Designatory Letters: 
MB Lond 1950, MD Lond 1959, MRCPsych 1971, FRCPsych 1973

(Contributed by Jonathan Chick)

A graduate of Kings College and Westminster Hospital, Norman trained in psychiatry at the Maudsley. He joined a team of the Medical Research Council in 1959 working on social factors, including marital relationships, in psychiatric illness. He moved to Edinburgh to the Medical Research Council (MRC) Unit for Epidemiological Studies in Psychiatry in 1966 and became Director in 1971. The term ‘parasuicide’ became associated with his research, building on that of Neil Kessel and linking with the excellent service for self-poisoning patients at the Royal Infirmary, where Norman for many years made a clinical contribution.

Social aspects of depression, and the role of life stressors, were a rich research seam in the coming years. Alcohol was a late entry into the Unit’s portfolio. Norman enjoyed interviewing some survey participants who were members of the Institute of Directors, grandly housed around Charlotte Square and St Andrew Square: the distilleries and breweries were not the only source of heavy drinking Edinburgh men! He was the first to use the term ‘preventive paradox’ in the alcohol field, resulting from his analysis of data generated from the Brewers and Directors study – that the greatest numerical reduction in alcohol harm would come from reducing overall consumption because moderate to heavy drinkers (some of whom experience harms) – were much more numerous than the extreme drinkers. However, he joked that he had been told by another epidemiologist that the most important rule for someone embarking on research in the alcohol field was to leave before the reputation was forever tarnished!

While decisive research methodology was his forte, he had no scruples, for example, about co-facilitating a marital therapy supervision group with the Scottish psychoanalyst, Jock Sutherland.

Norman’s teaching in the Department was much appreciated. One cohort of psychiatric trainees asked him to share his knowledge of philosophy in a brief course, a challenge he seemed happy to rise to. Another deep interest was poetry, and he published several books of poems. That was kept separate from work as was his other hobby, fishing, though he was generous with a gift of a freshly caught sea trout when the catch had been good.

On retiring in 1994, he merged his interests in a lattice work as graceful as a Celtic brooch, in a book entitled “The roots of metaphor: a multidisciplinary study in aesthetics” (Ashgate, 1999). Here he explored the evolutionary, neurophysiological, cognitive and imaginative aspects of creativity and poetry. That needed someone with his bridging breadth of mind.

His logical thinking, usually softened by a whimsical twist, sharpened Department research presentations. Metaphysics would not have been a branch of philosophy of interest to him. He accepted that others had different views, but in the end ‘we are here and life is about getting on with it’ – which he did in a cheerful, bountiful, liberal way. He would not admonish another for different views, but might give a dextrous or playful answer – always handsomely and civilly.