Spotlight: GSK and PAGB: 100 years of co-operation

Published on: 3rd September 2019

Celebrating 100 years of consumer healthcare spotlight header image

Let’s start with a bold claim, one of GSK’s predecessor companies founded PAGB as the AMBP in 1919. Ok, so we didn’t really (think of the conflict of interest!), but one of our former managing directors was instrumental in the government patent medicines investigation in 1912 that lead to the formation of the Association in 1919.

Jill Morreto

From the PAGB’s very foundations, GSK and its predecessors have been involved with the Association. Nine Chairmen/Presidents have come from our businesses, the most from any member company, and a further three have connections to our current consumer healthcare business. This article features those gentlemen and showcases the close relationship our two organisations have shared for the past 100 years.


A.J. White was started in London in 1877 by Andrew Judson White, who was an American. He founded his business to sell a curative syrup, under the brand name “Mother Siegel,” a fictional character. Chas. H. Ratcliffe was made Managing Director in 1906. He founded the subsidiary company Menley & James in 1908. In 1927 Menley & James became the UK distributors of Smith Kline & French products and were ultimately acquired by SKF in 1956.

During 1912 a government select committee was set up to investigate patent medicines and so-called secret remedies, as an inquiry based upon the two books published by the British Medical Association: “Secret Remedies – what they cost and contain,” 1909 and “More Secret Remedies” in 1912. The select committee had singled out Mother Siegel’s syrup as one of the most prominent examples and asked Chas H. Ratcliffe over 100 questions during his appearance. He is described as having answered his questions “with a success which rendered invaluable service to the pharmaceutical trade and industry at that time and thereafter.” The committee was a key catalyst in the formation of PAGB. The company history of A. J. White says that Ratcliffe was “primarily responsible for the creation in 1919 of the Association of Manufacturers of Proprietary Medicines, renamed the Proprietary Association of Great Britain in 1926, and held office in this association until his death in 1956.” He had been named Honorary President in 1950.

The AMBP wanted to provide the services of a trade association to the owners and manufacturers of proprietary medicines and foods, to form government contracts, and to contribute to the raising of standards and working conditions within the industry. It sought to distinguish its members from those who manufactured “quack” medicines.

A J White

PAGB founded (as AMBP)1919Alexander Maclean started selling toothpaste
Renamed PAGB1926Beecham’s Powders launched
PAGB Code of Standards for Advertising launched1937Beecham House built on Great West Road, Brentford
PAGB incorporated1942Sugar syrup replaces glycerine due to war shortage - the birth of sweet toothpaste
Frederick A S Gwatkin

Frederick A. S. Gwatkin, Chairman 1943 -1954, was a solicitor, employed by McKenna & Co. and was a director of 25 pharmaceutical companies at the time of his death. These include GSK predecessor Bayer Products Ltd., a subsidiary of Sterling Health, and he also acted as the lawyer for Macleans.

During the First World War, German firms’ assets were seized by the British and American governments, and control passed into other hands. Bayer Products Ltd. was the British subsidiary of Friedrich Bayer of Leverkusen, it was bought by Sterling Health in both the UK and USA. Between the wars Sterling and Bayer operated on a 50/50 ownership, but as the Second World War broke out Sterling took the 50% back from Bayer. Gwatkin was a director at this time. Sterling’s over the counter business was acquired by SmithKline Beecham in 1994.

H.G. “Leslie” Lazell, CEO & Chairman of Beecham Group, 1951 – 1968 is recorded as saying:

“there grew up an association of manufacturers called the Proprietary Association, supported by all the large proprietary medicine companies, which ‘cleaned up’ the business and set a pattern for other industry associations that followed. The Association has earned great respect abroad, particularly in Europe and the USA.”

PAGB influential in the formation of the Advertising Standards Authority1962Beecham reorganised into divisions: Food & Drink, Toiletry and Pharmaceuticals
Medicines Act passed1968Beecham bid for Horlicks
New PAGB Articles of Association adopted1977Beecham launches its first skincare product "Pure and Simple"


Donald McLure had joined Beecham in 1965 as head of the toiletries business. He masterminded its growth through the UK and Europe, as well as developing the company’s presence worldwide in the cosmetics and home improvements space. He was later president of several company divisions including Proprietaries, Cosmetics and Home Improvements.

He was widely respected in UK advertising and marketing circles and had formerly been President of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, European Proprietary Medicine Manufacturers Trade Association and PAGB between 1981 and 1983.

Donald McLure
Bob Grice



In 1989, Wellcome’s Consumer Division manager, Bob Grice, joined PAGB’s executive committee (re-named PAGB’s Board). At the time he was quoted in our internal newsletter as saying

“I can help the OTC business in the UK to develop further, and I can participate in the harmonisation across Europe. There is quite a lot of work to be done and it is going to be interesting. At present there are very few pan-European brands and it will be interesting to see how they will develop across Europe. It will be nice to be alongside other companies with whom we are normally competing, but in this instance developing the total industry. They are the right people to work alongside. It is appropriate that somebody from Wellcome should be there to do it.”

Between Bob forming Wellcome’s Consumer Division in 1983 and joining the PAGB committee in 1989, Wellcome had become one of the top five companies, and three of its products were among the 15 leading OTC brands.

In 1986 Alan Hunter Regulatory Controller, Wellcome, commented:

“The PAGB code is supplementary to the Medicines Act, Advertising to the Public Regulations. We hold informal discussions with PAGB about our proposals and then send the full storyboard into them for approval. PAGB checks the copy to ensure conformity with its code and requires substantiating evidence for claims to be provided when necessary. The Association also offers advice on when an advertisement may inadvertently offend public taste or show any lapse in good safety practice.”

Colston Herbert of Sterling Health was PAGB President, immediately following the acquisition of their consumer business by SmithKline Beecham, in 1994 – 1995. Through this GSK acquired Panadol pain killers.

James Hallatt

Since the formation of GlaxoSmithKline in 2000, five PAGB Presidents have come from GSK, further illustrating the importance of a close relationship between the company and the trade association.

Simon Pulsford was PAGB President from 1999 – 2001, Roger Scarlett-Smith from 2008 – 2009 and James Hallatt from 2011 – 2012, who congratulated PAGB on it’s anniversary: 

“Many congratulations to PAGB on its centenary. For our UK industry to have such a well-respected self-regulating body as PAGB is testament to many people’s hard work. Well done to you all and here’s to the next 100 years.”

Carlton Lawson, who was PAGB’s president from 2014 to 2016 said:

“The PAGB is the benchmark OTC trade association for many markets around the world. This reputation has been built on 100 years of success in engaging proactively with regulators and legislators, from a position of credibility, trust and expertise, to shape the environment to enable self-care. The PAGB’s work remains ever important as the external trends impacting self-care accelerate. Thank you to the team for their work and here’s to the next 100 years!”

Carlton preceded David Barnett, who was PAGB’s president in 2017 for the second time, the first was in 2013 whilst at Novartis. 



By Jill Moretto, Heritage Archivist, GSK