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The Formation of the
Association for Radiation Research

A Recollection by the late Dr Tikvah Alper (1909-1995)

Few ideas or developments have precisely defined origins; this is true also of "learned societies". Among radiation research workers in the UK it is conventional wisdom that the ARR evolved as a matter of course from the Radiation Research Visiting Club (RRVC), which had no constitution, no subscription, no rules and no organisation. In fact, those very loose arrangements were so much to the taste of participants in RRVC meetings that proposals for a formal society encountered considerable opposition: more than they might have done, if the RRVC had never existed. Nevertheless, the Visiting Club was the parent of the ARR, insofar as the Steering Committee that hammered out proposals for a formal organisation comprised people who had been actively involved with the Club; and one of the Constitutional Rules adopted on that occasion read: "The scientific business of the Association shall be conducted mainly according to the precedent set by meetings of the Radiation Research Visiting Club . . . . ". For a few years, at least, that rule was adhered to. It is appropriate, therefore, that the history of the formation of the ARR should be preceded by an account of how the RRVC came into being. Relevant papers exist, but I rely also to some extent on memory - my own and Alma Howard's.

In the late 1940's and early 1950's "Atomic Energy Authorities" or their equivalents were set up by the governments of many countries, including several which had no tradition of radiobiological research. Funds were made available in several European countries for the organisation of "international symposia" on radiobiological topics; many British radiation research workers participated. At the same time, there was no framework for regular radiobiology meetings at home. Some of us began to feel that we came into contact with compatriots sharing our interests only when we attended meetings abroad! In fact it was at the Radiobiology Symposium at Ličge, in 1954, that arrangements were finalised for launching the RRVC. Several of those involved at the informal meeting were heads of centres of radiation research, all of whom had welcomed the initial suggest that a Radiation Research Visiting Club be formed. That suggestion came in the Radiopathology Research Unit (ERRU) at Hammersmith Hospital. All of us - Michael Ebert, Shirley Hornsey, Alma Howard, Paul Howard-Flanders, Stephen Pelc and I - had been with Hal Gray before he left the MRC, and Hammersmith Hospital, in 1953, and we all retained a great affection for the building in the Labour Yard in which Dr Gray and his colleagues had worked for most of his time at Hammersmith Hospital (the building has now disappeared. It merits a place in British radiobiological history in its own right). We used to meet for coffee in one of the laboratories in that building, and on one occasion we discussed the want of communication between ourselves and other radiation research workers in the UK. But even in those days there seemed already to be too many scientific societies; we were reluctant to press for the formation of yet another and thought that others would share our reluctance. So the idea evolved that we might have meetings without founding a formal society. A Visiting Club might be the answer. Our proposal was endorsed by our own Director and welcomed by Hal Gray, whom we very soon consulted about the proposal. Heads of departments who were likely to be interested were sent a letter, signed by Dr Popj·k, Dr Gray or one or other of the group who had dreamed up the idea, proposing the formation of a Radiation Research Visiting Club. It was suggested that " . . . . the organisers (of a meeting) would arrange for visits to their own laboratories, and would also invite a few papers. This would perhaps provide an opportunity for us to hear about current work, or about papers which are in press. . . . . If eight or more centres participate, the burden of arranging the meetings would not fall too heavily on any one group of people".

The response was encouraging, and at Ličge, it was agreed that a first meeting should be held at the invitation of the ERRU, at Hammersmith Hospital in January, 1955. By the time the invitations were sent out, in December, 1954, there was a list of thirteen "member centres", and also a list of "individual members", ie radiation research workers known or likely to be interested, but not working at any of the member centres. An important property at the first Visiting Club meeting, and at every one that succeeded it, was the Visitor's Book, bearing the initials RRVC. this had been organised and paid for by Alma Howard who, at Ličge, had found herself the custodian of surplus change from the contributions made to pay for drinks by participants in the preliminary meeting to launch the club! Between "visits" the Club existed only through the Visitors' Book (now, alas, disappeared. Can anyone help us to locate it?) and the lists of member centres and individual participants. These were passed from the hosts of each meeting to the prospective hosts of the next one. The meetings, seven of them within three plus years, proved popular and were at least as well attended as most ARR meetings have been. From the entries in the Visitors' Book names were added to one or other list after each meeting, and the list of the "individual members" in particular became quite formidable. By the time of the 5th meeting, in 1957, more than 400 people had signed the Visitors' Book. The feeling began to grow in some quarters that the Club could not continue without at least some more formal registration of "members".

