Blasts from the Past

Had a reason to trawl back through my Archives and came across some articles written before the www took hold and published in The Biochemist which I edited from 1992 to 2001.

I thought some of them might make you smile in the most depressing season of the year.

The first “Impressions of a Meeting”was published in 1992 and featured some brilliant cartoons by Daniel Postgate  [Bagpuss’ father’s son] that poked a little fun at some of the characters I had encountered at Conferences. I would be very interested to know if they are all alive and well, and also whether any new characters have joined the menagerie


American Showman 2

The American Showman



Dress cool and casual. Research group credits took two slides to complete. Talked with studied ease, whilst drinking mineral water from a bottle. Science awesome costing somewhere in the range of the Gross National Products of the countries of several of participants. Communicated a strong sense of being part of a small international band of experts who spend high percents of their time in each other’s  company starring at exotic locations around the world. Trailed parts of the talks that  members of this in-crowd would give with asides like “David has some great new data on this

Everything he talked about was either in press or being prepared for submission to THE journal; tended to be coy about these pieces of  information. Presentation was a full performance often including a few joke slides or puns.

Strategy for answering questions was to label any question however crass as very interesting and then refer to a string of papers published in the last few days that showed conclusively that their interrogator was a complete clown



The Colonel

The Air Commodore




Dress: lounge suit. Manner: that of headmaster addressing morning assembly. Often worked in a clinical area. Presentational style adapted from that used to brief bomber pilots during the War. Always referred to colleagues by their correct titles and tended to convey the impression that he was not in the least surprised that his data failed to agree with that of his overseas colleagues. Treated with great deference by the Chair, answered questions crisply, and from a great height.



The Insomniacs dream

The Insomniacs Dream


Dress : Tidy. Manner: deferential. Read in a monologue from a script. Tendency to mutter “Next slide please”, even though they were holding the remote control. Avoided eye contact with the audience at all costs. Paused from time to time to wave the laser pointer at slides that would have taken Einstein a quarter of an hour to understand whilst mumbling things like”as is obvious from the seven columns on the extreme right” Audience too dazed and baffled to ask questions.


New Age Plant Expert 2

New Age Plant Expert



Dress: Ideal for Hiking. Beard of nature reserve proportions. Eyes of great intensity. Worked in a well equipped shed. Audio-visuals various including unexpected single words on the blackboard and wordy slides interspersed with multi-coloured, animation packed moments when he reached the bit that had attracted commercial sponsors. Tended to respond to questions after a long pause, often answered an entirely different one.

Dr Jargon

Dr Jargon


Dress: Jeans and button down shirt. Manner, someone who was a good deal older than they looked. Subject invariably Molecular Biology. Presentation appeared to consist of a random recitation of acronyms laced with the odd pronoun and a very rare verb which had been a noun in an earlier and less confusing incarnation. Some phrases seemed to have been deliberately invented because they combined a pun with a particularly bizarre image. The award winner talked casually about “Walking off the end of a YAC” Questions tended to be even less comprehensible since they came from the only other person on the planet who knew what the talk had been about.







~ by Frank Burnet on January 20, 2016.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: