Lives of the fellows

Hugh Martin James

b.26 May 1914 d.20 July 1992
MRCS LRCP(1938) MA Cantab(1940) MB BChir(1940) MRCP(1941) DPM(1943) FRCPsych(1971) FRCP(1973)

Hugh Martin James was the sixth of seven children - six boys and one girl - all very close in age. His father, William Warwick James FRCS LDS, was a distinguished dental surgeon who conducted a fashionable practice in London’s West End. His mother was a nurse.

Martin, as he was known, was raised in an atmosphere of affluence and culture. Books abounded and included on his father’s bookshelves was Freud’s Introductory lectures on psycho-analysis, not an easy read by any means, particularly for an adolescent boy. Yet it seems certain that not only had Martin James read the lectures but that he had inwardedly digested them, to such an extent indeed that they were to become a lodestar pointing the direction his career was to take. Further evidence of his intellectual precocity and determination lies in the fact that when he entered Marlborough College from St Cyprian’s Preparatory School he took Freud’s book with him. Another coincidence which may have served to reinforce his choice of career was his introduction to Sylvia Payne, a psychoanalyst, whose three sons attended the same prep’ school.

After Marlborough, Martin went up to Magdalene College, Cambridge, to begin his medical studies. He took a degree in natural sciences and then proceeded to the Middlesex Hospital for his clinical work. That he was a bright student is evident by his success in the membership examinations a mere three years after qualification. But his interest in the ‘psyche’ rather than the ‘soma’ intensified; psychiatry was the only way forward and to this end he sought and obtained junior appointments at the Maida Vale Hospital for Nervous Diseases and the Maudsley Hospital. These were the means to an end, the end being a career as a psychoanalyst with a special interest in the application of psychoanalysis to the emotional problems of children. Before the outbreak of Hitler’s war he began a personal analysis with an early associate of Freud, Wilhelm Stekel - by then somewhat decrepit - and with Greta Bibring. The styles of these two analysts could not have been more different, a difference Martin James describes vividly and humorously in a paper he read to the 1952 Club in 1986.

His psychoanalysis was interrupted by war service. He enlisted in the RAMC and in 1942 was posted to Northfield Military Hospital as a specialist psychiatrist, with the rank of major. Here he had the good fortune to work with Wilfred Bion and Siegmund Foulkes, liked-minded analysts, who pioneered new methods in the treatment of psychological war casualties.

After demobilization he restarted his training with a view to being admitted to membership of the British Psycho-Analytic Society, an ambition he achieved in 1954, and in the same year he also qualified as a child psychoanalyst. The analyst for four years of his training was Anna Freud, to whom he was devoted: his supervisors at that time were Dorothy Burlingham and his old friend, Sylvia Payne.

Martin James was singularly lucky m his marriage. He met his future wife Lydia Jacobs, a psychiatric social worker, when they were both undergoing analysis. She was particularly interested in the work of Donald Winnicott [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.471], an outstanding child psychoanalyst, for whom James in turn developed an intense and lasting admiration. They married in 1949 and had four children in rapid succession. There can be no doubt that his close personal involvement in their activities and upbringing, together with his own childhood experiences as one of seven siblings, exercised an influence of tremendous importance on his professional work.

In the course of his long and distinguished career James held a variety of appointments which included: training analyst to the Institute of Psychoanalysis; adviser on child psychology to the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools; consultant to the Hampstead Child Therapy Clinic and Course; consultant to the West Sussex Child Guidance Centre and consultant to the National Association for Mental Health. After the death of Winnicott, Martin James - together with Clare Winnicott - organized in the 1970s the highly successful Winnicott Conferences at Bedford College, London. As a further tribute to the memory of his master, in the 1980s he served as chairman of the Winnicott Trust, dedicated to the continuance of Winnicott’s teachings in the field of psychoanalysis and child health.

James made several contributions to the psychoanalytic literature, the best known of which is ‘Premature ego development: some observations upon disturbances in the first three years of life’ published in the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis in 1960.

Outside his manifold professional commitments, Martin James enjoyed a rich social and family life, particularly so when he was living at Singleton, his home in Trebetherick, Cornwall. An eloquent and fitting address was read at his funeral. One excerpt reads: ‘On the golf course, in the fruit cage, over the bridge-table, in the Singleton kitchen, devising, improvising - and usually realizing - elaborate gastronomic surprises, he was full of stimulating ideas’. A second reads: ‘He never stopped making plans; they often led us into unexpected situations, such as when we landed in Paris on his 70th birthday. ‘We’ being Lydia his wife, his four children, three sons-in-law and five grandchildren. His pleasure was to wine and dine us in proper Parisian style - typical of his selfless generosity, not only to us but to many others he cared for.’

H R Rollin

(Volume IX, page 267)

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