Lives of the fellows

Brian Fitzgerald Russell

b.1 September 1904 d.15 June 1994
MRCS LRCP(1926) MB BS Lond(1927) MD(1929) MRCP(1930) DPH(1943) FRCP(1951)

Brian Russell, or ‘BR’ as he was often called, refounded and reformed the department of dermatology at the London Hospital and exerted great influence in the crucial post-war period at the Institute of Dermatology and at St John's Hospital for Diseases of the Skin. He was the son of John Hutchinson Russell, who was in general practice in Forest Gate, London. His mother, Helen Margaret (née Collingwood), was the daughter of a lieutenant in the Indian Navy and ‘BR’ resembled the Collingwoods. His large, handsome head and dignity of bearing recalled Nelson s admiral. He was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School, then in Charterhouse Square, and, following his father’s example, he trained in medicine at the London. After qualification and initial house posts he became first assistant to Donald Hunter [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.288], whose course for the College membership helped ‘BR’ in the examination and also in obtaining his doctorate. In 1933 he left the hospital and went into general practice at Buxton and later at Waltham Cross. While at the latter he was asked to become MOH at nearby Cheshunt and this stimulated him to acquire the diploma of public health. In 1942 he took the step that was to lead him into dermatology, becoming honorary registrar to Robert Klaber [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.232] at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Tottenham. He succeeded Klaber as consultant at the hospital in 1945, at the Herts and Essex Hospital at Bishop’s Stortford and the Luton and Dunstable Hospital. A year later he became assistant physician to the skin department at St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

In 1951 he relinquished all these posts to return to the London and was appointed head of the department of dermatology in 1952. This provided him with an opportunity and a challenge. By a happy chance, space became available for a new department. The Finsen light treatment of tuberculosis of the skin had been superseded by isoniazid and the old ‘light department’ was converted into a very serviceable unit. Even more important was the regeneration and reorganization which 'BR’ masterminded with charm and enthusiasm. Colleagues old and young were treated as equals and encouraged to give freely of their best. He also started joint meetings with the pathologists, plastic surgeons and radiotherapists.

Russell was especially interested in tuberculosis of the skin and the sources, and carriage, of common bacterial infections. He also investigated the effects of adhesive plasters on the skin and was one of the first to organize controlled clinical trials. He co-authored Emotional factors in skin disease with E Wittkower (New York, Hoeber, 1955) and published A history of St Johns Hospital for Diseases of the Skin (Edinburgh, Livingstone, 1963). He contributed chapters to standard medical textbooks and published more than 60 papers. While a consultant to St John’s Hospital he also became dean of the Institute of Dermatology, where he had as many loyal adherents among the international postgraduates as he had among his London Hospital students.

He became president of the St John’s Hospital Dermatological Society and of the section of dermatology at the Royal Society of Medicine. He was a civilian consultant to the Royal Navy and, in 1960, a visiting lecturer at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. His return to hospital from general practice had been a difficult Rubicon to cross, demanding courage and energy, but his spell as a GP had honed his skills and helped him to deal with patients in a relaxed and human way, and also with remarkable speed. He retired from the NHS in 1969 but continued in private practice and for the next 12 years worked in more than 30 hospitals.

He married Phyllis Woodward in 1932 and they had three sons and a daughter. For many years they lived in Arkesden, Essex.

P S Pegum

[Brit.med.J., 1994,309,1080; The Independent, 9 Aug 1994]

(Volume X, page 428)

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