This article is an autobiography or has been extensively edited by the subject or by someone connected to the subject. (June 2020)
Sir Brian Follett FRS DL
|Born||22 February 1939(age 82)|
|Alma mater||University of Bristol|
|Known for||Vice-Chancellor of the University of Warwick from 1993-2001; Chairman of the TDA (Training and Development Agency for Schools)from 2003-9, Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council 2001-2009; nonstipendiary professor Department of Zoology, University of Oxford 2001-2019. Professor and Chair, Biological Sciences, University of Bristol 1978-1993.|
|Awards||Elected to the Royal Society (1984) Frink Medal (1993), Zoological Society of London (ZSL) Scientific Medal (1976), Society of Endocrinology Dale Medal (1988)|
|Fields||Zoology, biochemistry, seasonal breeding and clocks in birds and mammals|
|Institutions||University of Oxford (Department of Zoology)|
Sir Brian K Follett, FRS DL (born 22 February 1939) is a British biologist, academic administrator and policy maker. His research focussed upon how the environment, particularly the annual change in day-length (photoperiod), controls breeding in birds & mammals. This led to over 400 scientific papers and symposia proceedings. He was Head of the Department of Zoology (later Biological Sciences) at the University of Bristol for fifteen years (1978-1993), and Biological Secretary of the Royal Society from 1978 until 1993. He then served for eight years as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Warwick. He was the founding Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (2001-2009). He also chaired the government's Teacher Training Agency (TTA) and its successor body the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) from 2004-2010. For sixteen years he was a visiting Professor in Zoology at Oxford, teaching environmental physiology to undergraduates.
Education and early life
Educated at Bournemouth School and awarded an open exhibition at Bristol in 1957 to read biological chemistry. On graduating he undertook a Ph.D. with Professor Hans Heller in the Department of Pharmacology. That work took him into endocrinology and the development of assays to understand the physiological role of hormones. He married Deb Booth, a teacher in 1961. She later worked in radio and then for many years as the production editor for the journals of the Society for Endocrinology. They have two children: Karen Williams is at BC Women's Hospital in Vancouver and Richard Follett is on the faculty at the University of Sussex.
Career and research
In 1964 he and his wife moved to Washington State University and joined Donald Farner's group investigating photoperiodism. That became his main research for 40 years with the focus being on the brain pathways whereby birds (and mammals) measure daylength and use its changes to regulate breeding. He took up a lectureship at Leeds University and moved with James Dodd FRS to the University of Bangor in 1969, and from there to the University of Bristol in 1978. He moved to Warwick in 1993 as Vice-Chancellor.
Much of the experimental research used, as model species, the Japanese quail and later wild-caught starlings. Achievements included the development of the first radioimmunoassay to measure bird luteinizing hormone (LH) in collaboration with Frank Cunningham (Reading University) and Colin Scanes. This key innovation made it possible to measure LH in 10 microlitres of plasma and so follow circulating hormone levels in individual birds exposed to photoperiods of many types. Using gonadectomized quail it was possible to show unequivocally that the underlying photoperiodic response in birds (but not mammals) is driven by brain circuits that are switched on an off by daylength. It also allowed the demonstration that measuring daylength involved a daily (circadian) rhythm in photosensitivity with the birds being responsive to light particularly 12 and 18 hours after dawn. If light fell at these hours then the day was read as “long”, if not then it was read as “short”.
In 1978 he was appointed to the Chair of Zoology at Bristol. Research continued and was extended to mammals, notably sheep, and occasionally wild birds such as albatrosses, swans, gulls and partridges. The key areas were:
(a) The development of a rapid photoperiodic response system. This enabled the research group to follow the neural and endocrine changes as photoinduction occurred in real time. The first overt change when quail are exposed to a single long day is a rise in LH secretion at about hour 20. This model was applied: to show definitively the circadian nature of the photoperiodic clock and its complex properties as an oscillator, to measure (with Russell Foster) the action spectrum for the non-retinal light receptors, and in many studies to determine the timed sequence of neural changes as induction occurred. Subsequently, Takashi Yoshimura in Japan used the quail to investigate these changes in molecular terms and was able to connect these into the separate discoveries that thyroid hormones play a critical role in the photoperiodic response (see below). Other groups have subsequently developed these ideas, mainly in mammals.
