Professor Anthony Russell Clarke  1959 – 2016

Anyone who has completed a doctoral thesis will testify to the almost parental like relationship a PhD supervisor has with their students. And so it is with great sadness that I heard my PhD supervisor Professor Anthony Russell Clarke, aged just 57, had passed away this week.


Tony Clarke. Photo Credit. Emma Cordwell

To his friends, students and colleagues Tony Clarke was chaos incarnate. Anyone who worked with him can testify to the apparent disarray of his lab and life. The humdrum cycle of the working week didn’t impinge on Tony’s habits. For Tony there was no such thing as ‘work/life balance’, there was just Life. Sometimes the most appropriate thing to do with life was to head out to sea on his beloved boat, at other times the lab was the place to be. His wayward lifestyle made Tony a challenging person to work with; society doesn’t care for chaos, it prefers tidy plans, filed reports and scheduled meetings.

And so to many it was incredibly difficult to pinpoint how or why his group and indeed his mind worked so productively. It appeared to the outsider that disorder reigned. In fact true chaos ruled; chaos from which, as in nature itself, beauty and order emerges. Of course something is needed to trigger the emergence of order from a chaotic system. And in Tony’s case the attractor around which order condensed was his unwavering insistence on experimental rigour and reproducibility.

Inspiration, creativity, curiosity; Tony had these in spades. Everyone who ever worked with him couldn’t help but admire his intellect, wit, charm and passion. And so they overlooked, as best they could, his social transgressions. Most of his exasperated superiors let him get on with his research, content with his prolific outputs, the wise garnered his genius. Meanwhile his PhD and post-docs rallied around trying to keep his admin on track by digging out the most important forms and documents hidden in his office’s archaeological filing system (the deeper in a stack, the older the documents). This remained a workable system threatened only by the occasional  tectonic movements that disrupted the order.

Tony was an outstanding scientist. He received a SERC Personal Fellowship at 26, a Lister Fellowship at 36 and a personal chair at 41. Churning out seminal work in enzymology, protein engineering, protein folding and prion disease throughout his career. He retired through ill health at 55 with 183 papers, including 4 in Nature and 2 in Science, and an H-index of 49 under his belt.  But the numbers don’t do his achievements justice, his real legacy are the results of his infectious passion for science. He showed us that curiosity was key, that it was the exploratory process that was the interesting bit. Those that had the honour to work alongside him (for he always treated his charges as equals) are left with a life-long love of discovery. Tony burnt out early (his fondness for cigarette and a liquid diet hardly helped) but those of us whom he took along for the ride will benefit from his energy throughout our lives and careers.

It is perhaps worth noting that within hours of his death the hundreds of people whose lives he touched, spread as they were over decades of scientific discovery and thousands of miles, had all learned of his passing. The “Clarke-collective” had begun to grieve.

The world is a far less interesting place without Tony Clarke. His family, friends, students and colleagues will miss him greatly.

“We are able to find everything in our memory, which is like a dispensary or chemical laboratory in which chance steers our hand sometimes to a soothing drug and sometimes to a dangerous poison” Marcel Proust.



  1. Claire Limpkin says:

    Poetic. As a PhD student 1999-2003, so laughingly true, and now achingly poignant. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for this, Mark. Other cornerstones of his approach that guide everything I do were his instinctive adherence to Occam’s razor, and avoiding “great moments in Peruvian netball” (no offence meant to Peruvians, or netball).

  3. I rue the day that I will have to write of the passing of my advisor. While he never directly stated it, his thoughts that “A conclusion is the point where your brain stops thinking” still clings dear to me today.

    “Paternal”? I might say “Apprental”, but that is wordsmithing at best. The feelings are mutual, I’m sure. Your words have made sure that his passing was not overlooked.

  4. I had the immense pleasure of working with Tony as a visiting PhD student in the early ’90’s, and then again as a PDRA in the Halford group in he early 2000’s, and latterly collaborating with the prion unit. Tony was everything above, and an inspiration as a scientist. Being talked to as an equal was a huge thing, especially when a PhD student. A beer(s) with Tony was never dull and the ideas flowed. Very sadly missed.

  5. Stephanie Roberts says:

    All of this is true and more. I have a great fondness for telling tales of Tony Clarke including his ability to fall asleep at a party balancing a stem-glass without spilling a drop, his vast sense of humour and the classic drinking songs he delivered with such elegance and joy. I moved on from biochemistry but I learnt a great many life-lessons from Clarkey and would add that underlying the chaos he had huge character, and a rare ability to look a crisis calmly in the eye and move on.

