Lives of the fellows

Sir Frank Hartley

b.5 Jan 1911 d.26 Jan 1997
Kt(1977) CBE(1970) BSc Lond(1936) PhD(1941) Hon DSc Warwick(1978) Hon FRCP(1979) Hon LLD Strathclyde(1980) Hon FRCS(1980) Hon FRSC(1981) Hon LLD Lond(1987) CChem FRPharmS

Frank Hartley was a distinguished industrial and academic pharmacist who began his career as an apprentice in a pharmacy in Nelson, Lancashire, became vice-chancellor of the University of London and was knighted for his services to his profession. He was made an honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1979; later the surgeons similarly honoured him. The Pharmaceutical Journal of October 1930, recording the young Hartley’s success in an open scholarship competition, wrote prophetically: "this is indeed a prosperous opening to what we are convinced is bound to be a notable career in pharmacy." The future dean of the School of Pharmacy of the University of London (from 1962 to 1976) had just won the prestigious Jacob Bell scholarship.

At first he wanted to become a school teacher, but deafness in one ear (which some might nowadays consider an advantage for a teacher) lost him his bursary. A school-master suggested pharmacy. Hartley began his three year apprenticeship in Nelson, then, and indeed until the 1950s, the mode of entry to the profession. Long apprenticeship hours were the order of the day, coupled with evening study at college. He passed what was known then as the ‘preliminary scientific examination’ for pharmacy while entering and winning a variety of scholarships open to budding pharmacists. These involved examinations in chemistry, physics, pharmacy and botany, an English essay and translations to and from Latin, French or German, which would terrify the modern undergraduate. Frank Hartley’s career would give full reign to his talents.

He was destined to practice in a broader context than the confines of a dispensary would allow. The pattern of work and study was now ingrained. Qualifying first as a ‘chemist and druggist’ and then study at the Pharmaceutical Society’s School of Pharmacy in Bloomsbury Square (the forerunner of the School at Brunswick Square that he was later to head) led to his pharmaceutical chemist diploma. A medallist in nearly all his subjects he became a demonstrator at the School, during which time he graduated in 1936 from nearby Birkbeck College with a BSc with first class honours in chemistry. Many of his generation of academic pharmacists took a similar route after qualifying in pharmacy, including Arnold Beckett, John Stenlake, Vernon Askam and others who went on to mainly research and academic careers.

Under W H Linnell at ‘the Square’, he obtained his PhD in pharmaceutical chemistry. He was then appointed as a lecturer in pharmaceutical chemistry at the outbreak of war. At the age of twenty nine he became chief chemist of Organon laboratories in the UK, whose parent company had fallen under German control in the Netherlands.

During the war the Therapeutic Research Corporation was charged with the responsibility of maximizing penicillin production and initiating research into other antibiotics. Hartley was appointed its full time secretary and acted as secretary of the Ministry of Supply’s penicillin committee, the latter until 1946 when he joined British Drug Houses (BDH) as its director of drugs, where he was involved in the development by Petrow and his team of the early oral contraceptives, such as dimethisterone and megestrol acetate. At the memorial service, his elder son, Frank Hartley, vice-chancellor of Cranfield University, said that his father had later regretted his involvement in this work because of the impact that the ‘pill’ had on sexual behaviour. His conscience should have been clear because BDH failed to market their oral contraceptive because of the problem of unacceptable side-effects.

This experience no doubt had an impact on his role as a member of the committee on safety of drugs years later, and then on the medicines commission. With his background it was natural that he should be part of the system of drug regulation. He was involved with two important related commissions, on the prevention of microbial contamination of medicinal products, and the ‘Devonport’ enquiry into contaminated infusion fluids which followed from a number of patient deaths. He worked tirelessly for the British Pharmacopoeia (BP), and was chairman of the BP commission for some time. Throughout the world the letters BP after a drug name signified its impeccable credentials of quality, the underpinning of safety and sometimes efficacy.

He had returned to academia in 1962, as dean of ‘the Square’ which was now in its new premises in Brunswick Square, still in Bloomsbury. There he served on many external and University committees. He excelled as a chairman, having always mastered the issues involved, though apparently he sometimes used the technique of lengthy introductions and summing up to defeat any opposition. No doubt his deaf ear helped too. His chemical credentials propelled him into the presidency of the Royal Institute (now Society) of Chemistry from 1965 to 1967.

Elected deputy vice-chancellor of London in 1973, he was made vice-chancellor of the University in 1976, shortly thereafter demitting office as dean of‘the Square’. Throughout this period in academia he was active outside the University, on advisory committees, serving on the boards of governors and finance committees and councils of a wide array of bodies, including the British Postgraduate Medical Federation, the British Council for the Prevention of Blindness, Kingston Polytechnic, the Royal Free Hospital and St Thomas’s Medical Schools, and he was still an adviser to overseas universities long after retirement. Frank’s wife Lydia, who supported him in all his endeavours, predeceased him by a few months.

A T Florence

[The Times, 25 Feb 1997; The Independent, 19 Feb 1997]

(Volume X, page 204)

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