OBITUARY : Brian Oddie

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The Independent Online
Brian Oddie had the unusual distinction of gaining an international reputation in two quite different fields, athletics and meteorology.

He was educated at Luton Grammar School and Queen Mary College, London, where he took a degree in Physics which might have been even higher were it not for his running.

In athletics he represented Britain on many occasions, running in the 1928 Olympic Games, in the 5,000 metres, against the legendary Nurmi of Finland and winning a gold medal in the 1930 Empire Games.

Oddie joined the Meteorological Office in 1926 and retired in 1966 as Deputy Director. The Meteorological Office was formed in 1854 so that, according to Hansard, "we might know in this metropolis the condition of the weather 24 hours beforehand [laughter]". Its first head was Admiral Robert FitzRoy, who was captain of the Beagle on the remarkable survey voyage during which Charles Darwin made the observations later used in developing his theories of evolution. FitzRoy set up a system for communicating weather observations by telegraph and the first storm warning for shipping was issued on 6 February 1861.

Brian Oddie's first job placed him in the forefront of meteorological research in connection with the airship development programme. This came to an abrupt end in 1930 with the R101 disaster but the results, embodied in papers on low- level wind structure, have had a long-lasting value.

Oddie became a practising weather forecaster, serving in both war and peacetime in places as different as the north-west frontier in India and the Shetland Islands. In those days all the charts were plotted by hand with twin black and red pens and there was no assistance in analysis and forecasting from computer models, satellite pictures or weather radar.

In 1955 he returned to research and established himself in atmospheric chemistry, where his realistic opinions on the subject of rain-making were not always well received. As Deputy Director from 1959 he was much involved with techniques of observing the weather and the planning and installation of the high-speed computer, Comet.

High-speed then would mean desk-top now, but developments in numerical models of the atmosphere taken forward by others have since transformed the science of weather forecasting, which has always been a science, though perhaps in his time more tinged with the art of experience.

Brian Oddie was gentle, compassionate and intelligent. He was a man with a child-like passion in whatever took his interest. This varied enormously and included games-playing, music, history, astronomy, carpentry and, most importantly, his grandchildren.

At bridge, he founded the local league in Bracknell, still flourishing over 30 years later. With his wife Phyl, he played a mean game; they took up the Precision Club system in their eighties and were still winning events at a combined age of over 180.

He became the president of the local history society and had a particular interest in local church history and the history of pub signs.

Brian Oddie lived his 91 years to the full. He was a broad and cultured man with a twinkle of good-humour. I imagine he is the only person to have quoted Gertrude Stein at a postings board meeting of the Meteorological Office.

Brian Cecil Vernon Oddie, meteorologist: born Luton 15 May 1905; staff, Meteorological Office 1926- 66, Deputy Director 1959-66; CBE 1965; married 1933 Phyllis Bate (one son, one daughter); died Bracknell, Berkshire 7 August 1996.