“a role model, a spokeswoman, a representative, and a promoter of women in science in the U.K.”

I had intended to point to this earlier, but distracted as usual.. ANYhoo, for local viewers only it would appear, but BBC1 NI tonight, at 10.45pm, profiles Belfast born astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell who, as the programme notes point out, failed her 11-plus [*ahem* – Ed]. As well as being unfairly ignored by the Nobel committee for her work on pulsars in the late 1960s, Jocelyn Bell Burnell also chaired the International Astronomical Union’s General Assembly meeting in August 2006 which, finally and thankfully, threw Pluto out of the planets’ club. Where, despite the honking, it remains. I’ve said it before.. greatest human innovation? Definitely the telescope. Updated below the foldHopefully the Beeb will make that available online.. but, in the meantime, it ended with a wondrous reference from Jocelyn Bell Burnell to the power of poetry, and this poem in particular


The radiance of the star that leans on me
Was shining years ago. The light that now
Glitters up there my eyes may never see,
And so the time lag teases me with how

Love that loves now may not reach me until
Its first desire is spent. The star’s impulse
Must wait for eyes to claim it beautiful
And love arrived may find us somewhere else.

Elizabeth Jennings

, ,

  • VW

    “who, as the programme notes point out, failed her 11-plus”

    Did Paisley Jnr not fail his 11+ yet he thinks it should remain.

  • Usurper

    Think so, but he is certainly none of the above as set out in the title – so stick to the thread – punk!

  • Dawkins


    I’m with you on the telescope. But I know there’ll be those who’ll say the microscope, it having been of more “practical” use to humanity.

    But they have no real soul, have they? :0)

  • Kevster

    I think you are right about the telescope, as well. I believe if you go by how much a single item changed the course of man’s understanding of the universe around him, it has to rate right on top.

    I wish they could have found a way to keep the satellite up forever, but maybe the next one will be better.

    Her accomplishments certainly can be used as evidence that we don’t have these little ones all figured out at the tender age of 11, don’t they?
    Least of all in a school examination…

  • Kevster


    I meant to say her accomplishments can be used as evidence etc etc

  • Eh . . . excuse my ignorance, but does the 11-plus still exist? It seems like an incredibly savage ordeal to put a child through.

  • snakebrain

    The printing press? Seemed so obvious I was kinda surprised nobody had mentioned it on the other thread, especially by a bunch like this who spend their time having their words reproduced, albeit in an updated way.

    Or to be controversial, the mechanised loom which created the possibility of mass-manufacture of garments, making it possible for us all, and not just a few toffs, to be dressed individually and inexpensively, thereby making possible all kinds of social change and giving birth to fashion as a viable concept for the masses?

    Or just the internet? Too early to tell maybe….

  • wild turkey

    Jocelyn Bell Burnell, impressive, very impressive. (which begs the question why most of us have heard a lot more about Jade Goody, Orla, Paris Hilton, etc. etc.)

    telescope greatest innovation? yeah especially in so far as its use precludes navel gazing and/or having ones head up their ass.

    Therefore a proposal and yeah it it may be a bit off thread but…

    regarding a previous post on a statue in Albert Square/Cornmarket Belfast, why not a statue of Jocelyn with her telescope?

    any ideas on how to mobilise a groundswell of opinion on this one?

  • susan

    Thank you for bringing us that poem, Pete. It’s achingly lovely. So much so I think I’ll just turn off this computer and open the window, instead.

  • snakebrain


    Given your sentence structure and your spelling, I don’t think you’re the man to appreciate a nice bit of poetry.

    Susan, I have got to stop sticking up for you like this.

  • susan

    Please. Don’t. Stop.

    Given your taste in biographies, Snakebrain, I somehow suspect you’ve heard those words before. Still, I feel ever so much better. I may even sleep, now.

    Gerry, trust me, I realised someone would go for that window joke the second I hit “Submit.” I just hope it was good for you, too.

    I still really like the poem, Pete. I’d better go to bed before I get all YouTube on the forum.

  • Martin

    Ah for once forget your pettiness and just give the woman her dues. This forum suffers more than anything from a lack of positivity. But you probably know that already.

  • snakebrain

    Funny, they do ring a bell..

  • heck

    Bock the Robber

    Yes they still have selection at 11 and the DUP held up the power sharing agreement to keep in.

