Remembering Ray



Ray Dolby (1957) and David Robinson (1959) in Wandsworth Road, London in November 1968. 

David Robinson met Ray Dolby at Pembroke and worked with him for over forty years at Dolby Laboratories (producing Dolby Sound, Visual & Display Technology). Here, David recounts Ray as a man of innovation and social conscience, and one who led by actions, not words.

My journey to reach the turning points in my life were often luck and serendipity as it has been for so many. I spent a year after school working at Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph, after which I was sure I wanted to study electronics. At that time such a course did not exist at Cambridge, so I chose Natural Sciences. The choice of Pembroke was made for me by my science teacher, it was a fortunate choice in many respects, not the least of which was to meet my future friend and mentor, Ray Dolby.

Cambridge of course has many opportunities to make audio recordings, and I and a friend from Sidney Sussex founded the Cambridge University Tape Recording Society. The rules of the University demanded that societies have a Senior Member on the board. I had heard about an American in my College who was a keen recordist and went to see him. Ray kindly agreed to be our Senior Member – I should have already sensed back then that he had a philanthropic spirit by helping our society fly. My direct contact was mainly helping Ray secretly in the dead of night to lay microphone cables from his room across the roofs into the Chapel to make the first recordings of the Choir…

After graduating Pembroke in 1962, I went to work for the BBC in the Engineering Department. Ray, after some years as a Junior Fellow, went off to India with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), during which time he invented his earlier video and audio noise reduction systems.

In 1965 Ray and Dagmar drove – yes, drove! – from India to London in their VW Beetle and started Dolby Laboratories. He brought his prototype video unit to the BBC, and hence to my department, for evaluation and hopefully sales. Later that evening he called me and invited me to visit and listen to his audio unit – and offered me a job.

During my time with Ray, I learnt a great deal about his character. He knew exactly what he hoped to achieve, and was confident that his ideas were novel and important. At a party in the New York Stock Exchange on the day Dolby Laboratories was listed, I said to him that he couldn’t have thought his company would come to that – and he replied, he always knew it would. A self-assuredness in the face of not always favourable odds is trait we could all use to help us get through these challenging times.

Ray always said that you needed to be philanthropic, and as soon as he became financially secure, he followed that idea. Ray had a sense of a “debt” to society, which began as early as High School when he started work with a small 5-man team at Ampex which ended up with the world’s first practical video tape recorder, and culminating in a Marshall Scholarship which gave him the opportunity to come to Cambridge for his PhD.

He showed his views on giving back more by his actions than words. Over the years he made many sizable contributions to projects, from numerous medical causes, to a new roof for the Symphony Hall in San Francisco. Yet, he always regarded Cambridge and his time at Pembroke as the high point of his life, which showed in his and the Dolby family’s philanthropic support of the College.

Ray would undoubtedly be pleased that his legacy is inspiring countless alumni to begin their own philanthropic journeys. And particularly that his family is continuing to support developments for the College which will live on forever in Mill Lane.

I personally think the Mill Lane development is wonderful. If it had been finished when I was there I might have been able to live in College all my time instead of just one year! What memories await the new generations in an even closer community.

David kindly also spoke at The Time & the Place Campaign launch back in 2017, to watch his fantastic speech on Ray, click here.

4 Mill Lane is officially open!

We are delighted to announce that 4 Mill Lane is officially open and being put to good use by the students of Pembroke’s Cambridge Summer Programme.

The Programme accepts university students from around the world and provides them with a taste of a Cambridge education. For the first time since the pandemic began, Pembroke is welcoming back these students in person. In previous years, it was necessary for Pembroke to partner with other colleges to aid in teaching and accommodating students. 2022 will be the first year that Pembroke is able to undertake this independently.

“The Pembroke Cambridge Summer Programme is now in full swing and we are delighted to have our first group of students enjoying the teaching room facilities at 4 Mill Lane. It’s the first summer where all students are living in Pembroke accommodation and all teaching is delivered on-site, so our students can enjoy a fully authentic Pembroke experience during their time here” said Pembroke’s Director of International Programmes, Dr Daniela Passolt. “Having our own teaching space so close to the main College site and International Programmes Office has helped us to run our programme much more efficiently. We are so excited to be in 4 Mill Lane and are looking forward to hosting our programmes here over the coming years.”

