Lives of the fellows

Arthur Tom Richardson

b.28 April 1923 d.10 September 1994
MB BS Lond(1946) MRCS LRCP(1946) DPhysMed(1949) MRCP(1953) FRCP(1965) BA(1992)

Arthur Tom Richardson, known from childhood as ‘Tony’, was born at Stamford, Essex. He was a pioneer of physical medicine. His father, Arthur Whittaker Richardson, was a chemical engineer specializing in flame propagation and control, and his mother, Dora May, was the daughter of Abraham Tattersall, a Lancashire mill owner. Educated at Caterham School, he qualified from St Thomas’s Hospital in 1946 and was house physician to R C Jewesbury [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.255], who had come back from retirement during the war.

He then did National Service with the Royal Air Force where, having expressed a preference to be a medical officer on a fighter station, was, by that process of logic peculiar to the services posted to the physical medical unit in central London. This unit, started by Sir Morton Smart in wartime, was run on the lines of a high class private clinic and was housed in luxurious quarters first in Regent’s Park and later in Wimpole Street. It had an established reputation for eccentricity and individuality and had at one time run a successful (and illegal) pig farm on land which it had requisitioned in Regent’s Park. In this congenial atmosphere he was introduced to physical medicine and more especially to electromyography.

On release from the services he returned to St Thomas’s to continue training in physical medicine with Philippe Bauwens [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.32] and James Cyriax in various grades up to senior registrar. His clinical interests were much more with Bauwens than with Cyriax, for Bauwens was pioneering the routine use of electrodiagnostic tests in the investigation of neuromuscular disorders and had advised the RAF in the design and use of their equipment. This was still very much a laboratory technique with homemade equipment and Tony Richardson entered into this with enthusiasm, seeing at an early stage the clinical possibilities, the need for a standardized technique and for compact purpose-built equipment. By the time he was in his second year as a senior registrar he had published fourteen papers and was a member of the council of the British Association of Physical Medicine. He was appointed director of the department of physical medicine at the Royal Free Hospital at the early age of 30.

At that time physical medicine was an ill-regarded specialty, a hangover from pre-war days when its practitioners had virtually no general medical training. However, during the war, the importance of rehabilitation was realized, properly qualified physicians were drafted in, and they extended their expertise to the treatment of all locomotor disorders - thus in effect becoming rheumatologists. On return from the war some called themselves rheumatologists and others became consultants in physical medicine, each group strangely enough regarding each other with mutual suspicion. Physical medicine departments were mostly ‘closed’. Tony Richardson s original conditions of appointment to the Royal Free did not allow direct referral of patients from general practitioners, but only from other consultants within the hospital. He was not allowed to prescribe or change drugs, but had to refer patients back to the original physician or, if not available, to the out-patient physician of the day. He was very doubtful about applying for such a post as other hospitals were gradually ‘opening’ departments as physicians who were members of the College took over, but his seniors advised him to go ahead and proceed cautiously and slowly over the next year or two to convince his colleagues to make the necessary changes. Cautiously and slowly to him meant six weeks, after which he took the medical committee by storm and, with some discreet help from the College, had the old rules swept away. From these unpromising beginnings he rapidly built up the department into one with a national reputation for its practice of rheumatology. At the same time his work on electromyography progressed, making him internationally acclaimed in this field.

He had a quick brain, a retentive memory and an analytical mind. Added to this he could express himself clearly, lucidly and persuasively, and conveyed an infectious enthusiasm for whatever he was doing. He had the ability to go quickly to the root of any problem, discarding irrelevancies.

Over the years he developed many interests and hobbies, not always maintaining them, but pursuing them thoroughly at the time. Sailing, however, remained an abiding favourite. He was adventurous in this as in other activities, one of his regular sailing companions describing his navigational skills as more inspirational than scientific. In spite of many friends and interests outside medicine he regarded retirement with some misgivings, fearing a lack of stimulus and ensuing boredom. In the event he took a BA in the history and philosophy of religion and at the time of his death had just completed the preliminary work for a PhD thesis on human sacrifice in the Hindu religion. With his ability to pick up new ideas and techniques some of his former colleagues were perhaps relieved to know that practical work is not a feature of arts degrees.

E D R Campbell

[The Times, 10 Oct 1994; Brit.med.J., 1995,310,525-6]

(Volume X, page 416)

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