  6. Thank you for putting this together Mark. I a was a PhD student of his between 2000 and 2003 and I am not sure any other academic would have such an over whelming and universal outpouring of sadness and feeling of loss from all thoose he worked with. Generosity and humility came naturally to a man who achieved so very much, he would help anyone and everyone in the most altruistic of ways and would see the good in anyone, whilst paradoxically would not abide a fool lightly. It is quite telling how many of his ex colleagues continued to return to Bristol to collaborate professional or socially even many years after that had left. The reason for this is that he almost seemed part of the place, a sense of belonging that was just another small part of his charm as it became engendered to thoose about him. It’s not just nostalgia either, because although looking back fondly to a friend like we have all been doing, I note we are all also recounting amusing tales and “Clarkisms”, tempered with sadness that a pint in the Robin Hood will never taste quite so good again..

  7. Binx Clarke says:

    Thank you so much for this, it’s lovely. It is very comforting, although not at all surprising, to know that he was viewed in such a way, appreciated enough by all you poor buggers who had to compensate for his impressive disorganisation. Lots of love to Ed and Steph and to anyone else I know who reads this. Binx xxx

  8. Alan Fersht says:

    So sad to lose an old friend so young. He was a very fine kineticist, one of the best I’ve ever known, as well as great fun.

  9. Jane Clarke says:

    I am so sad to hear this news. Tony was a great scientist, and one who enriched all who knew him. I will remember the fun times we had talking protein folding as we drank the evenings away in many conferences. He has been sorely missed over the past few years, and now for always.

  10. I have too many stories about working with Clarkie to even begin to put them down here. But one of my favourite moments was standing in the lab in Bristol (where earlier I’d been a post-doc) while Tony did possibly the first ever chaperoned protein refolding experiment in the UK, with GroEL which I’d collected from Steve Wood in London and brought to Bristol on a scorching hot day by train. He turned up several hours late for our agreed meeting (after I’d fruitlessly mucked around with his equipment trying to do the experiment myself), and proceeded to mix the protein with some unfolded LDH. Picture the scene – Tony, wearing nothing but flip flops and shorts, tanned after a week in France, Gilson in one hand and ciggie in the other, shouting “F*** me, it’s working!”. Celebrations in the Robin Hood followed, and the paper that eventually emerged with Badders as first author and Tony as senior author is still one my my most highly cited.

    RIP old chum and thanks for all the great science and good times.

  11. Sophie Jackson says:

    A great scientist, huge fun, always shocking, enormously talented in lots of respects, Tony certainly loved life. The sadness with which I write this is, to some small part, mitigated by the fact that I think in his all too-short 57 years, Tony lived life to the full.
    Having for several years heard many stories about “Clarkey” I first met Tony in a conference in San Francisco. It was a very warm, if not hot day, and Tony was wearing a full tweed three-piece suit complete with cravat. It looked like it had been tailor-made and he did look terribly dapper. This wasn’t what I had expected of the rebellious Prof. from Bristol that I had heard about. The second time I met Tony was about year later in Bristol. He was wearing shorts, flip-flops and nothing else and had an enviable tan (I don’t know where he had got it). just as Peter described him above. I can’t remember whether he had a ciggie in his mouth but I remember thinking “Is the same man I met in San Fran? Of course, it was. I also remember him turning up for a Ph.D. viva for one of Alan’s students in Cambridge wearing very similar attire. I was the other examiner and by that time nothing about Tony would have surprised me, so I wasn’t phased. I think someone should have warned the student though who looked rather taken aback!
    Tony was always fun, a live wire, he had an incredibly contagious enthusiasm and love of life, so much so that he would manage to persuade a troupe of loyal followers to embark on all kinds of adventures with him. I remember a conference in deepest West Virginia. We were located in some rather remote holiday resort with no shops. Tony ran out of ciggies, a disaster, and so he set out to walk the five miles to the nearest little town to buy some. The resort didn’t sell them. It was January, there was very deep snow on the ground. I remember him departing and waving him and his party off. The party were inadequately dressed/attired for the weather and terrain but this didn’t dampen their enthusiasm. They looked a little bit like rather amateurish, plucky but ill-prepared British explorers who would never quite make it to the Pole. Hours and hours and hours later they re-emerged out of the snow. Tony laughing because they had all got lost, but they had had an adventure and also got cigarettes (I think). That was the important thing, they had had an adventure.
    I can’t imagine Clarkey old and grey and sitting in a comfortable chair in a care home. He would have hated it. He would, of course, have caused complete chaos, and had adventures, and got himself and other residents into trouble. Maybe he is someone in this vast Universe of ours, still creating havoc, still having fun.

