Lives of the fellows

Samuel Phillips (Sir) Bedson

b.1 December 1886 d.11 May 1969
Kt(1956) BSc Durh(1907) MB BS(1912) MSc MD(1914) FRS(1935) Hon DSc Belf(1937) Hon DSc Durh(1946) FRCP(1945)

Sam Bedson, one of the pioneers of the new science of virology, was bom in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the second son of Peter Phillip Bedson, Professor of Chemistry in the University of Durham, and Annie, the daughter of Samuel Hodgkinson, cotton spinner of Marple, Cheshire. After six years at Abbotsholme School in Derbyshire he went to Armstrong College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where he graduated B Sc with honours in 1907 and five years later MB BS Durham with honours. Immediately thereafter he entered his chosen field of work by studying microbiology at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, and in 1914 he was awarded a gold medal for his MD thesis. A year later he went to work at the Lister Institute in London as a British Medical Scholar under the supervision of John Ledingham. Their joint work on blood platelets was interrupted by the war.

Having failed to gain entry to the RAMC because his training had been largely in research, he took a commission in the Northumberland Fusiliers. After a severe chest wound sustained in Gallipoli he was evacuated to England. In 1916 he went to France where he was transferred to the RAMC and until the end of the war served as a pathologist, and became Adviser in Pathology to the 5th Army (France).

After the war he was for two years lecturer in Bacteriology in the Medical School in Durham University College of Medicine before returning to the Lister Institute where he continued his valuable work on blood platelets with Ledingham.

In 1924 he was seconded to work on foot and mouth disease under the supervision of Arkwright who was a member of the Ministry of Agriculture Foot and Mouth Research Committee. Thus Bedson began his research at the Lister Institute on virus disease, then largely an unexplored field. In 1926 he was appointed, along with the late Lord Florey, to the newly created Freedom Research Fellowships at the London Hospital. For the next eight years he continued his studies on the nature of viruses and immunity in virus disease, working for the most part with the viruses of vaccinia, zoster and herpes simplex. In 1929 there occurred the pandemic of psittacosis due to the distribution of infected parrots and parrakeets from Australia and South America. From cases in the London Hospital, and from infected parrots, Bedson isolated the causal agent, and much of his subsequent researches were devoted to the study of this agent and related microorganisms. Because of his original work in this field, this group of infective agents is now commonly referred to as the Bedsoniae.

Bedson regarded his eight years as Freedom Fellow at the London Hospital as the most productive and satisfying period in his scientific career. He was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1935. In 1934 he was appointed to the Goldsmiths Company’s chair of Bacteriology at the London Hospital Medical College, and until his retirement from the Chair in 1952 teaching and administrative work in the London School lessened the time he could devote to his laboratory researches.

From 1939-1944 he acted as Pathologist to Sectors I and II of the Metropolitan region 5 of the Emergency Medical Service. In 1944 he returned to the London Hospital and in 1946 succeeded Sir Philip Pan ton as Director of the Division of Pathology, and in 1949 again followed Panton as Consultant Adviser in Pathology to the Ministry of Health, a part-time post which he held until 1962. When he retired from the Chair at the London Hospital in 1952 he took charge of the virus unit of the British Empire Cancer Campaign in the Bland Sutton Institute of Pathology in the Middlesex Hospital. Here he continued his research work on viruses until 1962, when he gave up this post and his work for the Ministry.

Bedson was invited to serve on many committees outside the London Hospital. He was a member of the Governing Body of the Foot and Mouth Disease Research Institute, the Governing Body of the Lister Institute, the Public Health Laboratory Service Board, the Council of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and the Army Pathology Advisory Committee. For several years he was a member of the Medical Research Council and served as chairman or member of various committees of that body. The honorary degree of Doctor of Science was conferred upon him by Queen’s University, Belfast, in 1937, and by the University of Durham in 1946. He was awarded the Conway Evans prize of the Royal Society and the Royal College of Physicians, was knighted in 1956 and elected an honorary member of the Society of General Microbiology in 1963.

Bedson was neat and orderly in all he did. He was a beautiful technician and preferred to do all his own experiments, which were devised with precision and care. He expected from his staff the same high standards that he set himself. His writing, like his lectures, was clear and concise. Generations of students at the London Hospital have reason to be grateful for the personal interest he took in their progress and welfare. In private life he was a delightful companion and host. He was an expert fly fisherman, a competent golfer, and followed the fortunes of Sussex at cricket, and England on the rugby field, with strongly partisan enthusiasm.

In 1926 he married Dorothea Annie, the elder daughter of Henry Hoffert, a senior inspector of schools for the Board of Education. There were three sons, the second of whom also became a Fellow of the College.

AW Downie

[Brit.med.J., 1969, 1, 517; Lancet, 1969, 1, 1103; Times, 14 May, 1969; Biogr.Mem.Roy.Soc., 1970, 16, 15-35; DNB]

(Volume VI, page 35)

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