Harry Hopkins


BSc Special Mathematics, 1951

  • How did you find your time at Queen Mary?
    It was an exciting transition from a boys-only grammar school in the post-war environment. However, in an extra year at school, due to ex-servicemen returning to their studies, I had covered the first university year. That took the pressure off, and I spent a lot of time at bridge, down in the ‘Bun Hole’, for which I paid in the second year!
  • What did you gain from your time at Queen Mary?
    At teenage entry, I had to engage in taking much more personal responsibility for my learning and in taking the initiative in my personal life. I learnt the art of shaping the facts set in front of me - growing up, if you like. But I was never truly of an academic bent.
  • What, in your opinion, makes Queen Mary special?
    Its spectacular development and wide achievements. From my perspective QMC has been the acorn from which the oak of Queen Mary University has grown. I realised just how much, when I made a return in April 2015, half a century after my graduation.
  • How did your studies at Queen Mary help or influenced your career?
    Indirectly: it developed a discipline in my thinking. I look back on how a non-curricular opportunity, training with the University of London Air Squadron, diverted me into a flying career. I wonder how many others have taken the ‘side route’; a bridge partner of mine left after the first year, to join the firm of actuaries run by his partner at home!
  • How did you get in to the jobs that you did?
    I was called up for postponed National Service, as an RAF fighter pilot. I then joined GCHQ for three years when there was a glut of civilian pilots, and I applied to join BEA when by chance I saw jobs advertised in the Daily Telegraph. After 27 years I took early retirement in 1981, when a route-check captain. I was head-hunted by Flight International shortly after, to write articles on new airliners - which I flew, in the manner of motor car tests.
  • What have been the most interesting and challenging aspects of your job?
    The most significant feature has been the rapid and widespread development of automatic flight and the introduction of avionics in flight control and cockpit displays - where pilots experienced wide changes in the human/machine interface.
  • What did you do when you were not at work?
    I had a long-term technical and flight safety position in BALPA and was for a while Chair of the UK Flight Safety Committee.
  • Are you in touch with any alumni from your year?
  • Your plans for the future:
    I continue to be interested in flight safety, but recently my writing has been directed at describing my life’s experiences for my grandchildren and great grandchildren.
  • Anything else you would like to tell us?
    One of our Mathematics lecturers, ‘Sammy Soal’, was convinced of the existence of Extra-Sensory Perception. Years of experiment yielded nothing. Mere conviction carries no weight. When looking back in age, I can reflect that it is always wise to be prepared for unexpected opportunities which can complement your present achievements. “Coniunctis Viribus”.