Born at Renfrew on 8 October 1900, Thomas Stevens Stevens (‘TSS’) was the only child of John and Jane Stevens. His father, a draughtsman and engineer, was production director of William Simons and Company Ltd of Renfrew, shipbuilders specializing in dredger construction. Before her marriage in 1898, his mother Jane (née Irving) was a schoolteacher. His upbringing was typically middle-class, and both parents gave every encouragement for their son to study. However, as a delicate asthmatic youngster Tom's early education was given, until the age of eight, at home by his mother—a fact held by many to be responsible for the seeds that brought forth his great love of language and his sensitive and wide-ranging intellect. Thereafter he attended Paisley Grammar School (1909–15) and the Glasgow Academy (1915–17). At Paisley Grammar School his attention was drawn by Joseph Towers, a teacher of English, and at the Glasgow Academy he delighted in the sardonic humour of G.L. Moffatt, who taught mathematics. Physics and chemistry had nevertheless captured his imagination and in the Academy he enjoyed the extensive opportunities that were provided for practical chemistry. It was a love and a boyish enthusiasm that he retained and continued to practise throughout his professional career. In a popular lecture that he gave in the 1950s, ‘The anatomy of the chemist’, Tommy includes the account given by the famous American teacher, Ira Remsen, of the most impressive experiment he had ever performed: ‘nitric acid acts upon copper’. The story ends, ‘… I drew my fingers across my trousers and another fact was discovered. Nitric acid acts on trousers…’. With its smells, fizzes and bangs it is surely a portrait of the young Stevens himself.