The Blake Marsh lecture, an annual lecture on learning disability, was endowed in 1963 in memory of Dr Blake Marsh, the former medical superintendent of Bromham House Colony in Bedford. The first lecture was given in 1967. To review the speciality of the psychiatry of learning disability and how it is currently practised in the UK. Clinical, service, research and educational issues in learning disability psychiatry are reviewed and illustrated. Key issues which emerge in all four areas include the importance of communication skills, consultation with users and carers, professional education and partnership. The psychiatry of learning disability is a complex, varied and stimulating branch of psychiatry with a strong developmental focus.