Alfred William Beard, known to everyone as ‘Bill’, was born in Derby. He was the only child of Arthur Frederick George Beard, a warehouseman, and Gertrude née Ashley, daughter of a colour blender. Bill was a late developer and had an undistinguished career at Bemrose Secondary School, Derby, where he matriculated at 16 but left the following year without taking his Higher School Certificate. He joined the Civil Service but soon afterwards joined the Royal Air Force in 1939 for the duration of the war, being demobilized in 1945.
At this time he decided, quite simply, that he would study medicine at Cambridge. For most young men of Bill’s background and minimal achievement this aspiration would have been a pipe dream but for Bill it touched a spring which released the great energy, determination and intelligence which remained characteristic of him for the rest of his life. He spent a few months studying physics and chemistry at the local Polytechnic and then passed the necessary examinations that allowed him to proceed to university. It was to the very great credit of Magdalene College, Cambridge, that they discovered the talent of this unlikely candidate and enroled him in the College. Although the war had made changes in social attitudes, the majority of undergraduates at that time were selected from middle and upper class backgrounds.
Bill completed his tripos Part 1 in two years and spent his third year pursuing a Part II in psychology in which he achieved first class honours. He then went to Oxford for his clinical studies and finally qualified in both universities.
His first post was as house physician in the distinguished department of medicine at the Radcliffe Infirmary with L J Witts [Munk's Roll, Vol VII, p.618], later going on to the department of neurosurgery in the same hospital. It was there that he met Wendy Scott, a fellow senior house officer, soon to become his wife. He then embarked on his psychiatric career as SHO to Noel Harris [Munk's Roll,Vol.V, p.l74] and Jack Hobson [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.269] at the Middlesex Hospital, 1953-55, obtaining his diploma in psychological medicine.
It was at this relatively early stage that Eliot Slater [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.541] appointed him as his senior registrar in the department of psychiatry at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square. This was a much sought after post and some senior colleagues had applied for it, but Slater discerned Bill’s merit and appointed him. There was a chemistry between the two men and this was one of the happiest and most creative periods of Bill’s professional life. He completed a major study in the schizophrenia-like psychoses of epilepsy, which was an early and important contribution to understanding the brain dysfunctions that may contribute to psychosis. He was awarded the Gaskell gold medal and prize of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association, the premier prize for young psychiatrists. This was a distinction that had been conferred on Slater, Hobson and Hill - later Sir Denis Hill [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.264] - and the latter two also played a part in Bill’s career. In 1955 he obtained his membership of the College. In the four years since qualifying as a doctor, Bill had had an extraordinarily distinguished career and following two years as senior registrar, he spent another two years as a senior fellow of the Mental Health Research Fund while continuing to work at the National.
In 1959 he moved to the Middlesex Hospital as a senior hospital medical officer and succeeded Noel Harris as consultant psychiatrist in 1961, the same year as Denis Hill was appointed to found the academic department of psychiatry. It was a time of great expansion and change at the Middlesex and its associated hospital, St Lukes, Woodside, and Bill played a full part in these. Although he was increasingly drawn into service, and was greatly in demand for private consultation, he retained a lively interest in research. His iconoclastic nature took particular delight in his study of the ‘Royal Free disease’, through which he made one of the earliest contribtions to the debate on myalgic encephalitis and the chronic fatigue syndrome. He retired from the NHS in 1985 but continued in private practice and sat on Mental Health Act tribunals.
Bill was an inveterate collector and a DIY enthusiast. Among his acquisitions had been 12 Rolls Royces, which he regretfully had to sell when he moved into Upper Wimpole Street. He compensated for this disappointment by personally installing the central heating system in his new home. He also filled it with beautiful paintings and furniture. He was a devoted husband and father, finding great joy in family life. He had married Wendy in 1955 and they had a son and two daughters; one daughter, Poppy, is also a doctor.
O W Hill
[Brit.med.J., 1991,302,1532; Brit.J.Psych.Bull, 1992,16,No 1]