Lives of the fellows

Norman Gerald Horner

b.1 January 1882 d.7 March 1954
BA Cantab(1902) MB BCh Cantab(1910) MA Cantab(1919) MD Cantab(1922) MRCS LRCP(1906) *FRCP(1939) FRCS(1942)

Norman Gerald Horner, son of Arthur Claypon Horner and Frances, daughter of Edward Yalden Cooper, was born at Tonbridge, Kent, where his father was in general practice and medical officer to Tonbridge School. Horner showed an early taste for journalism during his schooldays at Tonbridge, from which he went to Caius College, Cambridge, and then to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. After qualification he was for a short time house surgeon at the Westminster Hospital, returning later to Bart’s as house physician to his godfather, Sir Norman Moore.

He edited the St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Journal, and subsequently wrote for the Hospital, edited by Sir Henry Burdett, to whom Horner was eventually assistant. He combined these literary activities with interludes of general practice and clinical assistantships at Bart’s and at the Children’s Hospital in Shadwell.

But the attractions of journalism proved too strong, and in 1911 he joined the staff of The Lancet as assistant editor under Squire Sprigge, who had succeeded to the editorship in 1920. For The Lancet he attended the stormy Representative meetings of the British Medical Association that preceded the introduction of Lloyd George’s National Health Insurance Act, and by a curious coincidence his term of office as editor of the British Medical Journal ended in the year 1946, when Aneurin Bevan’s National Health Service Act was put on the Statute Book.

Not long after the outbreak of the First World War Horner took a temporary commission in the R.A.M.C, and was in France for two years. In 1917 he returned to England to become assistant editor of the British Medical Journal. When he succeeded Sir Dawson Williams as editor in 1928, the small staff was harassed by illness; between then and 1931 three assistant editors had to resign because of ill health.

He served on the committee of the Association that considered the typographical and other reforms which had a profound effect upon the subsequent development of the Journal, which must have been one of the last of the weekly periodicals to have its own composing room immediately above the editorial offices. Horner was much attached to this arrangement because of its convenience and the opportunity it gave his staff to get first-hand acquaintance with some of the techniques of printing.

When Mr Stanley Morison, the typographer to The Times and the designer of the Times new roman type, was, on Horner’s initiative, brought in to advise on the layout and typography, what began as an exercise in typography led to a complete reform of the business management and method of printing first seen in the issue of January 2nd, 1937. Horner was conservative by nature and did not necessarily view all these changes with equanimity, but he gave them his quiet and critical support until his retirement at the age of sixty-five in 1946.

Horner venerated his former chief, Sir Dawson Williams; the highest praise he could give one of his staff was, ‘D.W. would have liked this.’ In the small world of medical journalism he was unmatched in the writing of English, and on this account alone it was a pity that he did not become a ‘writing editor’, for his pen was always busy at turning other men’s fumbling essays into idiomatic English.

He thus preserved a great tradition and passed on to his successor an example of scrupulous fairness in dealing with contributors. After his retirement he worked for a short time on the medical history of the War. His wife, Grace Malleson Fearon, whom he married in 1911, died in 1950. They had one son.

Richard R Trail

* He was 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..."

[Brit.med.J., 1954, 1, 648-51 (p), 70S; Lancet, 1954, 1, 577 (p); Nature (Lond.), 1954, 173, 614-15; Times, 9 Mar. 1954.]

(Volume V, page 200)

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