    SF, when the had the education portfolio, tried to abolish it.

    Most on slugger are in favor of it (middle class snobs!!)

    This woman shows it is a waste of time and has no educational value.

  • Cruimh

    She failed her 11 plus and people think it shows the system doesn’t work ?

    It shows the system does work – it disproves all the guff about failing the 11 plus making children failures. there is no screening system that is 100% accurate – this shows that when, for whatever reason, an academically gifted child fails the exam it is not the end of the world.

    What a wonderful woman.

  • willis


    It might be worth reading the Wiki biography. Jocelyn Bell’s parents were able to send her to a Quaker Boarding school.


    It is probably worth saying that in 1954 or so “failing” the 11+ was a much greater problem than it is now.

    The Belfast Telegraph carried this piece


    This extract is worth reading.

    Reflecting on her on her failure of the 11-plus, which she didn’t fully come to terms with until her adult life, she says:

    “I think failing the qualifying or the 11-plus actually hurt me more than I realised. After I’d become a professor of physics at the Open University I suddenly thought this is a bit silly. So I suddenly became much more open about it. But I think probably I was hurt by the failure and didn’t want to talk about it.”

    Thank goodness for her supportive parents.

  • dodrade

    Can anyone tell me what the piano piece was in the middle of the documentary? It was also used on the abdication documentary on BBC 4 last year.

    I think it’s from a film but can’t remember which.

  • Rory

    Indeed, Pete, the telescope was a truly marvellous invention but I sometimes worry that excessive viewing through the instrument might occlude the viewer’s awareness of what’s going on in the world around him so that his opinion on topics such as, say, local politics might be considered a litlle.. .well, blinkered. Glad to say that, of course, this doesn’t apply in your case.

    For myself, I have to say that the joy and beauty of Elizabeth Jenkin’s poem dictates that the first choice for me as man’s greatest instrument must remain the pen.

  • Alan

    Wonderful person who seemed severely disadvantaged by an emotionally restrictive family and the misogynism of her times.

    The absurd non-confrontation with the arrogant goat who usurped her Nobel was achingly poignant.

    Let us be sure that the same never happens to our own daughters.

  • DK

    Telescope the greatest invention? What about the wheel. Or even glass – couldn’t have a telescope without glass!

    I would, however, approve of a giant sculpture of a telescope for the proposed art in Belfast. Even better if it is made of glass and you can look through it.

  • Duncan Shipley Dalton

    She also just recieved an honorary degree of Doctor of Sciences from Harvard at the Commencement ceremony last week. A very impressive woman indeed. Unfortunately during the ceremony her Belfast heritage seems to have been airbrushed out. Still at least she got the well deserved recognition.

  • snakebrain

    Quite a few people who are successful in the greater world seem to airbrush their NI heritage out, despite the best efforts of NI to claim them as their own. I’ve long since made the decision that, should I ever become a household name, I’ll refuse my school permission to use my name on their alumni list.

    Why? For the same reason that those people had to leave NI to achieve their success in th first place. It’s a backwards backwater of the world, and sometimes seems perversely proud of it.

    If this fine lady had done it the NI way, the best she could have hoped for would have been a life of making buns for the local church tea-party. So why should she thank Belfast, which gave her so little opportunity, but claims her as its own now.

  • willis

    Yeah just think

    Without the 11+ Friends might have nearly have had a Nobel Laureate.

  • Dawkins


    Moot point I guess but wasn’t glass a discovery not an invention?

    On consideration, the wheel… hmm…

    Who, knows, maybe its invention got in the way of the invention of manned flight :0)

  • I wrote about Susan in my Great Irish Women series back in January which you can see here Great Irish Women

    When I saw the programme was on I was delighted and even more impressed with her that I was previously.

    I wrote about the programme here Great Irish Women Northern Star. It was a great programme, I was absolutely transfixed – well done BBC.

    Regarding the 11+ what was interesting was the amount of times her failing it came up, from the show’s promo ad to during the programme itself. What struck me was that Susan lived under a personal embarassment/hurt having not passed the qualifying.

    That blow could crush someone who didn’t have the things that Susan had to hand, including being brought up a Quaker who believe as the prog pointed out that girls should be educated.

    But she is a seriously impressive woman and so interesting. The show was great, really enlightening about such an accomplished Northern Star indeed.

  • Pluto

    Any club that would have me as a member I would not want to be a member of!