Tony Black 1931-2021

An appreciation from John Hall, Penny Spinks, Kevin Howells and Derek Perkins.

Tony Black, former Chief Psychologist at Broadmoor Hospital, has died at the age of 89. Tony was born between the wars in Sanderstead Surrey and attended Whitgift School in Croydon. During national service in Malta, he displayed a talent for counselling members of his battalion, setting him on the pathway for life as a Psychologist. 

Tony completed his psychology degree at Cambridge University in 1954 under Professor Oliver Zangwill. It was there that he met his wife Anne, marrying in 1955, and going on to have three children and eight grandchildren. After a short period working at Pilkington’s glass factory, Tony trained as a clinical psychologist in Liverpool. He was supervised under the old probationer system by Don Walton, a charismatic Maudsley-trained psychologist, and with him developed the Walton-Black memory test, which was widely used up to the 1970s. He also worked with John Graham White at Alder Hey Childrens’ Hospital. Tony was a significant example of those early clinical psychologists who did not train at the Maudsley Hospital, but who went on to be key players in the professionalisation of clinical psychology in Britain.

In 1959, Tony was appointed as the first Clinical Psychologist in Broadmoor Hospital, Berkshire, working closely with Dr Patrick McGrath, the then Physician Superintendent. He established a vibrant Psychology Department, pioneering the development of clinical psychology and research at Broadmoor and more widely within the national high secure psychiatric services. Strong links were also established with the Surrey and Oxford clinical psychology training courses and many of the trainees on placement went on to establish careers in forensic clinical psychology, including at Broadmoor Hospital. 

Former colleague, clinical psychologist Penny Spinks recalls that Tony was universally liked and respected within the hospital, a significant achievement when introducing the discipline of psychology to a custodial setting. Within the Psychology Department Tony was supportive of staff, encouraging the development of a wide range of assessment, therapeutic and research projects. and providing flexible posts to enable joint appointments and part time working. He made a point of keeping in touch with former staff through annual Christmas letters and warmly welcomed visitors to his home after retirement.

A few clinical psychologists were at that time training in the Oxford Region, where May Davidson was the leading clinical psychologist. Among them was Peter Mittler, subsequently a leading psychologist in the field of learning disabilities, and head of the Hester Adrian Research Unit at Manchester University, who did a placement at Broadmoor. 

Tony was concerned that clinical psychology at Broadmoor should not be isolated from the mainstream of clinical psychology. He was involved in the Committee of Professional Psychologists (Mental Health) and more actively from 1960 in the succeeding English Division of Professional Psychologists in the run-up to the formation of the Division of Clinical Psychology in 1966, where he became the Assistant Secretary of the Division, one of the first three officers of the Division. 

Tony was actively involved in many aspects of the early work of the DCP and worked closely with the pioneers of the Division, not only with May Davidson and Grace Rawlings, but also with other now little-known figures such as Mahesh Desai and Pat Robertson. There is no doubt that in the late 1960s and in the 1970s the DCP committee created many of the structures and processes that enabled the steady growth of the numbers of clinical psychologists working in the NHS, and the expansion of their role.

Tony retired in 1986 on the eve of the hospital’s rebuilding programme. Appointed as his successor, Derek Perkins was forever grateful to him for his advice and support, and subsequent lifelong friendship. Moving to Herefordshire, retired life included Tony working as a Mental Health Act Commissioner up until 1990, finishing a ground-breaking British Psychological Society (BPS) Working Party Report on improving services for mentally disordered offenders and, in 2003 publishing the book Broadmoor Interacts on the history of Broadmoor between the Mental Health Acts of 1959 and 1983.

In 2002, John Hall, Tony Lavender and Sue Llewelyn published an article on the history of clinical psychology in Britain, which led to a trail of discovery, both of documents and of people who knew about that history. John knew Tony had been involved in the DCP Committee from its inception, and visited him regularly at his home, where he shared freely of his knowledge and experience. John recalls that Tony invariably greeted him with a twinkle in his eye and a cup of coffee. He had retained many original documents from that period, which he kept in an old army ammunition box! It was a great pleasure that at the launch of the DCP History of Clinical Psychology book (for which John Hall was the lead editor) in December 2015, Tony spoke as the last surviving member of the original 1966 DCP committee.

Tony was always unassuming, he always valued the contribution of others, and he showed a shrewd understanding of how the profession had developed. He was one of the unsung pioneers of the creation of a coherent and distinct profession of clinical psychology in Britain.

- John Hall, Penny Spinks, Kevin Howells and Derek Perkins

Claire Jackson, British Psychological Society Archivist, adds:

Tony also chaired a meeting in March 1977 at which it was agreed to create the Division of Criminological and Legal Psychology, later the Division of Forensic psychology. He became the first Chair of the Division just in time to organise substantive evidence to the Home Office Review of the Prison Psychological Service a year later in 1978 covering training, ethics, structure and contribution of psychologists for a prison service. He had previously, during 1972 and 1973, as one of the very few psychologists working in secure settings, convened the Society working party to provide evidence to the Butler Committee. The Committee criticised the narrow definition of the “insanity defence” and its recommendations led to the setting up of a network of secure psychiatric units.

In his oral history interview in the Society archives Tony Black talked about how he got involved in the BPS as an isolated psychologist at Broadmoor, he joined the Society a few months prior to taking up his post there in 1959. Only a few years later, in 1963 a Society meeting, of the English Division of Professional Psychologists, was held at the hospital where Black shared his findings about the trends and issues he had found whilst carrying out psychological assessments of the patients. Later, in 1980 he organised a Broadmoor Psychology Department '21st Birthday' seminar at the BPS London Conference in 1980.

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