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Being involved in history
  1. Bruce Vivash Jones


After a short time in practice, followed by a research and teaching role at the Royal Veterinary College, Bruce Vivash Jones joined the pharmaceutical industry before setting up his own consultancy business. He also has a penchant for veterinary history

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I WAS raised in the country, with agriculture in its pre-intensive days: horses, wagons and hay ricks. My first veterinary experience was in 1938, when our veterinary surgeon came to see a litter of poorly piglets. He said, ‘I'd better knock one on the head and look inside; give me a hammer.’ A swift blow concussed the piglet, the jugular was cut, chest and abdomen opened, an incision made in the gut and a tight mass of Ascaris tumbled out – to a 10- year-old, this was absolutely fascinating.

In the war years I was at boarding school and active in the school farm and Young Farmers' Club. When sixth form selection arrived I was inclined towards classics, history being my favourite subject. However, I entered the science sixth as botany and zoology were my strengths. I have always valued my housemaster's admonition as he made his nightly round of the dormitories: ‘Before you go to sleep, think, what have I learned today? If you cannot think of anything then you have wasted a day of your life.’ It was good counsel, as my life turned out to be a continual search for knowledge and information.

Entering the Royal Veterinary College in 1946 opened a new door, with subjects to learn and the freedom to explore what London had to offer in those post-war years, when there was an enthusiasm to build a new sort of world. I got both a veterinary and a social-political education.

One outstanding memory was the summer of 1947 in communist Yugoslavia, helping to build a railway to Sarajevo; apart from the day-after-day physical labour, it was an opportunity to meet many people, including Ronald Searle and the historian E. P. Thompson.

After qualifying in 1951, I worked in a mixed practice in Dublin; it was enjoyable, but no career ladder. Returning to London I joined a small animal practice, but was not satisfied with myself. Reg Wooldridge of the Animal Health Trust offered to fund me for a research PhD, and St Mary's Hospital, Paddington accepted me to study allergic and autoimmune disease, but the governors overruled this as I might come into contact with human patients.

Then a vacancy occurred in the pathology department at the RVC; I was accepted at £425 a year. Here I was presented with a new experience of both learning and teaching, and a freedom to explore ideas. A personal defining moment occurred when, unpacking the department's museum specimens, I found a jar containing the heart of Sir Frederick Smith, our leading veterinary historian. And so began a second theme to my life. However, getting married meant I needed to earn more (I was already subsidising myself by locum work in a West End practice).

Bruce Vivash Jones, pictured in front of a portrait of Major General Sir Frederick Smith

The pharmaceutical industry, expanding on the introduction of antibiotics, was entering animal health. I was appointed veterinary adviser to Allen and Hanburys (later Glaxo Group) in 1953, with a brief to build a veterinary product range. With new ideas, products and clinical trials, it was an exciting environment to be in. I visited the veterinary schools, met research people and travelled. Our company research and development included a trypanocide programme and I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to all corners of Africa in 1957, organising trials and looking for market needs and opportunities.

In 1958 I reached an agreement with the Glasgow Veterinary School team, led by Ian McIntyre and Bill Jarrett, to work with my company to develop their invention of a method to immunise cattle against lungworm infection, using gamma-irradiated third stage Dictyocaulus viviparus larvae. I headed the veterinary research division, purchased a farm, assembled a veterinary and parasitology team, built facilities, acquired a radiation source, established continuous flow production based on infected calves, and Dictol was launched in 1959, becoming the biggest selling product in the UK animal health market. It was an amazing achievement by a great group of colleagues, which would not have been possible with today's regulations. For me, it offered a superb learning curve in research, production and marketing, plus the bonus of knowing Sir William Weipers.

In 1962, I was headhunted for the post of managing director of a new business being established by Aspro-Nicholas, a hard-selling consumer product company (Aspro, Rennies, Radox, etc) with aspirations in the wider pharmaceutical field. It was difficult, with a major product failure and a planned lead product that did not impress the global market; eventually I suggested the assets should be sold. The businesses were closed, including selling a French subsidiary we had called Intervet, which did rather well in other hands. However, I was appointed European marketing manager for Radox bath salts. This offered a better salary, I was in Europe every week and working at the sharp end of consumer marketing. I enjoyed it, but it was not really why I went to veterinary school.