  12. Sophie Jackson says:


    One of the funniest moments in my life (I almost wet my pants laughing) was in Warwick. I think it was at a Chaperone Club Meeting. There was a poster session and Tony and Alan F. were having a discussion instead of looking at the posters. I was next to them listening with delight but not actually participating in the chat. Robert Freedman came over at one point saying whatever we were discussing it seemed a lot more interesting than the posters. IT WAS. I’m not sure I should put the details in here, but please ask me to tell you about it when you next see me.

  13. “…unwavering insistence on experimental rigour and reproducibility.” This is so true. Despite the frustrations (all of which he would have cheerfully admitted to), he certainly taught me how the best science should be done.

    I remember once asking him if he’d had good weather on a sailing trip. “We had great weather. It was boring. I like a good storm!”. Never a dull moment.

  14. Tim Dafforn says:

    I first got to know Clarke as a PhD in 1992 student in John Holbrook’s group in the C101 laboratory we shared with Clarke where we worked together on the kinetics of Lactate Dehydrogenase. Clarkes inspirational approach to science certainly influenced all around him. He had an intuitive feel for kinetics and taught me that it was better to spend time thinking before doing the one killer experiment rather than bash away at a lot of mediocre badly designed experiments.

    My memories of working with Clarke include late night stopped flow sessions after a number of pints at the Robin Hood. Clarke smoking a fag, leftover kebab skewers floating in the water bath, discussing thoughts on kinetic isotope effects. Playing cricket in the lab (all our 2 litre measuring cylinders were cracked as they made perfect bats), Clarke bowling spin. Unbeknown to me an angry looking Brian Chappell our head of department appears behind me. Clarke makes a be-line for the door leaving me, a PhD to face the music!

    Perhaps Clarkes enthusiasm for science can also be seen through the work of those who worked with, or were taught by him. Walk through the doors of many of the U.K. Universities and you’ll find an ex-member of Clarkes doing excellent science.

  15. Tony inspired wonderful science, outrageous, riotous fun and enormous affection, loads of indelible (and variously unmentionable) memories to treasure. What a great time we all had with him.

  16. Neil Ranson says:

    Clarke was my boss and my friend from ’92 when I start a PhD in his lab. After an interview (in the Robin, I bought the beer!) I had an amazing three years. We laughed a LOT, drank to much, smoked too much. Lots of people have talked about what a brilliant scientist he was, and this is so true. He had an astonishing, intuitive grasp of biophysics and kinetics that I was totally in awe of then, and am totally envious of now. But more than anything I remember what a fantastic teacher he was. I learned how to do science with Clarke. I felt cleverer with him, and stupider without – ideas that were so clear and simple when he was explaining them seem to drip out of my ears on the way back to the lab. He is the reason I’m a scientist today.

    He could be spectacularly, hilariously rude. I don’t think any of my favourite stories are fit for consumption here! I’m not aware that there was ever any filter between his brain and mouth. I think this is what Mark refers to as ‘his social transgressions’, but we did forgive that, partly because he was also warm, kind and funny, and partly because he had no sense of hierarchy. He loved – expected! – people to be rude right back and it didn’t matter whether you were a PhD student or an FRS – a good idea was a good idea.

    The world is a duller place without him.

  17. Corinne Smith says:

    Tony gave me the most amazing experience of science, something I remember fondly and wish I could return to. I first met Tony in 1986 in a second year undergraduate practical. I said ‘Why isn’t it working’? He said ‘It’s because you’ve buggered it, my dear!’. I was slightly taken aback, but not offended. Later on I was lucky to get a summer placement as an undergraduate in the Holbrook lab where Tony was a research fellow. Lab C101 had an interesting feel to it. A sense of anarchy prevailed – whether it was playing cricket in the lab, making ridiculous noises or doing an experiment that challenged received wisdom. This was a truly exciting time for enzyme engineering and Tony was at the heart of it. Not content with ‘rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic’, he always aimed to ‘go for the throat’ and do ‘the crunch experiment’. In those days this involved mutating the active site of lactate dehydrogenase to understand how it worked and, later, to change the substrates it acted on. These were audacious experiments that defied advice not to alter the enzyme active site in case that destabilized the whole enzyme. Of course, the experiments worked, and produced some of the most spectacular enzyme engineering of the time.

