Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Parisian baker wins prize for 'shouting' croissants

By John Lichfield in Paris
Published: 30 November 2006

Pierre Hermé, the so-called "Picasso of patisserie", won a prize yesterday for his "shouting croissants". M. Hermé, 45, one of the most celebrated of French pastry cooks, won the annual award by the newspaper Le Figaro for the best croissant in Paris.

He said the test of a perfect croissant should be more than how it tasted, looked or smelt. "The noise of the croissant is also very important," he said. "I can almost hear them shout when people tear them apart."

Six judges appointed by Le Figaro performed a blind tasting of croissants from 64 of the best bakers or patisseries in the French capital. The croissants were judged on their taste, appearance and "nez", or smell, but not their powers of conversation. M. Hermé, former pastry chef for the Parisian luxury food store, Fauchon, scored 14.5 points out of 20. He scored four out five points for both smell and taste. No other croissant-maker scored more than 3.5 for either. His former employer, Fauchon, in the Place de la Madeleine, came a disappointing 17th.

The most famous bakery in Paris, the Poilâne shop in the sixth arrondissement, which is celebrated worldwide for its bread, came joint eighth with seven other shops.

M. Hermé , who has two pastry shops on the Left Bank of Paris, in the Rue Bonaparte and Rue Vaugirard, has been called the "Picasso of patisserie" and "the "Dior of desserts".

He says that a good croissant should be a perfect blend of "salt and sugar". The secret, he says, is the quality of the ingredients and the length of time that the pastry is left en repos, or at rest, before being placed in the oven. Croissants must contain water, salt, yeast, sugar and butter. Otherwise, the details of recipes vary from baker to baker and are jealously guarded.

By general consent of French culinary historians, the croissant is not originally French but Austrian. It is said to have been invented to celebrate the lifting of the siege of Vienna by the crescent, or croissant-wearing Turks in 1683.
Ancient Greek artefact was an 'astronomical computer'

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Published: 30 November 2006

An astronomical instrument built by the Ancient Greeks in the 2nd century BC has turned out to be a complex computer for calculating the relative position of the sun, the moon and the planets.

Scientists studied the internal workings of the machine by using a sophisticated medical scanner. They concluded it was at least 1,000 years ahead of its time.

The Antikythera Mechanism was rescued from a Roman shipwreck at the turn of the last century but its precise function was little understood because it was broken into 82 pieces.

Made of bronze and wood, the device was evidently an instrument of some sort because it used a complicated set of gears to move a series of concentric wheels and pointers that appeared to predict movements of astronomical objects. But scientists were surprised to find it was in fact a sophisticated analogue computer that acted as a long-term calendar for predicting lunar and solar eclipses and planetary movements.

An international team of scientists drawn from many different disciplines took part in the study. Their picture of how the device worked and what it was intended to do has astonished classical scholars.

Professor Mike Edmunds of Cardiff University, a leading member of the research team, said: "This device is just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind. The design is beautiful, the astronomy is exactly right. The way the mechanics are designed just makes your jaw drop.

"Whoever has done this had done it extremely well. It does raise the question of what else were they making at the time. In terms of historic and scarcity value, I have to regard this mechanism as being more valuable than the Mona Lisa."

The scientists, including researchers from the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, found the gearing mechanism of the device acted as a long-term calendar, enabling its operators to track the moon and the sun through the zodiac, predict eclipses and even calculate the irregular orbit of the moon.

"Calendars were important to ancient societies for timing agricultural activity and fixing religious festivals," the scientists write in a study published in the journal Nature.

"Eclipses and planetary motions were often interpreted as omens, while the calm regularity of the astronomical cycles must have been philosophically attractive in an uncertain and violent world," they say.

Greek sponge-divers discovered the Roman shipwreck off the island of Antikythera in 1900. A year later, archaeologists recovered the device which had been submerged for about 2,000 years.

The shipwreck was dated to about 65BC but the instrument was thought to have been made earlier, between 100BC and 150BC, possibly by the great Greek astronomer Hipparchos, who, at that time, lived on the island of Rhodes.

Astronomers believe Hipparchos was probably involved because he was the first to track the irregularities in the orbit of the moon, which the device seems to be designed to predict.

There are three dials on the device. The front dial displays the position of the sun and the moon in the zodiac and a corresponding calendar of 365 days, which could be adjusted for leap years. The back dials track the long-term lunar cycle, including the Metonic cycle of 19 years, when the same phase of the moon returns on the same date of the year.

The dials also track the Callippic cycle of 76 years, when the moon returns to the same position in the sky relative to the zodiac and its monthly lunar phase.

Francois Charette, an astronomer at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, said finding such a complicated computer in Ancient Greece was like finding the plans for a steam engine in Renaissance Italy.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Genetic breakthrough that reveals the differences between humans

Scientists hail genetic discovery that will change human understanding
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Published: 23 November 2006

Scientists have discovered a dramatic variation in the genetic make-up of humans that could lead to a fundamental reappraisal of what causes incurable diseases and could provide a greater understanding of mankind.

The discovery has astonished scientists studying the human genome - the genetic recipe of man. Until now it was believed the variation between people was due largely to differences in the sequences of the individual "letters" of the genome.

It now appears much of the variation is explained instead by people having multiple copies of some key genes that make up the human genome.

Until now it was assumed that the human genome, or "book of life", is largely the same for everyone, save for a few spelling differences in some of the words. Instead, the findings suggest that the book contains entire sentences, paragraphs or even whole pages that are repeated any number of times.

The findings mean that instead of humanity being 99.9 per cent identical, as previously believed, we are at least 10 times more different between one another than once thought - which could explain why some people are prone to serious diseases.

The studies published today have found that instead of having just two copies of each gene - one from each parent - people can carry many copies, but just how many can vary between one person and the next.

The studies suggest variations in the number of copies of genes is normal and healthy. But the scientists also believe many diseases may be triggered by an abnormal loss or gain in the copies of some key genes.

Another implication of the finding is that we are more different to our closest living relative, the chimpanzee, than previously assumed from earlier studies. Instead of being 99 per cent similar, we are more likely to be about 96 per cent similar.

The findings, published simultaneously in three leading science journals by scientists from 13 different research centres in Britain and America, were described as ground-breaking by leading scientists.

"I believe this research will change for ever the field of human genetics," said Professor James Lupski, a world authority on medical genetics at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

Professor Lupski said the findings superseded the basic principles of human genetics that have been built up since the days of Gregor Mendel, the 19th century "father" of Mendelian genetics, and of Jim Watson and Francis Crick, who discovered the DNA double helix in 1953.

"One can no longer consider human traits as resulting primarily from [simple DNA] changes... With all respect to Watson and Crick, many Mendelian and complex traits, as well as sporadic diseases, may indeed result from structural variation of the genome," Professor Lupski said.

Deciphering the three billion letters in the sequence of the human genome was once likened to landing on the Moon. Having now arrived, scientists have found the "lunar landscape" of the genome is very different from what they expected.

Matthew Hurles, one of the project's leaders at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, said the findings show each one of us has a unique pattern of gains and losses of entire sections of our DNA.

"One of the real surprises of these results was just how much of our DNA varies in copy number. We estimate this to be at least 12 per cent of the genome - that has never been shown before," Dr Hurles said.

Scientists have detected variation in the "copy number" of genes in some individuals before but the sheer scale of the variation now being discovered is dramatic.

"The copy number variation that researchers had seen before was simply the tip of the iceberg, while the bulk lay submerged, undetected," Dr Hurles said.

"We now appreciate the immense contribution of this phenomenon to genetic differences between individuals," he said.

The studies involved a detailed and sophisticated analysis of the genomes of 270 people with Asian, African or European ancestry. It was important to include as wide a sample of the human gene pool as possible.

They found that 2,900 genes could vary in the number of copies possessed by the individuals. The genes involved multiple copies of stretches of DNA up to a million letters of the genetic code long.

"We used to think that if you had big changes like this, then they must be involved in disease. But we are showing that we can all have these changes," said Stephen Scherer of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

But it is also becoming apparent that many diseases appear to be influenced by the number of copies of certain key genes, said Charles Lee, another of the project's leaders at the Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

"Many examples of diseases resulting from changes in copy number are emerging. A recent review lists 17 conditions of the nervous system alone, including Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's, that can result from such copy number changes," Professor Lee said.

"Indeed, medical research will benefit enormously from this map, which provides new ways for identifying genes involved in common diseases," he said.

Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, the medical charity that funded much of the research, said: "This important work will help to identify genetic causes of many diseases."

The key questions answered

What have scientists discovered today?

They have found that each of us is more different genetically than we previously believed. Instead of being 99.9 per cent identical, it may turn out to be more like 99 per cent identical - enough of a difference to explain many variations in human traits. Instead of having just two copies of every gene - one from each parent - we have some genes that are multiplied several times. Furthermore these "multiple copy numbers" differ from one person to another, which could explain human physical and even mental variation.

Why does this matter?

One practical benefit is that it could lead to a new understanding of some of the most difficult, incurable diseases. Although it adds an extra layer of complexity to our understanding of the human genome, the discovery could lead eventually to new insights and medical treatments of conditions ranging from childhood disorders to senile dementia. Scientists are predicting for instance that the knowledge could lead to new diagnostic tests for such diseases as cancer.

How was this discovery made?

Scientists have developed sophisticated methods of analysing large segments of DNA over recent years. "In some ways the methods we have used are 'molecular microscopes', which have transformed the techniques used since the foundation of clinical genetics where researchers used microscopes to look for visible deletions and rearrangements in chromosomes," explained Nigel Carter of the Sanger Institute in Cambridge.

What genes are copied many times and why?

There are just under 3,000 genes in the human genome, which consists of about 3 billion "letters" of the DNA code. The scientists found that more than 10 per cent of these genes appear to be multiplied in the 270 people who took part in the study. They do not know why some genes are copied and some are not. One gene, called CCL3L1, which is copied many times in people of African descent, appears to confer resistance to HIV. Another gene involved in making a blood protein is copied many times in people from south-east Asia and seems to help against malaria. Other research has shown that variation in the number of copies of some genes is involved in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

Are there any other practical applications?

The scientists looked at people from three broad racial groups - African, Asian and European. Although there was an underlying similarity in terms of how common it was for genes to be copied, there were enough racial differences to assign every person bar one to their correct ethnic origin. This might help forensic scientists wishing to know more about the race of a suspect.

Who made the discovery and where can we read more about it?

Scientists from 13 research centres were involved, including Britain's Sanger Institute in Cambridge, which also took a lead role in deciphering the human genome. The research is published in Nature, Nature Genetics and Genome Research.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Polonius's advice to his son ought to be read in full:


Yet here, Laertes! Aboard, aboard for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay'd for.
There . . . my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor an unproportion'd thought his act
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to they soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg'd comrade. Beware
Of entrance to quarrel but, being in,
Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy, But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man;
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow as the day the night,
Thou canst not be false to any man
Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!
In reading the entire speech, two things become readily apparent. First, the full breadth of advice to Laertes was to not be swayed nor to lose his character as he voyaged into the wilds of the continent far from his father's protective embrace. It was a valediction of a sort and its counsel wide-ranging. Second, and perhaps more important: it presumes with Polonius that Laertes has a character to which to be true. The father did not counsel his son on what to become but rather not to attempt becoming something that he was not -- either by coercion or fleeting self-interest.

Morality is the issue. Those who are imbued with the corporate credo, who have its self-interest woven into their adult fabric as the result of indoctrination, education, and experience appropriate the Bard's words but not the moral lesson. The corporate creed and Shakespeare's lessons are, in fact, at odds and can be reconciled only by adjusting the value of the meaning to accommodate the morality of the business corporation. Rather than an admonishment to stay true to one's character it becomes a rally cry to stay true to one's self-interest. Quoting Shakespeare again: "And there's the rub."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Obscure Shaw play used by the King as a blueprint for abdication
By Kim Sengupta
Published: 16 November 2006

