Lives of the fellows

Brian Woods

b.28 June 1930 d.4 January 1994
BChir Cantab(1954) MB(1955) MRCP(1959) FRCP(1982)

Brian Woods was a consultant dermatologist. He was born in Coventry, the eldest of two sons. His father was a civil servant. From an early age he was intellectually precocious. He attended the foremost local grammar school, King Henry VIII School, where he was already developing his musical talents alongside the mainstream academic curricula. He went on to Downing College, Cambridge, with a scholarship to study medicine. He did his clinical training at King’s College Hospital where he distinguished himself by being awarded a number of scholarships and prizes.

This was followed by two years National Service with postings in Malaya and Nepal. On return to civilian life he obtained his membership of the College and began to specialize in dermatology, becoming senior registrar at United Cambridge Hospitals and then at St John's Hospital for Diseases of the Skin. In due course he became a fellow of St. John’s Hospital Dermatological Society. In the early 1960s he spent a brief period as lecturer in dermatology at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

In 1965 he became consultant dermatologist to a group of hospitals (Barnet General, Queen Elizabeth II, Welwyn Garden City and St. Alban’s City Hospitals) and was elected a Fellow of the College in 1982. With declining health and perhaps a growing disillusionment with developments within the NHS he took early retirement in 1988.

Brian’s interests and passions lay equally in other fields. One of his long term interests was botany and he wrote several papers on toxic plants. Another was music. Over the years he built up a large collection of recordings, but he was very active as a performer. He played a variety of early and modern wind instruments and was in demand (particularly on the bassoon) as a semi-professional, as a ‘stiffener’ in local orchestral ensembles, but his main arena was in groups of players. While there was a preponderance of early music in his activities, he was open to other styles and eras, including modern music which presented a different musical and intellectual challenge. In 1980 at Morley College he was one of half a dozen people who started a group, Nomos, which gave several concerts a year throughout the 1980s.

He was an avid book collector - his house stored over 12,000 books. He read them assiduously, rapidly and retentively in several languages. Among his unfinished tasks was a critical edition of the letters of the Duchess of Chandos and he was engaged in research for the Oxford English Dictionary, scanning old texts and noting earliest examples of particular usages of words. This apparently dry activity was quite congenial to him for he liked things to be absolutely correct. For example, if while listening to Radio 3 he heard an error of fact, he would telephone the BBC to point it out.

He had recently discovered computing and had developed a number of programmes which could be applied to his other interests. He had built up a comprehensive catalogue of his collections - of printed material, text and music and had devised software enabling him to produce sheet music in Renaissance notation. He was also writing articles on artificial intelligence.

All this is ample testimony of a ferocious intellect and a drive to make full use of his time. He could be very impatient with triviality or time wasting, but in the company of kindred spirits who shared his interests and his application to them, he could be a fascinating and articulate companion. He remained a bachelor but had many friends and could be generous with his help and support to others.

H M Barnes

(Volume X, page 531)

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