Lives of the fellows

Arthur Carleton Crooke

b.9 May 1905 d.8 July 1990
BChir Cantab(1930) MA MB(1931) MD(1935) MRCP(1956) FRCP(1967) Hon FRCOG(1976)

Arthur Carleton (‘Carl’) Crooke was born in Lincolnshire, the son of the technical director of the Appleby-Frodingham steelworks. After Uppingham and Cambridge, he qualified from the London Hospital where he worked as a house physician, house surgeon, registrar and eventually senior assistant to the medical unit. As a Grocer’s Scholar he joined Dorothy Russell in the pathology department, during which time he described the vacuolation of the basophil cells of the pituitary in Cushing’s Disease, appearances which have come to be known eponymously as ‘Crooke’s Changes’. His work at the London Hospital resulted in an offer to join Harvey Cushing [Munk's Roll, Vol.V.,p.93] in America and the award of the Raymond Horton Smith prize, a considerable distinction, for his Cambridge doctorate.

Had the war not intervened his productive time there might well have resulted in his isolating adrenocorticotrophic hormone, for that was the subject of his research. This event diverted him to more pressing needs; research on shock in the MRC unit directed by Sir James Walton. After the war he established, at the London Hospital, the first endocrine unit in the country before being appointed endocrinologist to the United Birmingham Hospitals in 1948, with the encouragement of Solly Zuckerman, later Lord Zuckerman (q.v.). In 1954 he set up a clinical base, together with Alastair Frazer [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.186] and John Squire [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.412], in a purpose-built metabolic research unit at Little Bromwich, which was later to become the East Birmingham Hospital. But it was at the Women’s Hospital that he developed the programme that was to bring him his international acclaim, with public recognition the year before he retired, as the first Midland Man of the Year.

With Wilfrid Butt, who had started with him at the London Hospital, and Philip Brown, follicle stimulating and luteinising hormones were extracted and purified from pituitary glands and urine for the purpose of treating patients, particularly women with infertility. This was pioneering stuff requiring the collaboration of gynaecologists, biologists, statisticians and biochemists. The importance of the project was quickly appreciated and support was forthcoming from the Medical Research Council, Ford Foundation, and the World Health Organization. The problems to be solved included obtaining sufficient hormone for clinical purposes, purification to a degree acceptable for clinical use with adequate monitoring of biological potency, identification of the clinical conditions appropriate to treat and definition of a suitable dose regime. Success came with all but the last, and indeed multiple ovulation remains a risk to this day for women treated for anovulatory infertility.

Besides his Midland Man of the Year award, ‘Carl’ Crooke was widely honoured by the profession. He was much in demand as a speaker, being invited to present his oeuvrè in many parts of the world. He became president of the endocrine section of the Royal Society of Medicine which he had earlier helped found together with those other eminent endocrinologists, Peter Bishop [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.48] and Raymond Greene [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.228]. He was a consultant to the World Health Organization and, in 1976, was elected an honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. After retirement in 1970 he moved to Hoarwithy on the banks of the River Wye, and finally to mid-Wales where he died. He was survived by his devoted wife Nancy, whom he had married in 1936, and by a son and a daughter.

‘Carl’ Crooke’s career was undoubtedly one of distinction and his contribution to the sum of human happiness was immense. For all that, he was a quiet, modest man whose talents were advertised by his achievements rather than by himself. His interests were wide and included art - at Uppingham, pressure was put on him to choose this as a profession rather than medicine - entomology, ornithology, his house and his garden. As a young man he was an accomplished sportsman with success at cross-country running, shooting - a top score at Bisley -and rugby football, captaining the team at his college. Queen’s College, Cambridge. But his true and lasting memorial will be the many children who would have remained unconceived but for his researches.

D R London

[Brit.med.J., 1990,301,234; The Times, 10 July 1990;The Independent, 11 July 1990; The Daily Telegraph, 13 July 1990]

(Volume IX, page 106)

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