Lives of the fellows

Anthony Martin Halliday

b.19 August 1926 d.18 March 2008
BSc Glasg(1946) MB ChB(1949) FRCP(1989)

Anthony Martin Halliday (known as ‘Martin’) was a consultant in clinical neurophysiology to the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, London. His greatest scientific contribution was his pioneering work on pattern-reversal visual evoked potential and its clinical applications. Together with William Ian McDonald (Ian) [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], he developed the technique which opened an entirely new field in clinical neurology and was rapidly adopted as one of the most important laboratory tests for the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

Born in Liverpool, he was the son of Sir William Reginald Halliday, a professor of Greek and Roman history who became principal of King’s College, London. His family had a long and distinguished history in medicine. Sir Walter Farquhar of Polesden Lacey [Munk’s Roll, Vol.II, p.461-3] was his paternal great, great grandfather and Sir Andrew Halliday [Munk’s Roll, Vol.III, p.211-2] was his paternal great, great uncle. Another paternal great, great uncle was Simon Halliday (1756-1829) who was a naval surgeon and, between 1787 and 1789, surgeon extraordinary to the Duke of Clarence. His paternal great grandfather was Sir William Hoffmeister, appointed apothecary in ordinary to Queen Victoria and the Royal family while in residence in the Isle of Wight, thus starting a connection that was to bring three of his sons and one grandson into Royal service into the twentieth century. Halliday’s mother was Edith Hilda née Macneile Dixon and her great grandfather, George Frederick Wales, was a Scottish surgeon.

Educated at Dauntsey’s School in Wiltshire, he passed the Oxbridge entrance exams at the age of 15 but, as he was too young to attend, he decided instead to study medicine at Glasgow University and the Royal Infirmary. Qualifying in 1949, he did house jobs at Worthing and Wanstead hospitals before joining the RAMC the following year to do his National Service. It was at this time that his interest in neurophysiology began to emerge. He was posted to the physiological section of the British Army’s operational research unit. In those early days of the ‘cold war’ the Allies were flying round the clock to ferry supplies into West Berlin. In an attempt to solve the problem of the pilots falling asleep, Halliday studied finger tremor physiology. His study showing a good correlation between finger tremor and sudden sleepiness was noticed by Arnold Carmichael [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.91] who was then the first director of the neurological research unit at the National Hospital, Queen Square. He invited him to join his department when he was demobilised in 1953 and he enjoyed being part of a young enthusiastic team. Eventually he went on to head his own Medical Research Council (MRC) unit at the National, being appointed consultant in clinical neurophysiology in 1961.

Halliday’s laboratory became a magnet for young neurophysiologists and many returned to their own countries after working with him to build up outstanding careers in the discipline. Apart from the evoked potential research referred to above, one of his early important contributions was the classification of myoclonus into pyramidal, extrapyramidal and segmental myoclonus published as ‘The electrophysiological study of myoclonus in man’ (Brain, 1967, 90, 241-84). He published over 200 scientific papers and many of his discoveries and those of his students were written up in his book Evoked potentials in clinical testing (Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone, 1982) and its second edition published in 1993. An early member and sometime president of the EEG Society, now the British Society for Clinical Neurophysiology, he was awarded their Grey Walter medal in 1989. On the editorial board of the EEG Journal, he convened, in 1985, the 11th International Congress of EEG and Clinical Neurophysiology in London.

Another aspect to his life was probably initially prompted by his mother’s influence. She was a member of a school of yoga and much interested in Eastern philosophy. He served as chairman of the Shanti Sadan (Temple of Peace) in London from 1963 to 2006 and they published three books by him, one of which The spiritual awakening of science was published posthumously in 2010. Another love was music and he was very fond of both playing and listening to Mozart and attending the opera. Philosophy, brain research and computing were other interests he listed and he was a fellow of the British Computer Society.

In 1956 he married Elise (‘Lisl’), a nurse who worked as a sister tutor and theatre sister before joining her husband in his unit as an MRC research assistant. In later years she was cited as a frequent co-author in his work. When he died, having suffered from long-standing pulmonary fibrosis, Lisl survived him and died in 2011.

RCP editor

[Clin neurophysiol 2008 119 1939-41]

(Volume XII, page web)

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