    Tony was my mentor during my PhD with John Holbrook, advising me on my project on protein folding. But he was so much more than that. He represented a pioneering approach to science, which was bold and brave. His scientific achievements required him to take risks and challenge the status quo, which he took great pleasure in doing! And he combined this exciting approach with intense focus, scientific rigor and great personal warmth. I loved working with Tony. He was hilarious, amazing company and, at times, utterly outrageous. He gave me some of the best and funniest moments of my life and I will miss him enormously.

  18. Stephen McLaughlin says:

    Tony was the inspiration that got me into research, when I was one of his first project students after he started his own lab. He was fun, rigorous, intellectually challenging. Even then his office was a fire hazard with a mixture of papers piled high and burning ciggies. I remember the great discussions in the Robin Hood. When Tony was at a conference, you knew it was never going to be dull either scientifically or socially. He was unique -a force of nature.

  19. Chris Prodromou says:

    I knew Tony through his exceptional work and meet him at conferences. At such meetings his vibrant personality stood out. Larger than life, Tony for me seemed to be fun and games and always lifted my spirit. I will miss you.

  20. Arthur Horwich says:

    Tony was an amazing life-to-the-fullest person who was so much fun to be with. Brilliant scientific sleuth, totally exciting to consider problems with and way under-recognized for all that he did to figure out GroEL as well as other systems; bon vivant of the most unabashed sort – so many wonderful occasions where he had us all laughing/falling to the floor – I do remember an S.F. meeting/dinner as the first place where I met him and we were all on the floor by the end of appetizer; unabashed antics of e.g., by hearsay, backing into/smashing a cop car with the cop in it; but totally modest individual – slept on the floor of a train station overnight because he didn’t want to disturb anyone at a late hour for a place to sleep; sailor par excellence as that wonderful image illustrated and as Collinge and others can document. Oh, there are so many things in that wonderful person that we all could enjoy – indelible for all of us.

  21. Michelle Hayes says:

    Like everyone else I have many tales that have made me chuckle over the past few days but are probably best not said on social media. I am very grateful for having known him. He was clearly someone who has left a huge impact on everyone for his brilliance, his humour and just for being so extraordinary. I really hope he knew how much he meant to us all.

    Some of the things I will remember that I can repeat was him emerging from 2 weeks trekking in Australia to arrive at the Lorne Conference with his skin hanging off and looking like the wild man of Borneo. In addition to him arriving at the maternity ward at St Michael’s with Bertie and Sam to visit me after the Robin had closed for the evening. I was in the middle of delivering Jamie at the time! Yes that really did happen, it is not an urban myth.

    I also have memories of Binx asleep under the table in the Robin whilst Clarke derived mind-boggling equations on the back of a fag packet.

    For anyone who has not heard, we have asked for C101 to be renamed after him and there is a poll to vote on what the name should be. Binx as an honorary member of C101, I definitely think you should vote and anyone else who wants to vote, here is the link

  22. For my generation, Tony was a “George Best” figure…”if I had all the money I’d spent on drink and cigarettes….I’d spend it on drink and cigarettes!” As a scientist: he had my total respect. The world now seems a little emptier and certainly a lot quieter! I’ll not forget you.

  23. Tony Clarke was one of life’s true originals. He was eccentric, disorganized, highly intelligent, and very funny. The thing I think about most though is how he treated everyone the same, whether you were an undergraduate or a visiting professor.

    I first met Clarke in a second year undergraduate practical where we had been asked to purify LDH. We were running a column and as he passed by I asked him how we could be sure that our protein was still inside it. “because dear boy, it sticks like shit to a blanket” came the response. I later spent a whole summer working in the group as a Nuffield student. During that time I remember being both surprised and delighted to find he was a regular reader of Viz magazine and, like myself, an advocate of Roger’s Profanisaurus. I stayed in the group to complete a PhD from 1997-2000.

    As others have already said, Clarke’s group was such a unique and special space to work in. I don’t think anyone outside of c101 could ever understand how such a seemingly chaotic group could be so productive. The truth is he brought out the best in people because his passion for the science was so infectious. That meant that like-minded talented people gravitated towards him, and I was lucky to share the laboratory with some of these excellent people. The fact that there was never a dull moment in his company didn’t do any harm either. During afternoons (usually Fridays) he would often sit in on experiments to assist, and science certainly didn’t stop in the lab; aided by liquid refreshments the scientific discussions would often continue well into the night at the Robin Hood.

    I’ll miss Clarke’s brilliant mind, I’ll miss not knowing what on earth he’s going to say next, I’ll miss those antics in the lab, but most of all I’ll miss his great sense of humor and friendship.

  24. Stephen High says:

    I knew Tony in the mid to late 80s when I was a PhD student, and then postdoc, in Bristol and a few things popped into my head when I heard the sad news that he has died. Although we both worked in the same Biochemistry Department, I actually first met him in a nightclub somewhere near the docks in Bristol at about 2AM – I think more surprising I was out and about at that time than him. More importantly he was a fine cricketer and one of the few decent bowlers that our “molecular biology” cricket team every had when we took on Jeremy Tavare’s all stars. When I moved to Manchester I was put in charge of the seminar programme for the Biochemistry Dept. and I invited Tony to come and give us a talk about his work. From what I remember he set off to travel to Manchester from Bristol about three hours before the seminar was due to start, and he was driving a 2CV. Needless to say at some point well after the seminar was due to start I got a phone call saying he was not going to make it. We rescheduled and we did get our seminar from Tony in the end.

  25. Debbie Shoemark says:

    This beautiful obituary encapsulates the experience of being one of Clarkey’s PhD students. His passion for exacting science, his disdain for statistical analysis in biophysical measurements (if you needed to perform stats, you’d done the wrong experiment according to Tony) and his excitement for discovery was infectious. More than that, he was also a good and tremendously loyal friend. He is already missed.

  26. Jim Spencer says:

    It’s been hard to read these- so much just keeps flooding back. Thank you Mark and everyone.

    I was Tony’s fourth PhD student and first met him for an “interview” at the Star and Garter in Montpelier in the days before 24h opening. This wasn’t his usual venue, but it did do a lock-in, something of which he was well aware. I didn’t get much of a word in that night, but I listened and learned a lot, and somehow did enough to make him take me on. Sometime after midnight he weaved off down the street in his MG Midget (whatever happened to that?) That was pretty much how it went for the next three and a half years…

    In my mind’s eye Clarke belongs on a sunny summer Friday afternoon in the C101 optics room. It usually took only a few pushes on the stopped-flow before he would appear at the door, shirt open to the waist (if worn at all), no shoes, still glowing from a lunchtime soaking up the sun in Royal Fort Gardens, and possibly still bringing with him the aroma of the previous night’s excesses. He might claim to be looking for a place to hide from a Head of Department or building superintendent anxious to hold him to account for his latest transgression, and this might well be true, but in reality the sound of the ram was like some kind of dog-whistle he found it almost impossible to resist. Test Match Special on the radio, fag in hand, an expletive-laden running commentary as the traces accumulated, usually followed by a redesign on the fly. You could tell when this had happened from the pyramid of used pipette tips on the bench, topped off with a cigarette butt or two. Friday afternoons might be seen as a time to wind down, but for Clarke this was so far from the case. Friday afternoon was for the high-risk high-reward experiment, the one to test the hot idea that might just work, the one that led to an evening in the Robin Hood ripping apart beer mats to sketch out what it all meant. For someone who generated ideas at the rate he did, there were never enough Friday afternoons.

    As Neil says, he was also a great teacher. Not just an intuitive, incisive thinker, but able to cut through the complexity and make the rest of us understand too. And prepared to give up his time to do it again and again, for those of us who like me kept coming back to him years later with the same old questions. That so many from his lab are still doing science for a living years later testifies to his abilities better than anything I can write.

    Clarke pushed the boundaries in every way. Science is less exciting, and a lot quieter, for his passing.

  27. David (H) Halsall says:

    Very moving obituary and responses, thanks to all. Also amongst the many who are indebted to ‘The Prof’ for advice and support, both scientific and otherwise. Rarely a day goes by without the need to supress a Clark inspired profanity or irreverence (not always succesfully). Whether in the lab or at sea it was always an adventure. I suspect it’s all going to feel a bit like the previously mentioned Netball highlights for good while to come.

