Oliver Gillie, one of the foremost medical journalists and health writers of his time, has died at the age of 83.
He had lived stoically with CLL (chronic lymphocystic leukaemia) since 2012. He was brave and forthright
and firmly believed in a journalist’s right, or even duty, to challenge authority and institutions which sought
to hide or deny medical and scientific facts from the public.
During his long journalistic career he won numerous awards for his writing as medical correspondent of
The Sunday Times and medical editor of The Independent. In 2014 he was awarded the Medical Journalists’
Association Lifetime Achievement Award for his work to raise awareness of the importance of vitamin D and
in 2016 a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Guild of Health Writers. Dr Gillie wrote some 10 books about
food and nutrition, impotence, pain, and cancer.
Born 31 October 1937, he gained a BSc and PhD in genetics, both from Edinburgh University, where he
studied at the Institute of Animal Genetics under Conrad H. Waddington. His PhD thesis was “Growth
and genetic control of enzyme level in Neurospora”. He worked at The Sunday Times from 1972 to 1986 when
he joined the fledgling Independent. During this period of his career he wrote about the major changes in
medicine from heart transplantation to the elimination of smallpox, reporting from the operating theatre,
the bedside and from foreign parts – in the case of smallpox from the rural depths of Bangladesh. He also
worked on stories in a number of other countries: writing about the end of communism in Romania, modern
day slavery in Sierra Leone, and reporting on the first Gulf war. While medical editor of The Independent he
started the weekly Health Page, which was an immediate success and was copied by all the other national
On leaving the paper in 1995, he devoted much of his considerable energy to researching the adverse health
effects of vitamin D deficiency, specifically that caused by insufficient exposure to sunlight (this article
sums up his beliefs well: www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/oliver-gillie-time-abandon-outdatedview-
staying-out-sun-2018389.html). In the same year he founded, with Michael Crozier, Self-Help Direct
Publishing, to produce health books for “ordinary” people.
In 2006 he founded the Health Research Forum (www.healthresearchforum.org.uk) with Michael Crozier
and through it published published several books and reports advocating better evidence-based public
health policy, including Sunlight Robbery: Vitamin D and Public Health – Is current UK public health policy
on vitamin D fit for purpose?, Sunlight Vitamin D & Health: A report of a conference held at the House of
Commons in November 2005, Scotland’s Health Deficit: An Explanation and a Plan, Sunlight Robbery Health
benefits of sunlight are denied by current public health policy in the UK. He fought a long-standing battle,
which he partly won, with Cancer Research UK (CRUK) about the benefits of exposure to the sun without
clothing or sunscreen for a certain length of time each day and according to one’s skin type and when and
where one was in the world.
He gave many lectures on health and was always keen to guide and help aspirant young journalists. Apart
from his scientific and medical writing, he was a keen photographer and Munro-bagger (climbing peaks in
Scotland more than 3000 feet).
His other books include: The Living Cell, Thames and Hudson, 1971; Who Do You Think You are, Man or
Superman? The Genetic Controversy, Harper Collins, 1976; How to stop smoking or at least smoke less, Pan
Books, 1977; The Sunday Times Self Help Directory, Harper Collins, 1982; The Sunday Times New Book of Body
Maintenance with Celia Haddon and Derrik Mercer, Peerage Books, 1985; Regaining Potency: Answer to Male
Impotence, Self-Help Direct Publishing, 1994; Escape From Pain, Self-Help Direct Publishing, 1997; Food for
Life: Preventing Cancer Through Healthy Diet, Hodder & Stoughton, 1998; Cancer: Just the Facts, Heinmann,
2004; Sickle Cell Disorder (Need to Know), Heinemann, 2005; Cancer: Need to Know, Heinmann, 2005.
Michael Crozier, May 18, 2021