Bone-Idle

Self-portrait as Onslow, reading one of his favorite books. (Yes, I have a beard and I know the hat is wrong, but it’s the best I could do under the circumstances.)

English actor Geoffrey Hughes, probably best known in the United States for his role on the BBC sitcom Keeping Up Appearances and as the voice of Paul in Yellow Submarine, died last Friday, July 27. He was 68.

I admit I didn’t like Keeping Up Appearances that much when I saw it on PBS, but my parents love the show, so I’ve seen a fair number of episodes. By far my favorite character on the show was Onslow, Geoffrey Hughes’ character. A conscientious objector to the world of work, he’s most often seen either in his undershirt or a knit vest, watching horse races on the telly or reading in bed. Despite being self-described as “bone-idle”, his choice of books runs to the intellectual, and includes a textbook I used in graduate school: Principles of Condensed Matter Physics by Paul M. Chaikin and T. C. Lubensky. In fact, I still keep the book around for reference, and have used it a few times writing for Ars Technica. It’s a remarkably thorough reference for the quantum physics of materials, covering magnetism, principles of symmetry, and a variety of mathematical topics I haven’t seen explained as clearly in other places.

I’m sure the show’s producers picked that book because they found it for a low price in a second-hand bookshop, but here’s to beer, bone-idleness, condensed matter physics, and memory.

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