Sir Fred Hoyle (24 June 1915 – 20 August 2001) was an English astronomer and mathematician noted primarily for his contribution to the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis and his often controversial stance on other cosmological and scientific matters—in particular his rejection of the "Big Bang" theory, a term originally coined by him on BBC radio. In addition to his work as an astronomer, Hoyle was a writer of science fiction, including a number of books co-written with his son Geoffrey Hoyle. Hoyle spent most of his working life at the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge and served as its director for a number of years. He died in Bournemouth, England, after a series of strokes.
Hoyle was born near Bingley in Gilstead, West Yorkshire, England. His father, Ben Hoyle, worked in the wool trade in Bradford. His mother, Mabel Pickard, had studied music at the Royal College of Music in London. Hoyle was educated at Bingley Grammar School and read mathematics at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. In the autumn of 1940, Hoyle left Cambridge to go to Portsmouth to work for the Admiralty on radar research, for example devising a method to get the altitude of the incoming aeroplanes. Two key colleagues in this war work were Hermann Bondi and Thomas Gold, and the three had many and deep discussions on cosmology.
After the war, in 1945, Hoyle returned to Cambridge University, starting as a lecturer at St John's College, Cambridge. Hoyle's Cambridge years, 1945–1973, saw him rise to the top of world astrophysics theory, grounded on a startling originality of ideas covering a very wide range of topics. In 1958, Hoyle was appointed to the illustrious Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at Cambridge University. In 1967, he became the founding director of the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy (subsequently renamed the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, where Hoyle's innovative leadership quickly lead to this institution becoming one of the premier groups in the world for theoretical astrophysics. In 1971 he was invited to deliver the MacMillan Memorial Lecture to the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland. He chose the subject 'Astronomical Instruments and their Construction'. Hoyle was knighted in 1972. Hoyle resigned his Plumian professor position in 1972 and his directorship of the institute in 1973, with this move effectively cutting him off from most of his establishment power-base, connections, and steady salary.
After his leaving Cambridge, Hoyle wrote popular science books (of immense impact to young astronomers the world over) and top-quality science fiction books, as well as presenting many popular lectures around the world. Part of the motivation for this was simply to provide a means of support. Hoyle was still a member of the joint policy committee (since 1967), during the planning stage for the 150-inch Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales. He became chairman of the Anglo-Australian Telescope board in 1973, and presided at its inauguration in 1974 by Charles, Prince of Wales. After his resignation from Cambridge, Hoyle moved to the Lake District and occupied his time with a mix of treks across the moors, writing books, visiting research centers around the world, and working on science ideas that have been nearly-universally rejected. On 24 November 1997, while hiking across moorlands in west Yorkshire, near his childhood home in Gilstead, Hoyle fell down into a steep ravine called Shipley Glen. Roughly twelve hours later, Hoyle was found by a search dog. He was hospitalized for two months with pneumonia, kidney problems as a result of hypothermia, and a smashed shoulder, while he ever afterwards suffered from memory and mental agility problems. In 2001, he suffered a series of strokes and died in Bournemouth on 20 August.