An obscure short play by George Bernard Shaw directly influenced the handling of Britain's abdication crisis, research shows.
The playlet, written 70 years ago, is said to have been brought to the attention of Edward VIII by Winston Churchill who suggested the King emulate the actions of the Shaw's fictitious monarch.
In Shaw's drama The King, the Constitution and the Lady, a king takes on the twin establishments of church and polity to marry his twice-divorced American mistress Daisy Bell.
The playlet is based on The Apple Cart, an earlier Shaw comedy, in which King Magnus is pressured by his mistress to marry her but faces opposition from his prime minister on constitutional grounds.
Magnus wins the battle by agreeing to abdicate in favour of his son, but with the caveat that he then intends to enter the political process and run for election. Recognising the king's popularity with the public, the prime minister caves in.
Writing in the magazine History Today, the biographer Stanley Weintraub describes how Edward Grigg, a Tory MP and a supporter of Edward, asked the King to follow Magnus's example. If he adopted the domestic politics of Lloyd George and Churchill's foreign policies, said Grigg, the King would be irresistible at the polls.
As the crisis intensified, dividing the nation, Shaw wrote The King, the Constitution and the Lady in the Evening Standard - owned by the pro-Edward Lord Beaverbrook - with echoes of The Apple Cart. Churchill then sent his famous letter to Edward asking him to stand down.
Weintraub writes: "The GBS piece was almost certainly the reason for Churchill's euphoric late-evening letter and Shaw had very likely placed it in the Evening Standard because he knew Beaverbrook was on the King's side.
"Shaw's playlet was described as a fictitious dialogue set in a country identified as The Kingdom of the Half-Mad. Shaw was advising Edward VIII indirectly, and the British public directly, through the newspapers that with the support of the people the King could do as he pleased."
Under intense pressure from the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, "Edward had no further stomach for kingship, whatever the popular and partisan divisions on his future", says Weintraub.
Weintraub maintains that the Duke of York, Edward's younger brother, who succeeded him as George VI, saw the danger to the establishment of Edward reincarnating himself as a politician. John Reith, director general of the BBC, had expected to introduce Edward announcing his abdication on the radio as Mr Edward Windsor, but the Duke of York objected.
By insisting that his brother take the title of Royal Duke, George made sure that Edward could not speak or vote in the House of Lords.According to the biographer Sarah Bradford: "He realised the implications of a potentially bitter and vindictive brother returning as a rival for dominance. As the first act of his reign, he announced that his brother would be known as His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor."

Friday, November 10, 2006

Eight minutes with Karajan

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuJIrBNN6zc&NR
'Spy without a face' who inspired Le Carré dies at 83

By Tony Paterson in Berlin
Published: 10 November 2006

The legendary East German foreign intelligence chief who inspired the creation of the inscrutable Communist spymaster "Karla" in John le Carré's Cold War novels died at his home in Berlin yesterday - exactly 17 years after the fall of the city's wall.
Markus "Mischa" Wolf died in his sleep at the age of 83 after completing a spying career that made him one of the most influential figures in the Cold War and forced the former West German Chancellor, Willy Brandt, to resign in 1974.
Yet although he headed a retinue of some 4,000 East German Stasi secret agents across the globe, he was for decades nicknamed "the man without a face" because Western intelligence could not even procure a photograph of him.
Wolf, born to a Jewish doctor's family in Germany, emigrated to the former Soviet Union after the Nazi's rise to power in 1933. A confirmed Communist, he moved to what was to become East Germany in 1945.
He worked as a journalist for East Germany's state-run media during the Nuremburg trials and last year admitted that witnessing the evidence of the Nazi's crimes had wholly influenced his later life because anti-fascism became his raison d'être.
"I hoped that after Nuremberg there would be a time without war, aggression or crimes without humanity," he said at the time.
In 1956, Wolf became head of East Germany's foreign intelligence service ­ a post he held until 1986, by which time he was also deputy to Erich Mielke, the feared chief of the country's notorious Stasi.
His most significant achievement was to force the resignation of Willy Brandt, the popular West German Social Democrat Chancellor, in 1974. Brandt was shadowed by the East German agent Guenter Guillaume, who was given a job in the Chancellor's office. When Guillaume was unmasked, Brandt had no option but to leave office. Yet Wolf later described the resignation as an " own goal" because of Brandt's commitment to détente with East Germany.
Wolf was booed and shouted down when he tried to side with East Germans demanding democratic elections in the days that immediately preceded the fall of the Berlin Wall. He fled to Moscow but returned to reunified Germany, where in May 1997 he was found guilty of treason and kidnapping. He was given a two year suspended sentence.
He said that in the final days of the divided Germany, the CIA had asked him to defect to America with the offer of a home in California and a large salary. Wolf said he refused because he would never betray his agents. One may wonder what he thought about Carré's novel Smiley's People, when Karla was unmasked by the British spy George Smiley and crossed the Wall to defect to the West.
A spymaster with an acute sense of history, it is unlikely that the irony of the timing of his death, on yesterday's anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, would have been lost on him.
The legendary East German foreign intelligence chief who inspired the creation of the inscrutable Communist spymaster "Karla" in John le Carré's Cold War novels died at his home in Berlin yesterday - exactly 17 years after the fall of the city's wall.
Markus "Mischa" Wolf died in his sleep at the age of 83 after completing a spying career that made him one of the most influential figures in the Cold War and forced the former West German Chancellor, Willy Brandt, to resign in 1974.
Yet although he headed a retinue of some 4,000 East German Stasi secret agents across the globe, he was for decades nicknamed "the man without a face" because Western intelligence could not even procure a photograph of him.
Wolf, born to a Jewish doctor's family in Germany, emigrated to the former Soviet Union after the Nazi's rise to power in 1933. A confirmed Communist, he moved to what was to become East Germany in 1945.
He worked as a journalist for East Germany's state-run media during the Nuremburg trials and last year admitted that witnessing the evidence of the Nazi's crimes had wholly influenced his later life because anti-fascism became his raison d'être.
"I hoped that after Nuremberg there would be a time without war, aggression or crimes without humanity," he said at the time.
In 1956, Wolf became head of East Germany's foreign intelligence service ­ a post he held until 1986, by which time he was also deputy to Erich Mielke, the feared chief of the country's notorious Stasi.
His most significant achievement was to force the resignation of Willy Brandt, the popular West German Social Democrat Chancellor, in 1974. Brandt was shadowed by the East German agent Guenter Guillaume, who was given a job in the Chancellor's office. When Guillaume was unmasked, Brandt had no option but to leave office. Yet Wolf later described the resignation as an " own goal" because of Brandt's commitment to détente with East Germany.
Wolf was booed and shouted down when he tried to side with East Germans demanding democratic elections in the days that immediately preceded the fall of the Berlin Wall. He fled to Moscow but returned to reunified Germany, where in May 1997 he was found guilty of treason and kidnapping. He was given a two year suspended sentence.
He said that in the final days of the divided Germany, the CIA had asked him to defect to America with the offer of a home in California and a large salary. Wolf said he refused because he would never betray his agents. One may wonder what he thought about Carré's novel Smiley's People, when Karla was unmasked by the British spy George Smiley and crossed the Wall to defect to the West.
A spymaster with an acute sense of history, it is unlikely that the irony of the timing of his death, on yesterday's anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, would have been lost on him.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A piece of rock'n'roll history: 75 years of Abbey Road

The Beatles recorded there, yeah, yeah, yeah, but the most famous recor
ding studios in the world also played host to Edward Elgar and Fred Astaire, among others. Terry Kirby reports
Published: 09 November 2006

