In the early 1950s a group of people in small animal practice in London – all members of the Central Veterinary Society – began to express a certain degree of disenchantment with the small animal committee of the British Veterinary Association (BVA). Although the committee monitored the animal welfare societies effectively, it seemed not to be progressive enough at a time when post-war affluence was just beginning to be apparent and small animal practice was about to "take off". The idea of a small animal association, quite separate from the BVA, was muted but it was to be some six or so years before circumstances brought it about.
Another part of the story started to unfold back in September 1942 when Dr W. R. ("Reg") Wooldridge, then President of the National Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA), announced at the Association's annual luncheon at the Mansion House (they did things in style in those days) the formation of the Veterinary Educational Trust (the forerunner of the Animal Health Trust). A million pounds was the target – much of this was raised and used to provide research fellowships and scholarships in veterinary science.
After the war, Dr Wooldridge established the Equine Research Station and the Canine Health Centre at Newmarket. Mr John Hodgman – previously a Colonel in the Indian Army and a man of considerable presence, charm and strength of character -became Director of the Canine Health Centre. In 1954 John invited me to join his staff. We talked often about the need for a national small animal association.
At that time, Dr Wooldridge being a member of the RCVS Council (and incidentally President 1954-55), was UK representative on the Permanent Committee of the International Veterinary Association – now the World Veterinary Association (WVA). In May 1956, Dr Wooldridge returned from a committee meeting in Paris and reported to the Royal College that in future the international congresses were to be sectionalised according to species. There would of course be a small animal section. Dr Wooldridge and the RCVS Council realised that there would need to be a new organisation set up to deal with this situation.
The Central Veterinary Society was approached for advice – at the time C. E. Woodrow was Chairman and B V Jones was Secretary. It was felt, however, that because the "Central" was only responsible to members in the London area it was not within its brief to become involved in an international movement – so the matter was referred back to Dr Wooldridge.
I vividly recall the day, a short time after the approach to the "Central", that Dr Wooldridge drove up to the Canine Health Centre and asked John Hodgman and myself if we could set up the new international group and to do so well ahead of the next Congress in Madrid, due in 1959. We replied "Yes" but said that surely we needed to establish a national small animal association in the UK as well.
A letter was published in the Veterinary Record on 8 September 1956 explaining the proposed arrangements regarding the organisation of future international congresses and the need to establish a "national group of small animal specialists" in the UK which, among other things, would collaborate with small animal organisations already in existence overseas. The letter stated that an exploratory meeting would be held in London in the autumn.
That meeting took place on 16 November 1956 at BVA Headquarters. Thirty people attended and letters of support came from many others. John Hodgman took the Chair. He expressed the view that a practitioner should be the first President and C. E. ("Woody") Woodrow was elected unanimously. John Hodgman became Treasurer and I took on the Secretaryship. A committee of 12 was formed, including Nick Henderson, Bruce Jones, Michael Young, Joan Joshua and Bill Wadman Taylor.
Aims and objectives were drafted, and an outline constitution and the organisation of seven regions in the UK were among the proposals put to the inaugural meeting held at the Royal Veterinary College on 7 March 1957. By then there were 88 full members – subscription 2 guineas (1 guinea was 21 shillings or £1.05 in today's money.), associate members 1 guinea (the latter did not receive publications).
One of the most important decisions at that meeting was that the Association's first Congress should take place as soon as practicable, and over the following months the main task was to plan that meeting. At that time there was a tremendous thirst for knowledge and yet, unlike the situation today, there were few experts to draw on to give papers. Nevertheless, we invited most of the leading people of the day and compiled a excellent "scientific" programme. The first Congress was held at the Shaftesbury Hotel, Monmouth Street, London in March 1958 and, in the event, was highly successful.
The Congress Committee included the Officers, Nick Henderson, Bruce Jones, Bill Gimber and others. Bill Gimber and Nick Henderson organised the trade exhibition which consisted of 17 trestle tables, one for each of the companies which had been brow beaten by Bill Gimber, who ran his own surgical instrument company, to give their support and also pay £5 for the privilege. May and Baker, ICI, Glaxo Distillers Co and Burroughs Wellcome were among the major companies which took spaces.
There was no pre-registration, so the small amount of capital the Association had was in jeopardy if only a few delegates turned up. They need not have worried – within half an hour of opening, Nick Henderson, who had been counting heads as people arrived, rushed downstairs (we could only afford three basement rooms in the hotel) and announced that we were solvent.
