Lives of the fellows

Gordon Melville Ardran

b.11 March 1917 d.2 March 1994
MB ChB Liverp(1941) DMR(1943) MD(1948) MA Oxon(1960) MRCP(1960) FFR(1968) FRCP(1972) FRCR(1975)

Gordon Ardran was the son of Percival Walter Ardran, a chartered accountant, and his wife Elizabeth Melville (née Jay). Meticulous care was the hallmark of his professional life. He was born in Liverpool and educated at the Liverpool Collegiate School, studying medicine at Liverpool University where he won several prizes. After qualification he held house officer posts at the Royal Liverpool Hospital and the Northwest War Neurosis Centre.

He first became interested in radiology while still at school, when he was allowed to sit in on one of John Blewett’s reporting sessions at the Christie Hospital. After completing his house jobs he went to Sheffield where he obtained the DMR at the Sheffield Radium Centre under the tutelage of Frank Ellis, who always remained a firm friend. In 1943 he joined the RAMC, spending some time at Porton Down working on the radiological diagnosis of the effects of phosgene gas, which later formed the basis of his doctoral thesis. He was sent to Nigeria in 1945 where he was adviser in radiology to the West African Command. While there he wrote his first publication on three cases of calcification of the cysts of armillifer armillatus in man. An example of this poor worm, now totally calcified itself, still occupies a place of honour in the Oxford University department of radiology.

On demobilization Gordon applied for a consultant radiology post in Sheffield but was pipped at the post by Ronald Steiner. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as he spent a further two years in Liverpool and obtained his MD. This was also the year he married Dorothy Joan Hadlow, a radiographer and daughter of an electrical engineer who later became principal of a further education college. They had two daughters. Joan was the epitome of a successful woman behind the successful man.

In 1949 he joined the Nuffield Institute for Medical Research as a radiologist and lecturer. The Institute was disbanded in the mid-1980s to make way for the Institute of Molecular Medicine. At the same time, he also became consultant radiologist to the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell, which initiated his interest in radiation protection and made him a pioneer in dose reduction. Then followed what was probably his most successful and productive period. He collaborated with Fred Kemp, Brailsford’s nephew, and together they pioneered the techniques of cineradiology, investigating swallowing mechanisms and the movements of the larynx in a variety of normal and pathological conditions - all viewed on 35mm closed-loop cine film using a most ingenious projector still in the possession of the department. Together with Lind, Kemp and Ardran were awarded the Barclay prize of the British Institute of Radiology for their work and Gordon himself won the Society’s Barclay medal, named after the founder of the university department which he headed as clinical reader from 1978. Gordon was the recipient of many awards, having published about 250 papers on both scientific and clinical applications of radiology, an average of seven papers a year. His last paper, published in the year of his retirement, dealt with the unlikely correlation between handedness and the side on which pharyngeal pouches occur. He sat on numerous committees, including the WHO Expert Advisory Panel on Radiation, and represented the UK at the International Atomic Energy Commission symposium on radiation protection. In Oxford he was a founder member of Wolfson College, having been a fellow of Iffley College before its name was changed to Wolfson.

Gordon Ardran was one of the two inventors of the now famous Ardran and Crooks cassette, on which all current digital kVp meters are based and which paved the way for the introduction of physicists into radiodiagnosis. It is particularly ironic in that both his paymaster, the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, and the British Institute of Radiology, were reluctant to publish the papers reporting the invention. The cassette arose from the need to justify a claim that radiographic images could be produced with modulated X-rays using mAs values which were only a fraction of those normally used. Ardran and Crooks suspected that the real kVs were a little higher than those quoted and they were indeed proved correct. In spite of his inventions and pioneering work in radiology and radiation quality control, Gordon was too modest a man and did not receive the recognition due to him. The highest honour afforded him was honorary membership of the Radiological Society of North America in 1982.

His major hobby was his wife and family, to whom he was totally devoted, but he kept bees and was also a gentleman farmer’. He was given a greenhouse as a retirement present. He also had an interest in food; I never recall him ever missing a lunch at Wolfson, but he remained lean and fit and a source of tremendous envy to those of us to whom calories were not so kind. He was a great chatterer, but never talked about himself. Even the last time I saw him, on the day before he died, although in great pain from his myelomatosis, he asked only about my family and those of the present members of the University and NHS departments of radiology in Oxford - and how everyone was getting on. Not a word about himself or how he felt at such a critical time. His final request to me was to straighten a picture hanging on the wall of his ward. His passion for order prevailed to the end.

B J Shepstone

[Brit.med.J., 1994,309,601]

(Volume X, page 11)

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