Lives of the fellows

Charles Skinner Hallpike

b.19 July 1900 d.26 September 1979
CBE(1958) MRCS LRCP(1924) MB BS Lond(1926) MRCP(1926) FRCS(1931) FRCP(1945) FRS(1956)

Charles Skinner Hallpike was born in Muree, in what is now Pakistan, about 30 km north east of the present capital, Islamabad. He was a descendant of Lieutenant Colonel James Skinner CB, whose remarkable exploits with his irregular cavalry ‘Skinner’s Horse’ (which became the First Bengal Cavalry) facilitated the British conquest of India at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century.

Hallpike was the son of Frank Robert Hallpike and Rosamund Helen Skinner. When he was three years of age, his family came to London. Thereafter followed a misfortune that affected the whole of his life. He developed Perthes disease. This was so severe that his school life was gravely interrupted by periods of recumbancy. Nevertheless, he became a classical scholar at St Paul’s School. He entered Guy’s Hospital with an entrance scholarship in Arts, became Beaney Prizeman in pathology and qualified in 1924.

Resident appointments in ENT were held, first at Guy’s Hospital, where he was house surgeon in the aural department, and then at Cheltenham General Hospital. In 1929 he was appointed Bernhard Baron research fellow at the Ferens Institute of Otology, Middlesex Hospital, London. The following year he was awarded the Duveen travelling studentship of the University of London. In 1931, he became a Rockefeller travelling fellow, and in 1934 he was Foulerton research fellow of the Royal Society.

In 1940, Hallpike left the Ferens Institute to take up an appointment as director of the Medical Research Council’s Otological Research Unit, and as assistant aural surgeon at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases. This hospital redesignated him aural physician in 1944. From 1948 to 1952 he was ENT consultant to University College Hospital. On his retirement he returned to the Ferens Institute to become director of research and stayed there until 1968.

Debarred from active service in the Armed Forces because of his physical disability, Hallpike was able to place his immense knowledge and expertise at the service of the Air Ministry, being a member of the Flying Personnel Research Committee from 1938 to 1955. His almost unique knowledge of ear function in health and disease played a major role in overcoming the otological problems associated with the rapid development of military aviation.

Above all, Hallpike was a perfectionist and a man of the highest integrity, who could not suffer fools. Nevertheless, he did not fail to give credit where credit was due and with his wisdom, shrewd judgment and single-mindedness of purpose, he inspired that combination of dedication and loyalty which characterized his successful research team.

Charles Hallpike published 241 papers. The most important of these were on such subjects as Meniere’s disease, vestibular function, optokinetic and caloric nystagmus, and inner ear degeneration. Hallpike had a good knowledge of precision engineering and was an ingenious designer of equipment. Much of the equipment in his laboratory had been built to his designs. This included apparatus for sectioning the temporal bone, a rotating chair for testing vestibular function and a monocular ear microscope. The latter was adopted by poultry farmers for sexing day-old chicks.

A number of honours were bestowed on him as a result of his and his team’s work. He twice received the Gamble Prize of the Royal Society of Medicine (in 1938 and 1947); the William J Muckle fellowship of the University of London in 1941; the Dalby prize of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1943; the Hughlings Jackson lectureship and medal of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1947; the Shambaugh prize of the Collegium Otorhinolaryngologicum Amicitiae Sacrum in 1955; the Bárány medal of the University of Uppsala in 1958, and the Guyot medal of the University of Groningen in 1959.

In 1960, Hallpike became the joint founder of the Bárány Society, ‘an International Society devoted to developing and propogating knowledge of disorders of vestibular and associated functions’. He was also elected an honorary fellow of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland. The orthopaedic disability which hampered him in so many ways could not deter him from competitive sport. In his younger days he was an excellent billiards player, and he captained the Public Schools Veteran Shooting Team at Bisley. He played the violin, taught himself the piano, and was fond of classical music.

In 1968 he retired to West Moors, Dorset, where he still continued to win prizes — for growing roses. He also continued to take an interest in neuro-otology. He was a member of the organizing committee for the 1977 meeting (in London) of the Bárány Society, which was perhaps the last scientific meeting at which he gave an address. He died in the South Western Hospital, Southampton.

In July 1935, Charles Hallpike married Barbara Lee Anderson, who survived him. There were three children: two sons and one daughter. The elder son, Jeremy, born in 1936, also read medicine and belongs to this College; he became a consultant neurologist in Adelaide, South Australia. The younger son, Timothy, born in 1946, is an officer in the Royal Navy. The daughter, Janet, took an honours degree in English and Theology at Girton College, Cambridge, but died in 1966.

R Hinchcliffe

[, 1979, 2, 1444; Lancet, 1979, 2, 805; Times, 19 Nov 1979; Daily Telegraph, 27 Sept 1979]

(Volume VII, page 241)

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