A brief history of the AFC

by Philip Draper (2010)

(See a July 2014 presentation on the AFC’s history here)

The Club was founded to fill a perceived need: to provide opportunities for people doing research on the pathology and bacteriology of tuberculosis to meet and discuss their work. Though this idea was enthusiastically supported by several people, the chief activist was Charles Lack, who was a bacteriologist at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (then in Portland Place in central London). He telephoned a great number of people who might be interested, and this was followed up by letters inviting them to a meeting to discuss the foundation of a “T.B Club”.

The first meeting was held on 24 April 1954 (or possibly on 7 April: there is a discrepancy between the dates on the Agenda and the Minutes). The name of  the Club was agreed (and was none of those suggested on the Agenda), Officers and a Committee were elected and the scope of the club’s meetings was discussed, but the contentious matters of a subscription and a Constitution were left to the Committee. The first Chairman was Robert Cruikshank, who was Professor of Bacteriology at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School. Charles Lack was Secretary and Dick Rees Treasurer. Even at this first meeting there were some scientific communications, though one of these (to be given by Dick Rees) was deferred to a later meeting through lack of time. If  it is any comfort to more recent Secretaries, the first Minutes contain at least one spelling mistake.

It took about 2 years for the Constitution to be settled. It was modelled on that of the Medical Research Club (which is also still thriving); probably its most  important feature is that it is quite hard to change, so that the Club has had a stable environment in which to operate. Some surprising issues exercised the Committee: whether members should be able to bring guests, for example, and whether Club funds should be used to subsidise refreshments. Invited speakers, who were guests of the Club rather than of individual members, were a feature of meetings, and significant donations were provided by several commercial firms to form a Hospitality Fund to pay such speakers’ expenses.

The Club was almost at once involved in a piece of scientific politics – perhaps the only one in its history. The journal Tubercle (later  Tubercle and Lung Disease, and now the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease) was felt to be unsuitable for serious scientific publications, so that people who wanted to publish research papers on tuberculosis in a British journal had to choose a general journal. Negotiations between representatives of the Club (the Chairman, the Treasurer and Philip d’Arcy Hart), the British Tuberculosis Association and the Editor of Tubercle resulted in a reform of the journal. At the Annual General Meeting of the Club on 5 January 1956 Dick Rees and Philip Hart reported that a new Editorial Committee had been appointed (including Philip Hart). There was a suggestion that a second member of the Club should also serve on the Editorial Committee, but this seems to have come to nothing.

At the beginning membership of the Club was limited to 50 people, and it became full almost immediately. The rule (from the Club Constitution) which allowed the Committee to ask members resign if they did not attend meetings was, after some hesitation, enforced. The permitted membership was increased to 60 in 1958 and this limit was sufficient for many years. Further increases over the years now allow for up to 80 members. Honorary Membership is routinely offered to people when they retire, so space is made available for new members without the unpleasant business of pushing people out.