It is a solid Georgian house, almost anonymous, in an unremarkable but busy north London road. A few cars are always parked on the frontage. Otherwise, its significance is only indicated by the daily gaggle of tourists, photographing each other on the nearby zebra crossing and adding their names to the graffiti on the wall.
But to go inside the doors of No 3, once you have passed underneath the small black sign that says Abbey Road, is to enter a place that is somehow more than just a crucial part of the history of popular music. Abbey Road proudly proclaims itself to be quite simply the most famous recording studio in the world. And for once, the hype may well be justified.
Here, inside these walls, which have heard and absorbed so many sounds, so many emotions, so many notes, is where, in 1931, an ageing Sir Edward Elgar recorded "Land of Hope and Glory"; where, on September 16 1944, the band leader Glenn Miller performed in a studio for the last time, just weeks before his plane went missing over the English Channel (the tapes remained unheard for 50 years); and, where, one June evening in 1962, George Martin, then head of EMI's Parlophone records, met four young men from Liverpool. He thought them "pretty awful", but, as they say, the rest is history, right up to and past That Album, the one with the cover.
And history it unquestionably is. This is also where, several years before the Fab Four, Cliff Richard recorded "Move It", his first single and arguably the first British rock'n'roll record; where Pink Floyd re-invented their career with the mega-successful Dark Side of the Moon; where the punks and pub bands of the late 1970s embraced the rock establishment; where the sound of Britpop was created and where Sporty, Scary, Ginger and the rest once again brought the massed media and screaming fans to St John's Wood. As David Holley, the managing director of EMI Studios, said yesterday: "Whenever I walk through the door, I sense the ghosts all around me - Elgar, John Lennon, Syd Barrett - and the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. This morning Sir George Martin was in reception when I came in and we had a little chat. You don't get that in many jobs."
Tonight, Abbey Road celebrates its 75th anniversary, with a party attended by many of the stars who have recorded there over the decades as well as present and former staff.
Built as an elegant townhouse in the 1830s, 3 Abbey Road was bought by what was then known as the Gramophone Company in 1929 from a man jailed for selling bogus peerages and titles. It was converted into studios, utilising the large garden at the rear. The intention was always to aim high and its opening on 12 November 1931 was celebrated with Elgar, then the most famous living British composer, who conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in a recording of "Land of Hope and Glory". He returned several times to record at Abbey Road before his death in 1934; ill health prevented him from attending his final session, which he supervised instead over the telephone.
In the decades since, Abbey Road - or EMI Studios as it was known formally until the 1970s, when it bowed to the inevitable - played host to almost every major name in classical and popular music. Elgar was followed by the pianist Artur Schnabel and soprano Elisabeth Scwarzkopf. During the 1930s and 1940s artists who recorded at Abbey Road included Joe Loss, Paul Robeson, Gertrude Lawrence and Fred Astaire, as well as the ill-fated Miller.
Since 1980, the vast Studio 1, the biggest recording studio in the world, has been regularly used by orchestras to score some of the big screen's most successful films, including Raiders of the Lost Ark, several Star Wars films, two of the Harry Potter films and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
But popular music remains its most celebrated achievement - from Cliff Richard in 1958 to U2 and Green Day in the past few weeks. "I can't tell you who is in here at the moment," said Mr Holley. "We have a policy on that to avoid getting the fans camped outside."
The fans camped outside were, of course, a problem during the late Sixties when the Fab Four recorded most of their singles and albums in Studio 2, still known and revered as the "Beatles Studio".
George Martin, a classically trained musician and producer, who had most recently come up a series of comedy records with people such as Peter Sellers and Rolf Harris, was looking for a group to enter the new pop market. Martin's expertise was the perfect complement to the raw talent and energy of the Beatles and, as they became increasingly successful, went about reinventing and developing pop music into an art form. At Abbey Road, Martin broke the barriers of the conventional three-minute single, adding strings, backwards recording, double-tracking and feedback. The results included "Hey Jude", "Let It Be", "Penny Lane" and "Eleanor Rigby" as well as the innovative Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. And, of course, Abbey Road itself, the one whose name and cover enshrined the studios as a place of pilgrimage.
Martin, who went on to found his own AIR studios, created a tradition of technical innovation and experimentation that survives today in a field which has been subject to enormous technical shifts during the past few decades. The studio currently houses the world's biggest analogue mixing desk and the world's biggest digital desk and is pioneering ways of managing digital music products.
The history of innovation at Abbey Road sits side by side with a peculiarly British atmosphere, however. "It's a bit like the BBC. And you have to remember, it was created at about the same time - in the 1930s - and shares that same spirit," said Mr Holley. "Underneath that orderliness, that surface normality, there's a real radical, adventurous spirit at work. People are fiddling around, being creative."
But according to artists who have worked there, while Abbey Road may be part of the history of rock'n'roll, it has never been very rock'n'roll in spirit.
"I remember a very traditional atmosphere," said Steve Harley, founder of Cockney Rebel, who "practically lived there" during the late 1970s when he recorded several singles and albums, including "Come Up and See Me (Make Me Smile)", still one of the biggest-selling singles of all time.
He said: "It was full of all these people who wore brown overalls and there was a tea lady called Dolly - people I would describe as real old-fashioned London types. For young blokes like us who had been travelling the world being rock stars it sort of brought you back to earth."
For recreation between sessions there was a pool table or the canteen. Harley remembers plenty of booze, but not much in the way of drugs. He has fond memories: "I've recorded in 50 different studios around the world and most of them are the same - but there's nowhere like Abbey Road."
Two decades later, Alex James found a similar atmosphere when he recorded there with Blur in the mid-1990s, but views it with far less affection: "I did think it was like the BBC. It certainly wasn't the hippest place; there was no cute receptionist or video games to play on.
"There was this terrible reverential atmosphere - 'this was the mike that Ringo used', that sort of thing. And if you wanted to use something you usually had to fill in three different pieces of paper. You couldn't break stuff or make a mess and I don't think that is very good for creativity. That's why people are recording in barns or garages these days."
But despite his reservations, for many aspiring or even established artists, a session at Abbey Road remains a rock'n'roll rite of passage. As Steve Harley puts it: "Everyone wants to say, 'We did that one at Abbey Road'."
Just for the record, decade by decade
1930s
EMI Studios opened on 12 November 1931 with the aim of providing a recording home for the world's biggest classical artists. The pianist Artur Schnabel became virtually a resident when he recorded all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas and five concertos. The 15 volumes made up of 100 records took more than a decade to complete.
