When a colleague of mine mentioned the name Dr Ian Yuille to a group of scientists and engineers earlier this week, their faces lit up.
They work for the Hampshire-based multinational defence technology company QinetiQ and his name immediately struck a big chord.
Among the group were some warship designers and although Ian’s name is not recognised in many households, in the hothouse world of ship design he is legendary.
Ian, a widower, is now 90 and lives quietly at Emsworth. He’s a modest, quietly-spoken man who is a member of the Emsworth Writing Circle and art group. He enjoys watercolour painting.
But perhaps, without his dedication and persistence, we might not see the sleek Royal Navy warships of today sliding in and out of Portsmouth Harbour.
For Ian had a long and distinguished career in naval architecture and was the first engineer to spot the huge potential of digital computers for solving structural problems in ships.
That was back in the 1950s and 1960s and his published papers on the strength of ships led to him becoming renowned internationally.
And, using a computer, he has just written the story of his life. The book bears the intriguing title I Fathered A Goddess and refers to his pioneering ship design system.
As anyone who has had close dealings with the Ministry of Defence will testify, that organisation loves acronyms and it came up with GOvernment Defence DEsign System for Ships (Goddess) for Ian’s system.
Ian was born in south London and his fascination with ships he thinks probably began in 1935 when his father brought him to Portsmouth.
He says: ‘We had visited Portsmouth dockyard several times to see Victory and the warships in port at the time.
‘But one thrilling day I went with my father to see the naval ships of many countries assembled for the jubilee review in 1935.’
As a 12-year-old boy he was hooked. ‘We took a trip on a paddle steamer which followed the route to be taken by the king in the royal yacht. I used my box camera to photograph many of the warships.
‘I was concentrating my attention on those of the British navy, but my father insisted that I should take a picture of the German pocket battleship Graf Spee because he felt it was likely to be in the news one day. How right he was.’
Ian secured a wartime apprenticeship at the shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness. There, recognition of his prowess and promise saw him awarded a scholarship to Glasgow university where he graduated with honours in Naval Architecture in 1947.
Back at the shipyard, Ian’s work in the Ship Design Office aroused his interest in the structures of ships and in numerical methods of solving difficult engineering problems, interest which he then developed further through post-graduate research at Glasgow University.
Naval research, stimulated by wartime experience and inventions such as radar, had in 1946 been reorganised by the creation of the Royal Naval Scientific Service.
Ian, now a senior scientific officer, went to work in the branch in Dunfermline and developed new and more powerful procedures for predicting the strength of ship structures.
This gave him valuable experience of some of the earliest computers in the country such as the Pilot ACe and Pegasus.
In 1960 he was transferred to work alongside members of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors in Bath.
Computing by then had only a tenuous foothold in naval architecture especially among senior officers.
Ian adds: ‘You can’t blame them.
‘Investing in computers back then would have cost a lot of money and it was money they felt could be better spent on other things.
‘As they saw it we’d been building warships successfully for many years in the old way so why change.
‘But I could see that Britain was beginning to lag behind other countries and I firmly believed we should keep up.’
Ian worked for nearly eight years in ship drawing and design offices, about 30 as a scientist in the Royal Naval Scientific Service and spent 10 years in universities which included Southampton.
He continues: ‘I saw the birth of computers and used them extensively in my work as they progressed to more and more powerful machines.
‘The last 12 years of my research in the Civil Service led to the computer-aided ship design system which became known as Goddess.
‘I had to combat the prejudice and natural reluctance of people to accept the changes brought about by these new developments.’
But battle he did and the papers he wrote, the painstaking research he carried out all aided by computers have now led to key components in the design of the new Type 45 destroyers and in the building of the navy’s new aircraft carriers.
l I Fathered a Goddess – The Autobiography of a Naval Scientist by Ian Yuille (ISBN 978-0-7552-1505-8) is published by Authors Online which can be contacted via authorsonline.co.uk. It is also available from other online booksellers or can be ordered by bookshops. Prices vary, but most charge about £10. Ian is donating royalties to Cancer Research UK.