In fact there were some who felt, even from the earliest days of the Club's existence, that radiation research in the UK warranted the formation of a Society or Association. During the third Club meeting, at the Christie Hospital, Manchester (November, 1956), Dr Edith Paterson put the case for a more formal organisation, including involvement with a Journal. As far as I know there is no record of the discussion; but the upshot was that on that occasion Dr Paterson did not gain her point; the majority of those present wanted to keep the RRVC as it was. But pressure for greater normality came from another quarter. Dr Alexander Hollaender, then Director of the Biology Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, visited the UK in June, 1957 and asked to meet a few senior radiobiologists, to whom he put the need for "more formal representation of British radiobiologists in international affairs". The first International Congress of Radiation Research was to be held in Burlington, Vermont in 1958. Dr Hollaender said that senior radiobiologists in the UK had been consulted, but it would have been more appropriate if a British Committee could have been approached. The need for an elected Committee to represent the UK would be a continuing one, if the Burlington Congress were to be followed by others. Those present at the discussion (J A V Butler, L H Gray, G Popj·k and Edna Roe) undertook to raise the matter at the next RRVC meeting, the fifth, which was to be held at the Downs Branch of the Royal Marsden Hospital in November, 1957. So, for the first time, the programme of an RRVC meeting included a business meeting, and a parallel innovation was the insertion of a notice in Nature [1].  Dr Len Lamerton, the organiser of the fifth meeting, described the agenda of the business meeting as being concerned with "the future organisation of the Club and a report on the preparation of a list of members".

It had been expected by some that the Downs meeting would be the occasion of a definite decision in favour of the formation of a Radiation Research Society or something equivalent. In the event, there was considerable resistance from many, perhaps a majority, of members. The brief notes of the meeting that exist barely reflect the strength of feeling. Suggestions were made, for example, that we might circumvent the problems entailed in having no register of members by seeking affiliation with some existing organisation - the British Institute of Radiology was one of those suggested. The affection with which those present regarded the RRVC is reflected in the resolution finally agreed: "That a small committee be elected to propose the constitution of some form of association which would not jeopardize the future of the Club as it is at the moment".

The Steering Committee members were: Professor Charlesby, Dr Gray, Dr Lamerton, Dr Loutit, Professor Mitchell, Dr Paterson, Dr Popj·k and I. Dr Gray was asked to be convenor. All of the members except Professors Charlesby and Mitchell, and me, had been responsible for invitation to RRVC meetings. Between them, the members of the Committee had so many other commitments - abroad as well as in the UK - that it never proved possible to get even a majority of them together, so most of our work was done by correspondence. The Steering Committee's proposals for a set of Constitutional Rules were to be put to a business meeting at the next RRVC visit. Up to the time of that meeting, in March, 1958, in Cambridge, the consensus of the Steering Committee on the object of the Association was expressed by the proposed Constitutional Rule 2: "The object of the Association shall be to bring together research workers of different disciplines, having in common an interest in radiobiology, and to represent them corporately". As it happened, the sixth RRVC meeting had been organised specifically to attract radiation research workers who were not necessarily, or not at all, interest in radiobiology, so it is not surprising that the reception of that proposal was hardly rapturous. Only three members of the Steering Committee attended that business meeting - Dr Gray, Professor Charlesby and I - and we then composed a report to be circulated to all the other member of the Steering Committee for comment. We reported that "many of those present (at the business meeting in Cambridge) made the point that the Club had hitherto been a `Radiation Research' Club and the Steering Committee had no warrant for narrowing the scope of the proposed Association to Radiobiology". We suggested a change in wording of Constitutional Rule 2, " . . . . research workers of different disciplines, have a common interest in radiobiology and the allied subjects of radiation chemistry and radiation physics . . . . ", and also that Mr W H T Davison, of Tube Investments Research Laboratories, (one of the joint hosts of the sixth RRVC meeting), be co-opted onto the Steering Committee to give stronger representation to the chemists. Professor Mitchell and Mr Davison wanted the words "and the allied subjects of" removed; all other members of the Steering Committee were in favour of some emphasis on radiobiology, some expressing themselves quite strongly on this point. I think that all of us on the Steering Committee took our brief about maintaining Visiting Club style scientific meetings quite seriously, and it was felt that this method would not be possible in the context of an all-embracing society or association unless there were separate sections. However, the decisions were to be taken at a business meeting of all the participants in the seventh (and last) meeting of the RRVC, to be held at the invitation of the ERRU at Hammersmith Hospital in May, 1958. Professor Dainton, who had not been involved with the Steering Committee, was asked to take the chair.