Joe Loss, one of Britain's most popular bandleaders of the ballroom era, made his debut at Abbey Road in 1934. Other regular visitors during the early years were Yehudi Menuhin, Sir Thomas Beecham, Noel Coward, Paul Robeson, Gertrude Lawrence and Fred Astaire.
1940s
During the Second World War, Abbey Road remained open, making propaganda recordings for the Government and radio broadcasts for the BBC. Artists who contributed to the war effort included Gracie Fields and George Formby.
On 16 September 1944, American bandleader Glenn Miller made a number of recordings with singer Dinah Shore in Studio 1 - his last, as it turned out. A few weeks later, Miller's plane was reported lost over the English Channel with no survivors. Extraordinarily, the recordings remained unreleased until the expiry of their copyright in 1994.
1950s
The decade began with the arrival of George Martin who began by recording "anything out of the ordinary", working with comic actors such as Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Peter Ustinov, and recording plays and musical numbers that required complex sound effects.
Singer Eddie Calvert holds the distinction of becoming the first British artist to record a No 1 hit single in Abbey Road, when his recording of "Oh Mein Papa" topped the charts for nine weeks. Cliff Richard and the Drifters (later to become the Shadows) recorded several songs, among them "Move It", released in 1958.
1960s
By now, hit records were being regularly produced at the studios. Shirley Bassey arrived from Cardiff to begin a career that continues today and Danny Williams recorded a version of "Moon River" which shot to No 1 in 1961. Schoolgirl sensation Helen Shapiro produced 11 hits records at Abbey Road, including "Walking Back To Happiness" and "You Don't Know". In the summer of 1962 George Martin met the Beatles and three months later they were recording at Abbey Road. "Love Me Do" became the first of many hits on Martin's Parlophone label. Other artists recording at Abbey Road at the time included Manfred Mann, Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Seekers and the Hollies.
1970s
On 3 January 1970 the final Beatles recording, of "I Me Mine", took place at Abbey Road, although the individual Beatles would return as solo artists. Abbey Road by now was synonymous with the British rock scene and bands such as Pink Floyd exploited its technical abilities on albums such as Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here.
By now the list of artists who made some or all of a recording in Abbey Road included names as diverse as Spandau Ballet, Simple Minds, Boney M, Kiki Dee, XTC, Mike Oldfield, Jeff Beck, Magazine, Tom Robinson and Kirsty MacColl.
1980s
The recording of film scores for both Hollywood blockbusters, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and home-grown films, such as Room With a View began a lucrative sideline that continues today. The arrival of the CD revitalised record sales, creating new demand for back catalogues and classical recordings. Abbey Road opened facilities equipped for remastering original tapes and for reducing hiss and crackle on old recordings. Among rock and pop artists recording there were Kate Bush and Sting.
1990s
The 1990s saw a return to bands recording live in the studio as the advent of what would be known as Britpop created a whole new generation of artists. Bands including Radiohead, Spiritualized, Manic Street Preachers, Texas, Gomez, Travis and Blur all used Abbey Road to either record, mix, master their records. Many artists, such as Nick Cave and Sade, used the studios to record string arrangements, and to overdub choirs or orchestras.
When the Spice Girls recorded Spice World in Studio Three, bringing their fans and the world's media to camp outside, it was almost like the Sixties again.
Today
Abbey Road remains a major centre for recording music with artists such as Muse, Starsailor, Embrace and Groove Armada all using the studios. Channel 4 is about to launch a new series, Live From Abbey Road, with a similar format to Jools Holland's BBC2 show, Later. And yesterday, Sir George Martin returned to the scene of his greatest triumph, to promote his LOVE album, released later this month, an experimental mix of Beatles songs, using many of the original master tapes.
It is a solid Georgian house, almost anonymous, in an unremarkable but busy north London road. A few cars are always parked on the frontage. Otherwise, its significance is only indicated by the daily gaggle of tourists, photographing each other on the nearby zebra crossing and adding their names to the graffiti on the wall.
But to go inside the doors of No 3, once you have passed underneath the small black sign that says Abbey Road, is to enter a place that is somehow more than just a crucial part of the history of popular music. Abbey Road proudly proclaims itself to be quite simply the most famous recording studio in the world. And for once, the hype may well be justified.
Here, inside these walls, which have heard and absorbed so many sounds, so many emotions, so many notes, is where, in 1931, an ageing Sir Edward Elgar recorded "Land of Hope and Glory"; where, on September 16 1944, the band leader Glenn Miller performed in a studio for the last time, just weeks before his plane went missing over the English Channel (the tapes remained unheard for 50 years); and, where, one June evening in 1962, George Martin, then head of EMI's Parlophone records, met four young men from Liverpool. He thought them "pretty awful", but, as they say, the rest is history, right up to and past That Album, the one with the cover.
And history it unquestionably is. This is also where, several years before the Fab Four, Cliff Richard recorded "Move It", his first single and arguably the first British rock'n'roll record; where Pink Floyd re-invented their career with the mega-successful Dark Side of the Moon; where the punks and pub bands of the late 1970s embraced the rock establishment; where the sound of Britpop was created and where Sporty, Scary, Ginger and the rest once again brought the massed media and screaming fans to St John's Wood. As David Holley, the managing director of EMI Studios, said yesterday: "Whenever I walk through the door, I sense the ghosts all around me - Elgar, John Lennon, Syd Barrett - and the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. This morning Sir George Martin was in reception when I came in and we had a little chat. You don't get that in many jobs."
Tonight, Abbey Road celebrates its 75th anniversary, with a party attended by many of the stars who have recorded there over the decades as well as present and former staff.
Built as an elegant townhouse in the 1830s, 3 Abbey Road was bought by what was then known as the Gramophone Company in 1929 from a man jailed for selling bogus peerages and titles. It was converted into studios, utilising the large garden at the rear. The intention was always to aim high and its opening on 12 November 1931 was celebrated with Elgar, then the most famous living British composer, who conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in a recording of "Land of Hope and Glory". He returned several times to record at Abbey Road before his death in 1934; ill health prevented him from attending his final session, which he supervised instead over the telephone.
In the decades since, Abbey Road - or EMI Studios as it was known formally until the 1970s, when it bowed to the inevitable - played host to almost every major name in classical and popular music. Elgar was followed by the pianist Artur Schnabel and soprano Elisabeth Scwarzkopf. During the 1930s and 1940s artists who recorded at Abbey Road included Joe Loss, Paul Robeson, Gertrude Lawrence and Fred Astaire, as well as the ill-fated Miller.
