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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 June 16; 334(7606): 1278.
PMCID: PMC1892486

Miles Weatherall

Leading pharmacologist in academia and industry

Miles Weatherall's life spanned four fifths of the 20th century. He occupied prominent positions in both academic life and on the research side of the pharmaceutical industry. After schools in the Oxford area, Weatherall studied medicine at Oriel College on a course that was often threatened with being shortened after the onset of war. In the event, due to delicate ingenuity in interpreting hastily prepared wartime regulations by his tutor, Professor K J Franklin, he did a BSc in pharmacology by thesis in 1941, a year before he studied this subject in the medical course. Immediately after qualifying in 1943, Professor Franklin summoned Weatherall to do a hush-hush report reading the literature and preparing a report on mepacrine, which had been invented in Germany before the war and was thought useful against malaria. This was to be in strict secrecy and was wanted by the malarial research unit set up by the army in Oxford. Weatherall could not believe that the War Office hadn't thought of this before and mused that perhaps the job had been done five times over, each time so secretly that no one had ever heard the outcome. Thirty years later he came back to mepacrine when at the Wellcome, finding his 1943 report quite handy.

A house job at the Hammersmith Hospital was followed by the unexpected news from the War Office that Weatherall was regarded as unfit for military service due to a suspected peptic ulcer which was to inconvenience him for much of his professional life. With a grant from the Medical Research Council he started pharmacological research in Edinburgh under Professor J H Gaddum. This became a lectureship and Weatherall was encouraged to apply for a similar post at The London Hospital but here he would have the responsibility of beginning a new department. This was a challenge, but introducing new departments to a traditional teaching hospital was an uphill task, perhaps particularly in those days. After some deliberation, the challenge was accepted in 1949. A thriving forward looking department was established. Academic posts, as opposed to purely research appointments, enabled Weatherall to become more broadly involved in general scientific education. His department developed stimulating seminars that were attended by many outside the boundaries of pharmacology.

This educational interest resulted in a textbook jointly with L Bernstein on Statistics for Medical and Other Biological Students published in 1952, a book at least a quarter of a century before its time so far as medical education was concerned. There were popular (in both senses) books on Scientific Method, published by English Universities Press in 1968, and, long after he retired, In Search of a Cure: a History of Pharmaceutical Discovery. He was made professor of pharmacology in the University of London in 1958. He retained his youthful looks and, when examining at the Royal College of Physicans, was once sent by the front porter into the examinees' waiting room. But academic life in an emerging department had its disadvantages when the going became tougher and Weatherall moved to the Wellcome Research Laboratories at Beckenham, Kent, in 1967 as head of the therapeutic research division, becoming director of establishment in 1974.

After retirement in 1979, Weatherall at last had time to cultivate the Cotswold garden in Charlbury, a family home that he had managed to keep throughout his career in Edinburgh and London. Retirement brought a number of new educational activities, including work at Chelsea College and the preparation of an index for the first 38 volumes of the journal Medical History (published between 1957 and 1994). This was published as a book of 210 pages by the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in 1996. He wrote several novels and A Weatherall Memoir of over 650 pages in 2006; all published privately. He maintained a lifetime interest in railways. He was proud to have been elected to the committee of the Wine Society, where he served from 1964 to 1972. This allowed him to combine his interest in fine wine with the need for objective assessment (blind tastings). In his last years he was largely housebound devotedly looking after his wife, Jo, during her illnesses; after 62 years of marriage, she predeceased him by a few months (see next obituary). By this time his own health was failing; Miles Weatherall died peacefully at home on 8 March 2007. Three daughters and seven grandchildren survive him.

Miles Weatherall, professor of pharmacology, London University, and director of establishment, Wellcome Research Laboratories (b 1920; q Oxford 1943; BSc, MA, DM, DSc, FI Biol), died from ischaemic heart disease on 8 March 2007.

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