A SCIENTIST from a Yorkshire Dales farming family who became known to millions due to a ground-breaking documentary series has died at the age of 65.

Professor Nick Hitchon was an expert in nuclear fusion whose dream was to provide the world with relatively cheap and clean power, a dream which sadly remains unfulfilled to this day, for Nick and for many other scientists.

However, he was probably best known as one of the participants in the award-winning Up series. Nick, who has died in Wisconsin in the US following a long illness, grew up in Littondale as part of a farming family.

Though he was raised in a remote and rural area, Nick’s path was to take him far from the farming life of his forebears.

This was perhaps only dimly apparent when he was a pupil at the one-room Arncliffe CE Primary School and was chosen to take part in a Granada TV World in Action programme called Seven Up!

The story is that a TV researcher was despairing of finding a rural child who would talk to the camera for what was meant to be a one-off programme, in which children aged seven from differing backgrounds were asked their views on a range of subjects.

The researcher was told Nick would definitely talk, but he was only six. The researcher said that was near enough, and so it was that Nick appeared on British TV in 1964 to explain that he wanted to learn about the Moon, though he refused to say what he thought about girls.

It was meant to be a one-off programme, but the TV cameras returned for 14 Up, when Nick was actually 13.

By now he was at Ermysted’s Grammar School, Skipton. Here his love of science began to flourish, though he was also a keen sportsman, captaining the rugby first XV and playing for a Yorkshire Schools team.

From here he went to Merton College, Oxford, to study physics. The filming of 21 Up found Nick, now actually aged 19, busy with post-graduate studies at Oxford. The latest instalment of what was now the Up series was timed to coincide with the 21st anniversary of Granada TV, a sign that it was regarded as a prestigious programme. Now it is perhaps more seen as a precursor of reality television, examining the changing lives of real people at seven-yearly intervals.

Nick was about make a major change in his life, as he moved to the University of Wisconsin in the US in the early 1980s to continue his work in nuclear fusion.

He remained at the university’s Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering for four decades. Nick became a full professor in 1994 and was department chair from 1999 to 2002. He was the author of more than 100 articles and three books in his specialist field.

Nick participated in all the films in the Up documentary series. Originally intended as a one-off programme looking at how Britain’s class structure was reflected in the lives of seven-year-old children in the 1960s, it evolved as the programme makers started going back to see the participants every seven years, though Nick was always at least a year younger than the programme title suggested.

Though some of the filming happened in the US, more often the production team brought him back to the UK to be shown in locations with personal significance for him. This included the Dales, which gave him an opportunity to see his late parents, Guy and Iona Hitchon, and younger brothers Andrew and Chris, and occasionally to carry out farm-related tasks, something he had not been asked to do for many years.

Nick was diagnosed with cancer several years ago but was determined to live as full a life as possible, and only retired from the university in the spring of 2022.

He leaves his widow, Cryss, and son Adam. A funeral service is to be held in Wisconsin.