Lives of the fellows

Gordon Riddell Royston

b.9 September 1914 d.8 December 1994
MB BS Lond(1936) MRCS LRCP(1936) MD(1939) MRCP(1946) FRCP(1968)

Gordon Royston was born and bought up in Clapham, London, where his father was a dental surgeon. He was educated at Highgate School, where he was a notable ‘all rounder’, and later entered St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School. He threw himself enthusiastically into the life of this famous medical school where he was a contemporary of Richard Gordon, who went on to write of his own experiences in Doctor in the house. Royston claimed the credit for some of the exploits depicted in that film. Despite these distractions, he qualified at the early age of 21 and three years later gained his doctorate. After house posts at the Royal United Hospital, Bath, and at Bart’s, he foresaw the impending war and tried to enlist in the Navy but with characteristic equanimity accepted his commission in a Yorkshire regiment and in 1939 he set off to war as a non-combatant in the RAMC.

After escaping from France via Dunkirk, he saw service in North Africa until an untimely mine blew up under his truck on the eve of Alamein. On being invalided out of Egypt he met a bonny nursing sister, May Alexander, on the troop ship home. His courtship was rudely interrupted by an Italian torpedo and they became separated. Gordon returned to the sinking ship to retrieve his mandolin and he was lucky to survive a second torpedo before jumping into another lifeboat. Happily, the two were soon reunited and they were married in Durban before Gordon returned to the fray on the beaches of Normandy. He finished his stint in the Army with the liberation of Belsen, of which he would never speak.

After the war he returned to hospital medicine and was appointed a consultant physician at Barnet General Hospital. In addition to his busy hospital commitments, he was much in demand from local doctors for domiciliary visits in the evenings and at weekends. He also found time for research, making a memorable film about scurvy describing a new feature, now known as ‘Royston’s curly hairs’. But his principle interest lay in cardiology where he pioneered the rapid mobilization and discharge of heart attack patients, a growing problem in those post-war days. In contrast to the usual regime of bed rest for six weeks and a protracted convalescence extending to many months, he encouraged his patients to walk home after only ten days and return to work within a few months. His approach was radical and viewed with predictable scepticism by his contemporaries. His figures proved his case and his patients experienced a new lease of life under his care; it is now standard hospital practice. He set up one of the first coronary care units, funded by voluntary donations, and worked with the new intensive care unit at Barnet in the treatment of tetanus, which attracted widespread interest. He was a meticulous and caring physician with a deep insight into his patients’ needs.

In his spare time he indulged in fast cars and rally driving, achieving notable success in his Mini Cooper S and later restoring a vintage Aston Martin. Gardening was his other passion, first in growing orchids in his greenhouse and then roses. He became expert with both species, was honorary secretary to the Orchid Society of Great Britain and a judge with the National Rose Society. After his retirement from medicine he moved to Cornwall, where he set about creating a rose garden from the exposed wilds at Hatteras. Undaunted by the gales, he strove to achieve his goal but poor health, in the form of arthritis, threatened to deprive him of success. He did not complain but, with success almost within his grasp, the same condition to which he had dedicated his working life claimed him in turn. He and May were married for over 50 years and they had three children, Peter, Ian and Wendy. He was a good doctor and he had a good life.

I Royston

[Brit.med.J., 1995,310,1666]

(Volume X, page 425)

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