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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea