Elected F.R.S. 1973
Richard Harrison was a convivial man, equally at ease having a drink with his friends discussing science issues, and as Chair of a relatively large Department of Anatomy directing teaching and research. After graduating in natural sciences at Cambridge and medicine from St Bartholemew's Hospital in 1944, Richard Harrison started his research in comparative reproduction on a variety of mammals. Horses, goats, deer, primates, seals and whales were just some of the species to which he dedicated his career as a comparative anatomist, but equally important was his strong interest in function. This was not the orthodox career of a medical doctor, but as he would frequently say, ‘ you can always tell a man who is from Bart's, but you cannot tell him very much’. We have to remember that horses and medicine were not, at that time, from the same stable, and the boundaries between anatomy and physiology were very distinct. Richard Harrison was early into the integration of structure and function and a pioneer of cross–disciplinary studies that are now so much a feature of modern anatomy departments.In 1946 Harrison moved to a lectureship in anatomy at Glasgow and there he received the degree of DSc in 1948. The early phases of his research on reproduction focused on the ovary and the placenta, a structure unique to mammals created from a uniquely mammalian tissue, trophectoderm, and developed de novo during each pregnancy. In 1949 he published his first of several Nature papers, this being on multiovular follicles in the ovaries of lower primates. His critical examination of the ovaries of some of the lower primates revealed the presence of several multiovular follicles and multinuclear oocytes, an unusual observation for primates. The majority of the multiple forms of follicles in all of the ovaries investigated showed either early or advanced signs of atresia. In many oocytes, in which the zona pellucida had not developed, small groups of granulosa cells had invaded the ooplasm. It is probable, he concluded, that multiovular follicles and multinuclear oocytes do represent atretic changes, although it had been reported for other species that they could reach maturity and ovulate. The findings from this study supported the view that was gaining favour at the time; namely, that in a mammal that produced only a single offspring in each pregnancy, many oocytes are potentially available for ovulation.