I just learned from my mother that an old friend of ours, Ken Binning, died last weekend. Ken was an extroverted, larger than life man, with a booming laugh, a firm handshake, and a slight stutter which enhanced rather than interrupting his jovial repartee. I first met him when I was a child: Ken was a colleague of my mother’s at the UK Atomic Energy Authority, and we visited him, his wife Pam, and their children several times.
In 1968, when I was trying to decide how to spend a “gap year” between school and university, Ken suggested that I join him at the UKAEA. By that time he was running a small research group at Harwell, the Programmes Analysis Unit (PAU). Their mission was to perform a cost-benefit analysis of the various science and technology programmes funded by the British government, in areas such as computer technology, energy, aerospace, materials science, nuclear medicine, and atomic power. I spent a year with the PAU as a mathematical assistant, as I discussed recently. By the time I was next working at Harwell, in 1971, the Conservatives were in power, and I think the PAU had been dissolved.
After the UKAEA, and the controversies over nuclear power, Ken moved to an even more contentious project: Director-General of Concorde. As he described in a BBC documentary in 2003 [22:20 into the program], “I had a very uncomfortable morning in Delhi, in front of the Secretary for Transportation, attempting to explain why it was perfectly sensible to overfly six million Indians supersonically, and wake them up in the middle of the night, but we didn’t do the same thing to Europeans.” [Full transcript here.]
Ken was also involved in the hearings on Capitol Hill in 1976 about whether Concorde should be granted landing rights in the USA. [27:05 into the program]; he remembered it well because it was his birthday (January 5th). The preparations were intensive, including a mock cross-examination of the Minister, Gerald Kaufman, and the outcome was eventually successful; in May 1976 Concorde finally went into Transatlantic service.
Ken and Pam retired to south-east London, and I visited them there several times, usually with my mother. I’ll miss him.