Maurice Henry Lecorney Pryce. 24 January 1913 – 24 July 2003

Roger Elliott, J. H. Sanders

Elected F.R.S. 1951


Maurice Pryce was a mathematician and theoretical physicist who became one of the most able and versatile of his generation. The inspiration that guided the development of his career came partly from his family and later from his teachers and mentors, many of whom had international reputations of the highest order. Maurice's father was born in Swansea, half Welsh and half English. He developed an early interest in physics and mathematics and took a degree in mathematics at Cardiff University, where subsequently he was for a short time a lecturer in mathematics. He had the ambition to become a theoretical physicist, but gave in to family pressure and became a civil servant, first at the Patent Office, then at the Air Ministry, and during World War II with the Ministry of Aircraft Production. In 1912 he married Hortense Elvire Lecorney, whose home was at Argentan (Orne) in Normandy. They had three sons, all of whom were given French first names: the middle son was Jacques and the youngest Jean-Michel. Their father was an excellent linguist and at home habitually spoke French; later, Maurice was always quick to point out that this was his first language. One of Maurice's research students at Oxford, Russianborn Anatole Abragam (ForMemRS 1983) in his autobiography (Abragam 1989) wondered how it was that such a well–educated man as Maurice spoke French ‘with the accent of a Normandy peasant’. Maurice's riposte was ‘But I am a Normandy peasant’.The Pryce family lived in comfortable middle–class surroundings, first at Croydon, where Maurice was born. In 1920 they moved a short way out of London to Guildford, and starting in the following year Maurice spent 16 months with his maternal grandparents in Argentan. It was at about this time that Maurice was asked what he wanted to do when he grew up. His reply was ‘I want to find out how things work’. In later life he commented, ‘If you can find a better definition of a theoretical physicist, tell me’.