Brian Robinson (1936–2023)

Brian Robinson, who has died aged 86 years, was a medicinal chemist who dedicated his career to the teaching of organic chemistry and will be remembered by thousands of pharmacy students as the imposing 6 feet 3 inches, smartly dressed, warm-hearted character, who taught them in the Department of Pharmacy at the University of Manchester. 

Brian was born in Hathersage, Derbyshire in May 1936. He obtained BSc, MSc and PhD degrees between 1954 and 1960 in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Manchester.

Subsequently, Brian held research fellowships at the University of St Andrews and University of Nottingham. Then, in 1964, he obtained a lectureship in pharmacy at the University of Manchester, where he would spend the rest of his career. He was appointed senior lecturer in 1970 and then reader in 1980.

In 1984, he received a DSc from the university in recognition of his research into the chemistry of indoles and indole alkaloids. During this time, he also held visiting professorships at the universities of Illinois, United States, and Sassari, Sardinia.

An active researcher, Brian supervised and mentored many master’s and PhD students in his lab. Those who chose medicinal chemistry in their final year were treated to a masterclass in heterocyclic chemistry and knew that an exam essential would be understanding the pivotal [3,3]-sigmatropic rearrangement in the Fischer indole synthesis.

Brian also served on the University of Manchester’s senate and as long-term warden of Moberly Tower, a multi-story student accommodation block on campus. He was closely involved in the social life of the pharmacy department, organising the annual Three Peaks walk, and demonstrating his not inconsiderable skills as a raconteur and risqué joke teller in his ‘Dave Allen spot’ at the annual staff/student revue.

Brian was a prolific author in the scientific arena. In addition to 100+ contributions to the literature and several patents, he published a number of books, in particular his seminal treatise The Fischer Indole Synthesis (1983). He also published The History of Pharmaceutical Education in Manchester (1986).

Outside of work, Brian possessed a deep interest in a variety of historical topics of both local and national importance. He was a significant authority on the Royal Maundy, publishing two books on its history: The Royal Maundy (1977) and Silver Pennies & Linen Towels (1992). 

Other books that reveal the breadth of his interests include Birchinlee: The Workmen’s Village of the Derwent Valley Water Board (1983); Walls Across the Valley: Building of the Howden and Derwent Dams (1993); Seven Blunders of the Peak: Some Derbyshire Legends Reassessed (Editor) (1994); and Howden and Derwent: The Building of the Upper Dams of the Derwent Valley Water Board (2004). His particular interest in Birchinlee, a Derbyshire village that was flooded to create the Derwent reservoir, was that his mother was born there.

On his retirement in 1989, Brian moved to Eyam, Derbyshire, with his golden retriever, close to Kinder Scout, his favourite place to reflect on life. He also re-found his religious beliefs, following an earlier brush with death resulting from a cavernous malformation. He continued writing and, as he often said, “without the use of email or internet”, had a comprehensive textbook on the chemistry of the Calabar bean accepted for publication, which was a characteristic blend of meticulous research and historical context, like all of his books, leavened with wry observations.

Brian will be buried in St Michael and All Angels Church at Hathersage, where both his parents are buried and where plaques commemorate the passing of his brother and sister-in-law Roger and Barbara Robinson. 

Brian Cox and James Gavin

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, April 2023, Vol 310, No 7972;310(7972)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.182041

1 comment

  • Brian Wilkes

    During 40 years on the Register I quoted Dr Robinson frequently to my Pre Registration graduates. A fine man!


You may also be interested in