An encounter with Colin Blakemore and Les Ward on the set of BBC One’s Kilroy in 1991 led to the formation of what eventually became Boyd. At the time, Les was director of Advocates for Animals and I of the Research for Health Charities Group.
Then, as now, I opposed animal research in principle, but I believed that patient needs and medical advances should come first in a society that chooses to eat animals and use for work. Those involved in the issues – animal rights activists and animal welfare organisations, scientists, doctors and the pharmaceutical industry, as well as medical research charities and patient groups – usually only met than in bear pits on television and radio where the goal was to win the polarized debate, not listen to the concerns of other parties, and we wanted to foster more effective exchanges.
Colin didn’t meet Les by accident. In the autumn of 1991 there was the public launch of the RHCG, originally chaired by the Wellcome Trust and made up of major charities including the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research Campaign and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, whose Charity shops on the main street were set on fire and had their windows smashed by radical animal rights activists.
As a science journalist, and following the recent success of 25 charities coming together to organize National Transplant Week, I was appointed director, and eventually it grew to represent 95 medical research charities and patient organizations before being merged into the Association of Medical Research Charities in 1997. The first public event I organized was a debate on Kilroy, to which Les and Colin were both invited.
During the debate, someone shouted that Colin deserved to be killed for his research on kittens’ eyes, and Les replied that such feelings had no place in the animal rights movement, because everything the world had an equal right to life and decent treatment, animal and human.
Immediately after the show ended, I approached Les to talk to him, and Colin joined us to thank him, which is how we all first met. Within a year Colin had persuaded Professor Kenneth Boyd to chair the focus group as a neutral ethics expert, and by 1992 we were sitting around a table with the Home Office , public, pharmaceutical and charitable research funders, academic societies, veterinarians, animal welfare charities. , alternative research groups and some radical activists. One of the best things we’ve all done, and issued a public statement about, was agreeing that testing cosmetics on animals has no place in a civilized society.
Colin was immensely proud of the Boyd Group and must take much of the credit for its success and the organization of the first administration. He bore much of the unfair and personal weight of threats from animal activists at the time, especially to his family, but many of us also received death threats and abuse simply for trying to advance medical science, public understanding of how research is done, and new treatments and cures for patients, especially in the areas of genetics and brain research.
He was an excellent communicator and will be missed by all of us.