Obituary: Lord Zuckerman

Solly Zuckerman, anatomist and political adviser: born Cape Town 30 May 1904; Resident Anatomist, Zoological Society of London, and Demonstrator of Anatomy, University College London 1928- 32; Research Associate and Research Fellow, Yale University 1933-34; Beit Memorial Research Fellow, Oxford University 1934-37, University Demonstrator and Lecturer in Human Anatomy 1934- 45; Scientific Adviser, Combined Operations HQ 1939-46; Honorary Group Captain RAF 1943-46; FRS 1943; Sands Cox Professor of Anatomy, Birmingham University 1943-68 (Emeritus); CB 1946; Deputy Chairman, Advisory Council on Scientific Policy 1948-64; Chairman, Committee on Scientific Manpower 1950-64; Chairman, Natural Resources (Technical) Committee 1951- 64; Kt 1956; Chairman, Committee on Management and Control of Research and Development 1958-61; Chairman, Defence Research Policy Committee 1960-64; Chief Scientific Adviser to Secretary of State for Defence 1960-66, to HM Government 1964-71; KCB 1964; Chairman, Central Advisory Committee for Science and Technology 1965-70; Trustee, British Museum (Natural History) 1967-77; OM 1968; Professor at Large, University of East Anglia 1969-74 (Emeritus); created 1971 Baron Zuckerman; President, British Industrial Biological Research Association 1974-93, Fauna Preservation Society 1974-81, Zoological Society of London 1977-84; married 1939 Lady Joan Rufus Isaacs (one son, and one daughter deceased); died London 1 April 1993.

SOLLY ZUCKERMAN was one of the most remarkable men of the century. He was born in South Africa in 1904, and died yesterday as one of the most influential figures in the nebulous and powerful network, sometimes called the Establishment, which lies at the heart of much of Britain's national decision-making.

He was, by early training and education, an anatomist and, after a period as Demonstrator of Anatomy at the University of Cape Town, he came to London in the late 1920s and was appointed Resident Anatomist to the Zoological Society. It was here that he made a precocious and sometimes controversial reputation with his work on the social life of monkeys and apes, a field in which he became recognised as a leading authority.

He continued a distinguished academic career throughout the 1930s, becoming successively a resident professor at Yale, University Demonstrator and Lecturer in Human Anatomy at Oxford, and William Julius Mickle Fellow at London University. After the Second World War he was appointed Sands Cox Professor of Anatomy at Birmingham University and Professor at Large at the University of East Anglia.

By this time, however, academic life was taking a much lower place in his order of priorities. With the outbreak of the war, he had become Scientific Adviser to Combined Operations Headquarters, where his brilliantly incisive and analytical intellect soon earned him a formidable reputation and throughout the war he was scientific adviser on planning at a number of military headquarters, including Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force. By now he was firmly installed in the political establishment, and after appointments in various government departments, throughout the 1950s, he eventually succeeded to the two appointments for which he believed himself, with some justification, to be ideally equipped. In 1960 he became Chief Scientific Adviser to the Secretary of State for Defence, and in 1964, with the advent of the Wilson administration, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government.

In these appointments, partly due to the force of this character and intellect and partly through a wide range of social and political contacts, he exercised a remarkable, and, as some people thought, disproportionate influence on the military and strategic policies of the Government. He had a temperamental horror of nuclear weapons and an intellectual distrust of the mental processes which lay behind the current concept of nuclear deterrence; and it is generally believed that he declined Harold Wilson's suggestion that he should be appointed as Minister of State at the Foreign Office with special responsibility for arms control and disarmament. Later he was to collaborate with his close friend Earl Mountbatten of Burma in the drafting of a speech on nuclear weapons which was much misrepresented by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament as an endorsement of their cause. He was, however, never an advocate of unilateral disarmament.

Even after he had ostensibly left public life in the 1970s, he continued to operate powerfully behind the scenes, with an office in the Cabinet Office and access to a succession of prime ministers and senior civil servants. His books on strategy, Scientists and War (1966) and Nuclear Illusion and Reality (1982), together with his autobiographical work From Apes to Warlords (1978), were essential reading for strategists, both professional and academic.

To the end he continued to speak and write on many subjects which exercised his fertile mind. One of his last articles, which appeared in the magazine Nature in February, was a powerful plea for a comprehensive nuclear test ban, closely argued, meticulously researched and, although characteristically provocative, irresistibly persuasive. When he died, he had just finished his latest book and was about to embark on another, designed, as one of his family said, to tell everybody what is wrong with the world - 'in fact, what Solly has been doing all his life'.

Solly Zuckerman was a complicated man, often secretive, irascible and dismissive of those whose abilities and perceptions failed to match his own. Of some men it is said that they 'did not suffer fools gladly'; Solly declined to suffer them at all. Indeed, some of Solly's friends were heard, on certain abrasive occasions, to suggest that he must have had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he chose the motto which adorns his coat of arms - 'Quot homines tot sententiae'. On the other hand, he was a thoughtful and generous host, an amusing if somewhat acerbic conversationalist, and a discriminating lover of good good and even better claret. His political judgement, in really important matters, was impressive. He once advised Lord Mountbatten to leave a meeting at which a group of disaffected people, including the newspaper proprietor Cecil King, were canvassing ideas which he believed, rightly, to be subversive and dangerous.

The list of his honours testifies to the contribution which he made to Britain's national life. He was especially proud of his Order of Merit and at being made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1964. In 1971 he was created a peer and his occasional interventions in House of Lords debates were always cogent (if sometimes pungent) and he was inevitably listened to with respect. Even those who had been bruised by his occasional intolerance stood in awe of his great experience and formidable intellect.

Solly's many friends will miss him sorely, and for many reasons. For some the most cherished memories will be of Christmas at the Shooting Box in Burnham Thorpe, with all the trappings of an English Christmas - dressing the tree, the ceremonial exchange of presents, turkey, Christmas pudding and champagne at breakfast time. Through the uproar of grandchildren, dogs and carols, Solly could be observed sitting quietly at a small round table, sipping occasionally at a glass of Moet & Chandon, and playing interminable hands of Patience (at which, according to his perceptive granddaughter, he habitually cheated).

The loss to his friends and family will be matched by the gap which he will leave in the scientific and political life of the country, and indeed in the broader world of international affairs. He is irreplaceable.

(Photographs omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy