Robert Blyth (1921–2014)

Douglas Simpson highlights the achievements of Robert Blyth, former editor of The Pharmaceutical Journal, who maintained strong editorial authority for a quarter of a century.

Robert Blyth was the editor of The Pharmaceutical Journal for 25 years, from 1961 to 1986

Robert Blyth was the editor of The Pharmaceutical Journal for 25 years from 1961 to 1986. He served an apprenticeship with Boots the Chemists in Dunfermline before qualifying from Heriot-Watt school of pharmacy, Edinburgh, in 1949. He saw action in the Royal Artillery and the Royal Indian Artillery during the second world war.

He talked about becoming a journalist with the editor of a local newspaper but decided that the best route into his chosen career was through the professional press.

After a short period of employment as a pharmacist with Boots, in 1951 he joined the 
Chemist & Druggist (C&D) as a subeditor before being promoted to assistant editor in 1954.

On the C&D staff at the time was Ernest Pullom, a pharmacist who was to become editor of The Pharmaceutical Journal in 1957. Blyth and Pullom became friends and Blyth followed Pullom to The Pharmaceutical Journal by invitation in the same year, taking on the post of assistant editor. When Pullom, who lacked the political awareness to cope with the flak that came his way as editor of The Pharmaceutical Journal, left in 1961, Blyth took over editing the title while the Council of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) made up its mind concerning the appointment of a new editor. In the event, the post was not advertised and Blyth was invited to carry on.

Blyth masterminded several changes in design and structure for The Pharmaceutical Journal, the most radical of which was in 1969 when content was grouped much more than hitherto according to subject matter. A new section on the use of drugs was introduced. This was later to be named “clinical pharmacy”, in line with the general direction that pharmacy was taking of developing a wider role in therapeutics.

A notable innovation was a ‘Broad spectrum’ feature where writers from industry, hospital, community and academic pharmacy commented on current issues on a monthly basis.

During Blyth’s time, before the internet age, The Pharmaceutical Journal went into great detail on change. When new medicines legislation was brought before Parliament in the 1960s, for example, The Pharmaceutical Journal carried extensive details of the bill and reported on Parliamentary proceedings at every stage on a clause-by-clause basis. And when the Nuffield report on pharmacy was published in the 1980s, readers had no need to get a copy of the report because The Pharmaceutical Journal published large extracts from it. Blyth believed that The Pharmaceutical Journal should be the only place that pharmacists needed to go to for such information. He also believed it essential to report on the proceedings of the RPSGB and other bodies within pharmacy. His legacy is that anyone interested in the history of pharmacy will find The Pharmaceutical Journal under his editorship to be a rich source of material.

Blyth offered great encouragement to pioneering writers. The work of some of them lives on in major publications, such as ‘Stockley’s drug interactions’, which started life as a Pharmaceutical Journal series. Blyth also ran an important series on screening and prescribing in the pharmacy. These articles — on ‘Minor illness or major disease’ co-authored by GP Paul Stillman and pharmacist Clive Edwards — became a bestselling book of great help to pharmacists in their day-to-day work.

Blyth was thought well of by his peers and was designated a fellow of the then Pharmaceutical Society in 1970 for services to pharmaceutical journalism.

He received the Society’s Charter Gold Medal, recognising outstanding service rendered by a member to the Society or generally in promoting the interests of pharmacy, in 1986. Presenting the award at the Society’s annual general meeting of that year, the then President, Geoffrey Booth, said that it was impossible to speak too highly of the services that Blyth had rendered to pharmacy in the production of what he (the President) considered to be the outstanding pharmaceutical periodical in the world (The Pharmaceutical Journal 1986;236:657). Booth said: “His integrity has never been questioned nor has his willingness to face and comment upon difficult problems, even though he recognises that his comments are bound to upset one person or another.

“The profession should be truly grateful that such a man has been in the chair as the editor of The Pharmaceutical Journal for over a quarter of a century and that his editorials today are just as thought-provoking, just as carefully researched and just as incisive as they were when he was first appointed to the post.”

The following year, Blyth received an MBE for services to pharmacy in the Queen’s birthday honours.

He was allowed to continue in post for a few months past the Society’s normal retirement age of 65 so that he could complete his quarter century as editor.

At the last Council meeting before his retirement, Booth paid tribute to Blyth, saying that “with his deft touch and judgment” he had maintained a strong editorial authority yet had managed “to keep himself independent of the Council”.

Blyth’s wife Phyllis predeceased him. He is survived by his daughter Jane, who did so much to make his final years as comfortable as possible.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 20/27 December 2014, Vol 293, No 7841/2;293(7841/2)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2014.20067389

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