Lives of the fellows

Ian George Walker Pickering

b.24 November 1915 d.18 January 1984
VRD(1952) MB ChB Leeds(1939) MD(1947) MRCP(1966) FRCPsych(1971) FRCP(1972) FFCM(1974)

Ian Pickering was the son of George William Pickering, a professional musician turned manufacturer. He was born at Bradford, Yorkshire, and educated at Bradford Grammar school and Leeds University. After qualification he was house surgeon at St James’s Hospital, Leeds, before volunteering for the Royal Navy. He had a distinguished war record, achieving the rank of surgeon lieutenant commander. He ended his war service at a naval hospital in New South Wales, having served with the 2nd Submarine Flotilla in Scotland, the North Sea, North Atlantic and North America from 1939-41, as well as in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean on destroyers. He took part in the landings at Anzio and Normandy, and was awarded the Volunteer Reserve Decoration with clasp in 1952. On demobilization in 1945 he returned to his teaching hospital in Leeds, where he joined the medical professorial unit and obtained his MD in 1947. It was at this time that he met Jean Lowthian, a nurse, and they were married in 1948.

In 1947 he joined the Prison Medical Service, in which he was to make his real career and reputation. He served at HM Prisons in Leeds, Wakefield and Durham and, following a Nuffield travelling fellowship in 1961-62 which took him to Europe to study medical aspects of the treatment of offenders, he succeeded Harvie Kennard Snell in 1963 as director of the prison medical services.

For many years the heads of the medical branch of the prison department in the Home Office, whether commissioners or directors, had kept a low profile - it was a rigid, small and detached organization having little contact with medicine outside its own walls. All this was to change under the new director. Ian Pickering’s directorship opened up the prison medical service: the number of medical officers, senior medical officers and principal medical officers increased, hospital staffing became more generous, more hospital officers were promoted to principal officer and chief. Psychotherapists, radiographers and occupational therapists were appointed. Equipment, including expensive and sophisticated instruments, was made available on a more generous scale and shelves of standard, up to date medical textbooks appeared in each prison. The director himself adopted a high profile; he attended boards, committees, councils, conferences and symposia. His visits to the various prison service establishments were occasions to be anticipated with interest and, indeed, enthusiasm. His inspections were always thorough and scrupulous - many a pithy comment in the Commissoner’s Book (held in each prison) still remind the governor and medical officer in charge of their responsibilities regarding the quality of food, cleanliness of the kitchen, and sanitation for the prisoners in their care. His energy seemed boundless and his enthusiasm immense. In recognition of the contribution he made to the overall running of this difficult and demanding service he was made a full member of the Prisons Board in 1967 - a tribute indeed to the esteem in which he was held by the prison authorities. One of his favourite sayings was ‘It never does to go head-on at the Establishment. They always win.’

The prison medical service was Ian Pickering’s pride and joy; an attack on it was an attack on him personally and woe betide any member of the service who let the side down for they would get no quarter. Ian held various extramural offices and was especially proud of his role as inspector of retreats for inebriates from 1963 onwards. He was vice-president of the 2nd International Congress of Social Psychiatry in London in 1969, and vice-president of the British Association of Social Psychiatry in 1972. He was a founder member, and past member of council, of the North of England Medical Legal Society, and a founder member of the Faculty of Community Medicine. He was also president of the British Academy of Forensic Sciences 1969-70. All this persistent determination and great enthusiasm were acknowledged by his election to the membership of the College in 1966 and his election to the fellowship in 1972. He was also elected to the fellowship of the Royal College of Psychiatrist and of the Faculty of Community Medicine.

Ian Pickering was a good medical administrator and was always concerned about the welfare of his staff - what touched them touched him. He knew about their individual aspirations, their triumphs and sorrows. In earlier years it seemed that he knew the names of everyone, down to the most newly joined hospital officer. He ensured that his staff got a fair share of recognition for the part they had to play in the service: in 1965 Christine F T Saville was the first woman to be promoted senior medical officer (HM Prison Wakefield) and the first woman medical officer to be awarded the CBE on her retirement in 1968.

In the days when the spheres of work of governor and medical officer were ill-defined, Ian Pickering was influential in establishing the importance of the medical officer involving himself in the prison management structure, as well as taking part in the care and custody of offenders. He anticipated the full-time senior medical staffs administrative role in organizing the NHS specialties to provide the various therapeutic aspects - medical, psychiatric and surgical - on a sessional basis in the prison.

What were the secrets of Ian Pickering’s success? Apart from the factors referred to above, I would suggest his prodigious memory, including his endless fund of anecdotes; his wit; his tremendous sense of humour and, above all, his famous infectious laugh. Beyond all this was his power of leadership.

In 1976, at the age of 60, when the rules dictated his retirement from the prison service, he became a consultant forensic psychiatrist at Rampton Special Hospital where, in the absence of a superintendent, he became chairman of the medical advisory committee. Retiring once again in 1983, he did not give up but became a consultant psychiatrist to Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children, Carshalton, a post he still held at his death.

Ian was extremely proud of his son, a doctor, and his daughter, a nurse, but the distress of his wife’s protracted illness and death in 1975 was something from which he never really recovered. She had been his great love and support, without which the sparkle went out of him. His daughter wrote that he was an enthusiastic numismatist from an early age and earned some repute in this field, particularly in the area of Indian coinage. He took every opportunity to visit local curio shops and antique markets. This resulted in his building up a varied and rather eccentric collection of glassware, china, furniture, pictures and antique medical equipment, in addition to his coin collection. He was also very interested in and knowledgeable about food and was delighted when, in 1975, he received the title of Officier de Jurade et Vigneron, St Emilion, Aquitaine.

In the Bulletin of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Vol.8, No.6,, Henry Rollin wrote: ‘...Ian Pickering was a handsome man with a schoolboy’s shining morning face. Before his first coronary some few years ago he had an almost Dickensian figure: he was rotund and across his ample middle he sported a gold watch-chain. He was an excellent raconteur: he told his stories with more than a vestige of his native Yorkshire accent. But what was so idiosyncratic was his infectious belly-laugh, echoes of which will ring round the Halls of Fame for all time. ’

DEM Speed

[, 1984,288,798-9; Bull.roy.Coll.Psychs, Vol.8,no.6,118; Prison Medical Journal, Vol.1,no.1,1965]

(Volume VIII, page 378)

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