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Tribute for Robert Blyth

Robert Blyth was a tough nut. He had to be. Editing a journal for a professional body is no easy task. Even though it has been the policy for many years that The Pharmaceutical Journal should have editorial freedom, it was not a policy that all Council members went along with and not a few of them created trouble of one sort or another. (The Society was governed by a Council, not an Assembly, in those days.) Luckily, Robert managed to ensure that there was never a majority of Council members against him, which says a lot for his political nous. He was always very fair-minded, though, which helped his cause enormously.

I too, like Robert, had aspirations after qualifying to become a journalist. I was lucky enough to be given a job on The Pharmaceutical Journal by him and had the good fortune to work with him for more than 20 years. He changed the course of my life.

Robert — I hesitate to use his first name because for all the time that I was on the staff with him he was “Mr Blyth” to me — was certainly not an aloof character. He worked closely with all the publication’s journalists and, from the beginning, he would call me in and go through something I had written, helping me to express myself clearly or to edit material in a sympathetic way. “Whatever you do with someone else’s article do not make it worse,” he said.

He introduced me to the arcane world of The Pharmaceutical Journal’s style – when to use capital letters, how to spell a particular word when there are alternatives, how to set out a date, how measures of weight and volume are abbreviated and so on — which to us journalists is just as important as grammar.

Robert was careful in both his appearance — he was invariably immaculately dressed in a suit and tie — and in his approach to his work. He was always conscious of the need to maintain The Pharmaceutical Journal’s reputation for accuracy. “When reporting someone stick to their words.” “If in doubt, leave it out.” These were phrases he often used.

Robert’s words of wisdom often had a general application. “Never put in writing something you would not want to see in print” — a good many people in public life would have done well to take heed of that.

He saw it as important that The Pharmaceutical Journal should provide a platform for members and published as many of their letters as possible. Wording was left alone so long as it made sense. “People should be allowed to express themselves in their own way,” he said.

Having said that, a little judicious steering of vocabulary took place. “Retail pharmacy” was invariably changed to “community pharmacy”, the term now in common use. In the interests of style, of course.

Robert was extremely competitive. He did not want the opposition to beat us. He would go through the latest issue of our main rival, Chemist & Druggist, looking for stories that we had not had, marking each offending page with a paper clip. I worked for the most part on the news side of The Pharmaceutical Journal and would try to keep the paper clip count as low as possible.

I took over from Robert when he retired at the end of 1986. I made a point of keeping in contact with him and seeking his advice. I started to call him “Robert”, and “the boss” became a good friend.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.20067296

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