Lives of the fellows

David Lewis Davies

b.16 April 1911 d.24 October 1982
CBE(1982) BA Oxon(1933) BM BCh(1936) DPM(1943) MA(1944) DM(1948) MRCP(1964) FRCP(1970) FRCPsych(1971)

David Davies was a psychiatrist of distinction, and a man who inspired loyalty and very special affection. It was the match of professional and personal qualities that made him such an influential figure.

Davies went up to St John’s College, Oxford, as a scholar and, after gaining a first in animal physiology, he completed his clinical training in Manchester, qualifying in 1936. During the war he served as a major in the RAMC, and had gained useful psychiatric experience in this setting before arriving at the Maudsley in 1946.

He was, from that moment, until his retirement in 1976, to be crucially involved with the fortunes of the Maudsley and Bethlem Royal Hospitals, and with the post-war development of the Institute of Psychiatry. He was on the consultant staff of the Joint Hospital from 1948 and, from 1950-1966, he was dean of the Institute, responsible for turning Aubrey Lewis’s vision of a centre of excellence into a reality. The partnership between the two men was based on mutual respect, and on Davies’s absolute identification with Lewis’s ideal of eclectic scholarship and insistence on high standards of patient care.

Davies exerted his influence through his role in the design of the Maudsley’s training courses, and by his very personal example as an astute clinical teacher. Those who were selected to serve as his registrars were likely to receive both the commiseration and envy of their colleagues: he was known to be tough and exacting and likely to be moved to a characteristic silence in the face of an inadequate case presentation, but he was known also to be a clinician who combined unusual knowledge of the literature with remarkable and down-to-earth commonsense. Working for him was especially enjoyable because of his own amused and forgiving enjoyment of human behaviour in all its quirkiness.

Davies’s other important professional achievement lay in his work on alcoholism. In 1956, he published with Michael Shepherd and Edgar Myers a two-year follow-up of 50 alcoholics, together with an analysis of prognostic factors, and this article can in retrospect be seen as a model for that type of investigation. But his international reputation in this field was born overnight when, in 1962, he published a short paper reporting on seven ‘alcohol addicts’ who had allegedly returned to normal drinking. This was, of course, at that time a revolutionary claim, which ran starkly counter to the dictum ‘Once an alcoholic always an alcoholic’. The paper was one of the most influential single contributions to the literature on alcoholism of this century.

From then on ‘Davies’ meant ‘return to normal drinking’. Although subsequent research suggests that some of his findings were faulty, and the interpretation to be put on those findings more complicated than he supposed (for instance, not all his patients may have been ‘addicts’ or, in later terminology, ‘dependent on alcohol’), the fundamental importance of this report in opening the way for new thinking cannot be doubted.

He was also very creative in his setting up and fostering of the Alcohol Education Centre, a voluntary organization which, during its all too short existence, was remarkable for its achievements in interdisciplinary education. In 1979 his contributions to alcohol research were recognized by the award of the Jellinek memorial prize. He was elected president of the Society for the Study of Addiction, and sat on the editorial board of the British Journal of Addiction.

Davies’s other interests were many — a student of psychotic art who wrote on Louis Wain and Victorian flower painting; a craftsman in woodwork; a keen gardener, and a dedicated supporter of Chelsea Football Club. After retiring from the Maudsley, he became chairman of the Attendance Allowance Board, for which work he was, in 1982, awarded the CBE.

But behind all these achievements was the man. His quiet enthusiasm; his sense of curiosity; his chuckling humour, the warmth only just hidden behind the shyness, made any chance encounter with Davies a moment of pleasure. His largest memorial is, perhaps, that by his professional energy and personal magnetism he helped to turn alcoholism studies in this country from an area of academic neglect into a very active field of interdisciplinary research.

J Griffith Edwards

[, 1982, 285, 1434; Times, 30 Oct 1982]

(Volume VII, page 139)

<< Back to List