Lives of the fellows

Geoffrey Sydney (Sir) Todd

b.2 November 1900 d.24 December 1987
KCVP(1951) CVO(1947) OBE(1946) MB ChB Sydney(1925) MRCP(1929) FRCP(1949) FRACP(1960)

Geoffrey Sydney Todd was born in Melbourne, Australia, the son of George William Utley Todd, a newspaper editor and his wife Amy Louisa, née Webb. He was educated at King’s School, Parramatta, and at Sydney University where he graduated in medicine.

After an appointment as resident medical officer at the Wagga District Hospital he came to London for postgraduate study. His intention was to take up surgery, but in 1929 the course of his career was determined when he became house physician at the Brompton Hospital and obtained his membership of the College. He was then appointed assistant resident medical officer. The title resident surgical officer would have been more appropriate for the post, and was later adopted, but at that time thoracic surgery was such a recent development that the house officer who worked for the thoracic surgeons at the Brompton was a trainee physician. It was a demanding post, carrying sole responsibility for post-operative care as there was no surgical registrar. Todd worked for a year for the two leading thoracic surgeons in London, J E H Roberts and Tudor Edwards. Most of the surgery was for pulmonary tuberculosis and for broncho-pulmonary and pleural suppurative diseases, with some operations for intra-thoracic tumours. He remained at the Brompton for another three years, as resident medical officer, a post with important administrative responsibilities as well as clinical duties comparable to those of a senior medical registrar today. He became involved in all aspects of the activities of the hospital and staff, and was as capable of giving clinical advice to consultants as of contributing a conjuring act to the residents’ Christmas show.

Towards the end of 1933 the post of medical superintendent of the King Edward VII Sanatorium, Midhurst, became vacant on the resignation of Richard Trail [Munk’s Roll,Vol.VI,p.437]. At this time surgical procedures, mainly thoracoplasty, were widely used in the treatment of selected cases of pulmonary tuberculosis and plans for facilities for these to be carried out at Midhurst were well advanced. With his wide experience of current medical and surgical practice in respiratory diseases and tuberculosis, and his proven administrative ability, Todd was the obvious candidate for this post and was appointed to it at the early age of 33.

Todd started at Midhurst in January 1934. Just as at Brompton, but with more autonomy, he quickly assumed control of and became omniscient about all activities at the sanatorium. Rest followed by controlled return to normal activity was the standard treatment for pulmonary tuberculosis and success in its implementation required not only good organization but sympathetic, firm and open dealings with patients; many old patients have attested to Todd’s qualities in this respect. In the introduction of surgery at Midhurst his surgical experience was invaluable and the first major operations were performed within a few months of his arrival. During the second world war half the beds at Midhurst became a surgical chest centre, a development which similarly owed much to his special abilities. After the war he steered Midhurst through the changes imposed by the revolution in treatment of tuberculosis brought about by antimycobacterial agents, leading to its evolution into a chest hospital as the need for tuberculosis beds diminished. The links with the medical services of the Army and Royal Air Force, forged during the war, continued and Todd became civilian consultant to both.

Todd retained close contacts with Australia and many young Australian graduates seeking specialist study in chest diseases were welcome and made a distinctive contribution at Midhurst under his tutelage.

In spite of its origin as a royal foundation the King Edward VII Sanatorium faced difficulty in defining its role with the coming of the National Health Service in 1948. At first arrangements with regional hospital boards made it possible for a substantial number of NHS patients to be admitted; in this context Todd became a member, and later vice-chairman, of the South West Metropolitan regional hospital board. His links with the Brompton Hospital were renewed when this board nominated him to the board of governors of the hospitals for diseases of the chest.

As the number of patients with respiratory diseases referred to Midhurst diminished, clinical activities expanded in other fields. This was recognized in 1964 when the name was changed from ‘Sanatorium’ to ‘Hospital’ by supplemental charter. After this a wide range of medical and surgical problems were dealt with. Some required specialized facilities; for instance, John Charnley started hip replacements at Midhurst in 1969. Todd supervised the administrative and individual problems of this transition with skill and success, and in 1970 retired after 36 years as medical superintendent. At the time a large benefaction had made possible the development of the Midhurst Medical Research Institute in the hospital grounds and Todd became administrator of the Institute until 1981. He thus remained a key figure at Midhurst for another 11 years.

His outstanding services to the royal foundation at Midhurst were recognized when he was created CVO in 1947 and KCVO in 1951. He served as president of the British Tuberculosis Association from 1951-53.

He gave the first Marc Daniels memorial lecture in the College in 1956, on ‘Chemotherapeutic control in the treatment of fibro-nodular pulmonary tuberculosis’, and the Tudor Edwards lecture in 1971 on ‘Tudor Edwards and his time’.

Geoff Todd remained purposefully Australian in style throughout his long career in Britain, His customary directness of speech hurt nobody’s feelings, since it could not conceal obvious concern for the welfare of other people. He was an able and informed clinician in his chosen field; he was not drawn to laboratory research, his contributions to journals being those of an acute clinical observer. His concern for the success of the institution to which he devoted his professional life was an overriding consideration with him. He guided it successfully through the transition from a tuberculosis sanatorium to a hospital with wide medical and surgical activities, and in this he was probably unique. At the end of his life he must have been disappointed when the difficulties of integrating a research institute with a small isolated hospital proved to be intractable.

In his youth he played lawn tennis to a high standard, being singles champion of Sydney University in 1921. He was also a good performer at golf.

In 1955, when he was aged 55, he married Margaret Alan, daughter of Frank Alan Sheen, and engineer. There were no children of the marriage.

JG Scadding

[, 1987,294,517; Lancet, 1987,1,459,639; The Times, 9 Jan 1987]

(Volume VIII, page 509)

<< Back to List