Lucy Vickery

Clerihews on scientists

Clerihews on scientists
[Photo: Simon Kirwan / Alamy Stock Photo]
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In Competition No. 3219, you were invited to supply clerihews on well-known scientists, past and present.

The subject of the first ever clerihew — a pseudo-biographical quatrain, AABB, playful in tone, metrically clunky — which was written, for fun, in about 1890 by schoolboy E.C. Bentley (and illustrated by his chum G.K. Chesterton) was a scientist:

Sir Humphry Davy 

Abominated gravy. 

He lived in the odium 

Of having discovered sodium.

But it was all downhill from there, it seems. In his introduction to The Complete Clerihews of E.Clerihew Bentley, the poet Gavin Ewart contends that ‘nobody much except Bentley has ever written really good clerihews’. Even literary giant W.H. Auden, he says, doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

That didn’t put you off, though, and in a large and spirited entry honourable mentions go to Barbara Knight, John Maddicott, David Shields, Nicholas Stone, Philip Wilson, G.N. Crockford, P.T. Brown, Iain Morley, Max Gutmann and Rachael Churchill. The winners, printed below, pocket £9 each.

Brian Cox 


When he talks of quark and quantum 

I want ’em. 

George Simmers
Erwin Schrödinger

Doesn’t mean to be a woe bringer 

To the world’s feline population, 

But his thought experiment occasions consternation. 

Chris O’Carroll
Enrico Fermi 

Does rather scare me, 

For he was the Father of the Atomic Bomb. 


Frank Upton
Alfred Nobel 

Invented substances that blew people to Hell, 

Then endowed six major prizes. Maybe seven 

Would have got him into Heaven. 

Basil Ransome-Davies
The young Marie Curie 

Reacted with fury 

When they said don’t worry your pretty little cranium

About uranium 

David Silverman
Alan Turing 

Spent years enduring 

Unrelated abuse for achievements which should 

Have earned him a knighthood. 

Martin Parker
Archimedes of Syracuse 

Ran from the bath with his news. 


The first streaker. 

Nicholas Hodgson
Alexander Bell 

Could never have imagined the hell 

His invention would lead to. Who could foretell 

That countless millions would end up living in a cell? 

Brian Allgar
Hedy Lamarr 

Was a Hollywood star 

Whose movies I recently rented 

To watch on the wifi she sort of invented. 

Robert Schechter

Always drank beer from a fine stein; 

He thought it the sign of an ass 

To drink beer from a glass. 

Carolyn Beckingham
Alexander Fleming 

Made a great discovery, stemming 

From a mouldy dish, which made the future cheerier 

For all of us — except, of course, for the bacteria. 

Sylvia Fairley
Tim Berners-Lee 

Has a posh degree 

And has connected every pleb 

On the www. 

Bill Greenwell

Placed all o’ you and all o’ me 

At the centre of all of it. 

He was off by a bit. 

Francis Harry
John Logie Baird 


Despite widespread derision, 

To invent the television. 

Hugh King
Ada Lovelace 

Gave symbolic logic a poetic face 

But took mathematics from her mother, rather 

Than her father. 

Ann Drysdale
Sir Francis Bacon 

Said evidence shows if a theory’s mistaken; 

Bear that in mind when somebody says 

He wrote plays. 

W.J. Webster
Georg Ohm 

Finally left his Bavarian home 

At his Mum’s insistence… 

When he showed resistance. 

C. Paul Evans

No. 3222: group think

You are invited to supply a dystopian short story that incorporates as many collective nouns for animals or birds as possible. Please email entries (maximum 150 words; please italicise collective nouns) to by midday on 20 October.