Sir Michael Atiyah

Sir Michael’s Keepsake has survived 70 years, one of hundreds of dolls designed by his mother.

Until the age of 16 I lived in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. My Lebanese grandfather Selim was the first western doctor there and my father Edward, an Oxford graduate, worked as a civil servant liaising with the Sudanese community. My mother Jean came from a Scottish family and met my father in Oxford. She got to know the Sudanese women, who lived their own segregated lives.

This two-headed rag doll is a memento of those times. During the 1939-45 war my mother, who had trained as an artist at the Ruskin school of drawing, designed these unusual dolls with their message of racial harmony. Using any old materials, and with the help of an army of helpers, she turned out hundreds of these dolls which were sold in aid of the war effort. This is one of the few which has survived the passage of time (70 years), no doubt because it was kept in a drawer out of reach of young children.