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

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution