Geoffrey Beale was born in Wandsworth, London, on 11 June 1913. He began his university studies in Zoology at Imperial College, London in 1931. However, he later switched to Botany, finding the teachers more stimulating, and was to gain his BSc with first-class honours in 1935.
In his third year of university, Beale completed a summer course in plant genetics given by staff at the John Innes Horticultural Institute, which gave him an interest in genetics that was to shape the course of his future career. Beale applied as a volunteer at the John Innes but was actually offered a job there by its temporary head, J.B.S. Haldane. There Beale began his PhD studies under Haldane and then Cyril D. Darlington. He received his PhD in 1938 for his thesis 'The genetics of Verbena.' From 1935 to 1940 Beale worked on a number of different projects, including the chemistry of flower colour variation being studied by Rose Scott-Moncrieff, and became proficient in classical genetics.
Beale was called up to the army in 1941 and was drafted into the Intelligence Corps (Field Security) at the rank of Corporal. As a result of his abilities in the Russian language, Beale was sent to Archangel and then Murmansk to facilitate the transportation of British troops and equipment. After a subsequent brief spell at the War Office in London, Beale was then sent to Helsinki as part of the Allied Control Commission. By the time he was demobbed in July 1946, he had risen to the rank of Captain, and he was awarded an MBE for his military service the following year.
After the war Beale took a job at Cold Spring Harbor, joining Milislav Demerec's laboratory working on the rate of mutation in Escherichia coli from phage sensitivity to resistance. Beale also worked for a spell with Tracy Sonneborn at Bloomington, Indiana, and it was then Beale developed his lifelong interest in the protozoan Paramecium.
In 1947, back at Cold Spring Harbour, he received a Rockefeller Fellowship which required him to return to the UK. He was duly offered a lectureship by C.H. Waddington at the Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh where Beale continued his work on Paramecium. He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1954 and Reader in 1959 before being appointed a Royal Society Research Professor in 1963, a position he held until his retirement in 1978. At the Institute, Beale became close friends with Henrik Kacser and Charlotte 'Lotte' Auerbach, about whom he would later write an account.
With funding from the University of Edinburgh and the Wellcome Trust, Beale was able to design and build dedicated research laboratories, including the Protozoan Genetics building for his research group. This group worked on the genetics of Paramecium and on protozoan parasites, and attracted visiting scientists from all over the world. Over the next few decades the research of Beale and his colleagues incorporated the effect of the cytoplasm on serotypes in P. primaurelia, symbionts and 'metagons' in Paramecium (although Beale later declared his 'metagon hypothesis' defunct) and mitochondria in Paramecium.
In the mid 1960s, Beale developed an interest in malaria genetics, and gained a grant from the Medical Research Council in 1966 to study the genetics of Plasmodium berghei. For this work, Beale recruited David Walliker, who would become a renowned malariologist, and together they established a mosquito colony, built an insectary, collected parasite strains and established rodent facilities for African tree rats. Richard Carter's work helped establish the parasite genetic markers, and the foundations of genetic analysis in malaria parasites were laid. Later research covered the genetic analysis of drug resistance, virulence and the classification of rodent malarias into species and subspecies.
In 1976, Beale was awarded a six-month Royal Society Visiting Professorship to Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, and established a collaborative research programme on malaria with Professor Sodsri Thaithong as well as a malaria research laboratory which was designated a World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre. This collaboration continued for more than 20 years, with the Edinburgh and Bangkok laboratories being linked by a research focus on drug resistance and strain diversity. This phase of Beale's career laid the groundwork for many other scientists working on parasite diversity and genetics, and in 1996 Beale was awarded an honorary DSc from Chulalongkorn University, one of the first foreigners to be so honoured.
Beale married Betty MacCallum in 1949 (they were divorced in 1969) and he would often take their three sons to the laboratory with him on Sundays where they would learn about science and film printing techniques. Beale travelled extensively and maintained contact with a variety of colleagues around the world. He held strong views on progressive education, the impact of science on society and the role of the state in science. Beale continued to work at the laboratory every day well after his retirement. After 1998 he began work on a new book on Paramecium to show the advances and new directions of research in the area. However, Beale's health was deteriorating and much of the later writing was done by co-author John Preer Jr. The book, Paramecium: Genetics and Epigenetics, was published in 2008, when Beale was 95 years old. Beale died in Edinburgh on 16 October 2009.