O.V.S. ‘Peter’ Heath was born in London on 26 July 1903. In childhood, he encountered many problems, for he was often ill and he found learning difficult. At the time he may well have been regarded as ‘backward’. Now, with hindsight, we would say that his was a case of remarkable late development. His biographical notes (over 130 pages in his precise handwriting, with a note of apology at the front: ‘The notes are intended to assist the unfortunate Fellow who has to write me up‘) describe his early schooling and the subsequent private tuition which became necessary because of undiagnosed illness. He learned to read at the age of seven, but his reading remained slow throughout his life because he frequently needed to re-read passages. However, he did then have accurate recall of much of the subject matter. His father (Sir Frank Heath, 1863–1946, Secretary of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), 1916–27) had been a professor of English literature at Bedford College, and Peter had access to a vast collection of books, of which he took much advantage. He also took music lessons and learned to appreciate great music from his mother's piano playing, particularly the Beethoven piano sonatas.