In the 1950s, Bickerstaff and Fisher independently described cases with a unique presentation of ophthalmoplegia and ataxia. The neurological features were typically preceded by an antecedent infection and the majority of patients made a spontaneous recovery. In the cases with Bickerstaff brainstem encephalitis, there was associated altered consciousness and in some, hyperreflexia, in support of a central pathology whereas in Fisher syndrome, patients were areflexic in keeping with a peripheral aetiology. However, both authors recognised certain similarities to Guillain-Barré syndrome such as the presence of peripheral neuropathy and cerebrospinal fluid albuminocytological dissociation. The discovery of immunoglobulin G anti-GQ1b antibodies in patients with Fisher syndrome and later in Bickerstaff brainstem encephalitis was crucial in providing the necessary evidence to conclude that both conditions were in fact part of the same spectrum of disease by virtue of their common clinical and immunological profiles. Following this, other neurological presentations that share anti-GQ1b antibodies emerged in the literature. These include acute ophthalmoparesis and acute ataxic neuropathy, which represent the less extensive spectrum of the disease whereas pharyngeal-cervical-brachial weakness and Fisher syndrome overlap with Guillain-Barré syndrome represent the more extensive end of the spectrum. The conditions can be referred to as the 'anti-GQ1b antibody syndrome'. In this review, we look back at the historical descriptions and describe how our understanding of Fisher syndrome and Bickerstaff brainstem encephalitis has evolved from their initial descriptions more than half a century ago.