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Where Are You Now?

Garth Gunston

Garth Gunston

PhC Pharmacy 1963

Reading Pharmacy at Sunderland led Garth to becoming the first sabbatical Students' Union President, meeting the Duke of Edinburgh, swimming across the Rio Grande, qualifying as a Pharmaceutical Chemist and then becoming a published author of drug-based mystery thrillers. Garth spent ten years as a marketing executive on the international side of the pharmaceutical industry, then ran the UK medical communications subdivision of the US agency Omnicom. 

Garth has recently published The Tissue Trail Conspiracy, which has received terrific reviews and attracted Warner Bros film interest - the same producer as Skyfall and Harry Potter series.

Garth, originally from Derbyshire, said: “I chose to read Pharmacy because I didn't know what to do for a career with English as my best subject and I didn't want to teach. Pharmacy offered a wide range of disciplines - research, manufacturing, clinical trials, legal registration work, hospital and retail dispensing and the commercial side of industry.  I selected Sunderland as it was the only school of Pharmacy which would take me with the wrong A levels - maths instead of biology - and gave me a year to pass it.” 

He continued: “Things did not start too well. I tried to cycle the 160 miles from south Derbyshire but there was a strong northerly headwind and fairly early on I knew I was in trouble. I finally gave up just outside Durham, stowed the bike in a front garden and caught a bus. 

"My first experience of the Students’ Union was the Annual General Meeting just after I'd arrived. That encouraged me to put myself forward as my first year class SRC (Student Representative Council) member. There was not much competition and I 'got the job'. With English and writing my natural inclination I took an interest in the student newspaper DAIS writing the occasional article and news story.  

“It wasn't long before the editor Mike Haynes asked me if I would take over the weekly gossip piece 'Our Column'. I didn't take much persuading and wrote under the thinly disguised pseudonym Gungar. Fortunately, my dry humour style seemed to go down quite well and hovering around the Students’ Union Office I picked up the gossip from both the engineering and pharmacy faculties of the membership.” 

Garth became increasingly involved in the Union and DAIS activity. He says this didn’t do his course work much good. 

He explained: “Head of School Fred Oliver invited me to leave the B Pharm course. Fortunately, that same day the Pharmaceutical Society had written to me to say that as I had now passed biology A Level I was now eligible for the lesser qualification of Pharmaceutical Chemist. I'm not sure if Fred Oliver agreed to me proceeding with this lesser demand option.” 

Garth decided to apply for the Students’ Union President role on a sabbatical basis. At the time building work started on a five-storey student hall of residence and the opening would bring significant workload on the Union. 

Halfway through the year the Student Hall of Residence Wearmouth Hall was opened by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. Garth was asked to represented the students and the Duke and he shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.   

After his President year Garth was studying hard to make sure he got his qualification.  

He said: “Becoming involved with the college administration had led to contact with the Rotary Club and when they were asked to put forward a candidate for an exchange scheme with Rotary Clubs in the USA my unbelievable luck continued. I was sent to Texas! I was hosted by five Rotary families though the summer. I had taken horse riding lessons as a precaution but only saw one horse and that was in the distance. What I did see were plate covering T-bone steaks and school corridors with thick pile carpeted corridors - I was in the oil producing Panhandle area.   

“But the highlight was when a family took me south to El Paso to take me to Mexico but didn't tell me so I didn't have a passport with me. They drove east to a section of the Rio Grande - under The Chisos 'Ghost' Mountains which would normally be just a trickle in the summer. But a storm had just produced a flash flood. It wasn't that bad, and I gave it a go - and made it, just. I became a 'reverse wetback'. Most people swimming across the Rio Grande are 'wetbacks or Mexicans going the other way.” 

After leaving college and as a result of becoming a pharmacist Garth spent ten years as a marketing executive on the international side of the in the pharmaceutical industry, then ran the UK medical communications subdivision of the US agency Omnicom.  

Since retiring from medical and pharmaceutical activity he has owned business properties in the UK Switzerland and the British Virgin Islands and operated two yachts and a twin engined six-seater as charter businesses as well as playing with them a bit himself. 

Garth concluded: “And still down to Sunderland and pharmacy, the almost final twist. Writing has always been part of things and I've written and have had published a politically motivated mystery thriller, The Tissue Trail Conspiracy, which has received terrific reviews and attracted Warner Bros film interest - the same producer as Skyfall and Harry Potter series. The College had given me the necessary knowledge of drugs I needed and my positions in industry the necessary contacts with the Drug Investigation Division of the National Criminal Investigation Service.

“And the final twist. Halfway through my time I met a pharmacy student called Jacqueline Sowerby. This was 55 years ago. At the wedding at which Tim Melton was best man the lady became and still is Mrs Jacqueline (Jacky) Gunston. That was 53 years ago.”

To purchase Garth's book, please follow this link:

Garth has kindly agreed to donate half of the profits of his book sale to the Hope Winch Benevolence Fund. Please email Garth to and when you buy the print version of his book on Amazon. In return, he will email you free of charge (market price £7.95) a purpose constructed PDF download of the photographic supplement of his book.

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