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 a physiologist of the old school, who distinguished himself in research, teaching and scientific administration through the support of academic excellence and academic freedom. He rarely spoke of his early training, but one sensed that he was greatly influenced by the leading figures with whom he later worked.

Cross qualified in 1947 at the Royal Veterinary College, where his interests in lactation and reproduction were kindled by the teachings of SJ Folley and EC Amoroso. He moved to Cambridge, to St John's College and the Physiological Laboratory. At that time the laboratory sported a galaxy of internationally recognised physiologists, including GW Harris, one of the founding figures of neuroendocrinology, to whom Cross turned for the direction of his doctoral studies on the neural control of lactation. From these studies emerged the principles of the suckling-induced ejection of milk from the mammary gland, and an understanding of the mechanisms governing the inhibition of the reflex during stress.

Convinced of the importance of attempting to relate the electrical activity of the brain to the secretions of the pituitary gland, Cross moved to Los Angeles for a year (1957-58), with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, to learn from JD Green the art of recording the electrical impulses of single neurones, deep in the hypothalamic parts of the brain. This was foreign territory to the neurophysiologists of the time. Twenty-one years later, however, the concept of the 'endocrine neurone' had come of age. Cross's studies and those of his graduate students had established the electrical determinants of oxytocin (and vasopressin) secretion down to the level of the single neurone. Neurophysiologists had to bite the bullet and accept that neurones secreted peptide hormones or peptide neuromodulators. Endocrinologists, fledged on the measurement of hormone assays in daily blood samples, had to come to terms with action potentials measured in milliseconds and the secretion of hormones from the pituitary gland in pulses measured in seconds or minutes. GW Harris watched with interest, never convinced that electrical recording could supplant electrical stimulation as an analytical tool. His untimely death in 1971 prevented him from observing the definitive electrophysiological recordings that were to be obtained, a few months later, elegantly to support the neuroendocrine doctrine that he had advanced.

From Cambridge in 1967, and the Department of Veterinary Anatomy where he was then working, Cross moved to the chair of Anatomy at Bristol University, assuming responsibility for both veterinary and human studies. He knew the dissection of the cow, but, one would have to say, somewhat less about the human body. Breaking all established practices, and much to the barely hidden concern of his scientific and clinical colleagues elsewhere in the faculty, he filled his department with electrophysiological and biochemical equipment, and appointed non-medics with qualifications in biochemistry and agriculture, with 2:2 degrees, to teach medical students the functional anatomy of the human body. His requirement was enthusiasm, scientific curiosity and application, not paper qualifications. Competition and determination to succeed were the order of day.

Within two to three years his department was pre-eminent in the university; students flocked to intercalate in Anatomy and research income escalated to exceed that of all but one or two departments elsewhere. We, as young upstarts, were given freedom but no space; Cross did not believe in the building of empires behind walls, staffed with graduate students as slave labour. He directed only five graduate students in his whole career. I hesitate to say supervised because his philosophy was to give his graduate students freedom to sink or swim; to swim, the thesis had to be on the desk well within three years. His revolutionary lead in the teaching of Anatomy is still evident; his influence, as a mentor, still lingers on.

The Agricultural Research Council brought that era to a close in 1974, when they enticed him to the Directorship of the Babraham Institute, as it is now known, back in his beloved Cambridge. There, he faced the politics and policies of a changing world, head on. Cross defended the importance of fundamental research against those who sought commercial application at every step; he defended quality of output against those who sought to place value in quantity. To a large extent he protected the Babraham Institute from the ravages sought elsewhere in the field of agricultural research, and through the support of fundamental studies at a molecular and cellular level laid the foundation for the current re-birth of the institute under the new Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. He embraced other issues of great difficulty, including the future of the Zoological Society of London and the Strangeways Laboratories in Cambridge.

Cross loved the collegiate system of Cambridge, revelled in its scholarship, and contributed with enthusiasm to undergraduate teaching throughout his career. He was appointed a Fellow of Corpus Christi College in 1962, and served the college as Warden of Leckhampton House, the college's graduate community, and as President. He gained much personal enjoyment from these college activities, and attributed much of his energy to his life among young people.

His quiet and autocratic style, and gift to interpose the key question, did not endear him to everyone in science or public life. Beneath the surface, but perhaps known only to those who really knew him well, was a kind and generous man.

(Photograph omitted)

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

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

E150/2014 - English Language Checker (Grade B3)

On Application: Council of Europe: The European Court of Human Rights’s judgme...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial