Inside Out: Yorkshire aristocrat who died in 1919 could help fight flu pandemic
A court has granted scientists permission to exhume the body of a Yorkshire
aristocrat who died nearly 90 years ago from one of the world's deadliest
Sir Mark Sykes, landowner, politician and diplomat, died in France in 1919 of
the Spanish Flu, which killed 50 million people worldwide.
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.
Historical researchers from the BBC's Inside Out programme - BBC One Yorkshire and
Lincolnshire, Friday, 7.30pm - tracked down contemporary records of his funeral
at Sledmere Church and other archive documents to aid the medical team from St
Barts and the Royal London Hospitals.
Experts believe Sir Mark's remains will help them piece together the DNA of the
final stages of the pandemic flu, adding to major breakthroughs by American
scientists last year.
This knowledge could help prevent a modern pandemic.
Sir Mark was working for the Government in the Middle East in the weeks before
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.
He had been tipped as a future Prime Minister and helped draw the national
boundaries of the Middle East that still exist today.
Sir Mark's grandchildren had to give their permission for an exhumation to take
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."
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.
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
"We're on the verge of the first influenza pandemic of the 21st century and... we
think Sir Mark can help us."
Inside Out Editor Ian Cundall said: "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."