Professor Max Blythe, FRSB obituary

Born 1939, died 2017. A graduate of the Department of Botany (BSc Botany 1968).

Born in 1939, Max graduated from the University of Sheffield in 1968 with a BSc in Botany.
Beginning his career with teaching, in 1968, he also began presenting on BBC Radio Sheffield a natural history programme for schools called Web of Life.

He was appointed as Biology Master at Charterhouse School in Godalming in 1969, transforming a fairly traditional department into a strongly research-oriented one, which he advanced through the founding of a prize-winning field centre in the Peak District.

Max moved on from teaching to advising in 1976, taking up the post of Senior Education Adviser and Director of Health Education in Oxfordshire. In 1979, he became a Visiting Lecturer in Health Education in the Community Medicine Department of Oxford University, and a member of Oxford University’s Faculty of Clinical Medicine.

During the following years, he worked with the Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario, focusing on drug dependence; he was Chief A-level Biology Examiner of the Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examinations Board; he was Senior Physiology Tutor at Open University Summer Schools; and he gave lectures and delivered papers to international health education conferences.

Max was later involved in healthcare-related teaching and research at the Oxford Polytechnic, then at Oxford Brookes University, and was a member of the team that planned Oxford’s first degree courses in Nursing and Midwifery, for which he designed modules.

Max was also a respected medical historian, and biographer of three major contributors of 20th century medicine – John Fry, Archie Cochrane, and Charles Fletcher. His video-recorded interviews with leading clinicians and medical scientists became the basis of a national biographical archive.

In 1987, Oxford University awarded him the degree of Master of Letters, in recognition of his study of the history if British health education. In 1990, he became an honorary Old Carthusian (old boy of Charterhouse). In 1992, Fairfax University in Louisiana (USA) awarded him the degree of Doctor of Letters, for his work in health education and medical biography. In 2009, Buckingham University appointed him Honorary Visiting Professorial Fellow.

He was also an adviser on medical entries for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Max was a valued and much appreciated member of Green Templeton College, Oxford. He was a long-standing Common Room Member, and supporting the College in the maintenance of archives and records relating to Richard Doll and William Osler, for the promotion of the study of medicine and the history of medicine.

Max had a wide range of interests and a huge zest for life. He loved opera singing and was a talented tenor; he had a passion for cricket and was a member of Lords Cricket Club, striking up a friendship with David Gower by correspondence after Gower’s captaincy of England; he was an avid collector of audio and video recordings of famous scientists; he enjoyed a friendship with JRR Tolkien, struck up when they were room-mates in Oxford.

A keen biographer, Max wrote a number of books, the latest of which, 'Pioneering Physician: the Life of Charles Fletcher, 1911-1995' was published in 2016. Charles Fletcher was Britain's first TV doctor, leading anti-smoking campaigner and first doctor to witness the amazing therapeutic powers of penicillin when trialling it at Oxford in 1941. Largely told in Fletcher's own words, recounted to Max Blythe through more than 20 interviews in the 1980s, the book provides eye-witness accounts of pneumoconiosis research which resulted in major advances in the prevention of the dust disease then afflicting tens of thousands of British coal miners.

Although he lived most of his adult life in Oxford, Max remained very proud of his links with Sheffield and with the Peak District. He was an enthusiastic guest at several Heritage Circle events in Firth Hall, always taking a keen interest in the various speakers from across the University.

Max leaves behind his wife, Cheeko, and son, John.