Lives of the fellows

John Lewis Franklin

b.13 February 1904 d.19 May 1972
MRCS LRCP Lond(1927) MA MB BChir Cantab(1929) MRCP(1931) MD Cantab(1933) FRCP(1955)

John Franklin was born in London, the elder son of Philip Franklin, FRCS, an oto-rhino-laryngologist.

No-one would have guessed that this dapper, well-groomed and well-dressed figure, always wearing a fresh red carnation in his buttonhole, had suffered in childhood from bouts of severe asthma and total misunderstanding by his parents. Clumsy, untidy, "outgrowing his strength" and bullied at school, he learned self-defence and later earned his halfblue for fencing for Cambridge. He also learned to stand up for himself, to hold independent views and to be aggressive when the occasion arose. These characteristics were later of immense value to the Westminster Hospital, when as chairman of the medical committee it fell to his lot to do battle with the powers that be, including the chairman of the hospital governors, and especially over the link with Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton.

He also learned never to accept defeat. So he persevered despite the educational problems of his school life, to get to Cambridge, to get qualified as a doctor and to pass his MRCP. A house physician post at St. George’s Hospital led to a decision to specialize in dermatology, and a resident post at the Lock Hospital introduced him to venereology. He was one of the last dermatologists to follow the tradition of combining these two specialties. He gained his experience from registrarships entirely in London, at St. George’s, the Royal Northern, St. John’s and the Westminster. His first consultant appointment was dermatologist to the Seaman’s Hospital, Greenwich at the early age of 27 (1932-1939) and this was followed, as was the custom of the period, by consultant appointments at the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead and Edenbridge Hospital. In 1934 he was made assistant at the Westminster Hospital to Samuel E. Dore with whom he collaborated in a book Diseases of the Skin published in that year. He became head of the Skin Department in 1934, continuing until 1969. It was here that he showed his great skill as a diagnostician and his resourcefulness in treatment. He was an outstanding teacher for the students, clear in exposition, suitably dogmatic and ready with lively anecdotes. No doubt his early experiences of the difficulties of life gave him insight into and sympathy with the feelings of patients contending with unsightly rashes or unpleasant irritation, and contributed to his success in private practice. An excellent likeness is to be found in a caricature published in the Westminster Hospital Gazette (see Photo).

He wrote a little for the medical journals on dermatological subjects, and held office, including the Presidency, in the section of Dermatology of the Royal Society of Medicine and the British Dermatological Association.

During his life he had a succession of hobbies in which he engaged with immense enthusiasm and, when he could afford it, with the best available apparatus; fishing, shooting, photography, painting and cooking. Except for the last, when he had attained average skill he moved to the next.

It was at the Princess Beatrice Hospital, where he served as Physician for Diseases of the Skin that he appointed as his house physician Katherine Mary Balmer (MB BS Melbourne), whom he married in 1937. Unfortunately those characteristics which helped him in his professional career were something of a hindrance in family life and his marriage ended in divorce in 1946. He married twice more. He had a daughter and a son by his first wife. An amusing companion and a good mixer, he was a real character and a first class dermatologist.

AW Franklin

[Brit.med.J., 1972, 2, 535; Lancet, 1972, 1, 1295; Times, 22 May 1972]

(Volume VI, page 183)

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