[Skip to content]

Sign up for our daily newsletter
The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries


John Henry Prevett OBE
John Henry Prevett OBE, who played a key role in securing compensation for victims of Thalidomide, died after a short illness on 30 January 2010, aged 76. John was born in Sussex in 1933, 12 hours after his twin brother, Peter. He excelled in mathematics at school and eschewed the university scholarships he was offered to join the North British & Mercantile as a trainee actuary. He passed all the exams very quickly but had to wait nearly two years before being able to use his FIA credentials, as he was below the then minimum age to practise as an actuary.

Deciding that working as a consulting actuary would be more to his liking, he joined Bacon & Woodrow in 1958, becoming a partner a few years later and remained with the firm until his retirement in 1998. John worked in the firm’s pensions area, advising a large number of trade unions as well as corporate clients. He was also one of the profession’s leading experts on the valuation of will trust interests and was the author of the standard texts on the subject.

However, John was probably best known for his work in quantifying financial compensation in cases of personal injury or death and, in particular, trying to persuade the judiciary to adopt a more actuarial and scientific approach. His most famous case was in connection with the Thalidomide tragedy when he worked with the Sunday Times Insight team. Although John’s evidence had been ignored in the test trial, he persisted and, through his articles in law journals and elsewhere, demonstrated that the amounts initially offered to the victims would be totally inadequate. This stimulated renewed Sunday Times coverage, the mood of the public changed and the end result was that the Distillers Company agreed much higher payments. John received the OBE for this work.

John continued to be actively involved in Court work and became a fellow of the British Academy of Experts. John was chairman of the Association of Consulting Actuaries from 1983 to 1985, and was awarded the Finlaison Medal by the Institute in 1999 for his contribution to the profession.

Outside the profession, John was a member, sponsor, governor, trustee or chairman of numerous charities and organisations. In particular, he worked tirelessly with Canon Collins and others to support anti-apartheid activists through the Defence and Aid Fund and the Canon Collins Trust, of which he became chairman. His successor described him as ‘one of the unsung heroes of the anti-apartheid movement’. For John, the end of apartheid was a momentous victory and meeting Nelson Mandela after his release from prison was a proud moment.

In addition to his charitable work, he was not only the longest serving commissioner of the Inland Revenue from 1961 until 2008 but also a Labour Party councillor in the Tory-dominated borough of Reigate and Banstead for over 40 years. He was elected mayor in 1998 and honorary alderman in 2006. John was a quietly spoken, mild-mannered and gentle man, of complete honesty and integrity, impeccable professionalism and immense loyalty.

Despite all his activities, John remained a strong and devoted family man who will be missed much by his wife, Joy, his sons David and Steven and his six grandchildren, as well as those of us who will fondly remember the countless bottles of red wine we shared with him over many years. A tribute to John simply stated: “The world has lost a true hero.”
By Peter Morgan

Leslie Martin
Leslie Martin died on 11 November 2009 aged 90. He joined the Government Actuary’s Department (GAD) in 1938 and spent six years in the armed forces during the war, first in the Royal Army Medical Corps then, with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers following Dunkirk. He qualifi ed as a fellow of the Institute in 1947.

During Leslie’s time at GAD, he principally worked with large occupational pension schemes in the public services. For many years he was concerned with population mortality and contributed to GAD’s annual article in the British Actuarial Journal showing recent trends. I recall him being asked to examine the statistics of tides in the Thames Estuary with a view to assessing the risks of fl ooding. This made an interesting change and was presumably the fi rst step towards the completion of the Thames Barrier in 1984.

Leslie served the Institute continuously from 1954 to 1979, including spending six years as a member of Council. He was particularly involved with the Actuarial Tuition Service, the Education Committee, the Manpower Committee and the CMI Bureau. He spent many years on the Board of Examiners and liked to recall with glee the occasion when a candidate was asked to show that two expressions A and B were equal. The candidate started with expression A at the top of the page and worked down, then started again with expression B at the bottom of the page and worked up, hoping (in vain) that the discontinuity in the middle of the page would not be noticed!

Leslie was modest, but I know that he was inwardly very pleased to contribute to the fi rst Sessional Meeting held in Staple Inn on 28 November 1955 shortly after its construction.

On Leslie’s retirement in 1979, he and his wife Wynne retired to Down St Mary in Devon where they spent a further 30 years together. However, Leslie never stopped working. He was an honorary research fellow at Exeter University, worked on church finances both at a parish and a diocese level and provided practical assistance to a number of charitable concerns. He was a gentle and modest man, who gave much to the profession and to the community in which he lived.
By Colin Stewart