Sunday, 17 September 2017

Britain was once a country which made and has now lost its old and greatest Impresario and Theatre Director, Peter Hall

Peter, who has died at the age of 86, grew up in a post Second World War Britain which gave him a unique opportunity to demonstrate his theatrical genius. As a teenager "hungry for art. Avid for culture," standing at the back of the wartime theatres in London and Cambridge for sixpence, he loved what he saw and recalled that : "At about 14, I thought I knew what I wanted to do - be a director." As an undergraduate at Cambridge in the 1950s he identified that there was "A post-War vacuum in the directing field. No question. there was a hole." Peter, subsequently, more than helped to fill it.

He was born at Number 24 Avenue Approach, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, in a bay windowed, red bricked, two bedroomed, terraced under a slate roof on 22 November 1930. He was the son of Grace, who worked in a haberdashers and Reg who was a clerk in the local station goods depot and after his promotion to 'stationmaster', the family relocated to rural Barnham in Suffolk and later to Cambridge and then Shelford, outside the city. Peter later over- embroidered his working class childhood when he said : "People always giggle when I say that I grew up on a single-line railway station with a pump outside, no running water, no electricity, oil lamps, but in the 30s that's the way it was."

Peter remember his father as : "one of the wisest, nicest, least ambitious men I've ever met," but it was clear that the driving force in the family came from his mother and her conviction that Peter's route to betterment would be through a good education. He remembered her as “hugely ambitious” and in “a state of permanent fury” at his father, with his "sunny, controlled temperament and no ambition at all.” It is difficult to judge his attitude towards his mother when, in his  autobiography, he said that she "had a distinct aura of piss-elegance," which in old parlance meant that she 'put on airs and graces.' No doubt she was anxious to disguise the fact that she was a shop worker, her father had worked as a pork butcher and Reg's father as a rat catcher on Queen Victoria’s Norfolk estate.

Peter recalled that in his early years : "Like most directors, I had a toy theatre as a child. My puppets were of cut-out cardboard and wood. They did what they were told, but only what they were told. I remember the excitement when a magical group of professional puppeteers visited my kindergarten in Bury St Edmunds."

He was 9 years old when the Second World War broke out and living in Cambridge where he attended : "Morley Memorial Junior School, which seemed very rough. Being an only child, and a loner from the wilds of Suffolk, I was mocked by brawling boys and giggling girls. It was bearable because it was just round the corner from home so, if the worst happened, I knew it would take only two minutes to reach the safety of my mother."

Reg and Grace recognised and encouraged his precocious talent and he recalled : “They encouraged me to be different and from the age of eight I was conscious I was different and would escape.” At his request on his 10th birthday, they took him to a performance of Mozart's Requiem in King's College, Cambridge. Nearly seventy years later he recalled that it was in the same year that he "got a scholarship to the Perse Boys School, an ancient grammar. I think four of us had scholarships. Our fees were paid and our books, marked 'Minor Scholar's book – to be returned on demand', were supplied by the school and were scruffy; all other boys had new books from their parents. It still rankles."

Peter's 'ancient grammar' with its hammer beamed hall, founded in the 17th century with its motto 'Qui facit per alium facit per se' usually taken to mean "He who does things for others does them for himself," fed him with inventive ways to explore literature and drama and he and he recalled : "My first encounter with Shakespeare was at the age of 10. Instead of having to listen to a boring teacher reading out the principal part, we would go down to "The Mummery", which was in the basement of one of the school's Victorian wings, dress up with helmets, cloaks and swords and shout lines of Macbeth at each other. My history master, John Tanfield, had a long, horsey face and chain-smoked in class. He had been a professional actor and, poor man, directed me as Hamlet in my last year." He later said that : "It never occurred to me not to love Shakespeare. He was thrilling and blood-soaked and full of witches."

By the time he left school in 1948 Peter had : played his Hamlet, become head boy, learned the art of public speaking, edited the school magazine, made it into the tennis team had become an accomplished organist and pianist and during the War and showed he had an impresario’s touch when he led a band that played village halls around Cambridge in aid of the
Red Cross.
It was, however, Peter's extra-curricular activities which cemented his ambition when : "Largely because of John Gielgud's Hamlet, which I saw at the Cambridge Arts Theatre during the War, I decided at 14 that I wanted to be a director, though I didn't know what a director did." He was ideally placed because the evacuation of the theatre community from Blitz-bombed London meant : "There was an absolute welter of plays, concerts and recitals and I was there with my pocket money and newspaper round, imbibing them."

