Obituary: Sir Barry Cross

Barry Albert Cross, physiologist: born Coulsdon, Surrey 17 March 1925; Lecturer, Department of Anatomy, Cambridge 1958-67; Professor of Anatomy, Bristol University 1967-74; Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge 1962-67, 1974-94, Tutor for Advanced Studies 1964-67, Warden of Leckhampton 1975-80, President 1987-92; Director, AFRC Institute of Animal Physiology (Babraham Institute), Cambridge 1974-86, Director of Animal Physiology and Genetics Research 1986-89; FRS 1975; CBE 1981; Honorary Fellow, Royal Agricultural Society 1987; Secretary, Zoological Society of London 1988-92; Kt 1989; married 1949 Audrey Crow (one son, two daughters); died Cambridge 27 April 1994.

BARRY CROSS was elected Secretary of the Zoological Society of London in September 1988 amidst the euphoria of the society's having just received a 'one-off' government grant of pounds 10m towards reestablishing London Zoo and Whipsnade Park as tourist attractions, writes Peter Denton.

The settlement, of which the grant was only a part, included for the first time a commitment from government that the society's research programme should not be dependent for its core funding on the number of visitors at a tourist attraction. Accordingly a recurring grant of pounds 1.3m per year was secured for the institute.

It was against this background that Cross was elected to the prestigious post of Secretary of the society, a charity founded in 1826 and incorporated by Royal Charter in 1829; he followed in the footsteps of Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell and Solly Zuckerman, while Professor Tony Flint, his protege at Babraham, had a few months previously been appointed Director of Science of the society.

It was as Secretary that Cross had his sternest test, in which he was thrown into the media spotlight, one supposes, reluctantly. The post of secretary is honorary and under the society's constitution carries the responsibility for the day-to-day management of the society's affairs. It is in effect the chief executive post without either the remuneration or the trappings of high office to go with it. Cross had been in post for a little over a year when a combination of falling attendances, chronic under-investment in the zoos over many years, a draining off of zoo profits to help support the society's research programme and a changed public perception of zoos began to show the flaws in the 1988 settlement. The pounds 10m was fast disappearing, being used more and more to prop up the zoos, which were continuing to lose some pounds 2m annually. A series of cost-cutting measures in 1991 failed to redress the balance and with the council of the society anxious to preserve its principal freehold asset, Whipsnade (London Zoo is held on a Crown Lease), and its research programme, the decision was taken in June 1992 to close London Zoo. Cross, although sympathetic to the many letters and protestations received from the general public, recognised that without a serious curtailment of activity or government support London Zoo was a spent force. He therefore supported the closure decision. The fellows thought otherwise. A 'survival' campaign was launched by zoo staff and fellows.

Several extraordinary general meetings of the Fellowship were held in a charged and acrimonious atmosphere. But Cross was held accountable by the fellows for the society's predicament. The Council mounted a public relations campaign and received undertakings from the Government that repair obligations on the zoo buildings would not be enforced if the society vacated the Regent's Park site. However, the pressure from the Fellows was unrelenting. A postal ballot of them in September 1992 sought a vote of confidence in the Council. They did not get it. Some members of the Council could not wait to resign. Others, including Cross, accepted their trustee responsibilities and waited for suitable replacements to be found before leaving, which he did in December 1992. He remained deeply committed to the ideals of the society, being a member of the Awards Committee and a regular attendee at the AGMs and Scientific Meetings.

It was unreasonable to expect an academic, lacking the knowledge or experience of cut and thrust commercial activity, to shoulder the responsibility for resolving singlehandedly the society's problems, which had been apparent to those who had cared to look for the preceeding 15 years or so. It also fell to Cross twice to find a new President for the society on two occasions - Professor Avrion Mitchison in 1989 and Field Marshal Sir John Chapple in 1992 - and a new Treasurer, Peter Holwell, Principal of London University, in 1991.

Such onerous responsibility of an honorary post persuaded Cross in 1991 to obtain the Council's approval to the creation of the post of General Director. David Jones, the society's Director of Zoos, was the obvious choice. But continuing problems at Whipsnade forced his former lieutenant to decant there full time within a matter of weeks. With a lack of in-depth management ability at London, it was found that the overall operational effectiveness of the society was floundering and Jones was seen by many as the scapegoat for the society's ills. The depths to which personal relationships plummeted during the closure crisis in 1992 were vividly captured in Mollie Dineen's BBC TV documentary on London Zoo, The Ark.

But if Cross's media profile perpetuated the 'Old Men at the Zoo' image, it was as a scientist that he himself would wish to be remembered. It was after all to protect what he saw as the ZSL jewel, its research, that he had supported closure of the Zoo. It is perhaps fitting to record that, following a cost-reduction programme, generous donations from wealthy benefactors and a determination to make it work, London Zoo is open, it made a small surplus last year and the emphasis placed on conservation and captive breeding owes much to the pioneering work of Sir Barry Cross.

(Photograph omitted)

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

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
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