Brian Gerard Conrad Ackner was bom on 1 November 1918, the son of Conrad Ackner, dental surgeon, of Yew Tree House, Jordans, near Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, and of Rhoda, daughter of H. Tuck, a director of Raphael Tuck and Sons. He was educated at Rugby School and Clare College, Cambridge. He obtained his MA in 1942 and qualified MB BChir from Guy’s Hospital Medical School in the same year. He served in the RAF from 1943-46, reaching the rank of Wing-Commander; being appointed Command Psychiatrist RAF Middle East and Mediterranean Forces in 1946. Characteristically, he flew to England from the Middle East in a bomber to take his DPM in 1945, returning successful to his base. On demobilisation he returned to join the staff of the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley Hospitals and was appointed Consultant Physician to the Joint Hospitals in 1948. In 1950 he became Physician in charge of the Department of Psychological Medicine at Hammersmith Hospital and Lecturer at the Postgraduate Medical School of London University. He was appointed a Governor of the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley Hospitals in 1960 and, in the same year, a member of the Nursing Committee of the General Nursing Council. In 1962 he became a member of the Council of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association and an examiner in Psychological Medicine for the Royal College of Physicians in 1964.
Brian Ackner brought to his work a thoroughness and attention to detail which could only be envied by those wth a lesser sense of dedication. He would leave no possibilities unexplored in the kind of obscure clinical problems which were so often presented to him at his two hospitals. Writing he found difficult, owing to the perfectionist aspects of his personality, and although he wrote several memorable papers they were not completed without a good deal of energy being expended on them. His critical nature did not always endear him to some of his colleagues, but to the less sensitive amongst them his robust appreciation of a clinical situation was always refreshing. As a teacher he was rather authoritarian and was not overly-inclined to compromise with views which he did not share, although his lack of agreement would be expressed in the most charming and polite terms. Towards the end of his life he became increasingly interested in medical affairs concerning both his hospitals and the national scene. First as Secretary, and later as Chairman, of the Medical Committee of the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley Hospitals he became heavily involved in plans for the future development of the joint hospital. The burden of this work, and of his busy clinical commitments, undoubtedly took a severe toll of his energy.
In his personal life he was a dashing car driver, as well as a keen skier, for he revelled in speed and risk taking. The reverse aspect of his character led him, rather late in life, to gardening and, particularly, to the growing of bigger and better dahlias. The flowers of some of his specimens were so truly gigantic as to be almost intimidating to the more conservative gardener. He was not a wide reader in fields outside medicine, nor did he have a great deal of artistic appreciation, for his mind was always concerned with facts rather than fantasies. His energy, both mental and physical, was truly formidable in whatever he did.
He was married in 1943 to Jean, daughter of Walter Marley, and had one son and one daughter. He was brother to Desmond Ackner, QC, Chairman of the Bar Council and a Bencher of the Middle Temple. He died in London in August 1966.
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
[Brit.med.J., 1966, 2, 649; Lancet, 1966, 2, 596]