John C. Kendrew

Banquet speech

John C. Kendrew’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1962

Your Majesties, your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen and – perhaps I may add – Citizens of Sweden: today you have raised your flags over the buildings of Stockholm to do us honour. As I was walking through the city this morning there came over me, not for the first time since I received a telegram from the Secretary of the Swedish Academy of Sciences on the first of November, a feeling of unreality – could it really be true that it is I who am here as one of the principal actors in your annual ceremonial, or am I perhaps a tourist, who has somehow by accident strayed into Stockholm on Nobel Day, and has been given a ticket for the presentation of the prizes? But a little later, when I looked at my four colleagues, it seemed to me that they looked solid enough, and I thought I could not be dreaming and that it must after all be true.

I think anyone in my position must have some thoughts along these lines, when he remembers the unique tradition which you in Sweden have built around the will of Alfred Nobel, and when he contemplates the fact that he has been called to become a member of that distinguished company who have received an honour greater than any other, civil or academic, to which it is possible for a scientist to aspire.

The truth is, I think, that when one is actually doing one’s work in the laboratory one may have a variety of motives; one does it because one finds it interesting, because one is trying to solve a problem which seems important, or perhaps because one is paid to do it. And then when an extraordinary event like this happens one is astonished to find that the work has been accorded a recognition which, at an earlier stage, one would not have dreamed of.

Also at this solemn and happy time I find myself thinking much of others – of those whose work has gone before, of Bragg, whose name has already been mentioned this evening, of Bernal and Astbury and Pauling; those who laid the foundation of our work, and before them a line of others disappearing into the past and representing the continuity of science. Indeed, as has been said in another connexion, we stand on the shoulders of giants. I think too of my colleagues for, in the modern fashion, my work has been altogether a team affair. I could, if I had the time, mention perhaps twenty names of those who have made essential contributions to a result which has won for me alone a share of the Prize. It was indeed a long road, and many hands were employed. Reading the Statutes governing your awards and your Nobel Institutes, and finding that one of the functions of the latter is to investigate the discoveries of potential Laureates – and perhaps if necessary to repeat their work in order to make sure that it was correctly done? – I cannot help thinking that in my own case perhaps the Nobel Institute may have interpreted its instructions rather liberally.

I have described this as a happy as well as a solemn time, and I think it is so, not only for the obvious reason but also because somehow you succeed in combining informality with the formality of a great occasion in a most delightful way. This year there is the added circumstance that you have invited here tonight five of us who are all old friends. I suppose it is something unique in the history of the Nobel Foundation, and for all I know it may never happen again, that in one year five men who have worked together, drunk together and talked together for the last fifteen years should all be coming simultaneously to Stockholm, and on the same errand. Thus we have many reasons to feel happy, and I thank you for the warmth with which you welcomed us in Stockholm and with which you are receiving us tonight.

Mr Kendrew’s Address to the University Students on the Evening of December 10, 1962

Students of the University of Stockholm:

I have been asked to express thanks to you for your very kind greeting on behalf not only of myself but also of the other Nobel Laureates, among whom I should like to include those who are present this evening, as well as our so unfortunately absent Laureate, Professor Landau of Moscow. This has been a wonderful occasion for us all. You have sung songs to us – I do not recall ever being serenaded by the students of my own University at Cambridge – and I am told that one of the songs you sang is one which you traditionally sing when you have passed your examinations; it seemed to me that this was a particularly appropriate song for us, in the circumstances. In advance I was warned of the solemnities of this occasion and of the complexities of its ceremonial; but as it has turned out you have made it all very easy for us. I assure you that the ceremony for taking degrees at Cambridge is much less simple than this one; I have not had to listen to any Latin speeches this evening.

However, I understand that we have now reached a point at which solemnity should give way to a very different spirit. As a matter of fact, it has already occurred to me, as I looked round during the ceremonies, that always in the background there were students to be seen. I have no doubt that the Nobel Foundation and the Academies think that they are running this show, but I suspect that really it is the students who run it – and I believe that from now on this will become even more obviously true. Your celebrations seem to me quite different from anything I have seen before; for example, I have never in Cambridge seen so many students gathered in one place, and there the ratio of the sexes is not at all the same. It all looks extraordinarily agreeable to me: why I have been chosen to address you I do not know, but perhaps it is because I am one of the two unmarried and presumably more vulnerable members of this year’s team to Laureates. I can only say that we are very much looking forward to meeting the Santa Lucia ladies of 1962 – not only the unmarried Laureates but, I think, the married ones as well. On behalf of us all I thank you for your welcome.

From Les Prix Nobel en 1962, Editor Göran Liljestrand, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1963

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1962

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