Lives of the fellows

Stephen James Lake, Baron Taylor of Harlow Taylor

b.30 December 1910 d.1 February 1988
BSc MRCS LRCP(1934) MB BS Lond(1934) MRCP(1937) MD(1938) FRCP(1960) FRCGP(1960) FFCM(1979)

Stephen Taylor had a curiously split career in medicine and politics. His father was a civil engineer but his uncle, James George Taylor was a Fellow of the College [Munk’s Roll,Vol.V,p.406] and his paternal grandfather was a surgeon. He married Charity Clifford, herself a successful doctor who, from the Prison Medical Service, became Governor of Holloway Prison.

Stephen James Lake Taylor had a very full and varied life and contributed significantly to general practice, industrial medicine, psychiatry, medical research, the formation of a medical school, the design of health services in two countries, party politics and government. He was educated at Stowe School and St Thomas’s Hospital medical school, where he held junior posts after graduation. He first specialized in psychiatry, going on to the Bethlem Royal Hospital, the Royal Free, and the Maudsley. Briefly, before the second world war, he was an assistant editor of the Lancet. He had obtained his doctorate and his membership of the College before seeing service in the RNVR as a specialist in neuropsychiatry. He had also written on ‘Suburban Neurosis’ (Lancet 1938; 1,759). In 1941 he was invited to serve in the Ministry of Information as director of home intelligence. In this capacity he set up the wartime social survey, forerunner of other national surveys which continue today. After joining the Labour Party, he contributed a number of articles to The Spectator on health service matters which influenced the shape of the National Health Service, and in 1945 he resigned from the Ministry to stand as Labour candidate for Barnet and was elected. He was not directly involved in the preparation of the NHS, though he had some indirect influence, and he served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Herbert Morrison from 1948-50. He lost his seat to Reginald Maudling in the 1950 election and returned to industrial consultancy, and to the Harlow New Town Corporation of which he was vice-chairman. It was at Harlow that he founded the Industrial Medical Service and he acted as its first director from 1955-67. He was also responsible for the important pioneer development of health centres, one for each neighbourhood, at a time when the NHS was inactive in this important area. No other ‘New Town’ even planned for such an important initiative and, although Stephen was later to recant some of his original belief in health centre development by public authorities, he deserves much credit for this insight into the needs of new housing developments.

In 1951 he was invited by the Nuffield Provincial Hospitals trust to carry out a survey of general practice, provoked by the very critical report of J S Collings (Lancet 1950,1,555-890). Stephen Taylor’s book Good general practice, London, Oxford University Press, 1954, is perhaps his most important contribution to the future of British medicine coming, as it did, at a time when general practice was depressed and under attack, and much needing signposts for the future. If the evolution of better primary health care is, at least, one of the two most important features of the first 40 years of the NHS, Stephen Taylor deserves some of the credit.

Allied with the health centre development at Harlow, Stephen had initiated an industrial health service for smaller undertakings in combination, and he was much concerned in this field in succeeding years.

Stephen Taylor was created Lord Taylor of Harlow in 1958, as one of the first group of life peers, taking his title from Harlow to which he had contributed so much, and thereafter he often led for the Labour Party in the House of Lords in debates on health, housing, science and higher education. In 1962 he chaired the Labour Party’s study group on higher education, which produced The years of crisis, known as the Taylor report, and in the same year he was invited by the provincial government of Saskatchewan to mediate in its dispute with the doctors of the province over the terms of its revised health service. He succeeded in gaining the trust of the doctors and produced the nucleus of a solution within eight days, The resulting system of Medicare formed a pattern which became general in Canada and had some influence on aspects of medical care in the United States.

Stephen’s political activity diminished but in 1964, with the new Labour administration he became Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies in the Commonwealth Office. He was a member of the British delegation to the first Commonwealth Medical Conference in Edinburgh, but did not long continue after that. He resigned his post in 1967 when he received another call from Canada - to be president and vice-chancellor of the Memorial University of Newfoundland, at a time when the medical school there was about to be formed. He remained there until 1973 when, sadly, he was struck with ill health and was obliged to retire. But he became a visiting professor and maintained his links with the university. Stephen was highly successful during his time in Canada and it represents the highlight of his career. He continued to take the Labour Whip in the Lords until 1981, when he resigned from the Labour Party to become an independent and sit on the crossbench. He did not consider himself a ‘good party man’ and found it ‘...impossible to adhere mentally to the decisions of democracy when they are manifestly wrong’.

Stephen Taylor was not notably active in College affairs and his political career was disappointing in spite of his considerable influence behind the scenes. The Canadian contribution was substantial but his outstanding achievement was in the early revival of general practice -and it came at a crucial time. Industrial medicine was less important, but nevertheless an original innovation. If he does not emerge as a major figure, either in politics or in medicine, he was nonetheless someone who played a distinct personal part in medical progress. He was very much his own man, and a leader rather than a follower. His wife, two sons and a daughter survived him.

Sir George Godber

[Brit.med.J., 1988,296,578,1010; Lancet, 1988,1,425-26; The Times, 3 Feb 1988; The Independent, 4 Feb 1988; Bull.roy.Coll.Psych., Sept 1988,396; World Medicine, 19 July 1966; Western Morning News, 9 July 1962]

(Volume VIII, page 500)

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