Lives of the fellows

Anthony Ward Clare

b.24 December 1942 d.28 October 2007
MB Dublin(1966) MRCPI(1971) MPhil(1972) MRCPsych(1973) MD(1982) FRCPI(1983) FRCPysch(1985) FRCP(1998)

Anthony Clare (known to his friends and colleagues as ‘Tony’) was a psychiatrist best known for the long running radio series ‘In the psychiatrist’s chair’ and of whom it has been said that he ‘did more than anyone of his generation to improve the public understanding of psychiatry’.

Born in Dublin, he was the third child of Bernard Joseph Clare, who was a popular and gregarious Dublin solicitor. His mother, Mary Agnes née Dunne, had been a secretary. According to Clare, she was a difficult, neurotic woman. Her pretensions led her to order goods from smart shops so that the neighbours would be impressed when they were delivered, only to return them the following week. She was fiercely ambitious for her only son. Clare was later to say that it was the complexity of his relationship with her that first kindled his interest in psychiatry. At the age of seven he was sent to a Jesuit day school, Gonzago College, in Dublin. Intensely committed to Catholicism when young, he lost his religion in the 1960s saying that although he missed the theatricality of the Catholic church, he could not believe in a god that could cause famine, genocide and air crashes. While recovering in hospital after an accident as a teenager, he became fascinated by medicine and decided to study it. He attended University College, Dublin and trained at St Vincent’s Hospital.

After qualifying in 1966, he did an internship at St Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, New York, before returning to St Vincent’s to train in psychiatry as a registrar in 1967. Two years later, he left Dublin to continue his training at the Maudsley Hospital in London where he became registrar and later, senior registrar. In 1976 he moved to the general practice research unit at the Institute of Psychiatry, becoming lecturer and senior lecturer from 1977 to 1982. While there he produced his first major book, Psychiatry in dissent: controversial issues in thought and practice (London, Tavistock, 1976). It was well received by the profession and still has relevance today, for example, in the introduction where he noted, ‘Nothing does more to obstruct the progress of psychiatry and obscure its way forward than the readiness to adopt as established truth the frills, the fads, and the fancies of passing intellectual fashion.’

It was during his time at the Institute that Clare’s broadcasting career began. A brilliant communicator, he was equally passionate in one-to-one conversations as when talking to millions. He regularly interviewed high achievers on the radio 4 programme, chaired by Robert Robinson, called Stop the week. He once said that his fascination with the rich and famous was due to a desire to understand how they achieved their success, he remarked that they ‘survive things that would break some of my patients.’

In 1982 the first episode of In the psychiatrist’s chair was broadcast – it was to run for almost 20 years until 2001. The programme made compelling listening as Clare was ‘a good listener and an even better talker, with a silky Irish burr that oozed reassurance and perceptiveness’. He managed to create an atmosphere of cosy intimacy and, in the course of the programmes, several celebrities broke down – for example the comedian Bob Monkhouse when admitting that his mother had not spoken to him for 20 years and the politician Paddy Ashdown when talking about the death of his father. He made a point of not pushing people too hard and never pretended that his interviews resembled true psychiatric practice. There was a brief attempt to transpose the programme to television but it failed because the intimate atmosphere was lost. One of his 1991 interviews has recently been reissued by Channel 4 as it consists of a conversation with the now disgraced entertainer, Jimmy Savile, of whom Clare remarked, ‘there is something chilling about this 20th century ‘saint’ which interests me still’.

A year after the first programme was broadcast, in 1983, he was appointed professor of psychological medicine and head of department at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Hugely energetic, he built up an excellent department and thereby demonstrated that it was possible to be a popular journalist and broadcaster and also do his job efficiently. Indeed he commented that ‘journalism made him a better psychiatrist’. A colleague pointed out that he managed to convince an ‘over traditional hospital of the value of psychiatry’. During his time there, he remarked that the weekly round at Hackney Hospital kept his feet on the ground and helped to maintain his anger at the social and economic deprivation that he saw.

After six years at Bart’s, in 1989, he returned to Dublin and became medical director of St Joseph’s Hospital and a professor of clinical psychiatry at Trinity College. After 10 years at St Joseph’s, he moved to St Edmundsbury Hospital as consulting adult psychiatrist.

A prolific author, his second book, co-written with P Williams, was Psychosocial disorders in general practice (London, Academic, 1979) and his third was Let’s talk about me: a critical examination of the new psychotherapies (London, BBC, 1981). Four books were published containing the interviews from In the psychiatrist’s chair and, in the introduction to the first one, he discussed his debt to R D Laing whose book The divided self: a study of sanity and madness (London, Tavistock, 1960) he had been heavily influenced by in the 1960s. He pointed out that Laing’s was ‘a powerful voice in demystifying mental illness’ and attributed to his influence his own choice of career.

He published over 100 papers on topics such as fatigue syndrome, glandular fever, adult depression as a result of childhood sexual abuse, alcoholism, premenstrual tension and ethical problems in psychiatry. Of his last five books, the penultimate was written with the comedian Spike Milligan, entitled Depression and how to survive it and in the final one, On men: masculinity in crisis (London, Chatto and Windus, 2000), he vehemently rejected Freud’s theory of penis envy.

An intensely private man, once describing himself as ‘a voyeur who lives off other people’s tragedies’, he resisted revealing himself when he was being interviewed. He said that he felt psychiatrists should present a blank canvas. He listed his interests as golf, tennis, opera, cinema and family life.

In 1966 he married Jane Carmel née Hogan, whom he met while she was studying for an MA in medieval English and was the secretary of the Literary and Historical Society while he was its auditor. She became an author and, over the course of the next 18 years, they had three sons and four daughters.

Clare died suddenly from a heart attack in Paris while returning with his wife from his holiday home in Sardinia – he had been planning to retire later that year and to spend more time there. Jane and their children survived him.

RCP editor

[Daily Telegraph -accessed 06/02/2015; The Independent 31 October 2007 -accessed 06/02/2015; The Times 31 October 2007; The Guardian - accessed 06/02/2015; BMJ, 2007 335 1050; Psychiatric Bulletin - - accessed 11 February 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List