One of the perks of his Father's position as the master at Whittlesford Station in the London and Midland Region meant Peter could travel by rail free of charge and in addition to taking himself off to stay, in the school holidays, with an Aunt in Lewisham, South London, he also availed himself of the opportunity to visit theatres in the West End. In 1944 the Governors of the Old Vic had successfully approached the Royal Navy to secure the release of Richardson and Olivier and as a result he : "Saw Richardson's Vanya, Falstaff and Cyrano, Olivier's Richard III, Hotspur and Astrov and Peggy Ashcroft as the Duchess of Malfi. It was still wartime and there was the danger of bombs, sometimes buzz-bombs or V2s. Nobody seemed to take any notice." The Times thought the Vanya was "the perfect compound of absurdity and pathos," the Astrov "a most distinguished portrait" and in Richard III, according to Billington, Olivier's triumph was absolute : "so much so, that it became his most frequently imitated performance and one whose supremacy went unchallenged until Antony Sher played the role forty years later."

Still only 15 in 1946 on a school trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, he was enchanted by the 21-year-old Peter Brook’s production of 'Love’s Labour’s Lost' and it made him decide he would like, one day, to run the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre himself.

In 1948 at the age of 18 he won an 'exhibition' and a county scholarship to read English at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, but was first called up for two years National Service as an aircraftman at West Kirby, Warwickshire, from whence he was posted to Germany, to teach economic and business management to RAF veterans in B├╝ckerburg. During his stay there he was impressed, when he saw first-hand evidence of the civic impact of arts subsidy. Perhaps, more importantly, at less than 20, having fallen in love with a "porcelain-faced member of the WRAF" he got himself engaged to be married and "I forced myself to think that a career in the theatre would not be wise for a young man about to marry, I resolved to become a teacher and settle down." 

Peter's engagement explains why, during his subsequent first two years at Cambridge, he held back, apart from the occasional acting stint and studied hard. He took on board the primacy of Shakespearean verse-speaking over scenic decoration recommended by the eminent don, George “Dadie” Rylands and, in addition, from FR Leavis he learned the importance of textual rigour and the moral power of art.

In his third year at Cambridge he blossomed. As a back-up, just in case his Forces romance foundered, which it duly did, he had secretly booked a theatre and chose Jean Anouilh's 'Points of Departure', an updating of the Orpheus legend, for his directorial debut at the ADC and recalled : "I do remember an almost physical sense of release and pleasure rehearsing a play. I thought this is what I want to do." In the cast as a fresher, Joan Rowlands, who was later better known as the journalist, Joan Bakewell, who said : "I remember him being very unobtrusive but yet very present. He didn't go for great expositions of Anouilh and his place in French culture or in drama or anything like that. He was very practical." 

He followed this with John Whiting's bleak and pessimistic 'Saint's Day', which was reviewed in the Daily Telegraph as : "Excellently handled by Peter Hall" who was complimented by the fact that the cast "play together like a team." At this point Peter, more or less abandoned his studies and threw himself into further productions of 'Uncle Vanya' and 'Love's Labour's Lost.' John Barton recalled that in a joint production of 'Romeo and Juliet' he undertook with Peter they had "Churchill sitting in the front row of the stalls with a copy of the first folio, glowering at us."

Peter relished the joy at being in a rehearsal room, making discoveries about a play-text and the exhilaration of  : “The actors, the director and everyone concerned take strength from each other and by working together, make themselves better, more perceptive and more talented than any of them knew they had it in them to be.”

Two weeks after graduating in 1953, and having directed more than 20 student productions, many of them for the Marlowe Society, he made his professional debut at the Theatre Royal, Windsor in 1953, directing Somerset Maugham's 'The Letter.' Then his undergraduate production of Pirandello’s 'Henry IV' was given a two-week London run at the Arts Theatre in London and subsequently he quickly made his name with productions of Lorca’s 'Blood Wedding' and Gide’s 'The Immoralist.' At the age of 24 he was offered the directorship of the Arts and so found himself running his own London theatre.

Eight months later came a key event in Peter's career: his own production of an experimental play written in French and then translated into English by an obscure Irish writer named Samuel Beckett. called 'Waiting for Godot.' At the time he didn't fully understand the significance of the play : "I remember it was highly original because of the idea of waiting as a metaphor of life. And I thought it was terribly funny and well written and had a marvellous rhythm to it. But I didn't say to myself : 'This is the epoch-changing play of the mid-century.' I simply thought: 'What a wonderful thing to do in a slack August'."

It established Beckett as a major playwright and Peter, alongside Peter Brook, as the most enterprising of a young generation of directors. The following year he sealed he secured his place at the theatre's top table by marrying the film actress Leslie Caron who in a memoir described him as : “tall, handsome, brilliant, charming, ambitious and beguiling.” 

Interviewed by Vogue and appearing on Panorama, the boy from the two-bedroomed terraced house in Bury St. Edmunds, educated in a war-torn and austerity-wracked post-war Britain had arrived.

Peter once said :
"I see my role as an interpreter. My job is to try to find out what the writer meant and then to try to find a means of conveying what he meant in terms that mean something to our audience. I don't believe in walking into a rehearsal room, saying 'here is the concept and we are going to force everything into it.' That is anti-creative and anti-art."

Monday, 11 September 2017

Britain is no longer a country, but Europe is a Continent, where old men live longer and longer.

Sir Michael Marmot, who is the Director of the Institute of Health Equity at University College London, is calling for the Government to make an immediate investigation into why a century of lengthening lives for old man and women in Britain has come to an end ? He raised the alarm in July over static life expectancies, pointing out that until 2010 old Britons were gaining a year of life every four years, but since then the rise had almost ground to a halt.

Could this be because life expectancy was nearing its natural limit ? Sir Michael, the author of a Government-ordered Report on 'Health Inequality' thinks not. He compared progress in Britain with that of other European countries, many of which already have longer life expectancies and found that the gap was getting wider, with growth in female life expectancy at birth the worst in Europe and male growth the second worst, according to the EU statistics body Eurostat.

Increase in life expectancy for old men from 2011 to 2015 in %
( actual life expectancy in years )

Writing in 'The Times' today, Sir Michael has warned : “Were this to keep up, we would soon become the sick man and woman of Europe. This is a new and worrying trend” and has written to Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, urging him to set up an inquiry into the slowdown. He said that “austerity is an obvious candidate”, with health and social care spending under pressure and real wage growth slower in Britain than in
any other country except Greece. He concedes, however, that there are clear counter-arguments. Many countries that cut health spending far deeper, including Spain, Portugal and Greece, are still doing better than Britain. Germany, which has been relatively unscathed by the economic downturn, is the only country where life expectancy has also stalled, but it should be borne in mind that it “had a major issue in incorporating East Germany where health was much worse.” He believes that : “It’s not going to be as simple as austerity leads to worse health. Greece has always stood out as a country with remarkably long life expectancy despite being relatively poor. It may be the diet in Greece.” 

Shirley Cramer, Chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health said : “When respected authorities such as Sir Michael Marmot raise the alarm about stalling life expectancy, the government needs to take notice. He is right to say this is an issue of more urgency than a winter bed crisis.”

                                                     * * * * * * * * * 
Tuesday, 18 July 2017
Britain is a country where most old men can no longer expect to live longer and longer

Friday, 1 September 2017

Britain is a country and no country for more and more old men with dementia, banged up in prison, who know not why they are there

The Mental Health Foundation has estimated the number of dementia sufferers at approximately 5% of those prisoners, most of them men, over 55 years of age. As dementia afflicts an ever-growing number of the population at large, the number of inmates with the disease is expected to reach 700 by 2020.

It is difficult to see how prison is an appropriate place to hold old men and more rarely, women, with dementia. They are prone to anxiety and confusion and their symptoms are particularly harsh in a setting where they are required to :
* snap to attention
* compete for resources
* stick to a routine

There can be little justification for keeping old men in prison in an expensive, overcrowded, high-security prison, who barely know where they are and are incapable of fulfilling the requirements for release.

What about the officers ?
Caring for inmates with dementia can be distressing for them as well as fellow prisoners. One officer called 'Smith' has said that he had such a prisoner on his wing. Overnight, every night, 'Jim' would forget that he was guilty of any crime and wake, expecting to be in his own bed, at home and every morning, Officer Smith had to allocate extra time to gently break the news to him, yet again, that he was in prison. Why. And for how long.

