BORN LONDON, MARCH 28, 1916. DIED LONDON, MARCH 26, 2008, AGED 91.
ABRILLIANT academic chemist, Dr Charles Simons helped the war effort and Britain’s production of insulin and penicillin.
The youngest of four children of a poor, non-academic family in Bethnal Green, in the East End, he was educated on a series of scholarships.
He went from Tottenham County School to Imperial College London, Leeds University and Cambridge University, gaining his PhD at 21.
Since Germany was pre-eminent in science in the interwar years, he taught himself technical German in order to read the scientific textbooks as a student, including the pioneering work of Paul Ehrlich, who used penicillin to cure syphilis, and Professor Kohn, who worked on insulin.
During the Second World War he ran a penicillin factory and, after the war, an insulin factory, where offal from a large meat company was fed into the production line and ended up as insulin.
When war ended he was sent on a mission to Germany to find out about its chemical facilities. With Germany divided into four military zones, the War Office gave him military status with the rank of lt-colonel.
He signed the Official Secrets Act and flew with five other scientists. He inspected some 20 major chemical factories producing, among other things, cyanide and opium. The Nazi manager of one factory refused to speak to him.
Back home six weeks later, he was stripped of his rank and returned all the uniform except the socks. His report for BIOS, the British Intelligence Objective Subcommittee, was published as a government white paper in 1946.
Looking for a career change, having gained every chemistry qualification, he took up the suggestion of a cousin who was a coroner, and studied law. He was admitted to the bar at Inner Temple in 1950 but could not afford the ensuing non-earning period of pupillage, so went into industry.
He was deputy chief chemist at the British Drug Houses and European company secretary of Turtlewax, having supervised the building of its factory in Skelmersdale.
He sat on the council of Liverpool University and Institute of Chemistry. He was an examiner for the Institute of Chemistry and taught chemistry in two local schools for a short while after retirement. Quietly conscientious, he was unassuming but highly effective.
Confined to a wheelchair in a residential home because of a debilitating condition for the last five years of his life, he took an abridged Friday night service at the home and was loved and respected by staff and residents alike.
He is survived by his wife, Edna, whom he married at Hendon Synagogue in 1942; son, Gerald; and two grandchildren.
Dr Charles Simons: top chemist