It was a lively meeting. Thanks to Miss Dorothy Buyers, who made full shorthand notes of the proceedings, we have a fairly complete records of who said what. At the beginning of the meeting, some of the participants continued to express the hope that the formation of an organised society might be staved off! However, the Steering Committee's recommendation that an Association be started ("modestly, and with flexibility") was adopted, and the meeting proceeded to discuss the proposed "Constitutional Rules", which were as few and simple as they could reasonably be. More precision and formality had to be introduced subsequently, to enable the ARR to qualify for charitable status. It may be of interest to members who have more recently joined the ARR to see the original Constitutional Rules, as proposed by the Steering Committee, and as changed by majority vote before they were adopted and the ARR brought into being.    

Note added by GDD Jones (ARR Chairman), July 2010: For your further information an article written by Dr. Gray and Miss Alper, describing the formation of the Association for Radiation Research, was published in Nature [2] with a further brief announcement being published in the British Journal of Radiobiology  [3].

To read the original articles, click on the citations below.

[1]        ‘Radiation Research Visiting Club’, Nature (vol. 180, p411, 1957).

[2]        ‘Association for Radiation Research’, Nature (vol. 182, p92, 1958).

[3]        ‘An Association for Radiation Research’, British Journal of Radiology (vol. 31, p574,   1958).

"Constitutional Rules" Proposed by the Steering Committee and How They Were Finally Agreed

1. "The Association shall be called the British Radiation Research Association".

Some wanted it to be a Society, some wanted it to be only a "Group". Some wanted it to be a Radiobiology Section or Group. After a lot more discussion about the word British, this was dropped and "Association for Radiation Research" adopted.

2. "The objects of the Association shall be:

(a) To bring together workers of different disciplines, having a common interest in radiobiology, and the allied subjects of radiation chemistry and radiation physics.

(b) to establish and maintain liaison nationally and internationally with bodies having similar or related interests".

The notes suggest that argument on (a) must have gone on for some time. Eventually it was agreed that the words "and the allied subjects of" be dropped. There was no discussion about 2 (b)!"

3. "Any person working in the fields covered by the objects of the Association shall be eligible for election to membership".

There was considerable discussion, ending in the change of the word "working" to "actively interested".

4. "The scientific business of the Association shall be conducted according to the precedent set by meetings of the Radiation Research Visiting Club which have been held before the formation of the Association".

The word "mainly" was inserted between "conducted" and "according".

5. "Administrative business shall be conducted only at a meeting at which no limitation of members has been imposed".

6. "Administrative business meetings shall be called as required and not less frequently than once in two years ".

These two clauses were shortened and simplified to:

7. "Administrative business meetings shall be conducted not less frequently than once in every two years ", after discussion in which it was pointed out that, the Committee (to be elected) should be trusted to decide when it would be suitable to raise minor matters of business.

The remaining two clauses proposed the composition of the Committee and the amount of the annual subscription - 10/- !

The Programme for the RRVC meeting had stated that the Business Meeting was to take place from 5 to 6.45 pm, and would continue after the dinner, if necessary. When I wrote to Professor Dainton about the Agenda, I said that "it would be very satisfactory" if the business could indeed be concluded before the dinner. But, firm as Fred Dainton was, as Chairman, there was no hope of that! However, with dinner intervening before the meeting moved on to the election of the first Committee, that comparatively peaceful item of business was not too much of an anti-climax.