BORN MANCHESTER, FEBRUARY 23, 1930. DIED CAMBRIDGE, FEBRUARY 1, 2008, AGED 77.
THE FIRST Cancer Research Campaign professor of clinical oncology at Cambridge University, appointed in 1975, Norman Bleehen created the conditions for the establishment of the Cambridge Research Institute Cancer Centre, which opened only last year.
He and his brother, who survives him, were born into a distinguished Orthodox family of rabbinical and scholarly descent on both sides. Theirgreat-grandfather in New York negotiated a presidential exemption for kiddush wine during Prohibition.
Norman was educated at Haberdashers’ Aske’s School and won medical scholarships to Oxford and Middlesex Hospital, London. He followed his first BA degree with a Medical Research Council studentship, leading to a BSc and a prestigious prize.
Following house jobs at Middlesex and Hammersmith Hospitals, he did his national service as a medical specialist in the RAMC and served in British military hospitals in post-war Germany.
In Berlin he was the UK representative of the Four Powers Commission in medical charge at Spandau Prison, which held Rudolf Hess, Baldur von Schirach and Albert Speer. Consulting his commanding officer about the suitability of a Jew for the post, he was told to get on with the job. “This is the army.”
Demobilised, he worked first in academic medicine in Oxford, then trained in radiotherapy at Middlesex Hospital. In 1966 he specialised further in radiotherapy at Stanford University, California, on an MRC fellowship. Despite an offer of work, he returned to the Middlesex, where he became professor of radiotherapy in 1969.
He moved to Cambridge in 1975 with his wife, Tirza, a former colleague at the Middlesex Hospital, when the MRC asked him to set up a clinical oncology research unit in the city.
The project was co-ordinated with Cambridge University School of Clinical Medicine’s creation of a department of clinical oncology at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, endowed by the Cancer Research Campaign charity. Norman Bleehen was the new department’s professor. The following year he was elected a fellow of St John’s College.
Under his direction, the unit became a leader in academic oncology research, concentrating on aspects and treatment of lung cancer and brain tumours.
As chairman of the MRC cancer therapy committee, he was keenly aware of the need for rigorous evaluation of new drugs and treatments.
He looked for potential in his students and encouraged future specialists. With his patients he was sensitive.
He was on the editorial board of several major journals, wrote six books and over 400 papers, chapters and editorials. Among his many honours were an honorary doctorate from the oldest medical school in the world at Bologna University and a CBE in 1995.
He and his wife were active in the Cambridge Jewish community and Thompsons Lane Synagogue. They frequently hosted the annual Magen David Adom garden party and enjoyed putting up visiting Israeli scholars.
He is survived by his wife.