Professor Malcolm Stevens OBE, FRS
Malcolm Stevens attended Bolton School from 1944 to 1957. After leaving School, he gained a 1st Class Degree in Pharmacy and subsequently a PhD at Nottingham University before embarking on a prominent career in groundbreaking research into treatments for cancer. He discovered and developed Temozolomide, the blockbuster oral chemotherapy drug used to treat brain tumours and is also responsible for bringing a number of other drugs to clinical trials whilst leading the Cancer Research UK-funded Experimental Cancer Chemotherapy Research Group at Aston University and the University of Nottingham over a 25-year period.
In 1999, he was awarded an OBE for services to the development of cancer drugs. He received the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Interdisciplinary Research Award in 1991 and the George and Christine Sosnovsky Award in Cancer Therapy in 2002. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2009.
What is your connection to Bolton School?
I started at Beech House in 1944, went through Park Road and into Senior School and eventually left from the sixth form. I had four siblings who all attended Bolton School as well. My father, PAS Stevens was Director of Music at School and I even married a Bolton School girl!
What are your fondest memories of School?
I was mainly involved in the physical and sport side of activities, but Bolton School provided so many different opportunities for pupils, it meant I could try out all the things I was interested in. I played on the 1st XI Football for three years – we were undefeated in my final year, although I think when School started playing Rugby, this diluted the footballing talent! There were also opportunities to be self-taught and the freedom to do many things, allowing us to be independent. I also enjoyed the Military Band, was captain of Chess Club (where I never lost a game), and played Clarinet in the Orchestra.
I did unexpectedly well in my A Levels – I had previously always behind with school work. When I was eight years old I had to miss six months of school because of serious illness and it was only right at the end of my school career I put my mind to my studies.
Did any teacher particularly inspire you at School?
Our Biology teacher Jim Slater, who also acted as football referee, stands out in my memory – he encouraged us to be independent and academically inquisitive. He had a radical way of teaching biology, outdoors, in the woods or on the Moors, encouraging the pupils to get out, look around and observe. In my Biology set in sixth form, we were all bird watchers. We heard that there was a corncrake, in the fields up Old Kiln Lane so Jim let a few of us out from School at lunch to find it and we spotted it. This was a huge coup in bird watching terms! It was a memorable experience as I didn’t see another one for another 50 years till I went to lona.
A Chemistry teacher, Harry Slimming, also allowed us to carry out some experiments independently on the top floor of the School (where there were no fume cupboards!). The processes were all very exciting, and I recall that the smells and colours created were all different and fascinating, which inspired my interest in Chemistry.
I also recall having a good deal of respect for Mr Poskitt – he had such a presence as Headmaster.
What do you feel that your time at Bolton School gave you personally?
School taught me the value of independence – the basis for making my own judgement following my own instincts. It also taught me that if you are going to get on in life and be at the top of any particular profession or activity, you have got to work much harder and push yourself much harder than anyone else.
What careers advice would you give to Bolton School pupils today?
Follow your interests to a point, but remember that Maths, Physics and Chemistry equals money these days – maybe even more so in the future.
What do you think about Bolton School’s aim to re-establish open access through boosting its Bursary Fund?
I am utterly in favour of opening opportunities for Bolton kids who were not as fortunate as I was in the 1940s.