Max Nicholson

George Peterken's memories of working for Max on the IBP

Like Jennifer Norman, I once worked with Max day in, day out, though for only two years. Through the good offices of Palmer Newbould, and after the most perfunctory of interviews (Can you write English? Yes, if I understand what I'm writing about.), I was appointed to work in 19 Belgrave Square as scientific co-ordinator of the conservation section of the International Biological Programme, i.e., as Max's assistant on this particular project. It was during this period that he retired as Director General of the Nature Conservancy, so I saw him both as the top official and as a supposedly retired gentleman of Chelsea, who wandered into our office at about mid-morning.

As Jennifer says, he was remarkably easy and entertaining to work for. On the more relaxed occasions, he regaled us with anecdotes and 'bloody asides'. I was always astounded at the fluency with which he dictated even complex reports, using few notes, or none. I was also quickly aware of the trepidation with which more senior colleagues approached him. On many occasions I found myself reassuring the Deputy Director General and other lofty personages, sometimes without justification, for I also saw some fearful dressings-down. I also witnessed and learned about the long hours, inventiveness, constant pressure and force of personality needed to convert new ideas to practical results. But all this was directed at others: to those in his office he was kindness itself - demanding, but considerate of our limitations, and willing to take a comment against himself in good humour.

No doubt, if I had dealt with him in my later life as a forest ecologist, I would have been just as apprehensive as others, but for two years as a junior assistant to an eminent Elizabethan, I have only happy memories.