Lives of the fellows

Clifford Edric Astley

b.3 March 1915 d.3 February 1995
MB ChB Leeds(1939) MD(1946) MRCP(1948) FRCP(1966)

Clifford Astley’s involvement in medical politics sprang from his work as a consultant on Teesside. It was here he became increasingly concerned at the work-load carried by regional consultants, often with inadequate junior staff. His medical career was based in Teesside, but began in Leeds. He was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, where his father was a company director in the wool trade. He was educated at Bradford Grammar School and then at St Bees School in Cumberland. He later studied medicine at the University of Leeds, graduating in 1939. After house appointments at the General Infirmary, Leeds, he served in the medical branch of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve from 1940 to 1946, attaining the rank of squadron leader. Three years were spent in service in the Middle East and in Malta, where he distinguished himself not only as a doctor, but also as a regular contributor on Radio Malta, where he played popular music on the piano in a request programme which, it is alleged, was particularly popular with the ladies.

On demobilization in 1946 he was appointed as a medical registrar at the General Infirmary, Leeds, where he spent one year before holding a similar appointment at the Royal Infirmary in Bradford. In 1948 he moved back to Leeds to become a senior medical registrar in neurology to Hugh Garland [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.191], many of whose mannerisms, including the slightly rasping voice and quizzical look he acquired during that time. In 1950 he was appointed as a consultant physician with an interest in neurology to the North and South Teesside Hospitals. Despite a busy clinical practice he found time to publish a number of papers on such topics as the neurological aspects of polyarteritis nodosa, hereditary spastic paraplegia and the neurological aspects of acute porphyria. He was much in demand as a consultant and gradually, having been appointed to work in general medicine, devoted more of his time to neurology, eventually becoming the first full time neurologist on Teesside.

In 1966 he joined the central committee for hospital medical services of the BMA, where he quickly made his mark due to his intelligent and questioning approach and his determination and natural political skills. In 1971, when Walpole Lewin became chairman of the BMA council, Clifford was elected unopposed to succeed him. Much of his chairmanship involved discussions with the rival Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, a well-motivated ginger group which had been established by consultants who felt the BMA was not adequately representing the interests of regional consultants. Slowly but surely, through Clifford’s expertise, the two competing organizations developed an increasingly close collaboration at a time when contractual changes were being imposed by the Labour Government. Eventually his efforts and those of his committee were crowned by considerable improvements in consultant contracts.

Cliffords political career was unfortunately cut short in 1975 by repeated retinal detachments requiring several surgical procedures. He was compelled to resign as chairman of the committee. In 1977, however, he became a vice-president of the BMA and continued to take an active interest in the organization for many years afterwards.

Happily, once his retinal problems had been corrected, Clifford was able to continue to work actively as a consultant neurologist in Teesside, where he was also able to indulge many interests and hobbies. He was an enthusiastic tennis player, a bon viveur, a lover of the theatre and of swing music and jazz, and a keen bridge player. He also became a master mason in Middlesborough. For some years he was chairman of the Teesside consultant committee and also served as a member of council of the North of England Neurological Association and as a member of the Association of British Neurologists.

Off duty he was a delightful companion with a wonderful sense of humour. He and his wife, Joan, were immensely kind and hospitable people. They had two daughters, one of whom is now a consultant anaesthetist in London. Following his retirement from the NHS in 1980, Clifford continued to do limited private practice on Teesside and built up a considerable medico-legal practice. He also served as a consultant physician to the Cleveland police until 1985. In 1985 they moved to Surrey to be near their daughters and continued to enjoy an active social and cultural life.

Lord Walton of Detchant

[Brit.med.J., 1995,3 10,1262]

(Volume X, page 13)

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