Obituary: Dr Ian Munro

Ian Munro was a medical journalist, doctor, campaigner, humanitarian, Yorkshireman, editor and cricketer, probably in that order. He trained at Guy's, remaining a Guy's man at heart; but it was a heart that also found space for many humanitarian causes, and for the Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

Munro had the Yorkshire qualities of sturdy independence combined with an instinctive questioning of authority. He was a true radical and a good sceptic. He disliked the self-interest of the medical establishment and was often a thorn in their flesh.

He was recruited by The Lancet in 1951 after serving in the army as a radiologist. Dr Robbie (Theodore) Fox, the editor, felt The Lancet needed Munro's radiological expertise, but it was as a writer and campaigner that he excelled. He spent the next 36 years there, striding around the office, large-framed, loose-limbed and dishevelled, emitting a curiously- pitched hum when engrossed, often irritable with people who moved less quickly than he did. When he thought he was unobserved he could be seen practising cricket strokes.

The Lancet received over 4,000 papers a year from around the world, and only one in eight made it into print. The unsuccessful authors would receive an exegesis thanking them for their flawed masterpiece and regretting that he must refuse it; nothing was ever "rejected". Sometimes his refusals were so gentle that the recipient would have to phone for clarification. Robbie Fox claimed to have appointed Munro on the strength of a letter he had written to thank him for lunch: "whoever can write a really good letter must be able to recognise a bad one and therefore has the makings of an editor".

Munro was a thunderer with his pen and wrote many of The Lancet's unsigned editorials. When the Health Service was strike-bound in 1983 he blasted forth at Norman Fowler, then Secretary of State for Social Services:

Mr Fowler might reflect again on the quality of conscience that his post requires of its occupant. How far can he permit the NHS to be devalued by the intractability of the prime minister he serves? If he has deep doubts, as The Lancet believes he should have, about the outcome of his term as Secretary of State, then he must resign.

The NHS was Munro's greatest passion, but not the only one. His other causes included world population and family planning, abortion law reform, nuclear disarmament, and the introduction of simple and effective health care measures for the Third World. He incurred the displeasure of the family planning lobby, though the cause was dear to his heart, by publishing preliminary and alarming papers on the dangers of the contraceptive pill; he did this because he felt that frightening information should not be suppressed and that women should be equipped to make informed choices. He was influenced by the work of Iain Chalmers and colleagues at Oxford, showing that increased interference in childbirth is no guarantee of increased safety. He was an early and consistent champion of Wendy Savage, the mildly radical gynaecologist who was accused of incompetence by some of her colleagues and abruptly suspended.

He was the archetypal doctor, listening with concentrated patience, and was accessible to his colleagues in Fleet Street even in unsocial hours.

Munro was, typically, on the reformist wing of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club. He played for Weald Cricket Club and for the Silhouettes, a group of Guy's graduates whose silhouettes probably grew ever less svelte with age. He also led the Lancet team on their matches - usually rounders or croquet - against a scratch side from the British Medical Journal. As a sportsman his personality changed to one of ruthlessness and he would argue ferociously about the rules with the captain of the rival team while the other players were more interested in beer and an agreeable day out - the scores were usually tampered with to produce a draw. When he joined The Lancet it was locked in combat with the British Medical Association and its Journal, partly because The Lancet was strongly for the NHS and the BMA against it. By the time Munro retired this hostility had turned to amicable rivalry and it was his counterpart at the BMJ, Stephen Lock, who organised a farewell dinner for him and the publication by the Keynes Press of a book of tributes called Swerving neither to the right nor the left (1988), an appropriate title: his liberalism and radicalism was determined by his beliefs in individual freedom and human rights. Munro would attack politicians regardless of their affiliation and wore their disapproval like a medal.

Behind the conviviality was a shy and intensely private man. Married to a doctor, he had five children, and one of his daughters is a midwife. Though not a Quaker - and not a teetotaller either - Munro's radical and humanitarian ideals fitted well with The Lancet's Quaker traditions.

His retirement in 1988 freed him to give his energies to causes dear to him: the Association for the Promotion of Health Care in the Former Soviet Union (Chairman 1988-93), Medical Action for Global Security (Vice- Chairman from 1988); and the UK branch of Physicians for Human Rights (President from 1991). He died of complications following an operation and he was, of course, an NHS patient.

Caroline Richmond

Ian Arthur Hoyle Munro, medical journalist, born Bradford 5 November 1923; Deputy Editor, The Lancet 1965-76, Editor 1976-88; married 1948 Olive Jackson (three sons, two daughters); died Tunbridge Wells, Kent 22 January 1997.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Talent Community Coordinator

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Talent Community Coordinator is nee...

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride