Obituary: Professor Leslie Fox

Leslie Fox, mathematician, born Dewsbury Yorkshire 30 September 1918, Director Oxford University Computing Laboratory 1957-82, Professor of Numerical Analysis 1963-83, married 1943 Paulene Dennis (marriage dissolved), 1973 Clemency Clements (nee Fox), died Oxford 1 August 1992.

LESLIE FOX exerted a profound influence on the development of numerical mathematics in Britain in the post-war period, bringing discipline to an increasingly vigorous but initially disordered field of research.

During and after the Second World War, the demand for the numerical solution of mathematical problems grew explosively, accelerated by wartime advances in physics and engineering. The end of the war also heralded the rapid development of the electronic computer. The situation was potentially chaotic, with well-tried methods of computation being ousted in favour of new techniques designed to exploit the speed of the new machines. Fox argued consistently for adherence to basic principles; in particular he urged that all computed results should be assumed wrong until proved otherwise.

From this time the emerging discipline of numerical analysis became dominated in Britain by two men, Leslie Fox and his close friend Jim Wilkinson (JH Wilkinson FRS, who died in 1986), with whom he shared many interests, including a love of music and cricket. Wilkinson was the brilliant academic eager to exploit the potential of the computer, Fox the intuitive mathematician with a vision of his goal and an unerring sense of direction. Together they inspired two generations of numerical analysts.

The most eminent of a remarkable set of mathematicians to emerge from the Wheelwright Grammar School in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, Fox took a first-class degree at Oxford before studying numerical techniques in engineering (under RV Southwell) for his DPhil. There followed an influential spell of two years (1943-45) at the Nautical Almanac Office under DH Sadler (also from the WGS).

At the end of the war Fox joined the newly formed Mathematics Division of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), in a section led by ET Goodwin. The division also recruited Wilkinson and, for two years, Alan Turing. Dealing with the flow of problems into the division did much to convince Fox that numerical analysis had to maintain a careful balance between academic rigour and practical utility.

After returning to Oxford in 1957 as the first Director of the Computing Laboratory, Fox introduced numerical analysis there as a branch of university mathematics. He also gave his active support to the forging of links between academics and industrial mathematicians, to ensure that his subject remained close to its roots. Equally importantly, he and his colleagues passed on his philosophy to a stream of research students, many of whom now occupy influential positions in British universities. Above all, Fox was a great communicator. The lucid simplicity of his writing style is evident in eight books and 86 papers, while the easy elegance of his public speaking entertained and informed audiences at home and overseas. In later years academic honours rained upon him.

Fox was a keen and able all- round sportsman. He played soccer for Oxford University against Cambridge during the war, and later for Oxford City. At NPL he played soccer, became champion of tennis, represented the laboratory in the Civil Service Athletics Championships as a sprinter and was captain of the cricket team. He graduated from the seam bowling of his youth into the subtle craft of spin bowling before his return to Oxford, and there he played regularly for the Barnacles Cricket Club. He later took up golf and inevitably became proficient.

While achieving so much in diverse spheres of activity, Leslie Fox retained his innate modesty with quiet dignity. He was a private man of equable temperament, strong-minded and fair. With his wide interests, his wit and his erudition, he was always worth listening to, and always ready to listen.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine