We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Sir  Charles Herbert  Stuart-Harris (1909–1996), by unknown photographerSir Charles Herbert Stuart-Harris (1909–1996), by unknown photographer
Harris, Sir Charles Herbert Stuart- (1909–1996), virologist, was born at 1 High Street, King's Heath, King's Norton, Birmingham, on 12 July 1909, the son of Charles Herbert Harris (d. 1913), a general practitioner, and his wife, Helen, née Parsons; the hyphen between Stuart and Harris was introduced later. He won scholarships to King Edward's School, Birmingham, and later to St Bartholomew's Hospital medical school, London. His ability was clear, and he graduated MB BS with two gold medals in 1931 and MD in 1933; he was admitted MRCP in 1934. He was house physician to Professor Sir Francis Fraser and demonstrator in pathology at St Bartholomew's Hospital from 1933, and he moved with Fraser to become first assistant in the department of medicine at the newly established British Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith Hospital in west London in 1935.

In 1935 Stuart-Harris was awarded a fellowship valued at £55 a year from the bequest of Sir Henry Royce (of Rolls-Royce) which enabled him to undertake research into the cause and cure of influenza at the National Institute for Medical Research, where Wilson Smith, Christopher Howard Andrewes, and Sir Patrick Playfair Laidlaw had made the first isolation of human influenza virus two years earlier using ferrets which had developed a respiratory tract infection. A laboratory infection enabled Smith and Stuart-Harris to show that influenza A virus that had been through a number of ferret passages was still infectious to man. Stuart-Harris also succeeded in adapting influenza A virus to mice by serial intracerebral passage. In the USA two other researchers, Francis and Magill, had made separate isolations of influenza B virus, and Stuart-Harris next spent a period at the Rockefeller Institute in New York working with Thomas Francis on influenza B virus. After returning to England he continued his influenza virus studies supported by a Foulerton research fellowship of the Royal Society, awarded in 1938. In the previous year, on 4 September 1937, he had married Marjorie Winifred (b. 1915), younger daughter of Fred Robinson of Dulwich.

The outbreak of the Second World War interrupted his active research on respiratory tract infections, and Stuart-Harris next served the Royal Army Medical Corps as a pathologist, by 1945 with the rank of colonel. His laboratory background led to his involvement in the development of a typhus vaccine, during which he contracted the disease, but he made a full recovery and later took part in field trials of the vaccine in north Africa. He contributed to the Medical Research Council's Special Report on typhus, published in 1946. He also served in Italy, India, and the Far East, where he was concerned with the medical problems of released prisoners of war in Singapore. Later, in Germany, the somewhat different problems of survivors of concentration camps came under his care.

Returned to civilian life, Stuart-Harris in 1946 became the first full-time professor of medicine at the University of Sheffield, an appointment that initially caused surprise that a pathologist should be given a clinical chair. Any reservations concerning his suitability were quickly dispelled, however, as he gradually built up a department with a high reputation for both teaching and research. Somewhat austere by nature Stuart-Harris was quietly spoken, though firm in his dealings with students and staff. He seldom missed a ward round or an outpatient or teaching session. He was nicknamed ‘the Smiling Tiger’ by medical students, reflecting his intolerance of laziness or loose thinking, but he was immensely supportive of creative ability wherever he found it. The Christmas parties he and his wife hosted for members of staff were warmly remembered as features of the Sheffield year. The Medical Research Council set up a research unit at Lodge Moor Hospital, Sheffield, under his charge. Direct personal involvement in laboratory research evolved into teamwork with a succession of handpicked assistants, several of whom later went on to senior appointments elsewhere. Research on influenza and other respiratory infections, notably chronic bronchitis and pertussis, continued, and one of the first clinical trials of oral poliovirus vaccine was carried out in Sheffield.

Highly esteemed by both patients and staff in Sheffield, Stuart-Harris's rare combination of broad clinical and laboratory skills meant that his advice was sought far beyond that city. He served on the board of the Public Health Laboratory Service (1954–66); the Medical Research Council (1957–61); and the University Grants Committee (1968–77), being chairman of the medical subcommittee (1973–7). He became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1944 and gave the Goulstonian lecture in 1945, the Croonian lecture in 1962, and the Harveian oration in 1974. He wrote many original papers and contributions to textbooks and reviews, most of them relating to respiratory tract infections. He was much in demand outside the UK and was visiting professor of medicine at Albany Medical College in 1953, and at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee, in 1961. As Sir Arthur Sims Commonwealth travelling professor he visited the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, in 1962. He gave the Henry Cohen lecture at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1966 and was Waring professor at the University of Colorado and Stanford University, California, in 1967. He was president of the Association of Physicians of Great Britain and Ireland in 1971, and honorary member of the Association of American Physicians and of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. He was awarded honorary degrees by the University of Hull in 1973 and by Sheffield University in 1978. He was appointed CBE in 1961 and knighted in 1970.

After retirement in 1972 Stuart-Harris continued his service to Sheffield University as postgraduate dean of medicine until 1977. Overseas he acted as medical adviser to the new Chinese medical school in Hong Kong, and he also advised the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, on viral vaccines. His wisdom and dedication to his work were clear to all his associates, and he continued with an office in the medical school until he was eighty-five. Less apparent was the strength he drew from the support of his wife and the peaceful family life they enjoyed with their daughter, who became an educational psychologist, and their two sons, one of whom became an accountant in Sheffield and the other of whom became a professor of oncology in Australia. Stuart-Harris died on 23 February 1996, and was survived by his wife and three children.

James S. Porterfield

Sources  

WWW · The Times (20 March 1996) · BMJ (22 March 1997), 906–7 · private information (2004) [D. A. J. Tyrrell] · Munk, Roll · b. cert. · m. cert.

Archives  

University of Sheffield, casebook, ref. MS 182


Likenesses  

photograph, News International Syndication, London [see illus.] · photograph, repro. in BMJ

Wealth at death  

£192,909: probate, 26 April 1996, CGPLA Eng. & Wales