Since 1980, the vast Studio 1, the biggest recording studio in the world, has been regularly used by orchestras to score some of the big screen's most successful films, including Raiders of the Lost Ark, several Star Wars films, two of the Harry Potter films and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
But popular music remains its most celebrated achievement - from Cliff Richard in 1958 to U2 and Green Day in the past few weeks. "I can't tell you who is in here at the moment," said Mr Holley. "We have a policy on that to avoid getting the fans camped outside."
The fans camped outside were, of course, a problem during the late Sixties when the Fab Four recorded most of their singles and albums in Studio 2, still known and revered as the "Beatles Studio".
George Martin, a classically trained musician and producer, who had most recently come up a series of comedy records with people such as Peter Sellers and Rolf Harris, was looking for a group to enter the new pop market. Martin's expertise was the perfect complement to the raw talent and energy of the Beatles and, as they became increasingly successful, went about reinventing and developing pop music into an art form. At Abbey Road, Martin broke the barriers of the conventional three-minute single, adding strings, backwards recording, double-tracking and feedback. The results included "Hey Jude", "Let It Be", "Penny Lane" and "Eleanor Rigby" as well as the innovative Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. And, of course, Abbey Road itself, the one whose name and cover enshrined the studios as a place of pilgrimage.
Martin, who went on to found his own AIR studios, created a tradition of technical innovation and experimentation that survives today in a field which has been subject to enormous technical shifts during the past few decades. The studio currently houses the world's biggest analogue mixing desk and the world's biggest digital desk and is pioneering ways of managing digital music products.
The history of innovation at Abbey Road sits side by side with a peculiarly British atmosphere, however. "It's a bit like the BBC. And you have to remember, it was created at about the same time - in the 1930s - and shares that same spirit," said Mr Holley. "Underneath that orderliness, that surface normality, there's a real radical, adventurous spirit at work. People are fiddling around, being creative."
But according to artists who have worked there, while Abbey Road may be part of the history of rock'n'roll, it has never been very rock'n'roll in spirit.
"I remember a very traditional atmosphere," said Steve Harley, founder of Cockney Rebel, who "practically lived there" during the late 1970s when he recorded several singles and albums, including "Come Up and See Me (Make Me Smile)", still one of the biggest-selling singles of all time.
He said: "It was full of all these people who wore brown overalls and there was a tea lady called Dolly - people I would describe as real old-fashioned London types. For young blokes like us who had been travelling the world being rock stars it sort of brought you back to earth."
For recreation between sessions there was a pool table or the canteen. Harley remembers plenty of booze, but not much in the way of drugs. He has fond memories: "I've recorded in 50 different studios around the world and most of them are the same - but there's nowhere like Abbey Road."
Two decades later, Alex James found a similar atmosphere when he recorded there with Blur in the mid-1990s, but views it with far less affection: "I did think it was like the BBC. It certainly wasn't the hippest place; there was no cute receptionist or video games to play on.
"There was this terrible reverential atmosphere - 'this was the mike that Ringo used', that sort of thing. And if you wanted to use something you usually had to fill in three different pieces of paper. You couldn't break stuff or make a mess and I don't think that is very good for creativity. That's why people are recording in barns or garages these days."
But despite his reservations, for many aspiring or even established artists, a session at Abbey Road remains a rock'n'roll rite of passage. As Steve Harley puts it: "Everyone wants to say, 'We did that one at Abbey Road'."
Just for the record, decade by decade
1930s
EMI Studios opened on 12 November 1931 with the aim of providing a recording home for the world's biggest classical artists. The pianist Artur Schnabel became virtually a resident when he recorded all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas and five concertos. The 15 volumes made up of 100 records took more than a decade to complete.
Joe Loss, one of Britain's most popular bandleaders of the ballroom era, made his debut at Abbey Road in 1934. Other regular visitors during the early years were Yehudi Menuhin, Sir Thomas Beecham, Noel Coward, Paul Robeson, Gertrude Lawrence and Fred Astaire.
1940s
During the Second World War, Abbey Road remained open, making propaganda recordings for the Government and radio broadcasts for the BBC. Artists who contributed to the war effort included Gracie Fields and George Formby.
On 16 September 1944, American bandleader Glenn Miller made a number of recordings with singer Dinah Shore in Studio 1 - his last, as it turned out. A few weeks later, Miller's plane was reported lost over the English Channel with no survivors. Extraordinarily, the recordings remained unreleased until the expiry of their copyright in 1994.
1950s
The decade began with the arrival of George Martin who began by recording "anything out of the ordinary", working with comic actors such as Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Peter Ustinov, and recording plays and musical numbers that required complex sound effects.
Singer Eddie Calvert holds the distinction of becoming the first British artist to record a No 1 hit single in Abbey Road, when his recording of "Oh Mein Papa" topped the charts for nine weeks. Cliff Richard and the Drifters (later to become the Shadows) recorded several songs, among them "Move It", released in 1958.
1960s
By now, hit records were being regularly produced at the studios. Shirley Bassey arrived from Cardiff to begin a career that continues today and Danny Williams recorded a version of "Moon River" which shot to No 1 in 1961. Schoolgirl sensation Helen Shapiro produced 11 hits records at Abbey Road, including "Walking Back To Happiness" and "You Don't Know". In the summer of 1962 George Martin met the Beatles and three months later they were recording at Abbey Road. "Love Me Do" became the first of many hits on Martin's Parlophone label. Other artists recording at Abbey Road at the time included Manfred Mann, Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Seekers and the Hollies.
1970s
On 3 January 1970 the final Beatles recording, of "I Me Mine", took place at Abbey Road, although the individual Beatles would return as solo artists. Abbey Road by now was synonymous with the British rock scene and bands such as Pink Floyd exploited its technical abilities on albums such as Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here.
By now the list of artists who made some or all of a recording in Abbey Road included names as diverse as Spandau Ballet, Simple Minds, Boney M, Kiki Dee, XTC, Mike Oldfield, Jeff Beck, Magazine, Tom Robinson and Kirsty MacColl.
1980s
The recording of film scores for both Hollywood blockbusters, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and home-grown films, such as Room With a View began a lucrative sideline that continues today. The arrival of the CD revitalised record sales, creating new demand for back catalogues and classical recordings. Abbey Road opened facilities equipped for remastering original tapes and for reducing hiss and crackle on old recordings. Among rock and pop artists recording there were Kate Bush and Sting.
1990s
