Solly Zuckerman was born on May 30th 1904 in Cape Town, South Africa, the second child and eldest son of Moses and Rebecca Zuckerman, nee Glaser, themselves children of Jewish immigrants. He was educated at the South African College School and Cape Town University, where he studied medicine. In 1925 he travelled to England to undertake his clinical training at University College Hospital Medical School, London University. There the patronage of Sir Grafton Elliot Smith encouraged him to pursue his interest in primate evolution and behaviour, rather than to take up a career in medicine.
In 1928 Elliot Smith assisted the newly-qualified Zuckerman in securing his first appointment, as Prosector (Research Anatomist) to the Zoological Society of London, at the London Zoo in Regent's Park. He combined the job with research at University College then, in 1932, secured a Rockefeller Research Fellowship that enabled him to go to the United States to pursue his research into primate physiology at Yale University, under Dr John Fulton. He also spent a short period working with Dr Robert Yerkes at Yale's new Anthropoid Experimental Station at Jacksonville, Florida.
In 1934 Zuckerman returned to England and, as a Beit Research Fellow, took up the post of Demonstrator in the Department of Human Anatomy, Oxford University, working under Professor Wilfred Le Gros Clark. In 1939 he was appointed to the Sands Cox Chair in Anatomy at Birmingham University, a post he held until 1969. At the time of his acceptance of the appointment Zuckerman was already engaged in war work with the Ministry of Home Security and did not take charge of the Anatomy Department at Birmingham until 1946.
Zuckerman's earliest, and abiding, scientific interests were primate behaviour and evolution. His first paper, Note on a superficial scraping of the floor of a rock shelter situated on the farm Stradbroke, District Middelburg , Cape appeared in the South African Journal of Science in 1925 . The pre-war years were spent studying primate anatomy and behaviour, and the physiological basis of the latter, and in particular the role of the sex hormones and the mechanisms that control them. This work, conducted in what Professor Krohn has described as 'the Golden Age of Endocrinology and Reproductive Physiology' [Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 41], was perhaps his most productive period of personal research, rewarded in 1943 by his election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society. Post-war his research, or rather the research that he led at Birmingham, focussed on oogenesis - the formation of egg cells; the relationship between the endocrine glands the hypothalamus and the pituitary; and primate evolution. The full range of his scientific interests is manifest in the bibliography of his writings.
It was in Oxford that Solly Zuckerman met his future wife, Lady Joan Rufus Isaacs, daughter of the 2nd Marquess of Reading; they married in 1939, and had two children, a son, Paul, and a daughter, Stella, who predeceased her father in 1992. Lady Zuckerman died in 2000.
Zuckerman's wartime career began with the Ministry of Home Security, which was responsible for Air Raid Precautions (ARP) and which established one of its Extra-Mural Units in the Human Anatomy Department at Oxford (the Oxford Extra-Mural Unit, or OEMU), under Le Gros Clark's direction. Here Zuckerman, working closely with the physicist J.D. Bernal, studied air-raid casualties and their causes. From the OEMU Zuckerman progressed to Combined Operations Headquarters with Bernal in 1942, and thence to North Africa to study the effectiveness of allied air operations. He was retained in the Mediterranean theatre of war by Air Chief Marshal Tedder to assist in the planning and analysis of air operations, his work culminating in the development of a plan to assist the allied invasion of Sicily by destroying the rail and road communication systems.
In January 1944 Zuckerman was recalled to the United Kingdom to join the Allied Expeditionary Air Force's planning team for Operation OVERLORD. After the Normandy landings he set about the post-operation analysis of the air component of OVERLORD. In 1945 he became Scientific Director of the British Bombing Survey Unit, the chief task of which was to conduct an operational analysis of the Strategic Air Offensive against Germany.
After the war Zuckerman was appointed to the new Advisory Council on Scientific Policy, and served as its Vice-Chairman until it was wound up in 1964, first under Sir Henry Tizard and then under Sir Alexander Todd. In the late 1940s he chaired a government panel to investigate alternative sources of raw materials in order to reduce dependence on imports that evolved in 1950 into the Natural Resources (Technical) Committee, which he also chaired. Concurrently Zuckerman was appointed to the Agricultural and Aeronautical Research Councils, and to the Scientific Advisory Council of the Ministry of Works. His OEMU work was pursued by other means, with research for the Ministry of Supply into: body armour; land-mine detection; the wound ballistics of rifle bullets; and the biological effects of blast from nuclear explosions. The latter brought him into contact with the Lovelace Foundation laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 1960 he was invited to take up the post of Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence, and was knighted.
Zuckerman served at the Ministry of Defence for a little over four years then, in 1965, moved to the Cabinet Office as Chief Scientific Adviser to Her Majesty's Government. He formally retired as Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) in 1969, but it is clear from papers still being sorted that he remained active as a " roving ambassador " and special adviser to successive Prime Ministers from 1970 until his death. Solly Zuckerman received a peerage in 1971, assuming the style Baron Zuckerman of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk.
While the increasingly rare sightings of Zuckerman at Birmingham University caused some wry comment, there is no doubt of his profound influence on his own department. He arrived with firm views about medical education and the teaching of anatomy in particular, which he proceeded to put into practice. He also built up a strong research team.
In 1955 Zuckerman became a member of the Council of the Zoological Society of London and in 1957 accepted the role of Honorary Secretary; he became the Society's President in 1977, a A position from which he retired in 1984. As in the case of the Anatomy Department at Birmingham, Zuckerman had his own vision of what the Society should stand for. To him, it was first and foremost a scientific institution and he proceeded to expand its research activities substantially.
In 1969, following his retirement from the Sands Cox Chair at Birmingham University, Zuckerman was appointed Professor at Large at the University of East Anglia (UEA), a new university of which he had been a founder. He maintained a close association with UEA, and its School of Environmental Sciences in particular, until his death on April 1st 1993.
SZ's scientific and public careers were played out against a backdrop of a glittering transatlantic social life, which began almost as soon as he arrived in Britain in 1925 and hints of which can be found in his general correspondence. He remained, nevertheless, an intensely private person. His autobiography reveals little of his truly private life, and his archive is no more forthcoming.