To go back a few years: I had been associated with the BSAVA from the outset, and started and edited the Journal of Small Animal Practice. The publisher was Pergamon Press, headed by Robert Maxwell: the journal was successful and I got to know him well. He was elected as an MP in 1967 and called me to come and have a chat. We met and, when I left half an hour later, I was general manager of Pergamon Press, at that time one of the world's largest scientific publishers. As he spent most of his time in the House of Commons so did I, but sitting just outside the door. He was not a person you could work with, but merely do as he said. The job was fascinating but hopeless: we had a major disagreement and I quit, but not before planning my future. I decided to be on my own as a consultant, using my areas of expertise. I told Maxwell my plans, who said, ‘I will be your first client’ – and he was for some years, as well as giving me the Daimler I was driving.

And so Vivash-Jones Consultants began. I took offices at Hyde Park Corner, swapped the Daimler for a Lotus and was in business for the next 36 years. It was not easy; my target customers were in animal health, but the major companies regarded me with polite disinterest. Gradually a client base grew, plus a variety of assignments, including selling Radio London (a pirate station) the idea of a ship's cat as an advertising hook (and working, briefly, with Kenny Everett). The first three years were difficult, but eventually I established my name and companies began to sign up on a permanent consultancy basis.

Getting to know the market

I decided to tackle the world animal health market. No one knew how large or valuable it was: I travelled and created a database founded on 40 countries. With a global total (revised annually) I could slice the data by country, continent, animal type, product type and company: reports were produced and sold, and I also had the basis for seminar programmes. After a while every major animal health company worldwide, and many minor ones, used my services. I visited them regularly, with a travel pattern of going round the world twice a year (with my wife); I knew their businesses. I made California my base for a year when asked to take over a veterinary publishing company, but it didn't work out. I held annual seminars in Tokyo and a two-day meeting at the London Business School every other year, and visited every significant market annually.

Business was good, and I developed expertise areas in parasiticides, vaccines, small animal products and the Soviet Union. The last of these satisfied a personal interest: by various means I was able to travel quite widely there and undertook many projects, mostly related to parasite control (animals and man) and in seed and plant genetics (apposite as the Lysenko disaster in Soviet genetics had interested me since my student days). I also unwillingly found that my vaccines interest spilled over into a biological warfare interest. You could only work in the old Soviet Union with the right contacts, smoothed by a supply of Parker 51 pens, but relationships were frequently unsafe and had to be handled carefully.

As the animal health industry matured, my client base diminished, being replaced by merchant banks and private equity firms involved in mergers and acquisitions – an involved, tension driven occupation, but exciting; I twice had the luxury of a day trip to New York on Concorde as money was not a problem for my clients. My role was initial advice, due diligence as projects advanced and sometimes as the front man in presentations to the funding banks. One had to be quick and right, and it was sad to see an industry structure that you have grown up with being eroded. However, a dynamic capitalist system will always drive to enhance profits.

Interest in history

I then realised that I was 75, and in 2003 I closed the business. I was now able to devote my time to the history of our profession and to look at the way in which veterinary medicine acts at the human:animal interface and the role that this has played in social evolution. This has resulted in several publications including my first book on the subject and also establishing The Granville Penn Press to publish veterinary history books. There is a felicitous culmination to my having found Major General Sir Frederick Smith's heart, as I now have his unpublished autobiography which I plan to publish this year, with an appreciation of his life and work, to honour a distinguished veterinarian.

While something of a roller coaster ride, I wonder what other job would have taken me around the world, including to places such as Paraguay, Kazakhstan, Kirgyztan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. And to my meeting and working with such an incredible diversity of people, including, while in California, finding Fred Smithcors, the leading American veterinary historian, in my team.

In over 36 years of consultancy, my work resulted in more than 500 reports, studies, opinions, etc (copies donated to RCVS archives), covering an enormous spread of interests. Almost all of this was in a pharmaceutical/immunological context, but it also involved non-industrial clients such as the World Bank, Stanford Research Institute and the Soviet Government.

When starting a business, you need to find a niche to make your own and build upon. One can never be complacent but I remember my ego being boosted when The Economist magazine started to call, when the Financial Times asked me to write a major business study and when I was asked to speak to Wall Street pharmaceutical industry analysts (expecting an audience of about 20, but finding over 200).

However, the most satisfying reminiscences are the veterinary memories, in particular having known and worked with Sir William Weipers and Dr Wooldridge, two men who in my lifetime have been more important to our profession than any others, and also to have known J. T. Edwards, who developed the first practical rinderpest vaccine.

I am also proud to have been a founder member of the BSAVA and to have watched its growth, and to see the Journal of Small Animal Practice progress into its 54th year. It was gratifying also to be asked to give the opening presentation to the history sessions of the 2010 World Veterinary Congress in Cape Town.

Looking back, I am grateful for my veterinary education, which has enabled me to have an interesting and at times I hope useful life, and also for having had that early stimulus to take an interest in the history of our profession.

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