Obituary: Lord Zuckerman
Friday 02 April 1993
SOLLY ZUCKERMAN managed to ride two horses very successfully for most of his life, writes Lord Healey.
He was a good scientist, if perhaps not a great one, and an able Whitehall warrior who became skilled in using the Whitehall machine. His marriage was very successful, and he had an astoundingly wide range of contacts in the US and Britain, in literature, arts and politics.
I knew Zuckerman from my time as a student at Oxford before the war when I heard him give a brilliant talk to an undergraduate society on the role of hormones. He was a good-looking young man, about 32 at the time, and was invested with enormous glamour for undergraduates, because he was working on the chemistry of contraception.
I did not see very much of him in the early post-war years because he spent his time in Birmingham as a biologist and academic. But I had been in touch with him during those years and he came to see me within an hour of my appointment as Defence Secretary in 1964. He was already Lord Mountbatten's Chief Scientific Adviser, and he invited me that evening to dinner with Mountbatten to talk about the defence problems I was likely to face. While we were having dinner Zuckerman was asked by Harold Wilson whether he would become Minister of Disarmament. Mountbatten and I advised him against it, and he declined. He had been close to Mountbatten since the time when he and Mountbatten were in the new Combined Operations Executive during the war. When Dickie Mountbatten became Chief of Defence Staff Zuckerman took the job of Chief Scientific Adviser at the Ministry of Defence and I inherited him in that role.
He was very able, a clever man with an extremely wide range of interests who applied a trained scientific intelligence to problems of defence equipment and foreign policy. He had many friends in government and he would sometimes ask some of my colleagues to intervene against my position.
I did not hold it against him personally, but in the end I persuaded Harold Wilson to take him over as his Scientific Adviser to the Government as a whole. He served Harold Wilson and for some time the Thatcher government and strongly opposed the expensive development of Chevaline, a system devised to penetrate the ABM system that the Russians were putting up round Moscow.
Despite our early difference, partly over policy and partly because he was an extremely free-minded academic, we became close in the last 10 years and we shared views on nuclear proliferation, if necessary at the expense of the British nuclear programme. Since I joined him in the Lords a year ago we had worked quite closely. He wrote brilliant articles for the New York Review of Books, always on nuclear disarmament. A fortnight ago we had a question in the Lords seeking the Government's response to his paper in Nature asking for a comprehensive test ban treaty. By that time he was too weak to be able to intervene himself.
Zuckerman achieved fame in the Thirties by writing a book on the sexual life of the primates, which invested the Archbishop of Canterbury with an unexpected excitement, although its actual title was The Social Life of Monkeys and Apes (1932).
He was very proud of being Jewish and tickled to think that all the people who advised the British and Americans on nuclear policy in the Sixties were Jewish. There was himself, Isidor Rabi and Jerome Wiesner, adviser to the US administration, and Admiral Hyman Rickover, who ran the US Polaris submarine programme, a difficult man who got on badly with everyone except Solly Zuckerman and Jimmy Carter.
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