He said that it was deeply upsetting, not just for Jim, but for him, too : “Of course this prisoner should be punished for his crime, but his condition meant his punishment was many times worse than a prisoner without dementia. I ended up feeling that he was going through something closer to torture than to civilised punishment. It didn’t seem humane and it didn’t seem fair.”

If someone with dementia doesn’t know they are being punished, keeping them in prison seems pointless. Nick Hardwick is the Chair of the Parole Board for England and Wales and before this, between 2010 and 2016, he was the Chief Inspector of Prisons. During one inspection, he met an elderly sex offender, 'Brad', with dementia who, like Jim, wasn't clear that he was in prison and had been allocated another prisoner as a 'carer.'

He said of Brad, “He was one of few groups of older prisoners for whom you can say that being in prison is better than being on the outside. He had his basic needs met and had some companionship. Outside, he’d be on his own, deserted by family, and not receiving day-to-day help. But he didn’t really know he was in prison, so whether that’s an appropriate use of prison places, I don’t know.”

What has been Britain's response to this growing problem of more and more old men banged up in prison and suffering from dementia ? :

HMP Whatton, in Nottinghamshire, has a 'Dementia-Friendly Cell' with a large clock and clear signs and that is it.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Britain is no Kingdom for an old Prince called Charles Windsor

Queen Elizabeth II was born in 1926, is 91 years old and has been Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand since 6 February 1952.

Her eldest son Charles will be 69 years old in November and is, and has been, the 'heir apparent' of his Mother, the Queen for 65 years, which makes him the longest-serving heir apparent in British history.

It is no secret that Charles would like to be 'Prince Regent.' standing in for his mother as a prelude to being crowned as 'King Charles III' on her death, but, apparently, she has no intention of stepping aside for him and insists, according to sources close to her, it it is : “Duty first, nation first, I’m going to be there.” Claims that she will request that the Regency Act be implemented have been dismissed. Palace officials have not commented, but refer to the Queen’s pledge on her 21st birthday when she said : “I declare . . . that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.”

Britain’s last regency was from 1811 to 1820, when George III could not carry out his duties as King because of his brain condition, porphyria, and his dissolute son, George, ruled in his place.

Under the 1937 Regency Act, the monarch can cede power to the heir apparent 'in the event of incapacity of the Sovereign through illness, and for the performance of certain royal functions in the name and on behalf of the Sovereign in certain other events.'

Britain in 2017 : a country where an old Prince awaits to inherit a position he will neither earn nor necessarily desire, from an old Queen who is determined to hold on to a position she neither earned nor necessarily desired, but inherited from a father, George VI, who most certainly did not want to inherit, from his errant brother, Edward VIII, who was debarred from the throne by his devotion to a divorced, American commoner.


On top of all that, a recent ICM poll has revealed that 51% of people don't want Charles to be King anyway, and want his son, Prince William, to take over the position he will neither earn nor necessarily desires.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Britain is a country and no country for more and more old men banged up in old prisons

The number of men in prison in Britain over the age of 60 in 2016 had risen to a figure of over 4,000 and they made up almost 5% of the entire prison population. Collectively, this is what they would have resembled :

Prison time is harder to bear for old men than it is for younger, fitter men. Many report bullying, abuse, loneliness and isolation. Because they are quieter and less violent than other inmates, they tend to be forgotten. Yet the consequences of an ageing prison population in Britain is becoming impossible to ignore. With limited resources for rehabilitation and very few suitable hostels in the community, the prison system’s new role as provider of residential care for elderly men is creating a new problem : it’s getting harder to let them out.

Dave is a 68 year old recidivist. He was born a post- Second World War baby boomer in 1949. He had a hard childhood and left school without learning to read or write.

Dave was 13 when he got his first custodial sentence. It was 1962, the start of the 'Swinging 60s' and he had been caught stealing from cars. Dave could only look at manual labour to make a living but a back injury on a building site in his 20s meant he couldn’t do heavy work.

In 1974, he was arrested for violent disorder. He was 25; one of the lads. It was his first time in an adult prison. Dave said : “Prison was a place for young men. We were all in it together. There were some older prisoners, but not many. And ‘older’ meant someone in their 50s and 60s then. There were no really old men on the wings. Not like now.”

Dave repeatedly fell foul of the law. He thinks he was sentenced 14 or 15 times. He wasn’t always put away and on at least seven occasions, he was given a suspended sentence. Nevertheless, the crimes he committed escalated in seriousness until he was arrested for possession of a firearm with criminal intent when he was 54 in 2003 and was sentenced to life.

