Obituary: Sir Frank Hartley

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The Independent Online
The Pharmaceutical Journal of October 1930 records the achievements of some prize-winning students of pharmacy, among them one Frank Hartley of Nelson, Lancashire. In one of its more prescient moods the journal wrote: "This is indeed a prosperous opening to what we are convinced is bound to be a notable career in pharmacy." The future Vice-Chancellor of London University and Dean of its School of Pharmacy had just won the Jacob Bell scholarship after attending Nelson Municipal Secondary School and winning in 1926 the Northern Universities School Certificate with exemption from matriculation.

He had had ambitions to become a schoolteacher. Finding him deaf in one ear, the county council withdrew its bursary. On the advice of a physics master, the young Frank then decided to enter pharmacy. So at 55 Railway Street, Nelson, in the pharmacy of J. Hayhurst, he began his three-year apprenticeship. His plumber father had died when Frank was five, and life was obviously a far cry from the cushioned existence of many students today. Long apprenticeship hours were coupled with evening study at college.

He passed his preliminary scientific examination and also entered and won the Pharmaceutical Journal's practical chemistry competitions. He competed for a variety of scholarships open to budding pharmacists. These included examinations not only in chemistry, physics, pharmacy and botany, but also required an English essay and serious attention to Latin, French or German, translating from and into the language sentences such as "Evaporation in the open air at the temperature of the atmosphere depends on that of the air, its hygrometric state and on the speed of its movement".

The pharmacy apprentices of those days had hidden talents. Frank Hartley's would out. Obviously he was destined to practise more widely than the confines of a dispensary would allow. But the ritual of combined work and study was to continue. First came qualification as a "chemist and druggist", then at the Pharmaceutical Society's School of Pharmacy in Bloomsbury Square, London, the diploma of pharmaceutical chemist. A medallist in nearly all his subjects, he became a demonstrator at the school and pursued at nearby Birkbeck College further part-time studies. He graduated with first class honours in Chemistry in 1936.

Now the goal was a PhD which he pursued under the direction of Professor W. Linnell when his teaching duties allowed. He became a Lecturer in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the outbreak of the Second World War. His teaching ambitions had been fulfilled at least.

At the age of 29 Hartley became Chief Chemist of Organon laboratories, a subsidiary of the Dutch company which had largely fallen under German control in Europe. Its strength was in steroids, compounds he returned to after the war when he joined British Drug Houses (BDH) as Director of Research and was involved in the development of the early oral contraceptives.

War brought great demands for antibiotics and the need to marshal the resources of industry to produce penicillin. The Therapeutic Research Corporation was charged with maximising penicillin production and initiating research into other antibiotics. The Ministry of Supply also had a Penicillin Commitee. Hartley was appointed full-time secretary of the first and acted as secretary of the latter until 1946 when he joined BDH. BDH failed to market their oral contraceptive because of unacceptable side-effects. This experience no doubt was one which gave Hartley some personal authority in his role in the Committee on Safety of Drugs when this was established years later and on the Medicines Commission (as Vice-Chairman, 1974-83).

He returned as Dean to his old college, the School of Pharmacy, in 1964, still known as "the Square", now ensconced in its new premises in Brunswick Square, where it maintains its independence and its long tradition of teaching and research in pharmacy, pharmacology and toxicology. While Dean, he served on many external and university committees. He excelled as a chairman, being direct in his confrontation of issues and always having the subject in hand mastered beforehand.

Herbert Grainger recently commented that Frank Hartley "nearly always spoke at length, deploying it seemed, three or more lines of reasoning simultaneously, finally plaiting them into a rope on which he hoisted his now fatigued opponents". Not all took kindly to his prolixity. The eccentric Gladwin Buttle, Professor of Pharmacology at the Square, also somewhat deaf, though selectively, after listening to a lengthy introduction to a meeting, asked pointedly if the Dean could repeat what he had said.

Hartley was elected Deputy Vice-Chancellor of London University in 1973 and made Vice-Chancellor in 1976, shortly thereafter demitting office as Dean of the Square. Throughout this period in academia he was active outside the university on advisory committees. From 1965 to 1967 he was President of the Royal Institute (now Society) of Chemistry. Naturally for a pharmacist, trained by apprenticeship and skilled in chemistry and pharmacy, he was long associated with the standards of drugs and medicines. He served on two important commissions, that on the prevention of microbial contamination of medicinal products, and the committees of enquiry into contaminated infusion fluids which followed from the Devonport fatalities. He worked tirelessly for the British Pharmacacopoeia (BP), and was chairman of the BP Commission from 1970 to 1980. Throughout the world the letters BP after a drug name signified its impeccable credentials. Pharmacopoeias are the embodiment of the standards of medicines ensuring their quality, a prelude to ensuring their safety and efficacy.

Hartley also served on the boards of governors and finance committees and councils of a wide array of bodies, the British Postgraduate Medical Federation, the British Council for the Prevention of Blindness, Kingston Polytechnic, the Royal Free Hospital and St Thomas's Medical School. He was the first pharmacist to be made an honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1979; later the Surgeons similarly honoured him. There were few facets of the profession of pharmacy that he did not touch, and he was knighted for his services to pharmacy.

Frank Hartley's wife, Lydia, who supported him in all his endeavours, predeceased him by a few mouths. One of his sons, also Frank, is now Vice- Chancellor of Cranfield University.

A. T. Florence

Frank Hartley, pharmacist: born 5 January 1911; Director of Research and Scientific Services, British Drug Houses 1946-62; Dean, School of Pharmacy, London University 1962-76, Fellow 1977; President, Royal Society of Chemistry 1965-67; CBE 1970; Deputy Vice-Chancellor, London University 1973-76, Vice-Chancellor 1976-78; Kt 1977; married 1937 Lydia England (died 1996; two sons); died Easenhall, Warwickshire 26 January 1997.