50 Years Ago Today: Cambridge Honours Wynberg Old Boy J.E. Littlewood

Wynberg Boys' High School Heritage: John Edensor Littlewood, 10 June 1965

Wynberg Boys’ High School Heritage: Old Boy John Edensor Littlewood (second left) honoured by Cambridge University** 10 June 1965

Professor John Edensor Littlewood, 1885 – 1977, renowned Mathematician, Wynberg Old Boy and son of Wynberg Headmaster Mr ET Littlewood – after whom Littlewood Boarding House is named.


On this day: Cambridge University, 10 June 1965

The following article is quoted directly from the ‘News of Old Boys’ pp 106, 107 of the ‘Annual Magazine of the Wynberg Boys’ High School, December 1965’.

“We are indebted to John Webb* for providing us with an eye-witness account of the Honorary Degree ceremony at Cambridge University when Professor Jack Littlewood was accorded the high and rare distinction of an honorary D.Sc. degree.

At about the same time of the ceremony the London Mathematical Society published a special issue of its Proceedings dedicated to Dr. Littlewood, an almost unprecedented step.

All the papers published in this volume where on subjects in which Dr. Littlewood specialised, and many were by his former pupils.

Regarding the ceremony, John Webb wrote:

Cambridge Honours Our Most Distinguished Old Boy

Wynberg Boys' High School Heritage: Professor John Edensor Littlewood

Wynberg Old Boy, Professor John Edensor Littlewood

Professor J. E. Littlewood, Senior Fellow of Trinity College and Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics, was one of eight top scholars and scientists presented with honorary degrees by the University of Cambridge in an impressive ceremony in the Senate House on June 10th this year. The entire ceremony was conducted in Latin, but for the benefit of the ignorant a translation was provided of the speeches of the Orator delivered at the presentation of each recipient of an honorary degree to the Vice-Chancellor. This, in translation, is what the Orator said of our most distinguished Old Boy:

‘Our distinguished member who yesterday celebrated his eightieth birthday we rejoice today to adorn with our laurels. He has completed fifty-six years as a Fellow of his College, for twenty-two of which he was Professor of Mathematics in our University. He must be accounted among the purest of mathematicians (if you wish to know what ‘pure’ means in this sense, you must read the Apology of his colleague Godfrey Hardy), though in the First World War he did apply himself to the principles of ballistics. With this same Hardy he engaged in a collaboration which was perhaps as fertile as any ever known in this field. The noble papers on partitio numerorum may serve as an example. Why enlarge? He flourishes loaded with honours at home and abroad.

‘Everyone has met the kind of mathematicians who, withdrawn and aloof, seem to breathe a peculiar air of their own. Our friend is not at all like these, for he knows how to commend his art to readers who are not deeply versed in it, as anyone can witness who has had the pleasure of skimming through his little book entitled A Mathematician’s Miscellany. He is also in general a polymath (without oppressing with his learning), being greatly interested in history, literature, music and the natural sciences; so that he often keeps his colleagues entranced with his varied conversation over the wine, and is still sought after by Americans in the hope that he may be willing simply to be about their college campus as a guest without any duties. His body matches his mind in agility. For in youth he loved to do gymnastics and play ball games of various kinds, and later he also enjoyed rock-climbing in mountains or traversing the snow on skies.

‘I present to you JOHN EDENSOR LITTLEWOOD, F.R.S. Senior Fellow of Trinity College.’ ”

Wynberg Boys' High School Heritage: Professor John Webb

Wynberg Old Boy, Professor John Webb

*John Webb, Emeritus Professor, University of Cape Town: Mathematical Olympiads; PAMO and IMO; Multiple-choice testing; Mathematical paradoxes; Wynberg Old Boy – WBHS offers the annual  Professor John Webb Mathematics Scholarship to prospective Grade 8s.

** the photograph published originally to accompany the article is captioned ‘… reproduced by kind permission of the Cambridge News, in Cambridge, U.K. shows part of the Academic Procession to the Senate House on 10th June 1965. Dr. Littlewood is second from the left. Fourth from the left is another famous scientist, Barnes Wallis (smiling at the cameras).