Herbert George was the fourth and last son born to Joseph Wells, a former domestic gardener and, at the time, shopkeeper and cricketer, and his wife, Sarah Neal, a former domestic servant and occasional housekeeper. A defining incident of young Herbert George’s life is said to be an accident he had in 1874 when he was eight years old. The accident left him for a time bedridden with a broken leg. To pass the time, he started reading and soon became devoted to the other worlds and lives to which books gave him access; it also stimulated his desire to write. In 1877, Joseph Wells suffered a fractured thigh. This accident effectively put an end to Joseph’s career as a cricketer, and his earnings as a shopkeeper were not enough to compensate for the loss.
In 1883 Wells became a teacher at Midhurst Grammar school, until he won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science (later the Royal College of Science, now part of Imperial College) in London, studying biology. His interest in these studies diminished, though, and in 1887 he left without a degree. From there he taught in private schools for four years, not taking his biology degree until 1890. As an alumnus, he later helped to set up the Royal College of Science Association, of which he became the first president in 1909.
In 1891, he settled in London, married his cousin Isabel and continued his career as a teacher in a correspondence college.
He enjoyed a more than effervescent love life and it is thought this may have prevented him from standing for Parliament – he was a staunch socialist and prominent political commentator who would have felt at home in the Commons. After some years, Wells left Isabel for one of his brightest students, Amy Catherine. The pair married in 1895.
The War of The Worlds is one of Wells’s most popular works and has been the subject of countless film and radio productions. The War of The Worlds, along with two of Wells’s other novels – The Time Machine and The Invisible Man – have given him the status of the founding father of science fiction. Fiercely intellectual, he would have been unflattered by the geeky connotations that have since become attached to the genre. Wells was also a renowned writer of humorous prose, although those novels and stories are not for those made faint of heart by political incorrectness.
Wells’s diagnosis of ‘mild diabetes’ (distinctions of type 1 and type 2 did not exist then) came in his early 60s, around 1930, and led to him giving up his teaching career. As of July 1931 he became a private patient of the famous physician RD Lawrence. In 1933, Lawrence wanted to build a diabetes in-patient department at King’s College Hospital where he worked and wrote to all his private patients asking for donations.Wells contributed a meager sum, which left Lawrence unimpressed. Wells responded by pleading poverty and added that: “Such charity should be and was the concern of all diabetics.” With this in mind, he offered to write a letter to The Times appealing to readers for donations. A letter from a personality with such prominence and academic stature was bound to draw attention and its appearance sparked a huge response that meant Lawrence soon had the money for the department he wanted.
With such success, Lawrence and Wells decided just a year later in 1934 that Wells would write to The Times again, this time proposing the formation of a Diabetic Association.
The response was such that the organization was established within months with Wells duly installed as its president. The name may have changed – it went from the Diabetic Association to the British Diabetic Association in 1954 and, in 2000, to today’s Diabetes UK – but the aims set out in Wells’s second letter to The Times are broadly similar to those of the charity today: “To promote the study, the diffusion of knowledge, and the proper treatment of diabetes in this country.”In January 1935, on the opening pages of the first issue of The Diabetic Journal, the very first incarnation of Balance, Wells wrote: “Our characters are strengthened by a perpetual self-control; we have come to detest the pasty and the saccharine in thought, word and deed. We shall be plain and fine with each other. Formerly diabetics died, but now I shall begin to look for the diabetic influence in every aspect of life, in art, science, conduct, a new delicate strength, a restraint and a clearness. Am I writing nonsense? Not altogether. For my own part I have certainly found diabetes an invigorating diathesis.”