Lives of the fellows

Joseph Marks

b.31 December 1916 d.26 February 2009
MB BS Lond(1940) MRCP(1941) Dip Bact(1948) MD(1949) FCPath(1963) FRCP(1969)

Joseph Marks was the former director of the tuberculosis reference laboratory at the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS), Cardiff. He was born in London, the son of a garment manufacturer, Jacob Sandberg and his wife, Bella née Tenanbaum, whose father, Joseph, was a shopkeeper. At some point he changed his surname by deed poll. He attended Hackney Downs School (formerly known as the Grocer’s Company’s School) and while there was entranced by a textbook of bacteriology in the school library (probably an edition of The principles of bacteriology and immunity by W W C Topley and G S Wilson, London, Arnold), which clearly influenced his future career. At London University and St Mary’s Hospital he studied medicine. He qualified in 1940 and held junior appointments at the Hackney and Lister hospitals. In 1942 he enlisted with the RAMC, eventually becoming a medical specialist with the rank of major.

He had been invited to join the Public Health Laboratory Service before he enlisted and when he was demobbed in 1947 he wrote to the director for a place. After a slight hesitation as, at the age of 30, he was considered rather old, he was offered a trainee post and he studied for the diploma in bacteriology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. On passing he moved to Cardiff, working in the PHLS and lecturing at the Welsh National School of Medicine. In 1952 he was appointed as a consultant bacteriologist to the Welsh Hospitals and he also became director of the Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory of the PHLS, where he stayed until he retired at the age of 60 after a bout of ill health.

At the PHLS he made many important contributions to his subject. He devised a simple and practical scheme for the classification of mycobacteria and an accurate method for testing the sensitivity of the tubercule bacilli to drugs. His improved methods of diagnosis made animal experimentation unnecessary – vivisection had, at one time, been heavily used. He published about 100 papers and editorials on a wide variety of topics.

When his health recovered, he worked in the department of pathology at the PHLS for a while, eventually retiring for a second time. He then commenced running a bi-weekly wound clinic with Keith Harding for 13 years, working free of charge until stopping at the age of 75.

He married Ellen Florence née Smith in 1938, she was the daughter of Albert, a shopkeeper. They had two daughters and one of them predeceased him, as did Ellen. His daughter, Patricia Keeble, wrote that during his professional career the introduction of antibiotics and successful treatment for TB were revolutionary outcomes. She said of her father that ‘he gave his life to the NHS or, as my mother used to say, “he was married to his germs”.’

In retirement he published two thrillers under the pseudonym ‘Joseph Forest’– Cross and double-cross (London, Vanguard, 2002) and The million-dollar chip (London, Vanguard, 2003).

RCP editor

(Volume XII, page web)

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