Lives of the fellows

John Peter Mills (Sir) Tizard

b.1 April 1916 d.27 October 1993
Kt(1982) MA BM BCh Oxon(1941) MRCP(1944) DCH(1947) FRCP(1958)

Peter Tizard was the eldest of the three sons of Sir Henry Tizard KCB, the chief scientific adviser to the government at the outbreak of the second world war: many believed that he was the man who saved us from German invasion by setting up the radar network which enabled us to win the Battle of Britain. Peter’s father, his grandfather and his younger brother were all fellows of the Royal Society, but Peter chose clinical medicine as his career. He was educated at Sandrock Hall, Hastings; Rugby; Oriel College, Oxford University, and Middlesex Hospital medical school. After a disappointing third at the end of his preclinical studies he gained a scholarship to the Middlesex Hospital, qualifying in 1941, and from then on made steady progress through the medical ranks. From 1942-46 he served in the RAMC as general duties officer in North Africa and Sicily and as a graded physician and medical specialist in France, Holland and Germany. On return to civilian life he was appointed to the key post of registrar and pathologist at The Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street in 1947; was promoted in 1949 to consultant status and chief assistant to Reginald Lightwood [Munk's Roll Vol.VIII, p.282] at St Mary’s Hospital and Paddington Green Children’s Hospital, and later moved on to the Institute for Child Health, University of London, as reader. In 1954, he became professor in charge of the neonatal unit at the Hammersmith Hospital. Finally, he returned to Oxford to occupy the foundation chair of paediatrics, with a fellowship at Jesus College.

It was characteristic of him that just as his disappointing first degree had only acted as an extra spur to his ambition, so his failure to secure the appointment at Great Ormond Street of consultant with a special interest in neurology (which he had coveted and trained for at Queen Square and under Bronson Crothers in Boston, USA) led him to create Britain’s premier neonatal research unit at Hammersmith. It was to this task that Peter Tizard brought his father’s gift of applying an intuitive understanding of the significance of recent advances in science and technology to practical purposes - in Peter’s case, to the care of prematurely born infants - together with his own gift of being able to recruit, educate and foster the varying talents of young men and women at the beginning of their careers. This latter gift was shared by his brother Dick, then admissions tutor for Churchill College, Cambridge. As head of department he exercised a natural, almost feudal authority, with personal loyalty given and received in the endeavour to advance the frontiers of knowledge by the application of science to patient care. He thus became not only a world renowned neonatologist but the doyen of European paediatric neurologists.

Though impatient of pretension, whether intellectual, social or moral, Tizard enjoyed power and position. He had prepared himself for this enterprise by spending a sabbatical year with Geoffrey Dawes’ department in the Nuffield Institute, working in neonatal physiology, and he knew how to raise the required resources. In his hands neonatal care became applied physiology in a way which was then unique in medicine. He recruited Wilfrid Payne [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.453], a medical biochemist recently retired from his post at the Hospital for Sick Children and a wise and skilled adviser; Michael Dawkins, a brilliant and promising paediatric pathologist; Lawrence Goldie, a physiologically-minded psychoanalyst, and Pamela Davies to whom he gave the essential task of following up surviving infants. Tizard had already collaborated with Albert Claneaux, Dawkin’s predecessor who had moved to Edinburgh, in giving the first definitive account of the epidemiology of intraventricular haemorrhage in newborn infants. With Goldie, he proceeded to use his neurological expertise to describe the electroencephalographic characteristics in the immature brain. Because his group could hold their own intellectually in the academically exacting environment of the Postgraduate School, Peter Tizard did more than anyone else to put paediatrics on an equal footing with medicine for adults, as a discipline based on knowledge rather than the acquired experience that distinguished the paediatric establishment at that time. It was therefore a disappointment for him in later life when the British Paediatric Association broke away from the College in an endeavour to assert the independence of paediatrics as a specialty, rather than consolidate its hard won position within general medicine.

Tizard’s move to Oxford, where his senior colleague at St Mary’s, Sir George Pickering [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.464] had preceded him as regius professor of physic, was inevitable once the offer had been made to return to his alma mater. He was instantly at home there and once again built up a unit that attracted the brightest and best from home and abroad. He was an excellent teacher of undergraduates; he was intellectually exacting and set an example of how to practise clinical medicine to the highest standards using traditional skills of eliciting and evaluating symptoms and signs, while treating young patients and their parents with respect and sympathetic concern. Indeed, he was at his best in outpatients and on rounds.

As a man, Tizard was a very good friend and a doughty but fair minded opponent. To his friends he was loyal and frank - sometimes brutally so - sensitively supportive and a good companion, with a fund of amusing stories and a ready joie de vivre. Two particular friendships deserve mention: the first with his cousin, Tavie Kirwan, with whom he spent contented holidays in The Lakes when a schoolboy at Rugby, and whose influence complemented that of his rather formidable mother. The second with the paediatrician turned psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott, whose Boswell he would have liked to become and with whom he was on terms of mutual friendship at a time when the rest of us chose either to spit in Winnicott’s face or sit at his feet. Tizard’s tastes tended to be Augustan: the novels of Jane Austen, the operas of Mozart, figurative painting rather than landscape. He preferred Trollope to Dickens, Byron to Shelley. Of modern writers, Wodehouse was his favourite; it amused him to write to the author as an incarnation of the latter’s creation ‘Lord Ickenham’ when he repossessed the manor of Ickenham in Middlesex that had belonged for generations to his mother’s family. He also shared his father’s soft spot for Stevenson’s The Wrong Box.

Peter Tizard collected honours and titles without having to strive for them. As well as the knighthood that crowned his career, he was president of the Neonatal Society 1975-78, president of the European Paediatric Research Society 1970-71, and Master of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries 1983-84. Honours that particularly pleased him were election to the prestigious German scientific society known as The Leopoldina, the award of the James Spence medal of the British Paediatric Society, of which he was president from 1982-85, and his honorary fellowship of Jesus College, Oxford. After retirement, he developed both aortic stenosis and hypertension. The necessary major cardiac surgery enfeebled his physique and took the edge off his intelligence, but he endured his medical problems with stoicism, and even humour, and remained himself to the last even when sometimes deluded.

He married Joy Taylor in 1945 and she became a devoted Penelope to his Ulysses at the end of his life’s odyssey. Of their three children, Andrew, Humphrey and Jane; Andrew followed his grandfather into public service, Humphrey took over the stewardship of Ickenham Manor when his parents retired to a more modest dwelling, and Jane followed in her father’s footsteps as a physician for children. The mould in which men of his ilk were made is now broken but his influence will live on through his disciples who, at the time of his death, occupied a high proportion of the UK’s chairs of paediatrics and child health.

John A Davis

[Brit.med.J., 1993,307,1207;The Lancet, 1993,342,1168; The Independent, 5 Nov 1993; The Times, 29 Oct 1993; The Daily Telegraph, 5 Nov 1993]

(Volume IX, page 518)

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