Pembroke is hosting over 200 international students for its first solo summer programme, an impressive number during a pandemic, with factors such as an increase in cancellations due to Covid cases, and much uncertainty about quarantining and steep flight prices. Rosie Lawrence, Director of the Pembroke Cambridge Summer Programme, was thrilled to be surmounting these obstacles: “There has been a lot of change in the International Programmes Department since the pandemic and we have really missed having students with us in Pembroke. It’s been absolutely wonderful returning to normality and welcoming students to Cambridge again and we are looking forward to welcoming even more in the future.”

4 Mill Lane may already be familiar to some as the former home of the University’s Board of Graduate Studies, where postgraduates would drop off their PhDs for assessment in the letterbox by the (in)famous red door. Repurposing this University building has given Pembroke the best of both worlds. It pays homage to historic architecture by restoring original timber and tiled floors, but also boasts flexible new teaching spaces with multifunctional rooms and modern finishes, such as acoustic plaster finishes to the ceiling and flush-mounted magnetic whiteboards and digital screens, to deliver an excellent learning environment. 4 Mill Lane also enjoys a Recital Room for performances (currently used for teaching), which has been funded by one of our generous donors. The room will be kitted out with a premium Steinway to enable recitals from world-class performers and skilled students and Fellows alike.

Going forward, 4 Mill Lane will be the “Learning and Wellbeing Centre” and will welcome its first cohort of Pembroke scholars in Michaelmas 2022.

Goodbye Miller’s Yard, onward to Dolby Court!

Miller’s Yard before demolition, with Old Orleans‘ memorable green doors

In February 2022, Pembroke’s contractors began the demolition of Miller’s Yard. You may remember frequenting this courtyard when it was the location of some of Cambridge’s hidden gems – the beloved noodle bar, Dojo, and its not quite so beloved neighbour Old Orleans, home of Cajun cooking in Cambridge. Rest assured, the iconic The Mill pub won’t be going anywhere.

The area formerly known as Miller’s Yard will be flanked by a new auditorium on Mill Lane for lectures and performances. This is due to be completed in early 2023. Looking onto Mill Lane itself, there will be a new, bigger and better gym, which is great news for the various Pembroke sports clubs and part of our “healthy body, healthy mind” commitment.

The old Miller’s Yard area will also provide much-needed additional bicycle access as well as a dedicated pick-up / drop-off area for students at the beginning and end of term, happy news for those who have experienced the bottleneck on Tennis Court Road at the very back of College every October and June.

Post demolition in June 2022, bricks were preserved and repurposed for the new site

By demolishing Miller’s Yard, the construction team were able to access the University’s old 1930’s lecture block, the mention of which may send shivers down the spines of many former students as the memories of exam horrors past come flooding back. We are happy to share the news of the subsequent demolition of the aforementioned Mill Lane lecture block, and prompt, we trust, a cathartic cheer from many readers.

The College is delighted at this significant step closer to the construction of Dolby Court and the main site, ready for the public in 2024.

Pembroke Soirée at the Royal Society

The sixth Pembroke Soirée took place at the Royal Society on 30 October 2019. Attended by 100 alumni, the evening was designed to give a snapshot of the vibrant intellectual and cultural life of Pembroke, and to demonstrate the impact that enhanced facilities and financial support can have. Read More

Every £1 you give is worth £2

Dolby Court

Dolby Matching Funds

The family of Ray Dolby has pledged to match every £1 donated with another £1 until 2023. This means that if we can raise £16 million over the next four years, they will donate a further £16m, which will complete the funding for the Mill Lane redevelopment.  We are naturally very grateful to them. Read More

Planning permission granted!

On Tuesday 11 June, Cambridge City Council’s Planning Committee voted unanimously to approve Pembroke’s detailed plans for the redevelopment of the Mill Lane site.

Read More

Pembroke Soirée at SCI, Belgrave Square

The fifth Pembroke Soirée took place at SCI Belgrave Square on 7 March 2019. We were joined by 120 alumni, who were treated to talks from Pembroke Fellows and affiliated lecturers, as well as an exhibition showcasing the research of our postgraduate students. Read More