  28. Alison Thain says:

    Brilliant obituary, seemed somehow fitting that I read it while having a quiet lunch in a bar in Brittany. He is thought of often and always fondly, and, as has been said before, there are many ‘Clarkey-isms’ that come to mind and make me smile in all sorts of situations. Sadly missed.

  29. David Yates says:

    Thanks to Mark, and all those who have commented for such a fitting tribute to Tony. As Departmental Administrator and Senior Tutor, I found Tony a challenge, a polite euphemism for a b****y nigtmare, when it came to administration, or health and safety issues, but he was a brilliant teacher, and one of the very few lecturers who ccould make the medical students feel excited about enzyme kinetics! The tributes from his PhD students show what an inspiration he was to all his colleagues. The world will be a safer but much much duller place without Tony and I am saddened by his passing.

  30. First off, thank you Mark for putting together this wonderfully piece about Tony. It certainly captured the essence of his contributions and character. I first met Tony at a SF conference. As we crossed paths, he looked at my name tag and immediately launched into our mutual initial work in the chaperonin field. I looked at his name tag and wondered “Who the F**k is Neil Ranson”. It turned out Tony was wearing Neil’s name tag to avoid paying the conference fees. From there, we instantly became great friends because of our mutual “working man’s/blue collar scientist” demeanors. I was a roofer in a former life and he certainly possessed a working man’s attitude and style. This meant we said F**k a lot, even calmly intertwining that language style into our scientific discussions. He would refer to me henceforth as “The F**king Fish”. I had spent an adventurous three weeks in Bristol living with Binx, Kate and Tony to attend numerous conferences on Prions and Chaperone Proteins, just in time for the Mad Cow Scare. It was a stimulating visit to say the least. There was literally never a dull moment. We spend an inordinate amount of time trying to make each other blow tea or beer though our noses with our silly little antics (imitating the pompous) or stories (my past adventures in roofing and his summaries of general science faux pas). On the flip side, Tony had an intensely serious and strong empathic streak that would often emerge throughout the course of the day. When he would make it to the US colonies, we would sometimes go on long early morning hikes to go bird watching, hardly the habit you would expect from such a boisterous fellow since you had to be quiet for long periods of time. Tony was a keen kineticist and enzymologist who relished in uncovering the allosteric complexity of the chaperonin machine in his most thorough manner. He avoided experimental fishing expeditions, or as he called them…. “Strolling along the chemical shelf”. He was, without a doubt, a brilliant and accomplished scientist. He was an extremely complex man who enjoyed life to its fullest. I will miss my friend. His full-throated unabashed laughter will reverberate in my brain for the rest of my days.

  31. Michael Liversidge says:

    As a Bristol colleague, but not a scientist, perhaps I may be permitted to add a word about someone who was invariably exceptionally stimulating company. I can’t say anything about the scientist, but his interests went very widely across everything that was civilised and civilising – fine wines and great cuisine obviously, and also the creative arts in all their dimensions. My subject being art history, it was always a delight to meet him by accident but really only too occasionally – he was always fascinated by what others were doing, and in my case we sometimes got deeply into a subject like “So, how can really know a Rembrandt is a Rembrandt?”, and when science became such an important cornerstone of my own subject I was hugely fortunate to be able to ask him what must have been for him the most basic questions about pigment analysis and trace elements which he answered in ways that I could understand. An amazing intellect – he knew I knew nothing about the science, but he explained it with infinite courtesy; and he paid me the compliment of asking about esoteric aspects of my own subject. He genuinely had an eye for the aesthetic, and on the all too few occasions we met over the years there was often some image or artist that had caught his attention and he wanted to share his enthusiasm. I can imagine what a vividly inspiring teacher he was, and like all really great teachers his passion for what he did carries on. He may have seemed cavalier about administration, but his perceptions of those of us who thought we weren’t bad at it were always astute, and I like to think that some of us realised he was better at seeing the absurdly Kafkaesque than we were, and that we could learn a lot about it from his wise and witty commentary. What a star.

