Obituary: Dr Kenneth Smith

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
KENNETH SMITH was a consultant psychiatrist who attacked a number of mainstream ideas in psychology. He lectured round the world until recent years, and collaborated with his son Dr Michael Apter in exploring and writing about a radical approach to some aspects of present psychiatric thinking.

In particular, their Reversal Theory has been increasingly discussed, although it has produced a varied reaction, with wariness and opposition in some quarters. It is based on the idea that we change all the time as we go through our everyday lives, and our personalities do not remain constant. The theory examines the motivation of pairs of opposites - and the way we reverse between them: mastery and sympathy, the serious and the playful, conforming and challenging.

The theory has continued to reach a wide audience, with a 10th international conference on the subject held recently in Canada. It was the focal point of 10 of Smith's books, including A Theory of Psychological Reversals (1975), while several hundred academic papers have reported on the research generated by its emergence.

Smith was born in 1910 and went to Bristol University, becoming a GP in the city before turning to psychiatry. For a time he was consultant psychiatrist at the then Bristol Mental Hospital; he was also visiting psychiatrist at Bristol Prison; and from 1950 until 1980 was director of the Wiltshire Child Guidance Clinics.

His close involvement with sport in the West Country was a rich source of professional study for him. He was medical officer for Bristol Rugby Club and Gloucestershire County Cricket Club for many years. Often in the dressing room, and on friendly terms with the players, he noted with concern the measure of stress and the inner conflicts that some players experienced, frequently revealing opposing emotions. He would cite the contradictions in the personality of Wally Hammond, the former England and Gloucestershire captain. He also noted the significant number of suicides within professional cricket, pondering specifically the case of Harold Gimblett, Somerset's gifted batsman who took his own life in 1978. The extrovert batsmanship masked the most fragile of private lives.

Ken Smith was himself a fascinating amalgam of the intensely serious and the light-hearted and gregarious. During the Second World War, while in the RAF - part of the time in South Africa - he broadcast regularly, writing his own songs and accompanying himself at the piano. Squadron Leader Smith Entertains was a popular programme of the time, full of evergreen standards and the latest numbers from the charts.

He had been an affably boisterous character during his student days, involved in many pranks. His baritone voice was much in demand and during a relatively decorous concert at the Victoria Rooms in Bristol, a group of students up in the balcony started chanting "We want Smith" with such vigour that the structure was damaged. Smith's father, a local alderman, had financially to cover the repairs to the balcony.

Smith was a big-framed man, a familiar sight strolling the touchline at the Memorial Ground in Bristol, checking injuries or making the loudspeaker announcements, full of black medical humour. In later years he would say: "Players liked to tell me of their family worries and stresses and I always tried to help."

He possessed one of the biggest Art Nouveau collections in the country, assiduously acquired over many years. Some of the pieces are at present on loan to Bristol Museum. His wife of more than 60 years, Vera, is a painter and ceramicist. They had two sons; Paul, an independent television producer, and Michael, research psychologist at Georgetown University in Washington.

Matthew Stacey

Kenneth Carl Pfeiffer Smith, psychiatrist: born Bristol 2 March 1910; married 1938 Vera Apter (two sons); died Bristol 16 October 1999.