He suffered mentally from the heavy realisation that he had wasted his life in prison, an existence he also found physically brutal. He said younger inmates call older men like him "paedophiles." He was beaten up and had his cell set alight and his possessions burnt. Too weak to manage the stairs and unable to get one of the few cells on the ground floor because there were too many frail, old prisoners vying for them, he would spend day after day on his bed, watching TV. The hour allotted for exercise would be used up in the time it took him to get down the stairs to the yard, so he stopped trying.

Dave was released from prison in March this year after serving 14 years of a life sentence. He has no intention of going back. When he reflected on the way prison has changed since he received his first sentence over 50 years ago he said : “My God, prison has changed since my first time. There are loads of prisoners now who are my age and even older. I use walking sticks myself and have bad health, but there were loads of blokes there in a far worse state than me.”

Dave refers to the fact that the prison population is getting older :

* In the last 15 years, the number of prisoners over the age of 60 has tripled.
* The rate of octogenarians serving time has almost doubled in the last two years.
* There are now a dozen inmates in their 90s.
* There’s even one prisoner of 101.

The consequences of this are that :

* There are inmates with dementia who don’t know either why they are in prison, or how they got there.
* Sick and dying old men are taken to hospital in shackles, chained to prison officers.
* Terminally ill prisoners are kept waiting so long for compassionate release that they die in their cells before they get an answer

What has happened in Britain is that a combination of harsh sentencing policies and an ageing population has produced the startling effect that prisons are now one of the largest providers of residential care for frail, elderly men. Prisons have adjusted to this new role in a disorganised fashion, with inadequately trained officers struggling to cope with limited resources in buildings designed to hold healthy young men.

Most British were built in the Victorian era. These buildings have long corridors, lots of stairs, and bathrooms and doorways too narrow to admit wheelchairs, which means disabled inmates need assistance to get from their cell door to their bed. For those who cannot walk without assistance, or who are at risk of falling, taking a shower can be dangerous.

A 75-year-old, called 'Bill' who was released from prison this year has to use a walking frame. He said : “I couldn’t have showers because I was terrified of slipping. There was a step to get into the shower, which I couldn’t manage, but even if I could have, there was nothing to hold on to inside the shower and I’m just not that stable. I ended up not washing for weeks on end. Towards the end of my sentence, I had started to wet myself a bit, too. I told an officer but he just laughed and said it happens to us all as we age, so I often ended up trapped in my cell, dirty and smelly.”

Another prisoner, 67 year old 'George', who served 30 years of a life sentence and also released this year, has, in recent years used a wheelchair. He rarely left his cell and was dependent on friends to help him in and out of the wheelchair, and to bring him food at mealtimes and said : “It was like being buried alive.” Like many of the older prisoners who couldn’t move around freely, he was unable to attend the classes he needed in order to get parole and this, in turn, stretched out his prison stay even further. The important courses are oversubscribed, and the younger prisoners are better at getting signed up because they’re out and about in the prison. George said : “They know who to talk to to get their names on the list. We older prisoners are too timid and keep to our cells too much to elbow our way on to these courses. We just rot away in there.”

One of Dave’s friends in prison had, like him, a bad heart. When the man was dying, he was refused compassionate release. He was judged a security risk, even at the point of death. Prison doctors got a special bed moved into his cell, and his friends were allowed to sit with him and help turn him, or give him water. “He died a few days later,” Dave recalled. “He was past caring where he was, but we all felt it was brutal, dying in your cell. Like an animal. I’ve seen it happen a few times now, and I never got used to it.”

In Russia, the courts will not issue a life sentence to anyone over 60. Spanish prisons release inmates as a matter of course when they reach 80. The state of Louisiana recently passed a law to make it easier for non-violent prisoners over 60 to obtain parole hearings. Britain, by contrast, is a country where more and more old men are locked up, some of them dying. Here punishing cuts to social care for elderly people and to health and education, have meant there is little enthusiasm for spending scarce resources on older prisoners. At the same time, the right wing press is vigilant for any sign of leniency towards men convicted of appalling crimes, whatever the offender’s state of health let alone their age.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Britain is a country which fails to bid "Farewell" and pay tribute to the life's work of its old virologist, Geoffrey Schild

Geoffrey, who has died at the age of 81, has joined that pantheon of unsung old heroes of Britain whose passing has gone unremarked and whose achievements have been uncelebrated. There, he will rub shoulders with myrmecologist Cedric Collingwood, Royal Opera House Director, Paul Findlay and TV presenter, Michael Dean.

