Lives of the fellows

Arthur Doyne Courtenay Bell

b.15 June 1900 d.17 September 1970
MRCS LRCP(1928) BM BCh Oxon(1928) MA(1938) DM(1938) MRCP(1933) FRCP(1949)

Arthur Doyne Courtenay Bell, known as ‘DB’ to his many friends, was born at Prestwich, Lancashire, the son of Robert Arthur Bell, mathematician and consulting engineer, and Evelyn Maud Richardson. He was related on his father’s side to Thomas Sydenham. He was educated at King’s College School, Gresham’s School, Holt, and St John’s College, Oxford, where he was an open scholar and Adrian Graves memorial exhibitioner, also diving and playing water-polo for the university. He graduated BM BCh from St Thomas’s Hospital in 1928. After early house appointments, he was awarded the Perkins travelling fellowship to Vienna and Berlin in 1931. On his return to Britain he became chief assistant in the children’s department of St Thomas’s Hospital in 1932. In 1938 he proceeded DM. During the second world war he served as paediatric consultant in Sector II of the EMS and was in charge of the children’s department at the London Hospital. He was also medical officer to the Heavy Reserve Squad, City of Westminster. He joined the staff of the Charing Cross Hospital in 1945 and also became physician to the Belgrave Children’s Hospital, and honorary physician to the children’s department of Queen Mary’s Hospital for the East End of London. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1949. In 1965 he retired from the consultant staff of the Charing Cross Hospital, and from the Board of Governors in March 1966.

As well as serving as a member of the Board of Governors of the Charing Cross Hospital, and chairman of the Planning Committee, he was also examiner in medicine and child health for the RCP and examiner in paediatrics to the University of Birmingham. A firm chairman in committee, it was his particular genius to extract from others, often at difference, the essence of their concepts, and to weld them into a workable plan for a new project.

For many years he was editor of St Thomas’s Hospital Gazette, was consultant editor of the Charing Cross Hospital Gazette, and contributed many papers on his specialty to various professional journals. He was the author of a chapter on paediatric emergencies in the Modern Treatment Year Book, 1954.

‘DB’ was a superb example of the older type of paediatrician whose foresight paved the way for modern paediatrics. He fought tenaciously for the principle that paediatricians should have sole responsibility for babies in maternity units as an essential step in reducing neonatal mortality. He was much at ease with the children he treated and it was characteristic that he never patronized or talked down to them. He would discuss their problems with them as gravely as if they were distinguished colleagues seeking his advice. This rapport with his young patients showed how successful he was in the management of the psychological aspects of children’s illness. Awareness of the psychiatric side of children’s illnesses made him encourage child psychiatrists to join his ward rounds. A great teacher, he maintained an old-world courtesy whatever the pressures — he would always make a point of getting up to greet each parent and child as they came into his outpatient consulting room. Essentially practical in his approach, common sense dominated his reaction to the many problems he was called upon to solve. To him a child was a person, not a potential new syndrome.

He was a great raconteur and a very competent broadcaster. His programme Portrait of a Doctor has been repeated as a classic. He had many friends in the world of stage and literature — listening to his repartee with Stephen Potter while playing snooker was an unforgettable experience. Essentially a clubman, a bon vivant, genial, of polished manner, he had an intense appreciation of the refinements of the table, especially in his role as chairman of the Savile Club, where he was an esteemed and popular figure. He was skilled in many aspects of la bonne vie, on which he once expounded in public. His pastimes included golf and fishing — especially fly-fishing — and, later in life, painting in oils, in which medium he attained such skill that he was able to exhibit at the Royal Academy. He was quick to recognize cant; his sardonic chuckle was a personalized comment on the foibles of the pretentious. His interest in the young and young in heart included a friendly involvement in student activities, and wise guidance for the editors of student publications. Always he encouraged and fostered the interests of juniors.

He continued to be productive and fully active in his retirement years, and had time to edit a journal for midwives and health visitors, to whom his special knowledge and experience were very useful. He maintained regular contact with his friends and former colleagues and pursued his favourite sport of fly-fishing. It was while fishing that he died, and he could have wished no happier end to his life. Many will remember him for his capacity to make relationships and warm friendships. In all, he was the epitome of the Savilian motto 'Sodalitas Convivium'.

Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
V Luniewska

[Brit.med.J., 3, 775; Lancet, 1970, 2, 675, 884; Charing Cross Hospital Gazette, 1971, 68, No. 2]

(Volume VI, page 37)

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