When The Impartial launched in 1986, it carried one innovation that may quickly be copied by all its rivals. The primary version, on Tuesday 7 October, carried a web page fully dedicated to well being tales, which was the duty of its well being editor, Oliver Gillie, who has died, aged 83.
The thought for a well being web page had come from Andreas Whittam Smith, the paper’s founder, who hoped it could entice categorized promoting. In that he was dissatisfied, however as an editorial idea the web page was an excellent success. It introduced science and drugs seen by means of a private lens, an strategy that has since grow to be commonplace. On the time, nonetheless, some papers discovered it arduous to understand. The Guardian quickly launched its personal well being web page, which for months carried articles about well being coverage and the NHS earlier than the penny dropped. “They had been solely excited about individuals as numbers,” Gillie later wryly noticed.
There was a view amongst senior editors within the Seventies and Eighties that human tales weren’t critical. Well being was seen as a girl’s topic, of minor significance beside the key problems with politics and world occasions. What turned clear was that well being was not of minor curiosity to readers. It drove circulation and because the realisation dawned, well being protection expanded. By the mid-Nineteen Nineties, The Impartial had 4 specialist reporters protecting science and well being.
Gillie was a pioneer of the human type of reporting well being and drugs and an vital affect on fashionable well being journalism, tackling topics from acupuncture to impotence properly earlier than they turned mainstream topics of dialogue. Though he had a well-liked strategy, he was no light-weight. He began his profession as a analysis scientist, acquiring a PhD in microbial genetics earlier than becoming a member of The Sunday Occasions beneath editor Harold Evans, who was excited about what Gillie referred to as “physique upkeep”. A collection of award-winning articles adopted, and plenty of books, together with one of many first detailed stories of a coronary heart transplant, seen from the working theatre.
Later in his profession, after leaving full-time journalism, he returned to his science analysis roots, turning into excited about Vitamin D and subsequently campaigning for the federal government and organisations similar to Most cancers Analysis UK to introduce a “rational, evidenced-based public well being coverage” on the vitamin which he argued most Britons had been missing due to recommendation to keep away from the solar.
Oliver John Gillie was born in North Shields in 1937 to John Calder Gillie, a nautical instrument maker and Quaker elder, and Ann Gillie (nee Philipson), a distinguished regional artist. He was one in every of 4 brothers (one adopted) and was educated at Bootham College, York and Edinburgh College and was a Fulbright scholar at Stanford College, US.
He labored beneath Sir Peter Medawar on the Nationwide Institute for Medical Analysis in London and printed 5 papers in peer-reviewed journals earlier than a falling out with a colleague prompted him to begin writing articles for the press. At The Sunday Occasions one in every of his most celebrated items was a 1976 expose of the famous psychologist Cyril Burt, who was discovered to have recycled or fabricated among the knowledge in his well-known twin research purporting to indicate the heritability of intelligence as measured in IQ checks. The episode turned referred to as the Burt Affair and stays controversial to at the present time.
As a reporter, Gillie had a laid again, unhurried air which disarmed his interviewees. However he was additionally tenacious and, by his personal admission, a little bit of a zealot. He was born with a big strawberry birthmark protecting his neck and left cheek which induced him embarrassment as a younger man, none extra so than when interviewed for a spot at Cambridge College by a person with a fair bigger birthmark. The interview didn’t go properly. He later wrote about dwelling with a birthmark and introduced a documentary on facial disfigurement.
Helped by his attractiveness and pure resilience he thought of however rejected cosmetic surgery as a result of “I felt I’d not be myself”. It could also be fanciful to suspect any connection however there’s a neat symmetry together with his later marketing campaign towards Most cancers Analysis UK’s instruction to “all the time cowl up” within the solar, which he pursued with extraordinary vitality for greater than a decade.
His fascination with daylight and its position in supplying the physique with vitamin D – important for wholesome bones and, he believed, to stop many different illnesses from a number of sclerosis to most cancers – developed within the late Nineteen Nineties. He devoted all his time to researching, lobbying and campaigning, establishing a non-public, non-profit Well being Analysis Discussion board which printed “Daylight Theft” in 2004. He may typically be seen strolling the streets of north London topless, insisting it was “OK to take your shirt off” – to the consternation of his household.
Most cancers Analysis UK subsequently modified its recommendation from “all the time cowl up” to “spend a while within the shade” to guard towards pores and skin most cancers. The federal government additionally shifted place and now recommends vitamin D dietary supplements for younger kids and older individuals in a change from earlier recommendation. Six copies of “Daylight Theft” had been requested by policymakers in Australia the place senior scientists advised me it had influenced their considering, as I reported in The Impartial in 2006.
A later paper on “Scotland’s Well being Deficit” was printed in 2008, wherein he argued individuals’s poorer well being north of the border was due a minimum of partially to its cloudy skies. It was broadly coated in Scotland, obtained plaudits from different scientists and led to a gathering with Sir Harry Burns, Scotland’s chief medical officer. In 2014, the Medical Journalists Affiliation conferred its Lifetime Achievement Award on him for his work elevating consciousness of vitamin D.
Oliver Gillie is survived by Jan Thompson, managing editor of The Guardian, and their sons Calder and Sholto, and his daughters Lucy and Juliet from his marriage to filmmaker Louise Panton.
Oliver Gillie, journalist, scientist and campaigner, born 31 October 1937, died 15 Could 2021