What Britain should revere is his lifetime spent in pursuit of increasing our armoury in the fight against infectious disease.

In his work on disease and in public health he had a special interest in virology research, vaccines and the standardization and control of biologicals. He was an inspiration to his many colleagues and to the young scientists he mentored, was enthusiastic about their interests, encouraged their research and displayed an eager commitment to communicate his profound interest in combating infectious disease and, in particular, influenza.

Flu jabs for the old and vulnerable and other 'at risk' groups are now taken for granted and we have completely forgotten that the three flu pandemics of the twentieth century killed millions of people world wide. Geoffrey did not forget and much of his work was directed towards creating effective flu vaccines against this potential killer.

Geoffrey was born in Sheffield four years before the outbreak of the Second World War in the Autumn of 1935, the son of Christopher and Georgina Schild. After leaving school at 18 he served his two years National Service in the Armed Forces he enrolled as a Science undergraduate at the University of Reading in 1958. He followed his graduation with his MSc and doctorate at the University of Sheffield. In 1961, at the age of 26, he married Norwegian, Tora Madland. The following year he began the first of his 5 year tenure at the University and a 'Lecturer in Virology' working under the remarkable Charles Stuart-Harris, who had been appointed as the first full time Professor of Medicine at Sheffield University and became and international authority on influenza and other virus infections. It is no surprise that Geoffrey started his own research career concentrating on influenza, polio and rhinoviruses. At the age of 41 he also collaborated with Charles in 1976 to publish 'Inluenza : The Viruses and the Disease,'

In the first months of 1957 Asian flu pandemic, the virus spread throughout China and surrounding regions. By midsummer it had reached the United States, where it appears to have initially infected relatively few people. Several months later, however, numerous cases of infection were reported, especially in young children, the elderly, and pregnant women. This upsurge in cases was the result of a second pandemic wave of illness that struck the Northern Hemisphere in November 1957. At that time the pandemic was also already widespread in the United Kingdom. By December a total of some 3,550 deaths had been reported in England and Wales. The second wave was particularly devastating, and by March 1958 an estimated 69,800 deaths had occurred in the United States. In fact, the 1957-58 pandemic was responsible for one million deaths around the world and 33,000 in Britain. Earlier in the 20th century the 1918-19 outbreak of Spanish flu, seventeen years before Geoffrey was born, killed 50 million around the globe and 250,000 in Britain.

By the time of the outbreak of Hong Kong flu in 1968-69 killed 30,000 people in Britain, Geoffrey, who was 33 at the time, had been working for a year as 'Staff Scientist at the National Institute Medical Research,' London, a position he would continue to occupy until 1975.

He served as the 'Director World Influenza Centre,' based at Mill Hill, from 1970-1975, where he and his colleagues pioneered work to develop a unified system of nomenclature for influenza viruses and the development of an 'influenza vaccine potency assay' which remains the international gold standard to this day. In 1972 he said : "At one time, vaccines were really bad. They just weren't potent enough." By this time they were offering protection rates of between 50 to 70%.

In 1981 at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, which he directed from 1985-2002, he said that he was optimistic that a second generation of polio vaccines could be made, which might be safer than traditional drugs. Working with colleagues he was separating the nucleotide building blocks which made up the genetic material of the polio virus after first cutting it up with enzymes.

It is not surprising that, in 1987, Geoffrey became the 'Director Medical Research Council Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome Research Programme'. AIDS had been highlighted as the new killer disease of the 1980s and in 1987 he stated : "We should underestimate the scientific implications of a vaccine against HIV. There is no cast-iron evidence that antibodies to the envelope are helpful and we have to cope with virus variation." The following year he announced that trials would take place to evaluate vaccines. He said : "This might be seen as clinical research to see how human beings respond to HIV antigens and generating critical information vital for further development of vaccines."