  32. Saskia van der Vies says:

    Thank you Mark for writing such a striking description of Tony, capturing that he was so well. I met Tony in the early days of the Chaperone field and will never forget his memorable “performance” in the bar at the FASEB folding meeting in Vermont. He was indeed a brilliant and “hooked” scientist who lived his life to the full and included so any of us in it. We have lost a dear friend. I am sad by his passing and remember the fun times we all had.

  33. Alex Xiong says:

    Thanks for everyone who has already contributed, the stories brought back some of my vivid memory of working with Clarkey.

    I first worked with the Clarke back in 2006 as a summer student and later did my undergraduate project with him on enzyme kinetics and we become friends since. He was a fantastic kineticist and mentor, and I am still greatly benefited by the knowledge he passed on to me in my research today. When I think back, the fun of doing science with him was definitely a crucial factor for me to further pursue science.

    As an oversea student from China, he was extremely friendly to me, we talked about lots of things science and non-science related. Through him, I was first introduced to the “British way of drinking” in the Robin Hood, and was able to greatly enrich my English vocabulary with his swear words. For many times I was invited to sail across the Bristol Chanel with him and other friends in his boat, it is one of the most memorable experiences I have in my life.

    I would like to send my deepest condolence to his family and I will surely miss the unforgettable time I spent with him.

  34. I suspect I have repressed my memories of all the best Clarkey stories.

    He was an excellent friend, who I always intended going back to visit. However I never got around to it…

    Tony wasn’t my PhD supervisor. JJ was my supervisor and Tony was only just being made a lecturer at that time. (Did they realise what they were unleashing, I wonder?) Even so I must have worked twice as much with Tony as I did with JJ.

    We’ve already heard mention of the time he reversed into a police car while drunk. I think that was after he rescued me from a party where I too had become much drunker than I intended–he drove me home, in spite of being well oiled himself. I think after that he drove back to the party, finished the evening, and then in the small hours drove home so pissed that he was totally unaware of the police following closely behind with blue lights flashing and unable to believe their eyes.

    Another story is when he set off on holiday by driving to an airport in another city (Cardiff?) when his flight was actually departing from Bristol.

    But the best story is maybe the time when he pressed the 10,000V “strike” button for the fluorometer arc lamp, without first bothering to check that the arc lamp was actually connected to the wires. The wires were in fact resting on the metal table, so was the small PC that was used for data capture, and it rapidly became the unluckiest PC in World…

    I believe the repair shop said it was easier to list the parts that weren’t burned out e.g. the keyboard.

    He was the best man at my wedding (for carefully chosen values of “best”), with Corinne standing by to double check that he hadn’t lost or sold the rings.

    Mostly, however, I remember his office… the archaeological layers of documents (which only related to rearranging deckchairs and could therefore be ignored), the small random containers of cigarette ash, the copies of Viz and other relevant research documents with graphs and equations roughed out in the margins, the computer that everybody shared, the furniture that I seem to recall was rescued from a skip in the car-park…

    You could wander in to the lab or office at any time, day or night, and the observable probability of Tony was pretty much the same (although the noise on the signal was higher late at night). Those were definitely the days and it is terribly sad to know that they are now over. However Clarkey’s legacy is the people he inspired and I can’t imagine a better tribute.

  35. Colin Kleanthous says:

    As nicely portrayed in the obit, Tony was indeed a chaotic inspiration. Those who knew him all had ‘Tony stories’ which we all recount with glee. First and foremost though he was a brilliant protein chemist. When I was setting up my lab in the early 90s, Tony was someone I would often test ideas on and even some data. Epitomized by one evening after a long session of drink and science when he dumped me outside his house at 3am to wander the streets of Bristol in search of my hotel only to find myself back at his house at 4am and be given his less than enthusiastic two-fingered directions to the hotel. A true original.

  36. Geoff Baldwin says:

    What more can I say? Its all true! Really sad to hear of his passing so young. As others have said, his real legacy is the inspirational touch he has had on the lives of so many others along the way.

  37. Kate Hawkings says:

    I’d like to echo thanks to Mark for starting this really lovely thread, and to everybody who has posted a cooment. He certainly was an unforgettable man and it’s generous of you all to share your memories; it makes a very special record.

    Binks put the below on Facebook earlier and has asked me to post it here as well. As she says, please spread the word. V best wishes to all x

    Clarkey’s funeral will be on Tuesday 2nd August, 3:30 at Canford Crematorium. Everyone and anyone is invited. Spread the word!
    The wake will be held afterwards at The Robin Hood on St Michael’s Hill (where else?).

