Elected F.R.S. 1953
Marcus Powell was a secretive man blessed with genuine curiosity. Myths abound concerning him, many of which cannot be verified given the long interval since his death, and a problem for his biographer is to separate myth from reality. Maybe it is a mistake to try because its mere existence provides insight into the person he was. He was an observer of life and a sympathetic and amusing commentator on it, and he wrote unusually well. What of his personal writing remains reflects his sense of humour and his humanity, and quotations from it are provided without further attribution throughout this memoir. He was not a tall man (5 ft 2 in; 1.57 m) and ‘when he went to Oxford he was unimaginatively called Tiny. This stuck and was used within the University and in the scientific world. Marcus, the name he liked, was kept for the few.’ Where any confusion might arise we shall presume to use this name. Those who knew him outside his laboratory have only the fondest memories of him, but some academic colleagues occasionally found him difficult.He was born in Coventry, the youngest child of Henrietta and William Herbert Powell, to whom a daughter, Christina, had been born two years earlier. William was born in Kidderminster. His profession was given on Marcus's birth certificate as a bicycle machinist. It was printed by use of a rubber stamp, which reflected the prevalence of the industry in Coventry at that time, bicycle manufacture having superseded the sewing machine industry to the extent that in 1906 a single company produced 75 000 bicycles.William and Henrietta had married in Calne, Wiltshire, in August 1902. William was the sixth of eight children born to Charles and Eliza Powell, who registered a cross on the birth certificate. Charles was variously described as a gamekeeper and a farm labourer, and he died at the age of forty–seven, leaving his wife to bring up the seven children still at home, ranging in age from two months to twenty–one years. Eliza became a dressmaker, and the two elder remaining children a laundress and a housemaid. The eldest daughter, Annie, had left home by this time and had married at some time; she attended his deathbed as Annie Shill, and possibly the wedding of William and Henrietta twenty-two years later as Annie Blackman.