Lives of the fellows

Derrick Melville (Sir) Dunlop

b.3 April 1902 d.19 June 1980
Kt(1960) BA Oxon MB ChB Edin(1926) MD(1927) FRCPE(1932) FRCP(1960) FRSE(1960) QHP(1961)

Son of GHM Dunlop MD FRCPE, Derrick Dunlop, who was to become a doyen of British medicine, was educated at Edinburgh Academy, Brasenose College, Oxford, and Edinburgh University where he qualified in 1926. After working as a house surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Dunlop went into practice (with morning suit and top hat) in London, but soon returned to Edinburgh to study tuberculosis under Sir Robert Philip. He became an assistant physician in 1934 and in 1936 Christison professor of therapeutics and clinical medicine at Edinburgh University and a senior physician in the Royal Infirmary. For twenty-five years he served these institutions with deep commitment, rare distinction and unique panache.

A gentle, thoughtful doctor — rightly beloved by his patients, to each of whom he gave with his great charm immeasurable confidence — Dunlop’s interests were primarily in clinical endocrinology, metabolism and nutrition. But he was a notable diagnostician in all areas of medicine and, of course, a quite superlative teacher.

He held generations of medical students in thrall. His was a household name for all who graduated and practised in Edinburgh. Sunday morning after Sunday morning - regardless of travelling through the snow from his lovely sixteenth century castle - he would hold court in his wards, when 50 or more general practitioners would come, some from long distances, to hear this great clinical teacher. His enthusiasm in demonstrating his exceptional clinical skills would be hard to match and certainly has not been seen in Edinburgh since. The care he took in the preparation of his lectures, often great discourses, was only overshadowed by the brilliance of his exposition. His lectures on therapeutics were perhaps his greatest achievement as an undergraduate teacher. He loved our language, rolling out the most eloquent of phrases and adjectival clauses. A prima donna — vain and elegant - who rose magnificently to each occasion; he was very self-critical and distressed if his message was not always perfect.

With ‘Stanley’ (Sir Stanley Davidson) and Rae Gilchrist, he upheld and extended the great traditions of the Edinburgh Medical School and attracted many devoted colleagues to his staff. In addition to many papers, he wrote with CP Stewart Clinical Chemistry in Practical Medicine and his better known Textbook of Medical Treatment with Sir Stanley Davidson and Sir John McNee.

Sims Commonwealth professor in 1957, this cultured man received many honours - knighted, physician to the Queen (1961 -1965) and extra physician after this, he was awarded honorary degrees in Birmingham, National University of Ireland and Bradford. He was both a Lumleian and Croonian lecturer of this College. He was an honorary fellow of the American College of Physicians and an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

Dunlop retired from his chair when he was 60. He was then invited to become the first chairman of the Medicines Commission, which became known for many years as the Dunlop Committee. His sagacity, tact and diplomacy were fully employed in persuading the pharmaceutical industry and the medical profession to collaborate. Mainly due to him, this experiment in voluntary controls was a remarkable success. Industry agreed not to market new drugs without asking the advice of the committee, and the medical profession for its part agreed to the collection and analysis of adverse reactions to drugs. Time has shown that his vision was right, with the need for establishment of the authority of the Committee on Safety of Medicines, even although he would have preferred continuation of voluntary agreement to legislation.

Edinburgh medicine has not been the same since this outstanding man, so loyal to his juniors and students, left the scene. In his retirement, he was awarded by the Royal Society of Medicine its triennial gold medal, and Winthrop Laboratories instituted a travelling scholarship in his name - both gave him much pleasure. But what gave countless others great pleasure was his wit and marvellous oratory: his Harveian oration at the Royal College of Edinburgh in 1957 led to a standing ovation, an unique event for the dour Scots! Similarly, his colourful address on Edinburgh medicine to the Association of Physicians in 1977 will be treasured by many. An Anglicized Scot, he knew them well, laughing a little and caring a lot.

He married Marjorie Richardson, daughter of a lawyer, and she was a superb foil for his extravagances of mood and a wonderful supporter at all times. They had a son and daughter.

MF Oliver

[Brit.med.J., 1980, 281, 66, 316; Lancet, 1980, 1, 1425, 2, 324; Times, 20 June 1980; RCP Edin. Chron., Oct 1980, 10, pp.6-8]

(Volume VII, page 170)

<< Back to List