Professor John Allen, an appreciation

PROFESSOR JOHN Allen PhD, DSc, FRSB, FRSE, who has died at the age of 94, was interested in marine biology from a very early age, when he discovered the marine life of rock pools during holidays on the east coast of England. Thereafter his drive and enthusiasm to pursue a career in the subject defied convention as he developed into a leading world authority on life in the deep ocean.

At an early stage, despite his initial enthusiasm for biology, he would have preferred to follow his father as an engineer, changing in response to parental opposition and the influence of two exceptionally gifted natural sciences teachers at his grammar school in Nottingham.

In 1944 he was accepted for a place on the degree course in Biological Sciences at the University College of Nottingham. His degree was interrupted when he was called up for army service towards the end of the war. He was transferred after basic training to the Royal Army Medical Corps. There he gained considerable experience in medical biochemistry and parasitology and for the last 18 months of his military service he was based at the Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment at Porton Down.

At University College of Southampton he consolidated his biological credentials by completing his previously interrupted undergraduate course, graduating from the “fearsome” External B.Sc. Honours Degree of the University of London in two years, in 1950.

During his undergraduate summers at Southampton he worked at the Scottish Marine Biological Association’s Millport Laboratory on the fauna of the Clyde area, specifically on molluscs and swimming decapod crustaceans and their relationships with sediments.

After graduation he was awarded a prestigious Research Training Grant by the Development Commission (a precursor of the UK Natural Environment Research Council), continuing his research on marine molluscs at Millport. Here he met and later married his first wife Marion.

Soon after his arrival, while beginning Ph.D. studies, his scientific potential was recognised and he was invited in 1952 to become an Assistant Lecturer in Zoology at the University of Glasgow. Three stimulating and happy years followed; the appointment enhanced his life-long interest in bivalve molluscs under the mentorship of Prof CM (later Sir Maurice)Yonge.

He was awarded one of the first Royal Society John Murray Studentships, allowing him to visit marine laboratories in France, West Indies, Bahamas and the US. Thus began a study of the morphology and of adaptations to habitat in the Lucinacea (Lamellibranchiata), which later formed the basis of his Ph.D.

In 1954 he was appointed to a Lectureship at the Dove Marine Laboratory, a facility of King’s College Durham (and, later, the University of Newcastle). After his stellar links with the University of Glasgow, this move originally proved to be traumatic, with unhappy colleagues and poorly-equipped laboratories. He was allocated a box-room 6ft x 6ft and 14ft high. The effect was to immerse himself in research. He completed his Ph.D. as an external candidate of the University of London and then successfully submitted for his D.Sc. at the same university at the age of 36.

Meantime facilities at the laboratory had begun to improve and continued to be enhanced. John was appointed Reader in charge of the laboratory until 1976. In 1968 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and served as a Member of Council of the Society from 1970-1973.

It was during his time at the Dove laboratory that he consolidated his collaborative links with deep-sea researchers around the world, notably in the U.S.A.

He worked as a Post-doctoral Fellow at the Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institution, held an NSF Research Fellowship at Scripps Oceanographic Institute in 1968, was Visiting Professor at the University of Washington in 1968, 1970 and 1971, and Royal Society Visiting Professor at the University of West Indies in 1976.

Through these links he participated in many deep-sea research cruises in the Pacific and Atlantic and was the first British marine ecologist to investigate the deep benthic fauna of the Philippine Trench, on board the RV Thomas Washington.

During his visits to Wood’s Hole he also developed a successful and long-lasting research partnership with Howard Sanders. Their first joint publication appeared in 1966 and their final two in 1996.

The driving force of the collaboration was to discover adaptations to the deep-sea environment. John’s major contribution was to provide a wealth of anatomical data on deep sea bivalves that illustrated their diversity, functional morphology and adaptive radiation. He played an important role in characterising over 100 new taxa of these molluscs in samples that came from low nutrient regions of the deep ocean.

In 1976 John returned to Millport, now part of the University of London, where he became Director and Professor of Marine Biology of the University. His teaching commitments were low, enabling him to continue with his research and with visits to Wood’s Hole.

The visits were greatly stimulating for John, and he and his second wife Margaret looked forward to them as they developed new friends and social contacts in the Wood’s Hole area.

John also served on various national committees, including the UK Natural Environment Research Council, the Scottish Marine Biological Association, Marine Biological Association UK, Nature Conservancy Council and British National Committee for Oceanic Research. He became a Fellow of the Society of Biology (now Royal Society of Biology) in 2009.

John continued to publish in retirement when he was elected Emeritus Professor and Honorary Research Fellow from 1991 until the closure of the University Marine Biological Station in 2013.

Until that time he continued to lead by example by his dedication to seagoing sampling and his bench work microscopy when he produced anatomical drawings of molluscs, for which he will be remembered, particularly as molecular geneticists begin to test his ideas concerning bivalve interrelationships.

Even in his later years he continued to savour his passion for sea -going when, at a time of increasing frailty, he would take the ferry from Millport to Largs and back for his morning coffee.

He and Margaret came to love Cumbrae, photographing and cataloguing the island’s numerous wild flowers, doing a monthly shore-bird count for many years, and creating a herb garden in the grounds of the Cathedral of the Isles.

All who have worked under his guidance have appreciated his passion for the discipline and for his patience, endless help and friendship. His reputation as an outstanding marine biologist is assured.

He is survived by Margaret, a son and daughter, a step-son and seven grandchildren.

Professor Ernest Naylor