Charles Bernard Childs, B.Sc., Ph.D. (Birm.), F.Inst.P.
by Norman FeatherBernard Childs received the news of his election as Fellow of the Society, in March 1956, in hospital. Shortly afterwards he was moved to an Edinburgh nursing home, where he was visited by many of his friends, and attended to much of his official and unofficial business, until the end. He died on July 4, 1956.
Until the onset of his last illness in December 1955, Childs had led an active and many-sided life, during which he had been a member of the teaching staff of the Department of Natural Philosophy for more than thirty-three years. He was born on June 23, 1895. Entering the University of Birmingham older than most of his fellow students, he graduated B.Sc. in 1920, and in 1922 obtained his doctorate for a thesis on The thermomagnetic properties of carbon steels at temperatures round the Curie point. Later, in the same year, he came to Edinburgh as Assistant, was appointed Lecturer in 1924, and Senior Lecturer in 1951. He was given charge of the Intermediate Laboratory on his arrival, and the change which he made in its organisation within the space of a few years is still remembered with admiration by many of his generation. In 1928 he was transferred to the Final Honours Electrical Laboratory and was equally thorough and equally successful in its reformation. He remained in charge of this laboratory until his death. From 1948 he was Director of Studies to Honours Physics students in the Faculty of Science. He served the University as member of Senatus from 1951 to 1955.
Over nearly thirty years Childs devoted much time and energy to the cause of adult education in its many aspects. He lectured in Edinburgh and district for the Edinburgh Workers' Educational Association, and for the Extra-Mural Committee of the University, and, from 1940, both locally and much farther afield, to members of H.M. Forces. On these missions he visited Orkney and Shetland twice, Malta seven times and India, Ceylon, Burma and North Africa once each. He was a keen photographer, and from each such trip he brought back a large collection of colour photographs of high quality around which he built further lectures for the entertainment of his friends.
Childs' interest in the theatre went back even farther than his interest in lecturing to extra-mural audiences: indeed the latter may be regarded as in some degree derivative from the former. Nourished in Birmingham in the heyday of the Birmingham Repertory Company, his love of actors and acting found wide scope in Edinburgh in the years between the wars. He was founder Chairman of the Scottish Community Drama Association from 1926 to 1930, when he was appointed to the office of Vice-President which he held for the remainder of his life. Parallel to this interest, with a touch of science intruding, was his interest in the cinema: he held successively the offices of Vice-Chairman (1948-51), Chairman (1951-54) and Secretary (1954-56) of the British Universities' Film Council. Over a longer period he was an office-bearer of the Edinburgh Association of University Teachers (Secretary, 1933-35 and 1951-53; Vice-President, 1953-56).
Among so many interests, physical research did not figure largely in Childs' career. He engaged in some investigations on X-ray absorption, under Barkla, during the time of his assistantship, and from 1936 until the outbreak of war he collaborated with the Cambridge group, under Ratcliffe, in ionospheric research, but this was all. He did, however, keep himself generally informed on new developments, and he would lecture to the Navy on atomic energy or on the rainbow with equal acceptance.
What he did, and that was much, he did thoroughly and expeditiously, with conviction - or with tact in the last resort, and many students, and many others, have reason to be grateful.
Bernard Childs was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 5 March 1956, his proposers being Norman Feather, Robert Schlapp, James Paton, Thomas R Bolam. This obituary, written by Norman Feather, appears in the Royal Society of Edinburgh Year Book 1957, pages 10-12.