The preservation of hard documentary evidence about the past is what we archivists strive towards constantly. But just for once, allow this particular archivist to indulge in a flight of fancy and imagine how molecular biologist Francis Crick might have been feeling 50 years ago today.
Elated? Tired? Dare we say it, a bit the worse for wear? After all, he had spent the previous day celebrating his admission to the international club of Nobel prize-winners for his research into the structure of DNA.
Part 1 of a two part telegram to F. Crick. Nobel Prize
Wellcome Images No. L0032968
Part 2 of a two part telegram to F. Crick. Nobel Prize
Wellcome Images No. L0032977
Notification of his new elite status arrived on 18 October 1962 in low-key style. A telegram from Sten Friberg, Rector at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, announced that Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
endearingly, the telegram carrying the weighty news (now in the Francis Crick archive in the Wellcome Library) is notable for its typos, awarding the prize to James Deway (for Dewey) Watson and co for their ‘discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nuclear (rather than nucleic) acids and its significance for information transfer in living material.’
Whatever, I doubt Crick felt the need to telephone Telegrams Enquiry for ‘free repetition of doubtful words’ as suggested on the telegram. In characteristic style he instead threw an impromptu party at his Cambridge home, the Golden Helix.
James Watson phoned up in the middle of the party to congratulate him. Crick wrote back to him the following week to apologise: “I’m sorry if I was incoherent, but there was so much noise I could hardly hear what you said”.*
With my imaginary historian hat on, I would suggest that a good time was had by all.
*Matt Ridley, Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code (2006), p.131