History of the Society: 1973-1993

In 1972 the British Cardiac Society did not have any non-clinical members - let alone a basic science programme; for basic researchers in cardiovascular science, there seemed to be no natural forum at which to meet and exchange ideas. At that time Keith Gibson (working with Professor Peter Harris at the Cardiothoracic Institute in Beaumont Street) and David Hearse (working with Professor Sir Ernst Chain in the Department of Biochemistry at the Imperial College of Science and Technology) would meet occasionally to discuss their research. One evening, after a beer or three, they concluded that there was a need for an informal discussion group - where individuals interested in cardiovascular research could occasionally meet to discuss problems. A quick calculation led to the conclusion that there might be, as many as nineteen young researchers in the UK with an interest in cardiovascular research! They pondered on how these individuals could be brought together; the first idea was to establish a specialist group under the auspices of the British Biochemical Society. In 1972 a formal application was made to the Biochemical Society to form such group - the response was a speedy and firm rejection. David Hearse and Keith Gibson wondered therefore whether they should not try and go it alone.

In 1973 Peter Harris, John Muir, Winifred Nayler, Mark Noble and Desmond Fitzgerald were persuaded to join a small committee and establish what was to become the Cardiac Muscle Research Group. Peter Harris was elected as its first chairman with David Hearse and Keith Gibson becoming joint secretaries. The first act was to purchase a sheet of "Letraset" and create the Group stationery - after some thought it was decided to adopt the curved lettering that was to be used for many years on the Group's posters. In the haste of preparation nobody noticed that cardiac had been spelt incorrectly (cardaic!) and it was several months before one of the members of the Society telephoned the secretaries to enquire about the spelling - quite an inauspicious start!

Original Cardiac Muscle Research Group logo
An announcement of the formation of the Cardiac Muscle Research Group (subscription £2), together with details of the Group's first meeting, was sent to a number of interested individuals throughout the UK. The first meeting was planned to be held in the Cardiothoracic Institute on 12th December 1973 but the meeting was so heavily subscribed that the venue had to be moved to the Medical Society of London. Over 60 delegates attended two sessions - one dealing with the "Cardiac Action of Drugs: Adrenoceptive Agonists and Antagonists" and the second dealing with the "Critical Evaluation of Biochemical Techniques as Applied to the Heart".

From its inception the guiding principles of the Cardiac Muscle Research Group were that its meetings would be open to all, that there would be no publication and that, in general, each meeting would be devoted to a single topic - the philosophy that has (more or less) endured for the past 20 years - a factor that has surely contributed to the strength of the organisation.

Such was the success of the first meeting that the Committee decided to organise two meetings every year, one in the Spring and one in the Autumn. The second meeting (2nd April 1974) was organised in Birmingham and dealt with "The Differences Between Skeletal and Cardiac Muscle", later that year (18th November) the Group met at Imperial College in London where the topic was "Acute Myocardial Ischaemia".

Cardiac Muscle Research Group meeting November 1974
The Cardiac Muscle Research Group appeared to be an instant success, its membership grew steadily towards 100 and a solid programme of interesting and popular meetings was planned well into the future (Figure 4). The meetings were always of one day's duration; generous pharmaceutical sponsorship was usually obtained; indeed all members were in full agreement that they obtained superb value for their £2 annual membership subscription (it became a tradition that excellent lunches were provided!) and a strong camaraderie quickly built up within the Group.

In addition to the regular programme of meetings; the Group sponsored small specialised workshops on a wide variety of topics.

The growth of the Cardiac Muscle Research Group soon came to the attention of the British Cardiac Society - who appeared somewhat concerned at the rapid emergence of this new Group. An intermittent dialogue between the Muscle Group and the Cardiac Society was established (and continues to this day), various interactions were negotiated with the Cardiac Society, grants were given, joint meetings were held but for many years the proposed marriage appeared difficult and did not appear to be very popular with the members of either society. In the past 20 years, the Society has also had links with other academic societies - through joint meetings with the Biochemical Society, the Physiology Society and the European Society of Cardiology. Links have also been established with the International Society for Heart Research and in 1987 a joint membership subscription was negotiated - an event that resulted in a striking increase in the number of British members belonging to the International Society for Heart Research.

Cardiac Muscle Research Group meeting November 1976
From its inception, the Cardiac Muscle Research Group was developed as an informal body with the minimum number of restrictions and regulations - initially there was no constitution but eventually a small one (5 lines) was developed. In 1979 it was expanded to 9 points covering half a page and now our constitution runs to several pages! The Bylaws regularise elections to the Committee of the Cardiac Muscle Research Group and as a consequence there has been a regular progression of chairmen, secretaries, treasurers and committee members, all of whom have worked hard to ensure the growth and success of the Group. Succeeding the first chairman (Peter Harris), were Andrew Henderson, Jim Parratt, Philip Poole-Wilson, David Hearse and George Hart. The first secretaries were David Hearse & Keith Gibson, followed by Philip Poole-Wilson, Peter Cummins, Derek Yellon, Ann-Marie Seymour, Andrew Newby and Susan Coker.

Cardiac Muscle Research Group meeting November 1978
Cardiac Muscle Research Group meeting May 1979
As the Group grew, so developed new ideas and new stationery. Progressively the membership grew such that the Autumn meeting (usually, but not invariably, held in London) attracted well over 100 delegates with the Spring meeting (usually held elsewhere in the United Kingdom) attracting a slightly smaller number. As the Society grew so did its subscription fees, increasing to £6 in 1981 and to £10 in 1987.

Cardiac Muscle Research Group meeting March 1981
While the Cardiac Muscle Research Group had occasional "on-off" affairs with other societies, it also developed a love/hate relationship over the issue of publication. Proceedings of some of the meetings were published (much to the chagrin of some members) and nowadays abstracts are published in the Bulletin which was first launched (under the Editorship of Metin Avkiran, Michael Curtis and Rodger Kempsford) in 1987. Other developments have been the institution of 2 day Autumn meetings since 1987, the organisation of an annual dinner (the first was held at Lambeth Palace, the second in the Imperial War Museum). But the most important change was that which occurred in 1987 when, by a overwhelming majority, the Society agreed to adopt a proposal from a founding member (David Hearse - then chairman) that the name should be changed from the Cardiac Muscle Research Group to the British Society for Cardiovascular Research. A logo was commissioned - it was adopted by the Society with the approval of almost all of the members (one was heard to mutter "that it more resembled a row of cowsheds than a symbolised heart"!). From that point on, the Society took on a new lease of life (with its inevitable bureaucracy), aided greatly by increasing support from industrial sponsors. In 1993 the major sponsorship from Rhône-Poulenc Rorer marks yet another milestone in the Society's development.

Over the years the Cardiac Muscle Research Group, now the British Society for Cardiovascular Research, has understandably (and correctly) changed its emphasis, its composition and its interests. Of notable and of considerable importance has been the progressive increase in the number of clinical members - such that they now have statutory representation on the Committee of the Society. This ability to change, whilst still maintaining a regular programme of interesting and popular meetings, has undoubtedly contributed greatly to the success of the British Society for Cardiovascular Research. The membership of the Society now stands at in excess of 500 - a figure substantially greater than the 19 originally anticipated by the founding members in 1973. This year marks the 20th birthday of the British Society for Cardiovascular Research and there can be little doubt that it has a bright and active future ahead.

by Professor David Hearse, 1993.