Issue 65

23 June - 10 August 1998

IC Reporter


Obituary of Sir David Huddie - 1914 to 1998

A personal appreciation by Sir Hugh Ford

In the late 1960s and early 1970s I had been talking to a group of mechanical engineering industry leaders about the best way to educate students at Imperial College, with regard to the then three year undergraduate course.
Sir David Huddie in 1975.
Sir David Huddie in 1975

The unanimous support was for a wider teaching course to embrace aspects of manufacturing industry. I proposed that we should bring into the course the two years of work experience that had always been required for professional engineering status and integrate the learning of fundamentals with all those aspects of engineering decision-taking to which students need to be introduced before so much of what they learn in a university course is fully appreciated and used.

The idea was to inveigle industry to sponsor our students for a first year in their company, learning manufacturing processes and technology while under our supervision to ensure they attended classes, and the fifth year back in the same company with the intention of a smooth and rapid transfer into professional activity.

When these ideas which, for want of a better title, I called ‘total technology’ were being formulated I had the good fortune to meet Sir David. We found we had a complete meeting of minds and to my surprise and delight he offered to join me in the endeavour.

Sir David was appointed a senior research fellow and virtually took over the development of the course. He seemed to know my mind completely.

David’s superb knowledge of everybody who mattered in the industry and his charm of manner - coupled with a clear mind of exactly what he was after! - rapidly got about 100 leading companies joining the scheme.

He appointed tutors to visit the students during their industry years, checking their studies and progress. He also organised regular visits to Imperial for the students so that the academic side was kept up to speed, and arranged courses in a language, micro-economics, engineering design, and a course in classical logic (which, alas, had to be dropped because nobody could teach it, though I wholeheartedly approved David’s proposal).

The total technology course was aimed at just that - the totality of considerations that go into making engineering decisions, taking in the absence of complete technological and scientific knowledge against a background of people, market, time and money.

Under David’s inspired leadership, the students on the course saw themselves as ‘something special’, singled out for a more taxing course, and it was noticeable that at the end of their course they were certainly different, more broadly aware, better educated, and more immediately capable of integrating into professional work. We have the considerable satisfaction of seeing a remarkable number of our students ending up as chairmen and MDs of large companies. One has a knighthood.

A fitting tribute to Sir David’s great contribution is the fact that despite all the efforts of others who have had much more financial and governmental support for new ideas and the introduction of four year engineering courses, the total technology course in the Department of Mechanical Engineering still flourishes - indeed after a period in the doldrums when all the new ideas were being floated and encouraged, industry is returning to total technology again and numbers are increasing. Someone in the department ought to write it up and give it the credit it so eminently deserves.

All I can offer David is my deepest admiration and gratitude for a wonderful achievement that succeeded on a shoestring due to an outstanding personality.

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© Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, 1998
Last Revised: 22 June 1998