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Arnold Heyworth Beckett (Death notice)

Arnold Heyworth Beckett,  FRPharmS died on 25 January 2010

See Memorial service

On 25 January 2010, Arnold Heyworth Beckett,  FRPharmS, aged 89, of 20 Braybrooke Gardens, Foxhill, London SE19 2UN.

Professor Beckett registered in 1941.

Arnold Beckett, OBE, was a former president of the Pharmaceutical Society, having held office in 1981–82, and served on the Council continuously from 1965 until 1990. From 1959, he was head of the Chelsea School of Pharmacy, a position he held for over 30 years.

Together with Albert Burger, in 1958 he was appointed co-editor of the Journal of Medicinal and Pharmaceutical Chemistry. His publications on the relationship between stereochemistry and analgesic action were classics and were extremely influential.

His work on drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics, on the chemistry of natural products and on the early use of gas-liquid chromatography and other analytical techniques led to him being one of the top 1,000 most frequently cited scientific authors from 1965 to 1978. And his pharmaceutical chemistry textbooks, co-authored with the late John B. Stenlake, are familiar to countless pharmacy graduates.

In 1965, the International Cycling Association invited him to carry out drug tests on competitors in the Milk Race. The Olympics Committee heard of his work and as a result Professor Beckett was eventually to become internationally renowned for his work related to drugs in sport.

He was at various times a member of the medical commissions of the Commonwealth Games and of the British and International Olympics Committees. He was also a member of the medical panel of the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA).

In the course of his career Professor Beckett was the recipient of many British awards, including the Society’s Hanbury Memorial medal in 1974 and its Charter gold medal in 1977, and a number of foreign ones, including the Scheele medal of the University of Stockholm, the STAS medal of the Belgian Chemical Society, the “Au Soulagement de L’Humanité” medal of the University of Paris and the silver medal of the Hungarian Pharmaceutical Society.

His international standing was assured through his presidency of the board of pharmaceutical sciences at the International Pharmaceutical Federation in the 1970s. FIP awarded him the Høst-Madsen award, its highest pharmaceutical sciences award, in 1982.

Tributes

ALAN CASY writes: As a member of Arnold’s first research group formed in September 1951 at Chelsea Polytechnic (which included Bryan Mulley, Ken Kerridge, Norman Harper, John Walker, Hugh Tinley and Geoff Jolliffe), I have much reason to be moved and reminiscent on learning of his recent death. He was my former mentor and I was the first of his research group to gain a PhD degree.

I have many memories of Arnold, not only as an inspired teacher and leader, but also as a walking companion on Youth Hostel Association tours of the Lake District led by Ken Fell — an ex-Bevin Boy from Barrow-in-Furness. Publications about the Bevin Boys even include photographs of the young Beckett in shorts.

There is no doubt that he and the late John Stenlake (PJ, 29 April 2006, p519), former colleagues at 17 Bloomsbury Square, were prime movers in stimulating the research activities of British schools of pharmacy and extending the scope and fields of medicinal chemistry.

 

ROBERT WOODWARD writes: Having been one of Professor Beckett’s first PhD students at Chelsea in 1959 I have many memories of him. However, it was later that our paths crossed in two major battles with bureaucrats.

He was always proud of the fact that he had failed the Civil Service examination in his youth, claiming to have too open a mind to pass, but it was probably his maverick approach that did not fit him for
Whitehall. He made frequent overseas visits and his students often had to work for weeks at a time without contact with their tutor — great freedom, but it could be frustrating when he had set you off on a false trail.

Arnold was fêted much more in Africa and Asia than in the UK. He used to regale his students with vivid accounts of his contacts on those continents and I well remember one anecdote of his arrival at an Asian destination, describing his welcome as, “I descended the steps of the aircraft, a garland was placed around my neck and I made a speech.”

The adoration of his followers was what he loved, many being former research students. He helped them gain places at Chelsea and that enabled him to build a vast quantity of published papers and becoming possibly one of the most frequently quoted authors in scientific journals.

In 1974 I called on the aid of Arnold to fight the excessive zeal of the newly empowered Medicines Inspectorate. He was brilliant and quickly grasped the huge problems that the Medicines Act 1968 was causing small manufacturing companies, seeing the disproportionate methods of the bureaucrats in their pursuit of people who had little resource to fight them.

He favoured the aims of the Act but deplored the fact that in selecting minnows for attack the officials seemed to have lost sight of preventing real disasters, such as thalidomide, recurring. Arnold helped us with both the tribunal hearing and a prosecution and it was thanks to him the cases proved worthwhile for my company and brought about a change in the attitude of the authorities. The castigation of the inspectorate by a magistrate brought a champagne celebration back at the office.

Some 16 years later I attended a pre-Olympics sports medicine congress in Barcelona, which Arnold attended through his interest and pre-eminence in detecting drug misuse in sport. I made contact and took him to dinner. Thinking his interests lay in the mainstream of drug design and delivery I was surprised that, when I regaled him with the merits of alternative health care, he responded positively.

At the time I had become embroiled in another dispute with the authorities which involved diet, vitamin supplementation and children’s school performance — a controversial area. On his next visit to London I gave Arnold all the background to the dispute. Without hesitation he agreed to join me in the fight.

We lost on two minor technicalities but were congratulated on our research efforts by the magistrate. Arnold was bitterly disappointed but we had no resources for an appeal, the fines were the minimum possible and the moral victory was ours.

Arnold continued his interest in alternative health care and subsequently advised several companies in that field. The last time I met him he was convinced that a company he was advising would achieve a product licence for a propolis (Bee glue) preparation. I told him that he would not succeed but, ever the optimist, he took no notice.

Luckily, having retired I shall never require his passion to help me fight similar injustices. I am afraid that we lost touch but I will never forget him.

Pharmacy is unlikely to be privileged to have such a son again.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 10993945

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