Lives of the fellows

Christopher Howard (Sir) Andrewes

b.7 June 1896 d.31 December 1988
Kt( 1961) MRCS LRCP( 1921) MB B Lond(l921) MD(1922) MRCP(1923) FRCP(1935) FRS(1939) Hon LLD Aberd(1963) Hon MD Lund(1968)

Christopher Andrewes was an internationally known medical virologist who spent most of his working life in full-time research as a member of the staff of the Medical Research Council.

He was born in London, the son of Sir Frederick William Andrewes, a pathologist at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, and a Fellow of the College [Munk's Roll, Vol.IV,p.376]. His mother, Phyllis Mary Hamer, came from a publishing family.

Christoper Andrewes was educated at Highgate School and studied medicine at Bart’s, where he received gold medals on graduation, and also for his MD two years later. He was on the medical professorial unit until 1927, with a two year break as an assistant physician at the Rockefeller Institute Hospital, New York.

He served in the RNVR during the first world war, and in the second he worked in the EMS laboratory service, the forerunner of our public health laboratory service. However, most of the time he worked at the National Institute for Medical Research, first at Hampstead and then at Mill Hill, where he became head of the division of virology and bacteriology. He was deputy director of the Institute from 1953 until he retired in 1961. In 1946 he founded the common cold unit at Salisbury, which he directed as part of his division. The unit became internationally known scientifically and was widely supported by the British public, so that by the time it closed its doors in 1989 over 18,000 volunteer inoculations had been made in the course of over 1000 separate 10-day trials. During his time as director important observations were made on the spread of colds, and the first steps in culturing and identifying the causal viruses.

Andrewes’ opinion on a range of virological topics was much valued. He was a member of various scientific committees and of the governing body of the Animal Virus Research Institute, Pirbright. He gave an Oliver-Sharpey lecture on viruses in relation to tumours, 1934, and a Leeuwenhoek lecture for the Royal Society on the place of viruses in nature (1952). He was also invited to lecture abroad.

In 1939 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society and was on the council from 1945-47. He was knighted in 1961.

Christopher Andrewes was characteristically seen in a tweed jacket, white hair rather dishevelled, his ruddy face expressing interest, puzzlement, concentration, or fun - never boredom. In spite of his medical training his research was in many ways an expression of his lifelong interest in natural history. He cited this as his main hobby, but in fact he reached a professional standard as an entomologist. He, with Smith [Munk's Roll, Vol.V.p.385] and Laidlaw [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.236], discovered the human influenza A virus in 1933, and in the following years he studied the spread of the virus around the world and, through the work of the World Influenza Centre in his department, began to work out the properties of each of the new viruses as they appeared and swept across the world. He also made important contributions to virus taxonomy and was involved in international discussions to get agreement on the proper approach to the subject, and then on the grouping and naming of viruses.

Although Andrewes was never an official teacher he had great influence as a communicator. He gave excellent scientific papers and lectures, and generated lively and penetrating discussions both in international fora and at the bench. Members of his staff, and many visitors to the laboratory, were benefited. For many years he enlivened the meetings of the Medical Research Club in London and was a founder of the informal virus group, which subsequently became one of the most dynamic and influential sections of the Society of General Microbiology. His department was probably the best of the small group of virus research laboratories in action after the war and it made an important contribution to the later flowering of British virology. He also wrote books on viruses for the general public, who received them well.

Christopher Andrewes was a warm family man and took great care of and interest in his three sons, two of whom became general practitioners. As well as taking his children on country walks, he would invite his staff out too. Indeed it was expected that the recently recruited science graduates would accompany him each morning on his fortnightly visits to the common cold unit along the nearby drove road. They learned to recognize the birds and the flowers and, if they were wise, absorbed something of his schoolboy enthusiasm for the life history of respiratory viruses and the biology of their reactions with cells. Until he was 90 he continued to be interested in his laboratory ‘family’, who came down one by one to visit him and his wife at his chalet bungalow in a village near Salisbury. His wife, Kathleen Lamb, whom he had married in 1927, predeceased him. He was survived by his three sons.

DAJ Tyrell

[The Times, 2 Jan 1989; The Independent, 4 & 11 Jan 1989; The Guardian, 9 Jan 1989; Brit.med.J., 1989,298,180]

(Volume VIII, page 8)

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