Magnus Pyke

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Magnus Pyke
Born (1908-12-29)29 December 1908
Paddington, London, England
Died 19 October 1992(1992-10-19) (aged 83)
Wandsworth, London, England
Nationality United Kingdom
Alma mater University College London
Known for Television presenter
Spouse(s) Dorothea Vaughan (m. 1937; her death 1986)

Magnus Alfred Pyke OBE (29 December 1908 – 19 October 1992) was a British scientist and media figure, who, although apparently quite eccentric and playing up to the mad scientist stereotype, succeeded in explaining science to a lay audience. He was known for gesticulating enthusiastically as he spoke.

Life and career[edit]

Pyke was born in Paddington, London[1] and educated at St Paul's School in Barnes. He then moved to Canada for seven years and studied agriculture at McGill University, Montreal before continuing his studies on his return to Britain at University College London, marrying Dorothea Vaughan (d. 1986) in 1937 and completing his PhD thesis in 1938.[2][3] Pyke rose to prominence as a young food researcher working for the wartime Minister of Food, Frederick Marquis, 1st Earl of Woolton. Even then, he was known to be eccentric; in an effort to cope with the problem of blood donation outstripping local storage for blood transfusion, Pyke suggested using the excess human blood to make black pudding.[4]

Pyke was a regular panellist on the Yorkshire Television science programme Don't Ask Me from 1974 to 1979, and was awarded the Pye Colour Television Award as the most promising male newcomer to television in 1975. The programmer's panel was chaired by Derek Griffiths, and other members included botanist David Bellamy, Miriam Stoppard and Rob Buckman. The programme consisted of the panel attempting to answer viewers' queries about science and the everyday world. This was later replaced with the studio show Don't Just Sit There,[5] presented by Pyke and Bellamy, which was broadcast in 19 episodes during 1979–80.

In December 1975 he was the subject of This Is Your Life.[6][7] Pyke was appointed OBE by the Queen in 1978.[2]

Pyke features in the 1982 pop song "She Blinded Me with Science" by Thomas Dolby. He also appears in the song's video (which is set at the "Home for Deranged Scientists"), where he carries out a "medical consultation" with Dolby, repeatedly gesticulates and shouts "science", and provides other scientist-like sound-bites. After the video was released, he was said to be annoyed by people approaching him and shouting "Science!". Pyke was a member of London's Savage Club.[citation needed]

Pyke was injured in a robbery at his home in January 1988 as he attempted to attack the intruder with a cane.[8] He never fully recovered from his injuries and died in 1992 leaving one son and one daughter.[2]

The Science Myth[edit]

Although Pyke was known for bringing science to a lay audience, in The Science Myth (and similar writings, such as Slaves Unaware?) he was also a critic of the way in which citizens of industrialised nations have historically been lured into social conformity by the comforts and security offered by applied sciences or technology, and the associated industrial/economic propaganda and advertising. He claims that this has entailed the loss of important individual freedoms in the name of an ever-increasing gross national product or standard of living, measured monetarily, with some associated negation of independent human values, common sense and individuality, family and community, health, safety and ergonomics.

In his 1962 book, he uses the Greek myth of Procrustes and his Procrustean bed as a metaphor for the way citizens are forced to conform to the one-size-fits-all rigid structure of modern industrial society. He cites associated problems such as coronary disease related to diet, psychological and social problems stemming from work-related stress and training leading to people being "...softly and persistently hammered into shape until – Pinocchio in reverse – from being a living creature... becomes for forty hours an insensate puppet..." and educational systems, which "knock out of the ingenious adolescent all of the 'nonsense' of the young, this being most of his or her eagerness and ingeniousness". He asserts that the Western work environment fails youthful expectations to an even greater extent than the schools: "at school, success is judged in terms of work, whereas in industrial life this is not so..." after young people hasten to leave school for the benefit of the social significance of the work, rather than for the work itself, they find that "work seldom seems to the worker to have meaning or worth..." and "achievement is judged by the pay envelope which may have no relation to the difficulty of the work."[9]

Pyke professes that there are alternative systems to that of the Western industrialised nations which could retain many of the benefits of science and technology, allow a reasonable standard of living, but still make room for the "good life", many aspects of which were enjoyed by pre-industrial societies. He claims that just as wise nations may not wish to retain a demanding and overbearing monarchy that requires too many unjustified sacrifices, it is "up to the nations who have committed themselves to scientific technology and power to temper the rigours of efficiency and productivity..." He criticises misplaced values of the Western system in statements such as the following:

  • "The main body of the citizenry, the 'workers,' are kept segregated from the drones, the women at home, the children, the old and the idle ...the necessary doctrine of the division of labour makes this regimentation necessary. But it has the effect of setting economic effort apart and dividing the day and the week into "work" and "everything else".
  • "This way of thinking has so deranged our minds that we have come to accept that only when we are actually carrying out paid industrial work are we serving our purpose on earth."
  • "To minds so deformed, the things that 'retired' people do are not considered to be of value. They are empty, merely something to do."
  • "The leisure pursuits of the senior executive seem to be corroded with competitiveness, superficial sociability, display and conspicuous consumption. He must own an automobile of a certain size and make, not necessarily to travel in, but to prove that he can afford it."


See also[edit]


  1. ^ GRO Register of Births: DEC 1908 1a 64 PADDINGTON – Magnus Alfred Pyke
  2. ^ a b c "Obituary: Magnus Pyke". The Independent. 22 October 1992. Retrieved 21 September 2011. 
  3. ^ Pyke, Magnus. "Biochemical factors in the experimental production of cataract". University College London. 
  4. ^ "Dr Magnus Pyke". The Herald. 21 October 1992. Retrieved 20 July 2014. 
  5. ^ "'Don't Just Sit There' Magnus Pyke & Jani Bers". YouTube. Retrieved 30 April 2015. 
  6. ^ (10 December 1975). "This is Your Life (UK) - Season 16, Episode 5: Magnus Pyke". Retrieved 29 March 2016. 
  7. ^ "Magnus Pyke". Retrieved 29 March 2016. 
  8. ^ "Magnus Pyke hurt in burglary at home". Glasgow Herald. 16 January 1988. Retrieved 30 April 2015. 
  9. ^ The Science Myth, The MacMillan Company, 1962

External links[edit]