Professor Derek Jackson (1906-82)


Occasional Writings


Derek Ainslie Jackson was the son of Sir Charles Jackson, barrister, landowner, art collector and authority on English silver. Derek was very close to his twin brother Vivian and was devastated when he died in an accident in1936. After Rugby, Jackson went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took a first in Natural Sciences. He was then invited to undertake research in spectroscopy at the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford, notably the determination of nuclear magnetic moments.

Jackson was appointed a university lecturer in 1934 and became Professor of Spectroscopy in 1947, the year he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society. Both his university positions were unpaid, but fortunately he had always been rich enough to subsidise his own research. He was addicted to hunting and horse-racing and rode three times in the Grand National.

In 1940 he entered the RAF where he became an enormous asset through the

application of his scientific expertise to radar. He flew regularly to test his schemes, which were outstandingly successful – he was awarded the DFC, AFC and OBE for valour.

After the war he lived partly in Ireland, to avoid punitive taxation, and travelled and worked in America before settling at the Aimé Cotton Laboratory in France where he continued his work in atomic spectroscopy and was made a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur.

He was married to Pamela Mitford, his second wife for fifteen years, and he was a close friend of her sisters the Duchess of Devonshire and Lady Mosley.1 His sixth wife was Marie Christine Reille with whom he lived in Lausanne.

Gavin Bryars Met Professor Jackson In Paris On 27 May 1980
From Gavin Bryars’ Notes On Their Meeting

Jackson recalled that he first met Berners in about 1930 and that he used to stay at their house, Rignell, north of Oxford. He remembered Berners composing at his grand piano. They enjoyed talking about their work to each other even though neither had any technical knowledge of the other’s field.

Berners liked dogs and had a Dalmatian at that time.

At Oswald Mosley’s Olympia meeting in 1934 Berners was arrested along with Jackson’s brother Vivian.2 Apparently Vivian’s gold watch was confiscated and he was furious when the police insisted on describing it as a watch made with yellow metal!

Berners’ closest friends included Diana Mosley, the Betjemans, Clarissa Churchill, Lord David Cecil and Gerald Wellesley, the architect who designed the Folly who became Duke of Wellington.

Jackson frequently stayed at Faringdon, especially when he had leave in Oxford during the war, and remembered being there with the Lygons and the Betjemans.

Berners liked a good Beaujolais but was not particularly interested in special vintages.

Jackson stayed at the house in Rome only once and thought he had let Lord Beauchamp have it for a time.3

Jackson and Berners both enjoyed the theatre and they used to visit Stratford together. Jackson agreed with Lord David Cecil that Berners remained like a schoolboy – he felt that way himself and regarded it as the only way to keep age at bay. There was no pomposity with Berners. He was a great man, and Jackson would say that about very few people.

Sometimes Robert Heber Percy would misuse words, which amused Berners. On one occasion he was annoyed about something and said that he had ‘taken unction’. These incidents led Berners to dedicate First Childhood to Heber Percy ‘whose knowledge of orthography and literary styles has proved invaluable’.4

Jackson said that both he and Berners were against the war. This did not mean they supported Hitler or his policies – quite the reverse – but they felt the war was a mistake. Jackson observed that ‘people who are strongly in favour of the war are in inverse relationship to those prepared to fight it.’

[1] See Loved Ones: Pen Portraits by Diana Mosley, London, 1985. The portraits are of Lytton Strachey and Carrington, Violet Hammersley, Evelyn Waugh, Professor Derek Jackson, Lord Berners, Prince and Princess Clary and Sir Oswald Mosley. Lady Mosley’s representation of Jackson as arrogant and dictatorial is so unflattering that when John Cary reviewed the book (‘Discreet Charms of the Aristocracy’, Sunday Times, 24 March 1985, 45) he found him ‘by far the least engaging Loved One’ and concluded that ‘compared with Jackson almost anyone would seem tolerable’. Cary takes a phrase from Oswald Mosley’s book, Fascism (1936), ‘the parasite who creates the barrier of social class’ and finds this ‘an accurate description of several Loved Ones – most notably Lord Berners’. Mark Stein was more charitable (‘A Mellowed Mosley’s Labour of Love’, The Times 22 March 1985) and found that ‘Lady Mosley has been a hate-figure since 1940, but have people vilified someone who doesn’t really exist? She makes a rather disappointing right-wing monster.’ See also Catherine Stott, ‘The Mitford who became a Mosley’, the Sunday Telegraph, 17 March 1985.

[2] See interview with Lady Mosley, n ? p ?

[3] This could be another example of Berners supporting his friends regardless of what they had done or what people thought of them.

[4] First Childhood was published by Constable in February 1934 and reprinted in April; the same year it came out in paperback in the Tauchnitz Edition: Collection of British and American Authors, Vol. 5168 (without illustrations); a Cheaper Edition was published in 1942 and there was a separate American edition.

Gavin Bryars