Lives of the fellows

Frederick Harold Kemp

b.12 May 1912 d.2 August 1976
MB ChB Birm(1934) DMR(1938) FFR(1954) FRCP(1954) MA Oxon(1960) MD Birm(1960)

Frederick Harold Kemp was born at Smethwick on the outskirts of Birmingham. His mother, who was a sister of the pioneer radiologist, James F Brailsford, died young, and Brailsford, who had no children, always took a great interest in his nephew. His influence undoubtedly inspired the boy to make his career in radiology. Kemp was brought up in the country in Shropshire, and always retained his affection for the countryside. He was educated at a private academy in Birmingham and from there went to Birmingham University as a medical student. While a student he received two years’ preliminary training in radiology. JS Mitchell, who later became a leading radiotherapist and Regius Professor of medicine at Cambridge, was a fellow student.

Kemp qualified in medicine with honours in 1934, having been awarded the Priestley Smith prize in ophthalmology, the Russell Memorial prize in neurology and a gold medal in surgery. After qualification he was house surgeon to W Gemmel, the professor of surgery at Birmingham, and house physician to L MacKay, the senior physician at the Queen’s Hospital, Birmingham. In 1935 he was appointed clinical assistant, the equivalent of registrar, in the X-ray departments of the Sheffield Royal Infirmary and Royal Hospital.

In 1939 Kemp became assistant radiologist to the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford. The Infirmary was still reeling under the impact of the Nuffield benefaction, five new clinical professorial chairs having been established in 1937. Fortunately, AE Barclay was working as honorary radiologist to the Nuffield Institute of Medical Research, which had been opened in the old observatory on the Radcliffe site in 1935.

Barclay was not only one of the most distinguished of the early radiologists but he was also a man of great personal charm; he was appointed consulting radiologist to the Radcliffe Infirmary and had a profound influence on Kemp. Unfortunately he developed a carcinoma of the stomach from which he died in 1949. I remember him holding up the X-ray film of his stomach, taken by Kemp, which he had asked to see and which showed an inoperable lesion. He turned to me, saying, ‘A good radiologist, that boy, isn’t he?’

Kemp was chairman of staff of the X-Ray department at the Radcliffe Infirmary from 1946 to 1973. He was radiologist to the Wingfield-Morris Hospital, later the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, from 1940 until his death. He raised the standard of radiology at both these hospitals to a high level. He also devoted a considerable fraction of his time to research in radiology in the Nuffield Institute, in collaboration with GM Ardran. They were pioneers in the use of cineradiography and wrote many papers together, particularly on the pharynx, oesophagus and mechanism of swallowing.

Kemp was writing a book with Ardran on the Mouth and Pharynx at the time of his death. In his clinical work and teaching he was much influenced by the Scandinavian school of radiologists, who had made radiology one of the primary clinical departments, serving as the ante-room to medicine and surgery. He was, indeed, a physician practising radiology, with an abiding interest in the physiology of the body. Students and staff were encouraged to see the X-ray examinations and films of their patients in the X-ray department, but he was at his best in the major case demonstrations, being dogmatic and provocative and loving the cut and thrust of an argument. Some of his radiological colleagues found him almost too rumbustious, and from time to time oil had to be poured on the troubled waters of the department.

Kemp married Amy Large of Swinton, Yorkshire, who had been a nurse. They had three children, a son who became a biochemist and a member of the staff of the Medical Research Council, and two daughters. They lived at Shipton under Wychwood on the edge of the Cotswolds and Kemp seemed tireless, starting work early and finishing late despite the long drive to work and back. He died suddenly and unexpectedly. He had always disapproved of memorial services, particularly in the event of his own death, but he was too forceful a personality for his passing to be left unnoticed and a well-attended memorial service was held at St Giles’ Church, Oxford.

LJ Witts

[Brit.med.J., 1976, 2, 952]

(Volume VII, page 314)

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