This historical review covers the period 1960 to mid-1980s. The first experiments were carried out at the John Innes Institute, Bayfordbury, Hertford, with a one year interlude in the Department of Genetics, University of Washington, Seattle. In 1965, I moved to the National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, London, and became head of a new Genetics Division. The research on Ustilago was divided broadly into (1) experimental genetic studies, and (2) DNA enzymology, largely under the direction of the late Geoffrey Banks. The approaches involved isolating and characterizing mutants defective in repair and recombination (the first in any eukaryotic organism), with the longer term aim of identifying the function of genes through studies of enzymes and proteins which interact with DNA. An enzyme capable of recognizing mismatched bases in DNA was identified. A novel method exploited the inducible nitrate reductase gene, and revealed relationships between recombination, mutation, repair, transcription and cell survival. Several different studies provide strong evidence for the presence of an inducible repair pathway, dependent on recombination. Much more recently, the revolution in molecular genetics has been in exploited in several laboratories working with Ustilago maydis, and these have produced some completely new insights into recombination and repair.