Michael Swann

The Lord Swann

Michael Swann in 1987
Born Michael Meredith Swann
(1920-03-01)1 March 1920
Died 2 September 1990(1990-09-02) (aged 70)
Nationality British
Institutions University of Cambridge
University of Edinburgh
Education Winchester College, Hampshire
(independent boarding school)
Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
Known for The mechanisms of cell division and fertilisation
Spouse Tess Gleadowe (1942–1990; his death); 4 children

Michael Meredith Swann, Baron Swann, FRS,[1] FRSE (1 March 1920 – 22 September 1990) was a distinguished molecular and cell biologist. He was appointed chairman of the BBC, awarded a knighthood and subsequently a life peerage.


Swann was educated at Winchester College, a boarding independent school for boys in the city of Winchester in Hampshire, where he was an Exhibitioner, followed by Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he was a Scholar.[2]

Life and works

Swann lectured in zoology at the University of Cambridge, his former Alma Mater.[3] He served with the British Army during World War II, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.[4] In 1942, he marriead Tess Gleadowe (died 2009). They had two sons and two daughters.

The Swann building is the main home of biological sciences at the Edinburgh University.

His academic work was on the mechanisms of cell division and fertilisation. He used cell polarisation methods to understand the changes in molecular organisation of the mitotic spindle. With his collaborator Murdoch Mitchison, he found evidence in support of a new theory of cell division. He collaborated with Victor Rothschild in experiments on changes in membrane structure during fertilisation. He was appointed professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh in 1952 and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1962.

From 1965 to 1974, he was the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Edinburgh University. In 1968, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Science by the University of Leicester.[5] During his term as Principal, he encountered difficulty with students led by Gordon Brown who had unusually been elected as Rector of the University.[6] He received a knighthood in the 1972 Birthday Honours,[7] having the honour conferred by the Queen herself on 5 December 1972.[8]

He was chairman of the BBC from 1973 to 1980 having been appointed by Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath, who admired his strong leadership during student protests at Edinburgh University.[9] He was created a life peer as Baron Swann, of Coln St Denys in the County of Gloucestershire on 16 February 1981.[10][11] In 1980 Swann became Provost of Oriel College,[12] and was also Chancellor of the University of York from 1979 until his death.[13]


The Michael Swann Building at the University of Edinburgh is named after him. It continues to be used for work on cell division and fertilisation to this day.



  1. Mitchison, J. M. (1991). "Michael Meredith Swann Baron Swann of Coln Denys. March 1920-22 September 1990". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 37: 446–426. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1991.0023.
  2. "Michael Meredith Swann". JSTOR 770039.
  3. Profile, University of York. York.ac.uk; retrieved 2 June 2014.
  4. "Lord Swann, 70, Former Chief of BBC And Educator, Dies", Associated Press via New York Times. 24 September 1990.
  5. Honorary Graduates, le.ac.uk; retrieved 2 June 2014.
  6. Lady Tess Swann obituary, The Independent, 13 October 2009.
  7. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 45678. p. 6256. 3 June 1972.
  8. The London Gazette: no. 45849. p. 14743. 12 December 1972.
  9. BBC Chairmen listing The BBC
  10. The London Gazette: no. 48529. p. 2441. 19 February 1981.
  11. Heraldic Media Ltd., Patrick Cracoft-Brennan Cracroft Peerage Database v5.2
  12. Who, Where and When: The History & Constitution of the University of Glasgow Oxford at the Wayback Machine (archived 25 July 2006). University of Glasgow
  13. Greg Dyke to be Chancellor of the University of York. BBC. 11 November 2003
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Michael Swann.
Media offices
Preceded by
Lord Hill
Chairman of the BBC Board of Governors
Succeeded by
George Howard
Academic offices
Preceded by
Edward Victor Appleton
Principals of the University of Edinburgh
Succeeded by
Sir Hugh Robson
Preceded by
The Right Honourable The Lord Clark
Chancellor of University of York
Succeeded by
Janet Baker
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