Ronald Thomas Bell (Ron) Walton (? - 1999) hosted a children's TV show In the Nature of Things in which he carried out scientific experiments.

Man of parts

First published in the New Zealand TV Weekly, June 3, 1966

Ron Walton, who has been responsible for some of the most entertaining and informative programmes with a sound educational background for younger viewers (and a lot of the older ones too) branched out into a (to viewers) new field the other day when it was announced that, as director of the Christchurch Boys High School Car Club, he would be assisting in the running of a motor show in Canterbury Court, in collaboration with the Christchurch Motor Racing Club, as a prelude, to the Lady Wig-ram Trophy motor racing meeting next January.

What is probably not generally known is that Mr Walton, a master at Boys’ High, is a motoring enthusiast and races his own home-built “special” regularly at Ruapuna Park, Christchurch’s motor racing track.

Mr Walton started a car club whom he was teaching at Rangiora High School and, among other things. was responsible for having such well-known international drivers as New Zealander Bruce McLaren come out and meet the boys. Now he is stimulating interest at Christchurch Boys’ High School.


Magician of Science

From the NZ Listener, December 20 1971

It seems to that people have a Spectrum of reality; that there s an area of things that seem real to each individual. With some people it is the spoken word - they respond to it, understand it, believe in it; with others, the written word; for some only physical things are real; and so on Any one person only sees some of what is around him, other things seem quite unreal to him. Is this born into a person? I don't know. I've thought about it a lot and I'm still not sure. . ."

Ron Walton's spectrum of reality is one he finds perpetually diverting. The enthusiasm for the miscellaneous mysteries of science that he brlnlls to his television programmes - that air of a magician who is as delighted as his audience with the things he can produce out of a hat - is part of the everyday, off-screen Ron Walton. Being interviewed he darts off on verbal sidetracks of anecdotes, miscellaneous facts and areas of speculation. (I'm constantly being sidetracked by things. There's so much I would like to know about. Imagine, if one didn't have to earn a living?)

Ron Walton, his wife and two daughters, 21 and 18, live in the Christchurch suburb of St Albans. His means of earning a living have been something of a succession of sidetracks in themselves. The first four or five years after leaving school, he spent bumming around the country. doing all sorts of jobs. Not with any inflated idea of searching for truth or whatever. Just wandering.

In Dunedin, working as an announcer at 4ZB, he enrolled at Otago University. Later he transferred to Canterbury and completed an MSc in zoology part-time while working at the Dominion X-ray Laboratory on a cancer research programme. I was extracting radio-active radon from radium and putting amounts into gold capillaries for insertion into the patients. Very interesting. What it actually involved was ...

Having completed his zoology degree, Mr Walton ran a photography business (It didn't make any money, but I loved doing it) and then became a sort of pet troubleshooter for a large factory devoted largely to producing underwear. As an investigator and maker-of-recommendations he became something of a connoisseur of elastic.

Then came 15 years as a school teacher at Rangiora High School and Christchurch Boys High School (where his father had been a maths teacher). To a lot of adult viewers Mr Walton on TV must be the science teacher they wish they had had, and yet as a teacher Ron Walton found the frustrations outweighed the satis- factions. He disliked the bureaucracy, the syllabus, the short-hair business . . . the whole system Secondary schools are, he says, the part of the education system that got left behind. They haven't improved much since Victorian times.

They (the schools) take individuals and squeeze them into moulds. And with the tight syllabuses and the vast amount schoolteachers have to do they just don't have time to be interested in their subjects in the extreme. It gets me that pupils from the intermediate schools are mad about science, but, at secondary school that interest is largely lost within a couple of years.

Of course there are problems. With the numbers they cater for secondary schools have to run in a regimented fashion, at least to some extent. But I think they should an attempt to discover each pupils 'spectrum of reality and cater for it. As it is, Schools dictate values and attitudes as if such things are abso- lute.

A Year ago he left teaching to Set up the Ron Walton science Shop; the only science shop in New Zealand, possibly the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. There he sells books, bunsen burners and a range of equipment quite incomprehensible to those of unscientific spectrums. At present he is organising a Canterbury science fair for 1972 (It seemed in line with my mission in life, so to speak) and also working on manufacturing his own experimental science kit sets for children. Sort of magic kits for turning wine into water and back again - that kind of thing.

He began this because The was appalled at some Japanese electronic children's kitsets he examined. You just followed the instructions. It didn't explain anything, or take the child step by step. They were just gadgets and some of the information given was pure jargon.

The combination of science and broadcasting began, for Ron Walton, many years back, when he presented himself as a candidate for the children's radio nature talks which had temporarily lapsed. Later he was to enlarge the scope of these regular talks to cover general science and thus allow him to deal with such pertinent matters as Why is the sky blue? and Do goldfish sleep? The World Around Us ran for about ten years, towards the end of which Ron Walton branched into television with science talks and demonstrations on Junior Magazine run by CHTV-3's Judy Anne Garland. When she left and the programme ceased I thought I was really worth a programme of my own. The television people said, well yes, and it might run to two series - they couldn't make any promises. l'm not sure how many In the Nature of Things' series we've done now. Six, or seven ur thereabouts.

He sees his 'TV role as being more or less that of a translator. A lot of science is written about with a strictly academic approach, but you don't need a degree to appreciate science - to appreciate, say, the fact that an earwig is a marvellous mother, or to wonder what goes on inside a cat's head as it lies in infront of the fire.

l want to convey the idea that there's a hell of a lot going on all around us that is quite fasinating.

Some of it fascinating to the point of Obsession for an interviewer who omits to ask $10,000 questions. Do goldfish sleep'?

IN THE NATURE OF THINGS; Central Television, Wednesday, December 22, 6.43 p.m.; Northern Television, CHTV-3 and DNTV-2 sucessive weeks.

Comments powered by CComment