By the time Geoffrey gave evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology's meeting on 'Vaccines' as the 'Director National Institute Biological Standards and Control', in 1998. In relation to his work on AIDS, he and his colleagues had worked on the evaluation of vaccines for Britain and he told the Committee that the prospects for further vaccines over the long term were good. He said that advances in gene sequencing, molecular biology and immunology and the production of monoclonal antibodies were opening up new possibilities. He was able to report, in relation to HIV : "We know an enormous amount about the organism itself, but we still have no effective design for a vaccine. There are however a number of candidate vaccines under investigation"

7Geoffrey worked against a background where 'vaccination' had been one of the great medical successes of the 20th century. Britain had all but eliminated diphtheria, tetanus and measles and reduced TB, mumps, Rubella and whooping cough. The new 'Hib' vaccine is was highly effective against Haemophilus influenzae type B, formerly one of the chief causes of meningitis. Most spectacularly, vaccination had apparently eradicated smallpox worldwide and had almost eradicated polio. He was upbeat about the future and said : "The United Kingdom is in an excellent position to take an international lead in vaccine development. We have a very comfortable way of working with industry, which does not create conflicts of interest."

His achievements received peer recognition in the form of Fellowships of the :

- UK Academy of Medical Sciences,
- Royal College of Physicians in London
- Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh
- Royal College of Pathologists
- UK Institute of Biology
and by an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of Sheffield

In 1993 he was awarded the honour of CBE for 'Services to Science.'

Ever the realist, Geoffrey knew that medical research depended on money and the main source of money came from the pharmaceutical companies that had an interest in producing vaccines. Twenty-nine years ago speaking about the programme he led at the Medical Research Council, directed at research into AIDS he said, referring to the contract with Wellcome and Celltech and another with the pharmaceuticals company, Glaxo, to develop antiviral drugs :
"We have signed eight collaborative agreements with industry and are having discussions on a further nine."

Geoffrey may have been born in the first half of the 20th century, but he had his feet securely anchored in the world that funded and drove the fight against infection in the late 20th and early 21st century.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Britain is a country where far fewer young men in the North of England can expect to become old men compared to those in the South

Published in the 'Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health' by Iain Buchan, Professor in Public Health Informatics at the University of Manchester and his colleagues is a study of population data which tells a Tale of Two Englands.

It showed that once factors, including age, population size and sex were taken into account, in 1965, of the young men and women in England who were between the ages of 25 and 34, those that lived in the North, comprising the North East, North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, East Midlands and West Midlands, 8% more of them died than their counterparts in the South, consisting of the East, South East, South West and London. These were the young men and women born between 1931 and 1940, who had spent their formative years in the Second World War. If they are still alive today, they would be in their late 70s to early 80s and so there would be proportionately less of these old men and women in the North compared to the South.

However, thirty years later, by 1995, the situation had improved for those aged 25-34 and at that time the number of deaths for those in the North was only 2.2% above the those in the South. These young men and women were the Post-Second World War baby boomers who had been born between 1951 and 1960 and grew up in the more affluent late 50's and 60's at a time when both political parties, Labour and Conservative, without question, embraced the Welfare State.

By 2015, the picture was dramatically different and of the 25-34 year olds, 29,3% more of those in the North died compared to their counterparts in the South. They spent their formative years in the last decade of the twentieth century. When this cohort embrace old age in their sixties and seventies in the 2040s - 2050s, those who began their lives in Britain in the North will be much thinner on the ground than those in the South.

For the 35-44 cohort the differences are even more startling with he number of deaths almost 21% higher in the North in 1965, falling to just 3.3% higher in 1995 before rising to almost 50% higher than the South in 2015.

In total, since 1965, about 1.2 million more people have died before the age of 75 in the North of England than in the South, taking into account differences in population.

Professor Buchan has said : "A new approach is required, one that must address the economic and social factors that underpin early deaths, especially in younger populations and one that focuses on rebalancing the wider economy to help drive investment in Norther towns and cities."

Richard Wilkinson, co-founder of the 'Equality Trust' and Emeritus Professor of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, said he was not surprised by the results, pointing out that inequalities rose during the 1980s. He said that austerity was making the North-South divide worse and : “The main cuts are to the cities, the labour areas, which need money most.” 

The parents of children in the North today should fear not for their future life chances as the young men and women of tomorrow since a Government spokeswoman has said : “The causes of health inequalities are highly complex but we are taking action by addressing the root social causes, promoting healthier lifestyles and improving the consistency of National Health Services etc. This Government is committed to creating a society where everybody gets the opportunity to make a success of their hard work - regardless of where they are from.”

That should help them sleep easier in their beds.