(b) The termination of seasonal reproduction (refractoriness). A key aspect of the photoperiodic response is that long days (or short days in sheep) not only induce reproductive maturity but also end it. The gonads suddenly collapse and this has evolved as a means of ensuring each species has an optimal but limited time to breed each year. The term refractoriness is used since the animal becomes refractory to the prevailing photoperiod. The Bristol group's novel finding was that, quite counterintuitively, thyroid hormones are critical for refractoriness to develop and be maintained. This had been tentatively suggested in the Soviet Union prior to WWII but was developed much further by Trevor Nicholls, Arthur Goldsmith and Alistair Dawson. In simple terms removal of the thyroid glands stopped refractoriness developing in starlings (and other birds) as well as sheep, and the animals remained in breeding condition perpetually and were not photorefractory. Thyroid hormone replacement reinstates the refractory state. Importantly birds are hatched in a refractory state but this is ended by removing the thyroid glands (Tony Williams). The research group published many papers on the phenomenon as well as its neural basis across a range of species from sheep to starlings, and the concept has become established as an important part of the photoneuroendocrine pathway.
The above research was supported by grants from the Agricultural and Food Research Council (AFRC), later renamed the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The group became a formal AFRC (BBSRC) Research Group on Photoperiodism and Reproduction. As a whole, the group published 413 scientific papers and reviews.
At Bristol he led the Department of Zoology, and subsequently the School of Biological Sciences, for 15 years from 1978 until early 1993. In the eighties he was appointed to the Council of the AFRC/BBSRC and in the late eighties to the UFC (Universities Funding Council) and its subsequent body - HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England). He also served on the Council of London Zoo (and Bristol Zoo) and as a Trustee of the Natural History Museum. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1984 and became their Biological Secretary for six years (a part-time unpaid post) during which time he implemented changes to the organisation and was able to expand greatly the Royal Society University Fellowship scheme. He was knighted in 1992.
In 1992 he was appointed to the Vice-Chancellorship at the University of Warwick and led it from 1993 until 2001. During that period the University managed to establish itself as a major force in UK higher education (as judged by the various league tables). Its especial strengths lie in Engineering (Warwick Manufacturing Group), Mathematics, Economics, Sociology and the Humanities. It launched the Warwick Research Fellowships in 1994, a £10m scheme, entirely financed by the University, which brought to Warwick a large cohort of some of the brightest young researchers in the UK and abroad. It obtained excellent results in the Research Assessment Exercises of 1996 and 2001. An ambitious building programme valued at over £100m was undertaken. Warwick was also a founding member of the Russell Group and opened a graduate-entry medical school in 2001. On his last foreign trip President Clinton, accompanied by Prime Minister Blair, visited the university and gave a valedictory speech on foreign policy.
He has chaired key committees producing reports for government on topics including the future of university libraries, the future of research in the humanities, lessons to be learned from the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001; the management and appraisal of clinical academics (following the AlderHey scandal) and others.
Part-time appointments followed his retirement from Warwick. He was the founding Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (2001-2009). He also chaired the government's Teacher Training Agency (TTA) and its successor body the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) from 2004-2010. The TTA/TDA was the body responsible for the initial and in-service training of teachers and other school staff in England. Its primary successes were to resolve teacher training recruitment at the time and to foster/develop the concept of the teaching assistant. He has also been a non-stipendiary visiting Professor in the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford (2001-2019) and taught physiology to second year undergraduates. The teaching evaluations were pleasantly high. He was a Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre for a decade from 2008, and is President of the Stratford Civic Society.
- Elected to the Royal Society in 1984.
- Knighted in 1992.
- Awarded 13 honorary doctorates and other awards.
- "Follett, Sir Brian (Keith)," Who's Who 2020, Oxford University Press, accessed June 3, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U16020
- "Brian Follett," Royal Society, accessed June 3, 2020, https://royalsociety.org/people/brian-follett-11449/
- "History of the School," School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, accessed June 3, 2020, http://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/biology/documents/History%20of%20the%20School.pdf
- "History of the University," University of Warwick, last modified Jan 21, 2019, https://warwick.ac.uk/about/history/
- James Herbert, Creating the AHRC (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008) 100.
- UK Training and Development Agency for Schools, Annual report and accounts. ISBN 978-0-10-296022-8, London, UK: TSO, July 9, 2009, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/training-and-development-agency-for-schools-annual-report-and-accounts-2008-to-2009.
- "Sir Brian Follett," Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, accessed June 5, 2020, https://www.zoo.ox.ac.uk/people/sir-brian-follett
- "Richard Follett," University of Sussex, accessed June 5, 2020, https://profiles.sussex.ac.uk/p108452-richard-follett
- B.K.Follett, C.G. Scanes & F.J. Cunningham (1972). A radioimmunoassay for avian luteinizing hormone. J. Endicronol. 52: 359-378.
- Web of Science, https://app.webofknowledge.com/author/record/133782
- "Research support libraries group: Final report," New Review of Academic Librarianship 8(1) (2002):3, https://www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/papers/follett/report/index.html
- Infectious Diseases in Livestock, 2002. ISBN 0854035796)
- "Who We Are - Presidents/Chairmen," The Stratford Society, last modified Sept 2019, https://www.stratfordsociety.co.uk/who-we-are/presidents-chairmen