Among the clutter of Gurdon's brightly lit Cambridge office sits a picture frame, displaying a small scrap of browning paper from an early school report, according to the Wellcome Trust, where he was a former Governor.
The school report reads: "I believe he (Gurdon) has ideas about becoming a scientist...This is quite ridiculous...It would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part and of those who have to teach him."
That he should have so utterly disproved his school teacher's assessment is testimony to his passion for science - and to an element of luck.
"There's a saying: 'Luck favours the prepared mind'," he had said. "Ninety per cent of the time things don't work, but when they do you have to seize the opportunity."
In that fateful school report, his teacher also wrote the young John "will not listen, but will insist on doing his work in his own way". How fortunate.
Gurdon, 79, and Japanese physician Shinya Yamanaka, 50, were awarded the prize for changing adult cells into stem cells, which can become any other type of cell in the body.
The Nobel committee said they had "revolutionised" science.
The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health.