Lives of the fellows

Claude Howard Whittle

b.2 May 1896 d.1 March 1986
MRCS LRCP(1920) MB BChir Cantab(1921) MA(1923) MRCP(1924) MD(1926) FRCP(1945)

Claude Howard Whittle, a pioneer in dermatology, died in Cambridge just two months before his 90th birthday. His very long career had been spent almost entirely in Cambridge. He was born in Felixstowe, Suffolk, where his father Tom Whittle was a schoolmaster. His mother, Edith Annie, was the daughter of Samuel Thompson, also a schoolmaster.

After his early education at Eastward Ho, Felixstowe and the Masonic School at Bushey, in Hertfordshire, he went up to Cambridge as a scholar at Queen’s College in 1915. After medical training at King’s College Hospital, London, he qualified in 1920 and spent the next two years in his teaching hospital successively as house physician in general medicine, in clinical pathology, as casualty officer and house surgeon. The physician in charge of the dermatology department at that time was Arthur Whitfield (q.v.). Howard Whittle was particularly attracted to clinical pathology and in 1923 he returned to Cambridge as assistant clinical pathologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Although he retained his involvement in various aspects of pathology for many years, and was responsible for blood transfusion in Cambridge through-out the 1939-45 war, his skills in the emerging laboratory services led to his becoming a consultant physician with special interests.

In 1929 he was appointed honorary assistant physician to Addenbrooke’s and physician in charge of the skin department. In this latter appointment he succeeded John Aldren Wright, who had taken a special interest in diseases of the skin so that they were gradually concentrated in his outpatient clinic. For many years Howard Whittle was the only dermatologist to Cambridge, Bedford, Peterborough, Wisbech, Bury St Edmunds and Newmarket Hospitals, serving an area which now keeps six dermatologists fully occupied.

Howard Whittle really established dermatology as a specialty in East Anglia. In the years before the NHS it was only in large centres of population that it was possible for a man to earn a reasonable living in a practice restricted to dermatology, and it was not until 1948 that Whittle began to confine himself to dermatological cases. He owed much to the support and influence of the dermatology section of the Royal Society of Medicine, of which he was secretary for many years and president 1961-62, and the British Association of Dermatologists of which he was president in 1954.

Whittle’s early interest in bacteriology was followed by close attention to fungal diseases and, after retirement, he helped to found the British Society for Mycopathology, became its president 1973-76 and for years after was its most durable supporter. He published a considerable number of papers, mainly on bacteriological and fungal infections.

Howard married Phyllis Lena Fricker, daughter of a manufacturing chemist, in 1923, and they had three sons. His wife died in 1979. All three sons survived them.

His life was a full one and his interests outside medicine were legion. He was commodore of Cambridge Sailing Club, vice-president of the Cambridge Drawing Society, a gifted painter in watercolours and a regular exhibitor at the Medical Art Society, he sang for years with the Cambridge Philharmonic and never missed a church choir practice after his confirmation at the age of 83. He loved Cambridge and Addenbrooke’s. He was a doggedly determined campaigner in the Cambridge Preservation Society. In his 90th year he continued to attend the consultant staff council meetings at Addenbrooke’s and readily acknowledged that the hospital of the ’80s, not least the dermatology department, was a very different place from the hospital of his day.

AJ Rook
RH Champion
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme

[Brit.med.J., 1986,292,1086; Lancet, 1986,1,1107]

(Volume VIII, page 532)

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