2009 Honorary Membership Award Winners
|Photo courtesy of Jerry Hooker.
I left school with arts GCE 'A' level qualifications in 1965 to join the staff of the Natural History Museum, London [then the British Museum (Natural History)], as Scientific Assistant to Anthony Sutcliffe in the Fossil Mammal Section, Palaeontology Department. I first shared an office with Shirley Savage, who taught me much about the subject and motivated me in the career I had just embarked upon. My early tasks included: assembling data for the then new (and sadly now long defunct) Fossil Mammal Gallery; reorganizing parts of the fossil mammal collections in readiness for removal to a planned new building that nobody at that time believed would ever materialise; and dismantling a bipedally mounted Glossotherium skeleton, on each of whose bones I stuck a catalogue number (a number I still remember today). Many years later I had the opportunity of supervising the remounting of the Glossotherium more appropriately in quadrupedal gait and it is once more on display.
While employed, I studied part-time for more appropriate 'A' levels in geology and zoology and went on to obtain a BSc in 1972 in the same subjects at Norwood Technical College, south London, the only relevant local education establishment that taught both day and evening classes. My PhD thesis, also part-time, was supervised jointly by Kenneth Kermack at University College London and Alan Gentry at the NHM. The subject was British Bartonian (Middle Eocene) mammals, which were mainly recovered by sampling and screenwashing at Creechbarrow Hill, whose summit is now lower. At this time I developed a broader interest in mammals than just their taxonomy, looking also at phylogeny, palaeoecology and biostratigraphy, but I have retained a core interest in the UK Paleogene. Long-term collaboration with palaeobotanist Margaret Collinson (Royal Holloway University of London) has resulted in palaeoenvironmental studies that have expanded in various directions, e.g. taphonomy, ancient diets and isotopes, thanks to jointly supervised PhD students and postdocs.
Meanwhile, I ascended the ranks in the Museum, eventually to Head of Vertebrates & Anthropology Division, and am now retired but very active as a Scientific Associate at the same institution. My fieldwork has been and continues to be dominated by the Paleogene of the London and Hampshire Basins, ably assisted on many occasions by my colleague Andy Currant. However, from time to time my research has drifted down into the Mesozoic, working with Percy Butler, Denise Sigogneau-Russell and Paul Ensom. I have also at times dispersed as far as Mongolia, working with Demberel Dashzeveg, and Antarctica, with the British Antarctic Survey and Ross MacPhee. The activities that have probably fascinated me most in my career have been carrying out a functional anatomical study of the artiodactyl Anoplotherium, the finding of ankle bones of nyctitheres that link them more closely with tree shrews than with true shrews, and collecting a dinosaur in the Antarctic. Although a relatively recent newcomer to SVP meetings, I am now hooked and I greatly appreciate my election as an Honorary Member of the Society.