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Kevin F Tindall, 1922-2008

Kevin Tindall

Kevin Tindall

18 June 2008

Dr Derek Parsons remembers Kevin Tindall, long-serving Laboratory Superintendent in the HH Wills Physics Laboratory and a man with a 'quick wit' and 'unquenchable enthusiasm'.

As Laboratory Superintendent, Kevin Tindall was a key figure in the HH Wills Physics Laboratory during the period of rapid expansion in the 1960s.  

Kevin was born in Portsmouth and completed his formal schooling at Prior Park College in Bath before joining the Admiralty Signal School as a laboratory assistant at the outbreak of World War II. He came to Bristol after Dunkirk when the Research Establishments were dispersed, in his case to the HH Wills Physics Laboratory. In 1946 he joined the staff of the Laboratory as an assistant in Norman Thompson’s group. Later Kevin became departmental photographer and then assistant to Harold Venn, the Laboratory Superintendent.

Kevin succeeded Mr Venn as Superintendent in 1966, having accumulated a great deal of knowledge about the Laboratory, the way it worked, the people in it and the jobs they did. He stepped easily into the managerial side of the job using his contacts within and outside the department, liaising wisely with Senate House as well as other academic departments. He was a member of the Physics Departmental Committee on Technical Staff which, in the1970s, was no comfortable task given the general unhappiness created by the notorious ‘Blue Book’.

Kevin never lost the respect and support of the technical staff. He excelled in training juniors in various aspects of laboratory work: Alan Birt, George Hitchens, Mike Gabb, Stewart Field and the late Nick Swatton all benefitted greatly from Kevin’s instruction. He excelled in the (nearly) lost art of lecture demonstrations. When the curriculum was altered so that lectures became mostly chalk and talk, Kevin would put on a whole afternoon of demonstrations. Most of these had been devised and constructed by Kevin and ‘his lads’. Moreover they worked! Kevin loved these occasions and so did the students. Some of the apparatus is still used for Open Days.

But a catalogue of his achievements in the Department only begins to tell of Kevin the man. He loved fun and humour, and his quick wit was a byword.  It had a point without being cruel and he knew how to use humour to soften a reprimand or to defuse a difficult situation. He loved limericks and knew more by heart than most of us have ever heard. It was said that he could respond to a comment with a limerick made up on the spot! He was in his element at Christmas parties in which the cabaret was the highlight. Kevin would act as Master of Ceremonies and would review the passing year with humorous comments; few of us escaped the edge of his wit.

In the wider University sphere he was a member of the Joint Committee for Technical Staff Training for 20 years, was on the Refectory Sub-Committee for three years and was a member of the Documentary Film Unit. He was a one-time Chairman of UBEA and gave talks to this group on a variety of subjects even after his retirement. In retirement he set himself the task, encouraged by others, to write about aspects of his time in the Department. The result is a splendid document entitled ‘Memories of the Physics Department’. It is available on the Physics Department website in the history pages under 'Tindall’s Memories', item 13.

The article is typical of Kevin; clear and perceptive and spiced with humour. Chapter 19, on St George’s Day 1980, is a gem.

Outside the University, Kevin was a keen Scout and an active and committed member of his church.

When the University conferred on him the Honorary Degree of MSc in 1987 it set the seal on a career which had spanned 41 years. During that time Kevin had seen many changes in the University; it is a measure of the man that he managed those changes effectively and retained his unquenchable enthusiasm for the job.

He is survived by his wife Eleanor whom he married in 1952, by his children Mark and Claire and by his grandchildren. They will all miss him deeply, as will his many friends.


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