Professor Mike Land FRS,  1942- 2020


Mike Land, curtal and player of various wood winds, bass singer and member of Sussex Harmony died just before Christmas. In his tricorn hat, playing an instrument unfamiliar to most people at our concert audiences, Mike always willing to explain the idiosyncrasies and the methods needed to tame his tenor and alto curtals to ensure a fairly predictable musical offering. As well as the West Gallery music which he played with enthusiasm, Mike also played the recorder and various pipes that he had made himself at West Dean College near Chichester, with early music friends of a similar persuasion.  Indeed, he was one of the curtal quartet that provided a surprising après- wedding blessing entertainment for fellow Sussex Harmony members, Robin and Paula Nicholson.  A lover of most types of music, Mike was also a very valued member of the basses in East Sussex Community Choir.

With an infectious sense of humour where no subject was off the cards, Mike was a valued member of Sussex Harmony too.  But this was only one facet of this interesting man.  Arriving in Sussex in 1971 to take up a post at the University as lecturer in Neuroscience, Mike and his family lived in a hill side house with terraced garden looking down over his beloved cathedral of Lewes, Harveys’ brewery. He was delighted to recount that Virginia Woolf and her husband had spurned the house in favour of a more prestigious property that was later demolished to become a landfill site.

Mike’s academic journey to Sussex had taken him via Cambridge -where he studied Zoology -   University College London where he did his PhD and became assistant lecturer of Physiology, then University of California, Berkeley as assistant professor of Physiology.  After being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1982 he was appointed as a professor at Sussex in 1984. He was also a senior visiting fellow at the Australian National University, Canberra from 1982 to 1984.  His research was on aspects of animal and human vision.  Initially concentrating on marine life, he became concerned with eye movement in human activities such as driving, music reading and ball games.

Mike had a lifelong fascination in the wonders of the world and even beyond.  This amazing curiosity and excitement for all forms of life and natural history in particular never left him.  He displayed a boyish enthusiasm; I recall him virtually bouncing with glee as he identified some marine fossils in a marble memorial in South Malling Church, Lewes where Sussex Harmony practised.  

He will be sadly missed by many in academic circles where to quote one colleague, “ Mike was an extremely original and insightful scientist, but he also brought warmth, fun and a generosity of spirit to his everyday dealings with his colleagues.  The package was irresistible and inimitable.”

Sussex Harmony can echo this as they sing from a 19th century glee called “With my jug in my hand”, the words, “what a hearty good fellow.”