Lives of the fellows

Simon Behrman

b.14 December 1902 d.9 December 1988
BSc Lond(1925) MRCS LRCP(1928) MRCP(1932) FRCP(1964)

Simon Behrman was consultant emeritus in neurology to the Guy’s group of hospitals when he died.

He was born in Imperial Russia, the son of Leopold Behrman, an influential timber merchant, and his early education was at the gymnasium in St Petersburg. The family was forced to flee from St Petersburg at the time of the revolution, and managed to escape only hours before the Bolsheviks seized their home. Simon Behrman was a refugee in Europe for over a year, eventually reaching Glasgow in 1919 to stay with medical relatives. Although unable to speak a word of English, within 18 months of his arrival he had secured a scholarship to University College London, where he obtained a BSc with first class honours. He proceeded to do his clinical training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital medical school and qualified in 1928. His first house appointment was at Princess Beatrice Hospital, following which he worked at Queen’s (now Queen Elizabeth) Hospital for Children in Hackney Road, from where he wrote the first of many scientific papers. In 1932 he obtained his membership of the College, and then went to the National Hospitals for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square, where his enthusiasm for neurology was fired by Sir Charles Symonds [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII,p.563] whom he always regarded as his mentor. He was house physician and registrar at Maida Vale Hospital for Nervous Diseases from 1930-33, and later registrar at Queen Square and Guy’s Hospital.

Behrman’s special interest in neuro-ophthalmology led to his appointment as consultant physician to the Central London Ophthalmic Hospital, in 1939, and he remained on the staff of Moorfields Eye Hospital where he was held in the highest regard. He retired in 1967.

During the second world war, Simon Behrman worked in the EMS, based at Guy’s Hospital and covering the south east metropolitan region. At the inception of the NHS, he was appointed consultant neurologist to Bromley Hospital and in 1950, with Geoffrey Knight, established the south east metropolitan regional neurosurgical and neurological unit at the Brook Hospital, Woolwich, the first of its kind, which served as a model for similar units being developed elsewhere in the country. He was also consultant in neurology to St Olav’s, Dulwich; St Francis, Farnborough, Kent; St Leonard’s, Shoreditch; St Giles and Queen Mary’s (Stratford) Hospitals. He was elected to the fellowship of the College in 1964.

Behrman was widely known for his exceptional clinical skills and outstandingly detailed history taking. He always paid considerable attention to letters written by general practitioners and in particular to any case reports from psychiatric social workers - no doubt influenced by his marriage in 1940 to Doris Engelbert who had been senior psychiatric social worker at Guy’s Hospital.

His close association with ophthalmologists at Moorfields brought recognition of the differences in approach to medical problems between ophthalmologists and physicians. It prompted him to found the Eye Physic Club in the 1960s, to bring together the two disciplines, with which he remained actively involved up to the time of his death.

Simon Behrman was a prolific writer, the author of over 300 scientific publications. His fascination with all aspects of medicine led to papers on such diverse topics as trauma and orthopaedics, psychiatry, medical history, and medicine in literature. All his writings were characterized by the most beautiful English prose, and he continued to write articles until a few months before he died. He had an encylopaedic knowledge of medicine and neurology; one of his special interests was papilloedema.

Outside medicine, as a young man he enjoyed walking and climbing. His appreciation of antique furniture stemmed from his early association with his father’s timber trade. He had a wide knowledge of architecture and took pleasure in studying many of the old buildings in South London, particularly around Blackheath. He enjoyed Russian literature, which he could read in the original.

Simon lived in the same house in Harley Street for over 50 years and often said that his reason for staying there was its proximity to the Royal Society of Medicine, in whose library he could often be found late into the evening.

He was survived by his wife and four children, one of whom is a physician.

J Colover

[The Times, 27 Dec 1988; Brit.med.J., 1989,298,520]

(Volume VIII, page 23)

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