University College London, Department of Physiology

Scope and Content

Brown, Sir George Lindor, Letters from ex-workers in the Physiology Department, 1957-1958. Plus a list of people who worked in the Department of Physiology between 1945 and 1957.

Administrative / Biographical History

Brown, Sir (George) Lindor (1903-1971), physiologist, was born in Liverpool on 9 February 1903, the only son and younger child of George William Arthur Brown, schoolmaster in Warrington, and his wife, Helen Wharram, of Yorkshire. He attended first his father's school and then the Boteler grammar school in Warrington. At eighteen he won a scholarship to the University of Manchester, following his sister, Kathleen, and read medicine rather than chemistry as he had originally intended. He took an honours BSc in physiology (1924); after winning the Platt physiological scholarship, he spent a further year doing research in McSwiney's laboratory towards an MSc (1925). He qualified in medicine in 1928 (MB ChB Manch.), winning the Bradley prize and medal for operative surgery.

McSwiney had moved in 1926 to the physiology chair in Leeds, and in 1928 Brown joined him there as lecturer in physiology, working for some years on the nervous control of the motility of gastric muscle. In 1930 he married Jane Rosamond (d. 1975), daughter of Charles Herbert Lees, professor of physics in the University of London, and vice-principal of Queen Mary College. They had met five years earlier in clinical school. There were four children: Helen, who graduated in medicine; Christopher, an engineer; Stephen, an airline pilot; and Humphrey, a biomedical engineer.

In 1932 Brown took advantage of six months' leave to work in the laboratory of Sir C S Sherrington at Oxford, collaborating with J C Eccles in an electrophysiological analysis of vagal action on the heart. On returning to Leeds he began his own first fully independent research on ganglionic transmission, with kindred methods. In giving papers to the Physiological Society, he attracted the attention of Sir Henry H. Dale, who offered him a job at the National Institute for Medical Research in Hampstead. Brown took up the appointment in March 1934, joining John H Gaddum and W S Feldberg in Dale's department of biochemistry and pharmacology.

Brown and Feldberg's work on the transmission of impulses and release of acetylcholine by the superior cervical ganglion led them to study acetylcholine metabolism in the ganglion, and they were the first to estimate the turnover rate of a transmitter. Working also with Marthe Vogt and Dale, Brown and Feldberg showed that acetylcholine acted as a transmitter at the junction between a motor nerve and voluntary muscle. This was important, not only for general physiology, but also because of the possibility of a chemical link being susceptible to pharmacological manipulation for therapeutic purposes (as has proved to be the case). Brown brought to the group electrophysiological methods, a beautiful experimental technique, and an insight into the physiology of excitable tissues that was vital at the time. He also became increasingly influential in the Physiological Society; he served as honorary secretary from 1941 to 1949; as foreign secretary from 1949 to 1961; and as an editor of the 'Journal of Physiology' from 1940 to 1947.

With the advent of the Second World War, the institute turned to new activities. Brown, who also became a private in the Home Guard, first engaged in research on motion sickness, body armour, and tank design. Then in 1942 the royal naval personnel research committee (RNPRC) was set up jointly by the Medical Research Council and the chief executive. First to be formed was an underwater subcommittee, in which Brown brought together scientists (including J. B. S. Haldane) and naval officers involved with diving and submarine operations, in an exceptionally fruitful co-operation. He had a flair for removing barriers, and commanded the confidence of his naval colleagues to a remarkable degree. The Hampstead Physiology Laboratory, under Brown's direction after Dale's retirement in 1942, turned to the study of underwater breathing, the effects of excess of oxygen or carbon dioxide on humans (using themselves and colleagues as subjects), and the design of diving apparatus. Other committees, on clothing, gunnery, habitability, and visual problems, followed. Brown remained secretary of the RNPRC until 1949, and was then its chairman for nearly another twenty years.

Brown was elected FRS in 1946 and appointed CBE in 1947. In 1949 he accepted the Jodrell chair of physiology at University College, London. He was happy and successful there, much strengthening both the physiology department and that of biophysics under Bernard Katz, and developing with J S Gillespie important work on adrenergic transmission. They established the relationship between impulse frequency and transmitter release, and clearly distinguished between that release and overflow of transmitter into the circulation. Despite giving up the secretaryship of the RNPRC and of the Physiological Society in 1949, he was carrying many outside activities and a sudden gastric haemorrhage in 1952 made him shed some of these. But new demands appeared, and having served on various Royal Society committees he became its biological secretary from 1955 to 1963.

In 1960, after advising the electors to the Waynflete chair of physiology in Oxford, Brown was himself offered the post, and accepted. He became a fellow of Magdalen College. Three years later he became a member of hebdomadal council, and also of the Franks commission of inquiry into the working of Oxford University. In 1967 he was elected principal of Hertford College. He resigned his chair, but his research group continued in the pharmacology department. He inaugurated the college's major appeal, negotiated two senior research fellowships, and dealt with student unrest with a light touch.

Brown was knighted in 1957 and made FRCP in 1958. At various times he served on the Medical Research Council, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the governing body of the Lister Institute, latterly as chairman. He was president of the Institute of Information Scientists and of the International Union of Physiological Sciences. He was Feldberg prize lecturer in 1961 and Royal Society Croonian lecturer in 1964. He held honorary doctorates at the universities of St Andrews (1958), Brazil (1958), Lige (1959), Leicester (1968), and Monash (1969), and was a member of the Danish and Brazilian academies of science, and an officer of the Order of the Southern Cross of Brazil (1959). The Physiological Society, which had made him an honorary member in 1970, established in his name the G. L. Brown lecture, given in a number of physiology departments every year.

He died in the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, on 22 February 1971.

Access Information


Closed pending cataloguing.

Acquisition Information

Transferred in Nov 1988 from the Department of Physiology via Susan Gore, following the reorganisation of the Faculty of Medical Sciences.