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Face to face with Dr Cedric Lytton

PUBLISHED: 16:22 11 February 2009 | UPDATED: 09:25 13 July 2010

Dr Cedric Lytton

Dr Cedric Lytton

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to multi-talented mathematician Dr Cedric Lytton PhD, who, in spite of being born with impaired hearing, went on to list among his accomplishments playing the viola, singing, and writing top-level chess problems.

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to multi-talented mathematician Dr Cedric Lytton PhD, who, in spite of being born with impaired hearing, went on to list among his accomplishments playing the viola, singing, and writing top-level chess problems. But, for Dr Lytton, who lives in Sheringham, the recent headline-hitting Hudson River plane crash in New York brought to mind perhaps his greatest achievement . . .

A difficult birth at Adelaide, South Australia, left Cedric with impaired hearing and reduced mobility in one hand.

His disability was to affect him as a boarder at Rugby School, Warwickshire, where, forced to carry around a cumbersome hearing aid in his briefcase, he was severely bullied.

However, learning to type - and discovering at age 8 that he had a talent for chess - turned out the young Cedric's saving grace, and, in 1955, he had his first problem published in the British Chess Problem Society magazine, The Problemist.

Cedric, whose ancestors include the famous 19th century writer Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, (who coined the phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword.”), took up playing the bass recorder aged 18, and, as a young man, he dreamed of becoming a musician.

But, deciding life as a professional mathematician would be a safer course to take, he read maths at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, before going on to gain a PhD.

In 1964, he entered the scientific civil service at Farnborough as a researcher and computer programmer, following in the footsteps of his uncle, Cliff Roberts, also a researcher, who helped design Sydney Harbour bridge.

Four years later, Cedric, penned a pioneering paper on reducing airflow - and thereby shockwaves and drag - over the wings of aircraft, and his efforts led to the design of the 320 Airbus - the jet that crashed safely into the Hudson River on January 15.

Advancements in hearing aid technology meant that, by the mid-1970s, Cedric was no longer forced to wear an unwieldy device pinned to his clothes, and he realised his ambition of learning to play the viola.

After the end of an unhappy first marriage, he met up with long-term friend, Dorothy - then a supervisor of midwives at Ely - by chance on a visit to Norwich and the couple, whose son Martin is a GP in Cornwall, were married at St Andrew's Church, Sheringham in 1982.

Since retiring 10 years ago, Cedric, who, while at Farnborough, held the local Croquet Club championship title for 8 years on the trot, has kept busy composing chess problems, playing backgammon and croquet, playing viola with a local string quartet and singing with St Andrew's church choir. He also enjoys swimming, cycling, cooking and wine appreciation.

Cedric, 69, was delighted this year to receive a hat trick of accolades - winning Bodham Croquet Club's annual knockout competition, taking the North Norfolk Backgammon Circle trophy, and being made president of the British Chess Problem Society.

What is the best thing about your job?

When I was working, the best thing was being left alone to get on and do a job I knew I could do well without being bothered by admin people.

And the worst?

I was lucky enough not to have a “worst” thing, but, one thing that did bother me was that every time an engineer came to repair my computer, I'd come back from my coffee break to find the mouse had been left on the wrong side!

What is the one possession you would save if your house was on fire?

My viola and my bass recorder, which I keep next to each other.

Where do you go to unwind?

Cycling - it's a lovely feeling freewheeling down to the town.

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

The Hoste Arms at Burnham Market because they do excellent food and excellent wine.

What is the one thing you would change about yourself?

I'd perhaps be a little more tolerant of others as I do have to make an effort sometimes to keep back what I really think. If I could have normal hearing, I'd probably change that too.

What is your proudest moment?

To have found a girl who was prepared to put up with me and, at last, to have entered a happy marriage.

And your greatest achievement?

Writing my paper in 1968; It was a breakthrough paper which made a lot of difference. I'd also like to say my two beautiful grandchildren, Alexandra and William.

Have you ever done anything outrageous?

Not really. I was always a really goody goody little prig but, in the course of my long life, I've had a few rough edges knocked off.

Whom do you most admire?

Nelson Mandela because of what he has done for his country. He came out of 27 years in jail apparently a better man, never said a word about his captors and has continued to justify his existence ever since.

What makes you angry?

My deafness sometimes makes me difficult to understand and means that I often have to say things twice. But what is really annoying is when people ask me something and, when I give a reply, they look at Dorothy.

Favourite book, film and TV programme?

Book: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - The Dancing Men, film: The Prisoner of Zenda, and I do enjoy watching The Andrew Marr Show on television on a Sunday.

How would you like to be remembered?

As one who loved his fellow men.


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