The 1990s saw a return to bands recording live in the studio as the advent of what would be known as Britpop created a whole new generation of artists. Bands including Radiohead, Spiritualized, Manic Street Preachers, Texas, Gomez, Travis and Blur all used Abbey Road to either record, mix, master their records. Many artists, such as Nick Cave and Sade, used the studios to record string arrangements, and to overdub choirs or orchestras.
When the Spice Girls recorded Spice World in Studio Three, bringing their fans and the world's media to camp outside, it was almost like the Sixties again.
Today
Abbey Road remains a major centre for recording music with artists such as Muse, Starsailor, Embrace and Groove Armada all using the studios. Channel 4 is about to launch a new series, Live From Abbey Road, with a similar format to Jools Holland's BBC2 show, Later. And yesterday, Sir George Martin returned to the scene of his greatest triumph, to promote his LOVE album, released later this month, an experimental mix of Beatles songs, using many of the original master tapes.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bigger than the London Eye: UK's largest cave found
By Ian Herbert
Published: 07 November 2006
To the untutored eye, the mighty Peak Cavern looks as big as they get. Its entrance is the biggest in Britain and leads to vast geological miracles, including the serene Orchestra Gallery.
But local cavers always felt there was something bigger, buried beneath the hills of Castleton, Derbyshire. In a paper written in 1873, James Plumtree, an 18th-century academic, described a network of caves which went beyond Leviathan, a well-known system of underground holes near the town. When Plumtree's findings were discovered in a library at Cambridge University 14 years ago, they were republished and seized upon by those who enjoy burrowing around the Peak District's limestone cave systems.
It transpires that he was right. After a decade of painstaking graft through rubble, silt and water, a team of Derbyshire explorers has discovered the UK's biggest cave - Titan - a 140m-tall funnel-shaped shaft as high as the London Eye or the Humber Bridge.
The cavers' pursuit of the shaft started in 1996. The graft for caver Dave Nixon and his friends resembled that of coal miners. Crouching and stooping, they hacked through stones, silt and other obstacles with hand tools, propping up the roof with scaffolding as they went.
In 2002, the explorers hit what they called the "Titan Choke" - a vast vertical pile of boulders - through which they began an ascent. They hacked a route upwards, using explosives and scaffolding as they climbed. After six months they reached the top and peered up into the blackness of the Titan shaft. "Our feelings were a mixture of complete elation and excitement to tell everyone else," said Mr Nixon yesterday.
Using radio location equipment, Mr Nixon's team found Titan's location on the surface and dug a shaft from above for abseiling into the cave, saving a five-hour underground journey. This was captured in a BBC1 Inside Out documentary, broadcast in Yorkshire last night.
To the untutored eye, the mighty Peak Cavern looks as big as they get. Its entrance is the biggest in Britain and leads to vast geological miracles, including the serene Orchestra Gallery.
But local cavers always felt there was something bigger, buried beneath the hills of Castleton, Derbyshire. In a paper written in 1873, James Plumtree, an 18th-century academic, described a network of caves which went beyond Leviathan, a well-known system of underground holes near the town. When Plumtree's findings were discovered in a library at Cambridge University 14 years ago, they were republished and seized upon by those who enjoy burrowing around the Peak District's limestone cave systems.
It transpires that he was right. After a decade of painstaking graft through rubble, silt and water, a team of Derbyshire explorers has discovered the UK's biggest cave - Titan - a 140m-tall funnel-shaped shaft as high as the London Eye or the Humber Bridge.
The cavers' pursuit of the shaft started in 1996. The graft for caver Dave Nixon and his friends resembled that of coal miners. Crouching and stooping, they hacked through stones, silt and other obstacles with hand tools, propping up the roof with scaffolding as they went.
In 2002, the explorers hit what they called the "Titan Choke" - a vast vertical pile of boulders - through which they began an ascent. They hacked a route upwards, using explosives and scaffolding as they climbed. After six months they reached the top and peered up into the blackness of the Titan shaft. "Our feelings were a mixture of complete elation and excitement to tell everyone else," said Mr Nixon yesterday.
Using radio location equipment, Mr Nixon's team found Titan's location on the surface and dug a shaft from above for abseiling into the cave, saving a five-hour underground journey. This was captured in a BBC1 Inside Out documentary, broadcast in Yorkshire last night.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Campaign to put unsung hero of Second World War back on radar
By Paul Kelbie, Scotland Correspondent
Published: 02 November 2006
He was the man who helped win the Battle of Britain and whose invention went on to lay the foundations for a host of modern life-saving technologies. Yet more than 30 years after his death, Sir Robert Watson-Watt, the father of radar, is almost forgotten - one of the great unsung heroes of the Second World War.
Now, an international fundraising appeal has been launched to commemorate his achievements. The recently formed Watson-Watt Society wants to raise £50,000 to build a memorial statue in his home town, Brechin in Scotland, to the man who is officially credited with creating the first workable radar system.
A descendant of James Watt, the engineer and inventor of the steam engine, Watson-Watt's method of using radio waves to detect objects helped tilt the balance of air superiority in 1940 when the overstretched RAF was able to intercept enemy bombers in all weathers and at night. Without it, Britain would have probably lost the battle and perhaps the war.
His system of "radio detection and ranging", which was later shortened to "radar", came about by accident as Watson-Watt had initially been involved in trying to find a way of predicting thunder and lightning to warn aviators.
An unassuming man, Watson-Watt was born in Brechin, Angus, in 1892 and was educated at Damacre School in Brechin and Brechin High School before graduating with a BSc(engineering) in 1912 from University College, Dundee - which was then part of the University of St Andrews.
At the start of the First World War, he was offered a post at the Meteorological Office, which was interested in his ideas on the use of radio for the detection of thunderstorms.
Lightning gives off a radio signal as it ionizes the air, and he planned on devising a method of detecting that signal in order to warn pilots of approaching thunderstorms. However, while carrying out experiments he found that aircraft could also be detected without being seen and - as a result - discovered the underlying science of radar.
The Scottish physicist first developed a working radar system in 1935 but it was not until 1937 that the Chain Home radar system became operational, linking stations along the south coast of England in a relay that could detect aircraft approaching the UK at a range of more than 100 miles.
In 1942, Watson-Watt's work was officially recognised with a knighthood and in the 1950s he moved to Canada and later lived for a short time in the United States.
Eventually, he retired and returned to Britain, living in London during the winter and at Pitlochry - where he was buried after his death in 1973 at the age of 81 - in the summer months.
Brian Mitchell, secretary of the Watson-Watt Society, said Sir Robert's contribution was "hugely significant" but until now his connection with Brechin has only been marked with a small plaque on the wall of his birthplace in the town's Union Street. Mr Mitchell said: "Watson-Watt's work was extremely important during the Second World War and has been further developed into today's air traffic control systems.
