This is the story of how I became a psychiatrist, but to tell it fully it is necessary to go back before my birth to my parents for it was their values and their hopes for me which started the journey. My father Alfred Joseph Clark, born in 1885 into a Somerset Quaker manufacturers’ family had shown academic brilliance and a devotion to natural history early in childhood. This continued at school and at Cambridge University where he won many prizes. His Natural Science studies led him to the very new subject of Pharmacology – the action of drugs on the human body – to which he decided to devote his life. He qualified in medicine in 1909, and in 1914 was engulfed in World War One when he spent 3 years on the Western Front as a medical officer. In 1918 he went to South Africa to help to start a new medical school in a new University in Cape Town. There he met and married Beatrice (Trixie) Hazell a red haired school teacher with whom he found common interests in mountain climbing and passionate anti-clerical agnosticism. She too had been a star pupil who had put herself through University on Scholarships. They were both serious people with a commitment to public service and high minded ideals. Mother also had a personal spartan philosophy, believing in cold baths, hard exercise, hard work and a constant striving to excel both in studies and in sport, though she was also a merry soul, quick to laugh and enjoy life..
In 1920 Father was appointed Professor of Pharmacology at University College London. They came to England and in August 1920 I was born. At first we lived in Welwyn Garden City, just north of London, and my earliest memories are there. When I was six in 1926, Father was appointed to the Professorship of Materia Medica at Edinburgh University, the premier Chair in Britain and we moved north to the grey windy city of Edinburgh.
After inspecting Edinburgh Day Schools my father selected George Watson’s for me as it had far the best science teaching. I attended from 1928 to 1937, all my schooling. Watson’s, one of the schools of the Merchant Company of Edinburgh was a large school of 1200 pupils, devoted to providing a "Sound Scots Education" for the middle class Edinburgh boys. It concentrated on solid academic instruction to fit them for their later life roles as reliable Scots professionals – doctors, lawyers, teachers, merchants. I applied myself industriously to my school work, egged on by my mother’s deep interest and constant coaching. I did well and often won prizes, which delighted both parents.
I also developed as a naturalist. I was soon drawn to the natural world, partly because of father’s interest but also because it interested me deeply. I remember my first bird’s egg – in Welwyn Garden City, aged six - and Father showing me how to blow it. I remember books on natural history - and on dinosaurs. I recall frogspawn, collected from ponds and cherished in jam jars until the tadpoles formed. I started my "museum", a collection of natural history curiosities with an ostrich egg from South Africa and a hippopotamus tooth. By the time I was twelve I was established as a "naturalist" - in my own mind, in the minds of my schoolfriends, amongst the family. I had an aquarium and kept sticklebacks and newts and tadpoles. I kept pets in the garden – a hedgehog, a slow worm, a lizard. Friendly people brought me animals, bones, shells etc. The extended Clark family noted this with interest. "Just like his dear Father!" they said and told me many tales of my father, at home in Somerset in the 1890s or at school in York, collecting animals and studying them.
Of course I did all the other things that growing boys do – especially those with a room of their own and supportive parents. From building blocks I passed to meccano and then to making simple furniture. I played school sports, especially rugger (incompetently) and took part in school dramatic and debating societies. But natural history was always my main interest, much to Father’s pleasure and approval. As I did well at school examinations he began to say, " The boy may well make a biologist". By the time I was fifteen I knew that I was going to be a research scientist like Father but that I would study medicine first, as he had done.
Although Watson’s was a modern school, Biology was not taught as a subject. The important subjects were Latin, English, History and Mathematics. "Science" was Physics and Chemistry (Inorganic). However there was a Field Society with supportive Masters who arranged outings. I became an enthusiastic member and contributed talks to winter sessions. I contributed one on the great apes and the descent of man, entitled "The Missing Link" and was known as "Missing Link Clark" for the rest of my school time!
My main school activity was of course my studies. These were conducted in the traditional Scots way – set books, rote learning, and frequent exams. We were rewarded for learning what we had been taught and for reproducing it in examinations. I proved to be good at this; I was always among the first few in the class and was annually awarded "Bursaries" as marks of distinction. This pleased both Mother and Father; they had both been very successful students at school and at University and had both supported themselves by bursaries through their college years. They praised my exam results and rewarded me – encyclopaedias, bicycles, overseas trips. I felt no doubt that I was intellectually special.
Among my Scots school fellows I was not particularly popular. I was a "swot" (successful at exams) and worse, an Englishman. I was not much good at team games – rugby and cricket – the main activities which gave prestige amongst boys. I clung to my English accent and was involved in many brawls about the fate of Wallace, of Bruce, and of Bonnie Prince Charlie. My best friend Denys Barnes was also English and we formed a pair of persecuted but intransigent English Nationalists. Many a battle we had. However I was larger than most of the other boys and fairly strong, so I was never bullied.
At times I found myself taking the lead in class activities – mounting a play, preparing a "newspaper" and in my senior years I found myself secretary of the Pentland Club which ran walks on the hills and occasional camps. I enjoyed arranging and managing these. This was probably the first time that I became aware that I had a capacity to "run things" – to gather a group of people for an agreed purpose and to carry them through to the common goal. In my last year I was a prefect.
In my later years at school, I spent my holidays and weekends in the Southern Scots countryside – walking the Pentlands and the Lammermuirs, cycling around the Scots Border Country, the valleys of Tweed, Ettrick and Yarrow, and fishing the lochs and burns. The Youth Hostel movement was just starting and I became an enthusiastic user of the new hostels in the Borders, Laughaugh, Broadmeadows, Shortwoodend, the Snook. I made these journeys on my own; I found I preferred it that way – but I enjoyed the comradeship of the Hostel evenings greatly. There I learned to look after myself and to handle myself amongst strangers.
Our holidays were mostly family affairs, centred on my younger brother and sisters but I was encouraged to travel. I was learning German at school and in 1935 I was sent to Hamburg for six weeks to improve my knowledge. My 1936 vacation was longer and had a much more profound effect. Partly by mistake I landed in a family of committed and devoted National Socialists in South Germany. They warmed to my idealistic attitudes and attempted to recruit me. They showed me the many achievements of the first three years of National Socialism and then arranged for me to spend two weeks in a Hitler Youth Camp. I enjoyed the camp and the fellowship but was astonished at the "history" they were taught, disgusted by their racial theories and shocked to see that they were preparing armies with which to conquer Europe and the world. I came back deeply hostile to Nazism and committed to the anti-fascist crusade which dominated my next ten years.
Although I won many prizes at school, I did not stay on to attempt distinction in the sixth form, for war was approaching and I wanted to get on with my medical studies. In 1937 at the age of seventeen, I entered the first medical year at Edinburgh University.