Elected F.R.S. 1985
Martyn Christian Raymond Symons was born on 12 November 1925 in Ipswich, Suffolk. The talents he was later to develop were a reflection of his genetic and cultural environment. Thus, his grandfather was William Christian Symons, who achieved contemporary minor fame as a painter in water colour and oils even though his work is now largely forgotten. His grandmother, Cecilia Davenport, was a concert pianist before her marriage. Symons was to display both artistic attributes, for he was a skilful self–taught pianist and an accomplished water colourist. The environment was richer than that, though, for the three sons of the grandparent's marriage were Mark, a painter, Phillip, who became a Benedictine monk and served as organist at Downside, and Stephen, Martyn's father. Painting, as already remarked, was one of Symons's great relaxations, and in early life (but not in middle age and after) the Catholic version of the Christian religion gave him guidance and solace. Indeed, there was a stage when he was poised to become a priest, but the passion passed and after the suffering and death of his first wife, who had become a Catholic in order to marry him, he rejected religion.The technical contribution to Symonss environment came from his father, Stephen White Symons, a consultant mechanical engineer, ably supported in the female manner of the day by his wife Marjorie. Here, though, the environment temporarily withdrew its support, for the young Symons entered the John Fisher School in Purley (1933–40), and hated every minute of it. Ill taught (he claimed) and bullied (he interpreted), the teachers—with the freedom of the age–almost literally hammered knowledge of a sort into him, not realizing the sensitivity of the child in their care and presumably contributing at least a little to his unusual psychology.