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   Inside Out - Yorkshire & Lincolnshire: Friday March 2, 2007
Sir Mark Sykes
"It's rather fascinating that, maybe even as a corpse, he may be helping others..."
Christopher Simon Sykes
Sir Mark Sykes - traveller, politician and advisor.

Vital flu clue

The body of a famous 20th Century politician may hold the clue to preventing a global flu pandemic.

Inside Out has found out that a worldwide flu epidemic could be prevented by historic knowledge which has been uncovered.

Sir Mark Sykes, landowner, politician and diplomat died in France in 1919 of the Spanish Flu, which killed 50 million people worldwide.

A court has granted scientists permission to exhume the body of the Yorkshire aristocrat who died nearly 90 years ago from one of the world's deadliest viruses.

Professor John Oxford, one of the world's top virologists, believes Sir Mark was buried in a lead coffin which could have preserved the virus.

Flu pandemic

Historical researchers from Inside Out have tracked down contemporary records of Sir Mark Sykes' funeral at Sledmere Church and other archive documents to aid the medical team from St Barts and the Royal London Hospitals.

Experts believe Syke's remains will help them piece together the DNA of the final stages of the pandemic flu, adding to major breakthroughs by American scientists made in 2006.

This knowledge could help prevent a modern pandemic.

Flu fact file

A major global flu pandemic killed more than 20 million people in 1918.

In 1919 the Spanish Flu epidemic killed 50 million + people worldwide. The epidemic was caused by an avian virus called H1N1 similar to the H5N1 bird flu today.

The "Asian flu" pandemic between 1957-58 was first identified in China.

The "Hong Kong flu" struck in 1968-69.

A new strain called "Russian flu" was identified in 1977.

In 2005 two young Vietnamese boys died from a strain of influenza known as influenza A H5N1 or 'bird flu'.

Sir Mark was working for the Government in the Middle East in the weeks before his death.

He sailed home from Syria via London, where it's thought he contracted the virus and died in a Parisian hotel a few days later.

Sykes had been tipped as a future Prime Minister and helped draw up the national boundaries of the Middle East that still exist today.

Following the new research Sir Mark's grandchildren have had to give their permission for an exhumation to take place.

One of them, Christopher Simon Sykes, an author, said:

"We all agreed it is a very good thing and it should go ahead.

"It's rather fascinating that, maybe even as a corpse, he may be helping others, as it were."

Exhumation plans

Professor Oxford
Professor Oxford - hoping to answer key questions

The Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Health and Safety Executive will have to vet plans for the exhumation, which has been authorised by a church court covering the Diocese of York.

The medical team would have to wear sealed suits with their own air supply and work within a sealed inflatable tent.

Air would also be filtered to screen out any possibility of the virus escaping.

Professor Oxford told Inside Out:

"If we can get samples, that will be wonderful for my team and science in general.

"It could help us answer some very important questions.

"We're on the verge of the first influenza pandemic of the 21st Century and… we think Sir Mark can help us."

Fighting bird flu

So a coffin nearly a century old could hold the secret to fighting a worldwide flu epidemic as Inside Out's Ian Cundall explains:

Radar tests on grave
Radar tests on Sir Mark Sykes' grave

"We were glad to put our researchers' skills to such a useful purpose.

"We often investigate incidents that occurred a long time ago but they rarely represent such an immediate potential benefit."

Experts hope that the exhumation of Syke's body will provide answers to questions about the treatment of bird flu and other flu pandemics.

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Hotel Lotti
Sir Mark Sykes died of flu at the Hotel Lotti in Paris

Sir Mark Sykes

Sir Mark Sykes is the wealthy diplomat whose body may provide vital clues to bird flu.

His short life was both fascinating and eventful, taking in a career in politics and diplomacy.

1. Mark Sykes was born into a wealthy Yorkshire family in 1879 - his parents were Sir Tatton Sykes and Lady Sykes.

2. The Sykes family seat was Sledmere House in Driffield, Yorkshire, renowned for breeding race horses. As a young man Mark Sykes attended Cambridge University.

3. Sykes travelled extensively to the Middle East, Egypt, the Mediterranean, India, the Caribbean, Mexico, and North America.

4. He also served in the Second Boer War for two years.

5. Sykes wrote several books including D'Ordel's Pantechnicon, D'Ordel's Tactics and Military Training, and the travel books, The Home of Islam and Through Five Turkish Provinces.

6. In 1912, Sykes became Conservative Member of Parliament for Hull Central.

7. Sykes married Edith Gorst and they had six children. He succeeded to the baronetcy and the estates in 1913.

8. His interest in Turkey is reflected in the Turkish Room which he had designed for Sledmere House.

9. During World War I Lieutenant Colonel Sykes was a commanding officer of the Green Howards.

He worked for Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, advising the Cabinet on Middle Eastern affairs. His work led to the creation of the Arab Bureau.

10. Sykes was an important figure in discussions about the future of the Middle East and the Ottoman Empire.

He negotiated the Sykes-Picot agreement which helped to shape the foundations of modern Turkey.

Christopher Sykes
Christopher Sykes with Lucy Hester at Sledmere House

During the Paris peace negotiations in 1919, Sykes caught Spanish flu.

He died in his hotel room on February 16.

His body was sent back to his family home at Sledmere House, and was buried in a sealed lead coffin at St Mary's church in Sledmere.


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