Lives of the fellows

Charles Harold Edwards

b.18 May 1913 d.1 December 1996
MRCS LRCP(1937) MRCP(1946) FRCP(1961)

Charles Harold Edwards was a consultant neurologist at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, and a former dean of the medical school. The son of Charles Alfred Edwards, a metallurgist who became principal of University College Swansea, Harold was born in Manchester and educated at Blundell’s School, Tiverton. He qualified at Guy’s Hospital Medical School in 1937 and, after junior hospital posts, served in the RNVR.

He was appointed consultant neurologist to King Edward VII Hospital, Windsor, in 1951, St Mary’s in 1954 and the Royal Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital in 1955. At St Mary’s, besides being a conscientious and successful clinical neurologist, he became the first director of clinical studies. He introduced an element of continuous assessment of students and promoted the accountability of teachers. From 1973 to 1979 he was the last gentleman dean, with Rolls Royce, then sports Mercedes, and an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the students. After his retirement in 1979 he was for six years co-ordinator of special programmes for the Wellcome Trust.

Harold Edwards was above all an old time clinician. Careful history taking, combined with meticulous examination, clinical deduction and management of the whole patient were the hallmarks of his art. He once observed that "it takes longer to tell someone who hasn’t got a brain tumour that he hasn’t than it does to deal with someone who has."

If he had a failing, it was a tendency to take an instant, but not necessarily ill-judged, dislike to individuals. He was occasionally impatient to the degree of being impressively irascible. Most people saw little of this side of him. His grounds for dislike, as often as not, stemmed from a profound aversion to arrogance or pomposity, whether in patients, colleagues or students. He had a great sympathy for and understanding of medical students and did not expect them to share all his values. He conceded that it was necessary to build bridges to them because "students do not easily come off the trees."

Harold Edwards will not be particularly remembered for his publications, although in 1973 he published Neurology of ear, nose and throat diseases (London, Butterworths), and a smattering of papers over the years. Nor was he a great innovator, although he saw clearly that change was on the way and did all he could to prepare his school for it. When asked whether he approved of change he replied "to ask me whether I approve of these changes is like asking me whether I approve of the tide coming in." He clearly saw the tornado which would soon hit the National Health Service in general and London University medicine in particular.

His abiding interests were gardening (he maintained a fine garden at Cardinal House, Hampton Court); antique furniture and pottery (which he collected with discrimination); rugby (he was a frequent attender at Twickenham and not unknown at Cardiff Arms Park); cricket (being a member of the MCC) and words (his interest was once a little unkindly referred to as 'Logorrhoea'). Perhaps the fact that he had had a stammer as a child, which he clearly had not entirely overcome in later life, contributed to his deep interest in perfecting the use of language.

His clinical acumen extended to marrying Heather Montford, one of his students at St Mary’s, who was a splendid companion and support to him in all his activities, but particularly during his period as dean. They had two daughters and one son.

Peter Richards

[Brit.med.J., 1997,314,683; The Times, 13 Dec 1996]

(Volume X, page 126)

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