Sydney Rex Tims


Born: 21 December 1926 in London, England
Died: 16 February 1971 in Aldershot, Hampshire, England

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Rex Tims was the eldest of his parents' three children, having a younger brother and sister. Rex attended a primary school in Watford and then, for his secondary education, studied at Watford Grammar School on Rickmansworth Road in Watford. He was too young to have to serve in the forces during World War II, completing his schooling in 1944. He then entered Chelsea Polytechnic in September 1944. This polytechnic, which had evolved out of the South-Western Polytechnic Institute in 1922, had eight departments, namely art, chemistry, domestic science, mathematics, music, natural science, physics and physical training. At Chelsea Polytechnic, Tims [2]:-
... made a great impact, getting a (then rather rare) First Class General Degree in Mathematics and Physics, followed the next year by another First in Special Mathematics and the year after (during which he was a member of the College Staff) an M.Sc. with Distinction, working under Dr A E Ludlam, the Head of the College's Mathematics Department, with whom he struck up a particularly close and lasting friendship.
After the award of his Master's degree, he studied at Peterhouse, University of Cambridge, where he was advised by J E Littlewood. He submitted his paper A theorem on functions schlicht in convex domains to the London Mathematical Society in August 1950 and it was published in their Proceedings in 1951. He writes in the paper:-
I am indebted to the University of London for a maintenance grant.
This maintenance grant was a University of London Sherbrooke Studentship. He then published Some maximal theorems for functions defined in a half-plane (1952) in which he gave the following acknowledgement:-
I am grateful to Professor J E Littlewood for suggesting that I should work on this topic and for advice on preparing the results for publication; I am indebted to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research for a maintenance grant.
He also published Note on a paper by M Nassif in 1952. He was awarded a Ph.D. in 1953 for his thesis Some Theorems in the Theory of Functions. J E Littlewood wrote that he was awarded the Ph.D. "with a lot to spare". After the award of his Ph.D., he was appointed onto the staff of King's College, London [2]:-
At King's he played a notable part in College life. For many years he was solely responsible for selecting the mathematical undergraduate intake, a job at which he was fantastically successful. As a teacher he was generally recognised in the College to be in a class by himself and he was an unusually able examiner. His company was always a real pleasure to his colleagues: whether suddenly deploying his own quiet and brilliant, and totally unmalicious, shafts of wit, or just puffing his pipe and blessing us by his presence, he was a joy to be with.
Tims devoted his efforts to teaching and did not publish any mathematical papers for nearly twenty years until he published (with J A Tyrrell) Approximate evaluation of Euler's constant (1971). This paper, which in a way came out of his teaching at King's College, was written as a result of one of the students, F W Long, using a computer to evaluate the sum of the first N numbers 1/n for N = 10, 102, 103, ... 106. In [2] David Bernard Scott explains the reasons for Tims small number of research papers:-
Rex's standards were too high - he could not bear merely to do the useful work which lay well within his powers, and he didn't trust himself to attempt the standards he so much admired. So his output was small, but in compensation he was a first class scholar with discriminating mathematical tastes. He loved mathematics for itself, not for the reputation he might make from it, and his unsurpassed skill as a University teacher derived directly from his sense of style and his joy in communicating his own pleasure to others (he always said that the purpose of a lecture was "to convey enthusiasm").
He was, however, the joint author of an excellent undergraduate textbook, namely Mathematical analysis: an introduction, by David Bernard Scott and Sydney Rex Tims (Cambridge University Press, 1966). His coauthor Scott wrote [2]:-
Our own collaboration on our textbook extended over some 10 years: we agreed immediately and happily on many things, but had great fun in defining, disputing and resolving our differences. Despite a most unpromising start to the printing, it was his sense of style and form which so far retrieved the situation that the publishers (Cambridge University Press) obtained, for the presentation of the book, their first-ever award at the Leipzig Book Fair.
Robert Rankin wrote a review of this book and we quote an extract of his review [1]:-
As the authors state in their preface, this is a textbook of basic classical analysis approached by a traditional path, though perhaps not presented in an altogether traditional manner. It is suitable for bright sixth form students who are preparing for university mathematics, and who need only occasional guidance. It is also suitable as a first course in analysis for university students, although possibly a slightly more complete treatment is nowadays given at this stage. The usual topics-limits, infinite series, continuity, differentiability (or derivability as the authors call it), definite integral, logarithmic and exponential functions, integration techniques, improper integrals, Taylor's theorem and real power series-are included. It is assumed that the reader is familiar with elementary calculus and with the elementary geometrical definitions of the trigonometrical functions; precise analytical definitions of these functions are given at a later stage. ... The style is leisurely, well motivated and is enlivened with the occasional joke or witticism. If some fact seems surprising to the authors they have no hesitation in sharing their surprise with the reader and this adds freshness to their style.
In 1961 Tims was elected to the Royal Astronomical Society, having been proposed by Hermann Bondi. He married Jill White on 29 August 1967; they had one daughter. After spending the first year of their married life in the United States, they returned to London and began setting up a home. Sadly, he died at the age of 44 in 1971 as the result of a domestic accident [2]:-
His colleagues were all greatly distressed by his death and though (mainly through shyness) he never essayed the modern fashion of easy fraternisation with students and always appeared to them as a slightly remote character, they felt his loss even more than his colleagues did.
Let us end with this quote from [2] concerning his character:-
Besides his sense of humour and personal charm, his chief characteristics were an essential modesty, impeccable taste and a dazzling sense of style in everything with which he was concerned.

Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson


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JOC/EFR April 2015
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School of Mathematics and Statistics
University of St Andrews, Scotland

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