In fact, more than 150 people were packed into the main lecture room most of the time. Over the two days, several people fainted due to the poor ventilation and lack of oxygen. Others rushed to the door looking distinctly ill. One speaker stopped half way through his talk, said "Excuse me" to the Chairman, left the room and never returned!
After each lecture a flood of questions ensued, often ending in arguments and every session ran over time. Despite the apparent chaos, the first Congress was deemed to have been a huge success. The BSAVA was well and truly launched with 335 members signed up.
Pioneering new technology
The 2nd Congress, held at Washington Hotel, was also a great success. At the 3rd, held in the Kensington Palace Hotel, there were many delegates from overseas and Smith-Kline & French sponsored closed-circuit colour TV. This allowed surgical demonstrations at the RVC to be transmitted to the congress hotel.
By 1961, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) had been formed and the 4th BSAVA Congress (again held in the Kensington Palace Hotel) was the first International Small Animal Veterinary Congress. I was President in that year, and the congress was opened by J Arthur Rank – President of the Animal Health Trust. Some 40 or so people came from overseas and, with sponsorship from Smith-Kline & French, Congress Committee used a radio link to hook up with a meeting of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) in St Louis, USA, during which a on hip dysplasia was held. The closed circuit TV and radio link were "firsts" so far as veterinary congresses were concerned.
"Woody" Woodrow had wonderful qualities and a great presence – people listened to him, he was highly intelligent and wise (see Reminiscences). He had considerable charm and was always cheerful and communicative – ideal as the first President of the BSAVA. Apart from "Woody" Woodrow and John Hodgman, there were two other people who were extremely active and helpful in the early days – Nick Henderson and Bruce Jones.
Nick Henderson was Chairman of the first PR Committee (he later set up his own PR company – Henderson Group I). Nick was a man with great enthusiasm for everything he took up and was great fun to work with. In the early days his influence in publicising and promoting the Association was considerable -it was he who liaised with Smith Kline & French for the closed circuit TV transatlantic and radio link for those early congresses.
Foundations of publications
Bruce Jones was the first Chairman of the Publications Committee and laid the foundations for the very successful reputation of the BSAVA with regard to publications, which have been not only prolific over the years but of an extremely high standard. Although I edited the proceedings of the first Congress, Bruce Jones then took over and edited a long series of Congress Proceedings and Bulletins of the BSAVA which listed references to publications worldwide.
It was not long before the Association needed to produce a journal and Bruce and Nick approached several companies, including Blackwell's and Academic Press. All these required money on the table or at least in advance and the Association did not have the resources to do this. They were in despair – the way ahead looked difficult.
However, Bruce and Nick approached Pergamon Press owned by Robert Maxwell (who was a "Goody" not a "Baddy" in those days). He asked about the Congresses and scientific standing of the Association. Once assured, he undertook to publish what became the Journal of Small Animal Practice without charge to the Association for a year; thereafter, Pergamon and the Association would split the profits. We could hardly believe our good fortune. In fact, Pergamon Press went on to also publish the proceedings of our Congresses as Advances in Small Animal Practice. All of these and several editions of Jones Animal Nursing were edited by Bruce Jones.
Maxwell was also very helpful to the Association in its contacts abroad, particularly at the time of WSAVA Congresses. Of course Robert Maxwell was an astute businessman and there were 2000 libraries worldwide which purchased all scientific journals so he had an immediate market. Well we all know Maxwell's tragic end but that was much later – at the time he helped the Association enormously.
Thirst for knowledge
The BSAVA is a remarkable success story, and its success can be measured in several ways, notably though, by its membership which now totals 5,300 veterinary surgeons (I recall a discussion in the early days when 500 members seemed a very ambitious goal.), the high quality of Congress programmes and an attendance of 6300 delegates reached last year. The Association has flourished due to a succession of highly competent and motivated veterinary surgeons who, in addition to earning their living in practice, academia or commerce, have given up their time to advance the Association year by year.
One of the major contributions the Association has made in continuing professional development (CPD). The successive congresses, regional meetings, demonstrations, CE courses and publications have collectively disseminated an enormous amount of knowledge. There has been a good blend of research data and practical application in practice, along with considerable in-depth consideration of clinical problems. And there has been a wider and wider agenda, especially relating to exotic pets and fish.
The BSAVA has done considerably more for CPD than any other organisation in the UK and arguably the rest of Europe. It has also matched similar efforts in the U.S. It was the thirst for knowledge which initiated the foundation of the BSAVA and this thirst has never abated among our members and the Association has never failed us.
Brian Singleton, November 1999