Lives of the fellows

Henry Yellowlees

b.11 June 1888 d.5 April 1971
OBE(1918) MB ChB Glasg(1910) MD(1916) FRFPS(1919) MRCPE(1921) DPM Eng(1921) FRCPE(1925) MRCP(1930) FRCP(1935) FRCPG(1962)

Henry Yellowlees was honorary consultant physician in psychological medicine to St Thomas’s Hospital. He was born in Glasgow and educated at Kelvinside Academy and the University of Glasgow, where he graduated MB ChB in 1910. He was the younger son of David Yellowlees, a consulting physician and superintendent of a mental hospital, and his wife, Federata Williamson, who was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister.

After house appointments at the Western Infirmary, Glasgow; Perth District Mental Hospital; and the Royal Hospital, Morningside, Edinburgh, he joined the RAMC in 1915 and served in France with the rank of captain. He was mental specialist in the Etaples hospital area, was twice mentioned in despatches and awarded the OBE in 1918.

After the war he was appointed lecturer and assistant to the professor of psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh, becoming physician superintendent of The Retreat, York, in 1922. In 1929 he was appointed physician for mental diseases and lecturer in psychological medicine at St Thomas’s. With the exception of a short break during the second world war, when he was consultant psychiatrist to the BEF, Henry Yellowlees held these two appointments for twenty years. He also established a flourishing private consultant practice in London. He obtained his MRCP in 1930, was elected a Fellow in 1935 and served as examiner for the College from 1936 to 1939. After retirement he continued his London practice, but moved to the Circus, Bath, in 1956, where he undertook consulting work and joined the Bath Clinical Society.

He was a very popular lecturer with both medical and lay audiences and published extensively. Well known works include A Manual of Psychotherapy (1923), Clinical Lectures on Psychological Medicine (1932), Out of Working Hours (1942), The Human Approach (1946), To Define True Madness (1953) and Frames of Mind (1957).

In 1918 he married Dorothy, daughter of Arthur John Davis, a chartered accountant, and they had two sons (one of whom, Sir Henry Yellowlees, FRCP, became Chief Medical Officer, DHSS, DES and Home Office) and a daughter. They entertained a great deal at their London home and had a wide circle of friends.

Henry was a man of very strong personality and a great clinical teacher. He spanned the transition period between the alienists and the more or less dynamic psychologists. He had been steeped in academic and institutional alienism since childhood, for his father’s position as an academic alienist and practitioner was fully recognized by Glasgow University. At the same time he acquired the traditions of university education and the disciplines of a therapeutic eclectic, but unlike most eclectics he stuck firmly to what he conceived to be general principles. He distrusted the influence of German psychiatry, then making itself felt in Britain; and his esteem for Freud, who had been to psychology ‘all that Darwin was to biology’, was only tempered by his love for Shakespeare, in whose characters he could discern all the prototypes of psychiatric illness. His outpatient teaching often became an exercise in literary erudition, at which he excelled. He was fearless in expressing his opinions and was capable of shrewd judgement, but was essentially a kind and gentle man.

Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
V Luniewska

[Brit.med.J., 1971, 2, 173, 227; Lancet, 1971, 1, 813]

(Volume VI, page 481)

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