Lives of the fellows

Alexander (Sir) Haddow

b.18 January 1907 d.21 January 1976
Kt(1966) MB ChB Edin(1929) PhD(1937) MD(1937) DSc(1938) FRS(1958) FRSE(1961) FRCP*(1968) Hon Dsc Edin(1968)

Alex Haddow was born at Leven in Fifeshire, but while still an infant his family moved to Broxburn, West Lothian, a shale mining town, where his father, William Haddow, was the landlord of the Green Tree Tavern, and his mother, Margaret Docherty, who had been in domestic service, was the daughter of a coachman.

Young Haddow did well at his local school and the Academy, but his interest in medicine resulted from his admiration for the local practitioner, Alexander Scott (1875—1956), an impressive character, who had looked after Alex in two serious illnesses and incidentally had written an excellent report on shale miners’ occupational cancer.

Haddow graduated from Edinburgh in 1929 and was house physician to Murray Lyon, but had already determined on a career in cancer research. TJ Mackie was looking for an assistant to work on tumour immunology, so Haddow was appointed as assistant lecturer in bacteriology, also to a Davidson research fellowship, which was followed by a Laura de Saliceto studentship.

His first paper (1933) was on the morphology of certain fish neoplasms, followed by work on various experimental neoplasms, but in 1935 he made the significant observation, sometimes known as the ‘Haddow phenomenon’, that carcinogenic hydrocarbons inhibit the growth of implanted tumours, whereas structurally similar but non-carcinogenic compounds lack this growth inhibiting property.

It was clear that Haddow’s enthusiasm for experimental oncology could not be satisfied in a department of bacteriology, with a heavy teaching and diagnostic load, so in 1936 he moved to London to the Research Institute of the Royal Cancer Hospital. It was in this Institute that Sir Ernest Kennaway, with his research team, was studying the synthetic and naturally occurring polycyclic hydrocarbons, initially identified as the carcinogenic constituent of tar; but Sir Ernest was struggling against Parkinsonism and his caustic humour and intolerance rendered it an unhappy department, with jealousies and suspicions amongst the staff. It was in this atmosphere that Haddow continued to study the growth inhibiting and other biological effects of carcinogenic agents, chiefly working with his former Scottish colleagues.

In 1943, stimulated by Charles Huggins’ work on the hormonal treatment of prostatic cancer, he became interested in cancer chemotherapy, and collaborated with Edith Paterson of Manchester in a study of possible hormonal inhibiting effects on breast cancer and other tumours.

In spite of the tense relationship with the director, Haddow’s enthusiasm and idealistic outlook was having an effect on the Institute and when, in 1946, Sir Ernest Kennaway retired, there was general agreement that Alex should become director of the Chester Beatty Institute, as it had become, and he was also appointed professor of experimental pathology in the University of London.

Not only was there a change in atmosphere at the Chester Beatty, but of philosophy; collaboration with other Institutes, even industrial laboratories, was encouraged. It was the work on urethane with Dr Sexton of Imperial Chemical Industries that led to its recognition as a therapeutic agent in leukaemia and myelomatosis, while collaboration with Haddow’s own colleagues on 4-amino-stilbene brought about the introduction of the chemotherapeutic agents myeleran, chlorambucil and melphalan.

However, the breadth of the Institute’s activities - the research station at Pollard’s Wood, the creation of the Institute of Cancer Research, cooperation with the clinical research departments - all meant less and less time for bench work, in spite of the fantastic hours that Haddow worked. So his papers tended to become admirable reviews or critical essays, but Alex was always accessible to every member of the Institute and knew precisely what was going on, their excitements and their worries.

His work was universally recognized - he became FRS in 1958, and received many other honours both at home and abroad. From 1962 until 1966, as president of the International Union against Cancer, he travelled widely, proving an admirable ambassador for the needs and achievements in the cancer campaign. Sir Alexander Haddow — he was knighted in 1966 — did not restrict his endeavours to the world of cancer. He served as chairman, or on the council, of the Society of Visiting Scientists, the Press Council, the Science Consultative Group of the BBC, the Ciba Foundation, and the Association for World Government, from which the Pugwash Movement evolved, but he lost enthusiasm for these two latter bodies as they broke into differing political factions.

Unhappily Sir Alex’s intellectual drive was impeded by the physical disabilities of diabetes; rapidly failing sight necessitated his retirement from the directorship in 1969, and he soon became totally blind - the first shock of which he met with astonishing courage, taking the chair at a scientific committee without revealing his sudden, total incapacity. Nevertheless, as was understandable, Haddow became overwhelmed with feelings of bitterness and disappointment, but as the strain and exhaustion of the last few years receded, with the support of his wife Feo, and many blind friends, he regained his equanimity. The Institute had given him the Lodge at his beloved Pollard’s Wood, the research station near Chalfont St Giles, and here he continued to write and prepare lectures, which were magnificently delivered. He gave the opening address at the 10th International Cancer Congress at Houston, Texas, before a vast unseen audience; the Karnofsky lecture; the presidential address at the initial meeting of the Oncology section of the Royal Society of Medicine, and for the Sidney Farber award; while Perspectives in Biology and Medicine published some remarkable essays written in his last few years, though his unfinished autobiography remains in typescript.

Sir Alex was a complex personality. To his colleagues and staff he was kindly, and generous to a fault, indeed there was some criticism of his laissez-faire attitude for the Institute, though he believed that research workers should find their own pace and their own problems. On the other hand, he was very jealous of his directorial rights and responsibilities, and would brook no interference from outside, whether professional or administrative; over the years there were many personality clashes, but he bore no grudges. In his leisure, when he allowed himself to find it, he was a listener rather than a talker, appreciative of good food and wine and the fine arts, while his opportunity to visit many countries and peoples delighted his natural curiosity.

Sir Alexander Haddow was twice married. In 1932 to Lucia Black of Castle Douglas, a medical practitioner and daughter of a master mariner, and they had one son born in 1937. Lady Haddow died in 1968 when ill-health was overwhelming Alex, but more than a year later he married an old Scottish friend, Feo Standing, a widow with two children, who proved a wonderful companion and support during the years of his ebbing strength.

AHT Robb-Smith

* Elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature.."

[Biogr.Mem.Roy.Soc., 1977, 23, 133;, 1976, 1, 287. 408, 470; Lancet, 1976, 1, 260; Nature (Lond) 1976, 260, 179; Times, 22 Jan 1976; UICC Bulletin, 1976, 14, 6; Canc. Res., 1974, 34, 3159-3164]

(Volume VII, page 236)

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