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Biographical entry Himsworth, Sir Harold (1905 - 1993)

Kt 1952; Hon FRCS 1965; MB BS London 1928; MD 1930; FRCP 1939; FRS 1955.

19 May 1905
1 March 1993


Sir Harold Himsworth was elected to the honorary Fellowship in 1965, during his tenure of the office of Secretary of the Medical Research Council. 'Harry' was born in Huddersfield on 19 May 1905, and was educated at King James Grammar School in nearby Almonbury. He came to London for his medical education, studying first at University College and then at UCH Medical School, where he qualified in 1928. His talents were immediately obvious and after his house jobs he was taken on as assistant to the medical unit under T R Elliot. His research was then directed towards diabetes, and he was one of the first to distinguish between insulin-sensitive and insulin-insensitive disease. He was appointed Professor of Medicine and Director of the medical unit at UCH in 1939 at the age of 34, and his vitality and enthusiasm were an inspiration to all who worked with him. During the war he had to give a lot of time to teaching and clinical practice but he continued a research programme on liver disease.

The breadth of his knowledge and his concern with the whole field of medicine were immediately apparent when in 1948 he became a member of the Medical Research Council. In the following year he was appointed Secretary, the first practising clinician to have taken that post. This was a period in which the budget was regularly increased and he was able to set up some eighty research units during his twenty years in office, with widely differing fields of investigation. His particular initiative was the creation of the Clinical Research Unit at Northwick Park, with the object of encouraging research into common and 'ordinary' diseases seldom studied in the professorial units.

He became very much the professional civil servant, though a most effective one. He had soon lost his Yorkshire accent but retained the direct approach characteristic of Yorkshiremen. He retired in 1968 when he became Chairman of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Later he turned his attention to philosophy but predictably concluded that mankind had gained more from scientists than from philosophers. His wife Charlotte was also a doctor, and she predeceased him after more than fifty years of marriage. They had two sons, one of whom, Richard, became a Professor of Medicine. He died on 1 March 1993, aged 88.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 1993 307 1557, with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England