"It was feared that German aircraft would be able to flatten every town in the country as their bombers could approach Britain from altitudes that were out of reach to anti-aircraft guns. Watson-Watt developed the system to detect and locate the threat by radio methods.
"A statue or sculptured stone monument will be a fitting memorial to our most famous son," he added.
Scottish pioneers
Television
Born in Helensburgh, John Logie Baird (1888-1946) was the first person to transmit a picture, pioneered colour television and was involved in a host of other experiments for the military between the First and Second World Wars, including early radar, many details of which are still top secret.
Fax Machine
A son of a Highland crofter, Alexander Bain (1810-1877) was an apprentice watchmaker with a fascination for time. While working to develop a system to send signals around the world to synchronise electric clocks, in 1843 he developed a telegraph that printed in plain type - a device now seen as the first facsimile.
Telephone
Born in Edinburgh, Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) invented the telephone while devising a method of communicating with deaf people.
Bicycle
The son of a blacksmith in Dumfriesshire, Kirkpatrick MacMillan, right, (1813-1878) first built himself a "dandy-horse" in 1837, propelled by the rider pushing on the ground with their feet. He fitted a crank system to create the world's first pedal cycle.
Road Surface
Ayrshire born John Loudon McAdam (1756-1836) paved the way for modern road building in the early 19th century when he started making roads out of crushed, graded rock with proper drainage.
Penicillin
Born in Dalry, Ayrshire, Sir Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) discovered, in 1922, the protein lysozyme that has bacteria-killing properties. It was not until 1928, returning from holiday, he discovered a culture plate was deadly to bacteria.
Pregnancy Scanner
Paisley-born Ian Donald (1910-1987) developed an interest in ultrasonics as a diagnostic technique after learning about radar in the RAF. While Regius Chair of Midwifery at the University of Glasgow, which he took up in 1954, he developed the first contact ultrasound scanner.
The Waterproof
The son of a Glasgow chemical manufacturer, Charles Macintosh (1766-1843) hit upon the idea of using dissolved India rubber to glue together two sheets of fabric which became impenetrable by water.
He was the man who helped win the Battle of Britain and whose invention went on to lay the foundations for a host of modern life-saving technologies. Yet more than 30 years after his death, Sir Robert Watson-Watt, the father of radar, is almost forgotten - one of the great unsung heroes of the Second World War.
Now, an international fundraising appeal has been launched to commemorate his achievements. The recently formed Watson-Watt Society wants to raise £50,000 to build a memorial statue in his home town, Brechin in Scotland, to the man who is officially credited with creating the first workable radar system.
A descendant of James Watt, the engineer and inventor of the steam engine, Watson-Watt's method of using radio waves to detect objects helped tilt the balance of air superiority in 1940 when the overstretched RAF was able to intercept enemy bombers in all weathers and at night. Without it, Britain would have probably lost the battle and perhaps the war.
His system of "radio detection and ranging", which was later shortened to "radar", came about by accident as Watson-Watt had initially been involved in trying to find a way of predicting thunder and lightning to warn aviators.
An unassuming man, Watson-Watt was born in Brechin, Angus, in 1892 and was educated at Damacre School in Brechin and Brechin High School before graduating with a BSc(engineering) in 1912 from University College, Dundee - which was then part of the University of St Andrews.
At the start of the First World War, he was offered a post at the Meteorological Office, which was interested in his ideas on the use of radio for the detection of thunderstorms.
Lightning gives off a radio signal as it ionizes the air, and he planned on devising a method of detecting that signal in order to warn pilots of approaching thunderstorms. However, while carrying out experiments he found that aircraft could also be detected without being seen and - as a result - discovered the underlying science of radar.
The Scottish physicist first developed a working radar system in 1935 but it was not until 1937 that the Chain Home radar system became operational, linking stations along the south coast of England in a relay that could detect aircraft approaching the UK at a range of more than 100 miles.
In 1942, Watson-Watt's work was officially recognised with a knighthood and in the 1950s he moved to Canada and later lived for a short time in the United States.
Eventually, he retired and returned to Britain, living in London during the winter and at Pitlochry - where he was buried after his death in 1973 at the age of 81 - in the summer months.
Brian Mitchell, secretary of the Watson-Watt Society, said Sir Robert's contribution was "hugely significant" but until now his connection with Brechin has only been marked with a small plaque on the wall of his birthplace in the town's Union Street. Mr Mitchell said: "Watson-Watt's work was extremely important during the Second World War and has been further developed into today's air traffic control systems.
"It was feared that German aircraft would be able to flatten every town in the country as their bombers could approach Britain from altitudes that were out of reach to anti-aircraft guns. Watson-Watt developed the system to detect and locate the threat by radio methods.
"A statue or sculptured stone monument will be a fitting memorial to our most famous son," he added.
Scottish pioneers
Television
Born in Helensburgh, John Logie Baird (1888-1946) was the first person to transmit a picture, pioneered colour television and was involved in a host of other experiments for the military between the First and Second World Wars, including early radar, many details of which are still top secret.
Fax Machine
A son of a Highland crofter, Alexander Bain (1810-1877) was an apprentice watchmaker with a fascination for time. While working to develop a system to send signals around the world to synchronise electric clocks, in 1843 he developed a telegraph that printed in plain type - a device now seen as the first facsimile.
Telephone
Born in Edinburgh, Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) invented the telephone while devising a method of communicating with deaf people.
Bicycle
The son of a blacksmith in Dumfriesshire, Kirkpatrick MacMillan, right, (1813-1878) first built himself a "dandy-horse" in 1837, propelled by the rider pushing on the ground with their feet. He fitted a crank system to create the world's first pedal cycle.
Road Surface
Ayrshire born John Loudon McAdam (1756-1836) paved the way for modern road building in the early 19th century when he started making roads out of crushed, graded rock with proper drainage.
Penicillin
Born in Dalry, Ayrshire, Sir Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) discovered, in 1922, the protein lysozyme that has bacteria-killing properties. It was not until 1928, returning from holiday, he discovered a culture plate was deadly to bacteria.
Pregnancy Scanner
Paisley-born Ian Donald (1910-1987) developed an interest in ultrasonics as a diagnostic technique after learning about radar in the RAF. While Regius Chair of Midwifery at the University of Glasgow, which he took up in 1954, he developed the first contact ultrasound scanner.
The Waterproof
The son of a Glasgow chemical manufacturer, Charles Macintosh (1766-1843) hit upon the idea of using dissolved India rubber to glue together two sheets of fabric which became impenetrable by water.