrestle mentally with the possible outcomes. One of his favourite bases was the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel in Great Langdale in the Lake District. Here in 1964 he was introduced to Dick Cook, at the time President of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club. Cook was retired and living in Bowness on Windermere, but had climbed all the Alpine peaks over 4000 meters, except for the north wall of the Badile.
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After a spectacular trip together to Scotland in March 1965, Hoyle resolved to climb all the Munros starting in 1965. The frequent trips to Scotland ‘bagging’ Munros with Cook and other climbing companions were an escape from all the frustrations that had built up in Cambridge in connection with the founding of an Institute of Theoretical Astronomy.

It was during this period that Hoyle took up the challenge of writing a series of short stories many of them written during his trips to Scotland following in the footsteps of such writers as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, W. Somerset Maugham and P.G. Woodhouse. The collection of stories were published in 1967 as Element 79.

Hoyle climbed his penultimate Munro, Ben Dearg, in September 1971, with a party planned for the summit of the final Munro in May 1972. Yet, it was not till October 1980 that Hoyle climbed
Blaven quietly on his own.

When Hoyle finally left Cambridge in 1972 it was to the Lake District that he went and to a house, which Cook had found ‘For Sale’.

Cricket and other Sports

From an early age Hoyle would accompany his father to cricket matches. As a Yorkshireman, cricket was never far from his heart. In his colleague Ray Littleton he found a fellow enthusiast and they often played together.

In the autumn of 1992 Hoyle met
Ray Lyttleton whilst in Cambridge and during there conversation Ray mentioned he'd been in touch with Sir Donald Bradman about the Pakistani bowlers. Hoyle took the opportunity to write to Bradman.

His understanding and enthusiasm for sport covered football,
American football, baseball, rugby and in his University days canoeing.