Lives of the fellows

Brian Wellingham (Sir) Windeyer

b.7 February 1904 d.26 October 1994
Kt(1961) MB BS Sydney(1927) FRCS Edin(1930) DMRE(1933) FFR(1940) Hon FRCS(1948) Hon FRACS(1951) Hon DSc British Columbia(1952) Hon FCRA(1955) MRCP(1957) FRCP(1962) Hon DSc Wales(1965) Hon FACR(1966) Hon LLD Glasg(1968) Hon ScD Cantab(1971) FRCR(1975) Hon MD Sydney(1979)

In a distinguished career Sir Brian Windeyer was a key figure in the development of radiology as a specialty, helping to extend knowledge of the use of radiation in the treatment of cancer. He was an exceptionally strong personality who made his mark on everything he attempted to do. He was born in Sydney into a family replete with highly respected members of the legal and medical professions. His endurance and vigour were demonstrated at an early age. He rowed for his college for five years and represented Sydney University on the rugby field.

Early in his medical career, whilst working as a radium registrar at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, Brian became interested in the use of radiation in the treatment of cancer. In 1929 he went for further training at the Fondation Curie, Paris, as an assistant. In 1931 he decided to move to Britain where he was appointed as radium officer to the Middlesex Hospital where he continued to develop his chosen specialty for many years. The Meyerstein Institute of Radiotherapy was created at the Middlesex in 1936 with Brian Windeyer as medical officer in charge and in 1943 he was appointed professor of radiology (therapeutic) to the Middlesex Hospital, London University.

In the 1930s radium insertions were still commonly performed by surgeons and gynaecologists, external irradiation was often given by diagnostic radiologists and dermatologists and the first reliable reproducible unit of dose measurement, the roentgen, only came into general use at the end of the decade. Brian was one of those who had the foresight to appreciate at a very early stage the enormous potential of radiotherapy in the treatment of cancer and the desperate need for specialization if the subject was to be fully developed. With a tiny band of devoted like-minded individuals the Society of Radiotherapists was formed in 1935. It rapidly became obvious that, because there were only a small number of practising radiotherapists, the Society was too small to carry much political weight. The natural development was its amalgamation with the British Association of Radiologists in 1939 to form the Faculty of Radiologists, which evolved finally into the Royal College of Radiologists in 1975. All this was achieved in spite of often determined opposition by many senior members of the medical profession to whom, in the early days, radiotherapy was a bête noir reeking of witchcraft and necromancy.

The successful development of the Faculty required enormous tact, charm and political skills which Brian continued to cultivate with tremendous success during his career. From his earliest days he appreciated the need for the closest possible collaboration with colleagues. He was an enthusiastic initiator and supporter of the combined clinics which today have become accepted as a mainstay of cancer management, but which were in those days regarded as a novelty and an impractical passing fancy. One of those with whom Brian collaborated extensively from his earliest days at the Middlesex was C P Wilson, an ENT surgeon of international renown. At these combined clinics all new and problem patients would be seen by the radiotherapy, ENT and dental consultants with their attendant registrars, house officers and other trainees, radiographers and senior nurses.

Before the outbreak of the Second World War plans were laid for the establishment of the emergency medical services. As many patients as possible were moved out of London to the relevant sector hospitals. Middlesex Hospital patients, consultant staff, nurses, medical students and other ancillary staff were despatched to Stoke Mandeville and Tindal House Hospitals in Aylesbury and to Mount Vernon Hospital in Northwood. An obvious link was with the emergency medical service’s radiotherapy department of the Mount Vernon Hospital of which Brian was invited to become director, in addition to continuing to direct the Meyerstein Institute. From 1940 to 1945 he was medical commandant of the Middlesex Hospital and deputy group officer of section five of the medical services.

The close liaison which developed between the radiotherapy departments at the Middlesex and Mount Vernon Hospitals continued after the war. In the early 1950s Mount Vernon Hospital was one of the first centres in the UK to be equipped with routine supervoltage equipment which included a cobalt 60 unit, generously provided by Canada, and a four million volt X-ray machine supplied by Metropolitan Vickers. This provided Brian with an unequalled opportunity to inaugurate a new combined clinic.

During his career he was Skinner lecturer, Faculty of Radiologists (1943), president of the Faculty of Radiologists (1949 to 1952), Hunterian professor of the Royal College of Surgeons (1951), chairman of the Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee and of the National Radiological Protection Board, president of the radiology section of the Royal Society of Medicine and consultant adviser in radiotherapy to the Ministry of Health. He was for many years a grand council and executive committee member of the British Empire Cancer Campaign, which became the Cancer Research Campaign. In addition he held many important and influential administrative posts at London University, including dean of the faculty of medicine, chairman of the academic board and finally vice-chancellor. He served on numerous important national medical commissions, including the Royal Commission on Medical Education. It came as no surprise when all his achievements and duties undertaken so willingly and successfully were acknowledged by the award of a knighthood in 1961. One of his most pleasurable experiences was his term as master of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in 1973.

Brian made enormous contributions to medical education and was recognized worldwide as a leader in his specialty. After the war he became an energetic traveller, visiting numerous countries while attending international meetings. In many of these he had a strong personal influence on international developments in radiotherapy and oncology in general. As a result postgraduate students from many parts of the world came in large numbers to train at the Middlesex and Mount Vernon Hospitals. It was not surprising that he was honoured by a prodigious number of academic institutions and universities worldwide.

In 1954 he was appointed dean to the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, which post he occupied with great distinction for thirteen years. Appreciating that the academic world was changing rapidly, he immediately applied his enormous energy to the reshaping of the medical school. With financial support from Sir Edward Lewis and Lord Astor of Hever rebuilding of the school itself commenced within six months of his appointment. This was soon followed by the construction of a new Institute of Rheumatology and a new Institute of Nuclear Medicine, both of which continue to develop and achieve worldwide reputations.

But Brian was not only interested in bricks and mortar and academic achievements. He participated enthusiastically in every type of student function and was a familiar figure at rugby matches. He was deeply concerned with all aspects of student and staff life and many individuals will be indebted to him for his ever available sympathetic encouragement and practical guidance. In spite of his total commitment to his professional life and his many administrative responsibilities, Brian always remained approachable, friendly and encouraging, and enormously enthusiastic about whatever he was undertaking.

He married twice, in 1928, to Joyce Russell, with whom he had one son and one daughter and in 1948, to Anne Bowrey, with whom he had one son and two daughters.

A M Jelliffe

[Brit.med.J., 1994,309,1367; Times, 29 Oct 1994; The Independent, 1 Nov 1994; The Daily Telegraph, 14 Nov 1994]

(Volume X, page 528)

<< Back to List