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School days with Stephen: ex-classmate’s Hawking memories

Islington journalist recalls how boy who went on to become eminent physicist invented ‘extraordinarily complex’ board game

16 March, 2018 — By Emily Finch

Michael Church at St Albans School, in Hertfordshire, with Stephen Hawking. Mr Church is pictured on the left with his hand on his head. Stephen Hawking is the boy with his mouth open, to the right of the boy wearing glasses. Photo: Michael Church

THE eminent physicist Stephen Hawking, who died on Tuesday, invented a board game during his school days, according to a former classmate.

Michael Church was at St Albans School in Hertfordshire with Professor Hawking where they became lifelong friends.

“It was an extraordinarily complex game,” Mr Church, who lives in Angel, said yesterday (Thursday).

“You played with a dice and you would spend hours working out the consequences. There were treatises, armies and laws and you needed a large army to conquer land. It was historically informed and called Medieval Britain.”

The scientist came up with the game after becoming bored with Monopoly and wanting “to do something more interesting”, added Mr Church, a music journalist. Professor Hawking and Mr Church formed a group of five close friends and would “knock around on weekends together” and go to each other’s homes as teenagers. He said his friend was “very charismatic, fascinating, a livewire” who became focused on mathematics thanks to a teacher at St Albans.

“Mr Tahta supervised Stephen who helped him build one of the first computers,” he said.

He added: “I originally thought Stephen was a jolly little friend but when I was 16 or 17 I began to realise he had a formidable intellect.”

Mr Church believes Professor Hawking was a “lifelong socialist” and he was surprised to see the scientist at their former school’s fundraising event, given its fee-paying status.

“He really loved his school days,” Mr Church added.

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