Lives of the fellows

William Henry Bradley

b.18 March 1898 d.17 September 1975
BA BM BCh Oxon(1924) MRCS LRCP(1924) DM(1931) MRCP(1947) FRCP(1968) JP(1946)

William Henry ("Bill") Bradley was bom in Wimbledon, his father being Walter Bradley, a Post Office engineer, and his mother Lucy Church, whose father was a builder. He had two younger brothers.

He went to Rutlish School, Merton, and at the age of eighteen he enlisted as a rifleman in the Queen’s Westminster Rifles. He was severely wounded at the battle of Cambrai and, while convalescing in Oxford, he was visited by Dr. Thomas Strong, then Dean of Christ Church, who encouraged his wish to study medicine, which he did at Christ Church and later at Guy’s. His wound made it impossible for him to take an active part in sports and lack of money prevented him from joining many of the activities of the University. But he enjoyed singing and became friendly with Dr. Reginald Jacques who was studying music at the University and who later became conductor of the Bach Choir.

He went on to Guy’s Hospital, qualifying in 1924, and from 1925 to 1935 he was resident medical officer at Downside School, near Bath, where he first became interested in the epidemiology of upper respiratory infections and in infectious diseases in general. From 1930 to 1935 he was also in general practice in that area, looking after 1,500 or so patients outside the school; and was an active member of staff of Paulton Memorial Hospital. His junior partner during that time, Dr K.E. Lane, writes that his work in general practice was of great value in his later activities in epidemiology and as a founder member of the Royal College of General Practitioners. Whilst at Downside he published at least six articles on the origins and spread of acute rheumatic fever, then so much more prevalent than now.

In 1930 he was awarded the Sir Charles Hastings Prize of the British Medical Association and in 1931 he gained the Radcliffe Prize of the University of Oxford, for medical research. In 1936 he went to the United States on an Arthur Duckham Travelling Fellowship from Guy’s Hospital, with assistance from the Rockefeller Foundation. On his return to England he worked as a research assistant in medicine at Cambridge under Professor Ryle, the Regius Professor, who was a great influence in his life.

In September, 1939, he became a Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health. His immediate chief was the head of the epidemiology section, Dr. J. R. Hutchinson, who had been brought up in the meticulous, rigid standards of the early epidemiologists, in direct descent from Sir John Simon. This was probably excellent, if irksome, training. The war brought over to England a number of first-class American epidemiologists, such as John Gordon and Paul Beeson, and Bradley’s warmth of manner, keenness, knowledge and outgoing personality soon made him many friends among them. When the Harvard Hospital, near Salisbury, was adapted at the end of the war to form the Common Cold Research Unit, Bradley added this to his already wide field.

He was promoted to Senior Medical Officer in 1946 and to Principal Medical Officer in 1956.

In 1943 and 1944 he issued a spate of publications with serum jaundice and infective hepatitis as new interests. He retired from the Ministry of Health in 1963 and became Visiting Professor at the Epidemic Research Unit of Cornell University Medical College. When in the West Indies, he and his wife had a terrifying experience in September, 1963, while staying in the house of an American colleague in Tobago. They met the full force of hurricane Flora, and Bill was blown off his bed as the east side of the house was tom away. He took shelter by a brick wall in the courtyard where it was an hour before his wife could rejoin him; the wing of the substantial architect-designed house was completely demolished.

He was a President of the Medical Officers of Schools Association; of the Society of Medical Officers of Health (Metropolitan Branch), and of the Epidemiological Section of the Royal Society of Medicine. Also a member of the Osier Club, the Bristol Medico-Chirurgical Society and the Society of Visiting Scientists.

His published writings included no less than 78 items, in addition to contributions to reports, reviews and handbooks, such as the Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer, Ministry of Health (1939-1963); the Medical History of the War; the Medical Annual (1947-1956); the Handbook for Medical Officers of Schools (1950-1962; 3 editions); and the Epidemiological Notes in the British Medical Journal (1945-1962).

Bill Bradley had a strong character which drew respect from other strong characters such as the Headmaster of Downside School, the Rev. Father H.S. Trafford, with whom he had many differences but a life-long friendship. His forthrightness was tempered by warm human sympathies. He had a broad outlook, wide knowledge and a universal affability that made him beloved by his colleagues. Occasionally he overstepped the rigid restrictions imposed on a civil servant and this delayed his election to the Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians and prevented him from being awarded the appropriate Honour before his retirement. But, dealing, as he had to deal, with outbreaks of disease which attracted the interest of the press, he was more exposed to publicity than most of his colleagues in the Ministry of Health.

His chief hobby was gardening, and he liked carpentry and Do It Yourself jobs around the home. Once he tried to alter the position of some stone steps by getting underneath and lifting with his back. The steps fell on him but he was released with only minor injuries. He enjoyed travel and was interested in churches and cathedrals. He moved with his wife and family to Wargrave in Berkshire in 1968, after a number of genito-urinary operations from which he never fully recovered. He was greatly supported in his prolonged last illness by the courage and devotion of his wife.

He had married Gladys Maud Smith in 1925, the daughter of a mathematical instrument maker, who lived in Clerkenwell, and he was survived by three children: the elder daughter trained as a nurse at University College Hospital and married David Fryer, OBE, MD, whose promising career on the research staff of the RAF Institute of Aviation Medicine was cut short by death in a road accident when he was 43: Bill felt this loss deeply. The other daughter became a physiotherapist, trained at King’s College Hospital; and his son, J.W.P. Bradley, educated at Westminster School, Christ Church, Oxford, and the Westminster Hospital, was appointed a Consultant Surgeon at Hillingdon Hospital, Middlesex.

NM Goodman

[Brit.med.J., 1975, 4, 47; Lancet, 1975, 2, 619, 721; Times, 27 Sept 1975]

(Volume VI, page 54)

<< Back to List