    Dress as you like. Shorts, no shirt, no shoes; brogues and cravats positively encouraged but not compulsory.

    No flowers please but if anyone would like to make a donation, please do so to Head Way (, supporting Frenchay’s amazing brain injury rehab unit where he had such great care.

    All my love and thanks for all the lovely messages from so many of you xxxxx

  38. As with so many comments on here, “Clarke” left an indelible impression on me that I will take to my grave.

    From the mid 90’s (PhD) to 2007 (Senior Lecture and Reader) I worked in Bristol in what was then the Dept of Pathology and Microbiology. During my PhD I would amble the corridors looking for any soft-hearted biochemist that would take pity on a dim-witted microbiologist that knew sod-all about enzyme kinetics – and yes, that guy was Clarke. Despite being a tour-de-force on enzymes he was never patronizing or condescending but would meet you at your level of understanding. Quintessentially, he was the very best of teachers.

    Over the years this irreverent but generous genius became a very good friend and we often played cricket together on summer evenings where recollections of leather on willow was eclipsed by the pining for local ales. A leader on and off the field, he was always graciously encouraging which was combined with a refreshingly self-depreciating, albeit very fruity, sense of humor.

    He was blessed with an obscenely healthy attitude towards health and safety (Amen!) and was in every sense the purest of scholars – pontificating over several pints in the Robin Hood and scrawling great thoughts on the back of beer mats. He was the very essence of scholarship – utterly unfettered by bureaucracy and protocols. His bizarre sense of timekeeping was equally legendary. Once when collecting stop-flow data some second years appeared in the door to remind him he was 15 minutes late for his tutorial to which he retorted “S**t, I didn’t f**king forget again?” – needless to say he was royally pardoned.

    My last meeting with him was 4 years ago when I invited him over for a seminal lecturer to our post-grads at Cardiff. True to form, he bewitched and beguiled them with his casual but compelling delivery of scientific discoveries but, as always, met the audience halfway. That day, he and I both wore striped blazers and I was honored to be a member of “his club”.

    When you mention his name, people respond with a knowing smile and a gaze of quite admiration. An administrative nightmare he may have been, but we all secretly, and not so secretly, aspire to his achievements and even more so, the very quiddity and essence that made Clarke………….simply Clarke.

    Thanks for the memories Tony, they are numerous and precious. R. I.P.

  39. J Hambleton says:

    Thinking of you all during this sad time.
    many happy memories of growing up with my talented, wildly unconventional cousin.
    I take credit for introducing him to the value of good coffee!
    R.I.P. Dear Boy
    Jan Hambleton

  40. Michael Ehrmann says:

    Tony’s departure is a huge blow because his interpretation of life has been exemplary to me from the moment I have known him. When we met at a chaperone meeting in Spain, I was preparing myself for the drinking to follow by eating 4 pork steaks. When chucking into the 4th, I felt observed and looked up. There was Tony’s face watching me “Michael, I like your style!”. Later that night, he was emerged into an intense discussion with Alan F. All of a sudden and without a word, both got up, staggered 5 yards to the sea, stoped, leaning against each other because they were unable to stand upright by themselves and “watertones” were heard. After they finished, they turned around, walked back like siamese twins, to continue their discussion.
    How he got away with his “style” is of course simply because of his outstanding brilliance, his deep friendliness and his exceptional creativity.
    Brother Tony, it’s been a privilege!

  41. Only just heard about Tonys death. I went all through secondary school and played cricket with Tone. I once borrowed his chem homework to copy then left his book on the bus. I got into a bit of trouble for that! Sad loss RIP Tony. Ta range M’duck

  42. Valerie Simnett nee Mason says:

    Who’d have thought a working class lad from Derbyshire would have left such a legacy. We were good mates in junior and secondary school, and I hold very fond memories of his passion for life, his humour and his love of ornithology of all things. Bye duck. XXX

  43. I’m another one of Tony’s old school friends who has been saddened to hear of his very sad loss. We’ve been exchanging our own stories of his antics, and it’s wonderful to read all the messages above to know that he never lost his wonderful spark, and ability to make people laugh – hysterically! Bye mi duck xx

  44. oh a very touching obituary. thanx alot for sharing this

  45. So sad to lose an old friend so young. He was a very fine kineticist, one of the best I’ve ever known, as well as great fun.
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