Lives of the fellows

Peter Hansell

b.4 November 1921 d.13 July 2002
MRCS LRCP(1943) MRCP(1970) FRCP(1981) Hon FRPS

Peter Hansell established the first department of medical photography and illustration in the United Kingdom, at Westminster Hospital Medical School in 1945, and went on to set up a similar department at the Institute of Opthalmology at Moorfields Hospital. He defined the ethics surrounding the maintenance of confidentiality of patients portrayed in such a department. He trained a succession of talented juniors who became his disciples and initiated similar departments in many university hospitals throughout the British Isles and also overseas.

Educated at Christ’s Hospital School, Peter Hensell read medicine at King’s College, London, but was evacuated during the Second World War, first to Glasgow and then to Birmingham, where he met his bride-to-be, Jean, also an evacuated student from King’s. He won the Hare prize in zoology, the essay prize in botany and was awarded the first Rabbeth scholarship.

Back at Westminster Medical School in London, he was awarded the Sturgis prize in bacteriology and the class prize in surgery. He qualified in 1943 and married Jean the same year. He was successively a house physician, casualty officer and medical registrar at the Westminster.

Already a skilled photographer, the hospital and the medical school authorities were attracted to Peter’s idea of having a department of medical photography and illustration. He applied for and was awarded a Nuffield scholarship in 1947 that took him to the United States, where he visited many university departments of medical photography.

On his return he established departments of medical photography and illustration at Westminster Hospital and shortly afterwards also at the Institute of Opthalmology, being appointed a consultant to both. Thereafter his advice was widely sought by the Royal Medical Colleges, by university hospitals, the department of health and social security, and many other bodies relating to the use of photography and other media in the service of medicine.

In 1950 he founded the London School of Medical Photography. He served on the council of the Royal Photographic Society and was the founder chairman of the Institute of Medical and Biological Illustration, as well as being founder editor of their journal Medical and Biological Illustration. He received numerous honours and awards in this country and abroad. His junior colleagues at Westminster and Moorfields became distinguished heads of audiovisual departments throughout the United Kingdom and Commonwealth.

He was a prolific writer and was author of eight books on medical photography, as well as contributing to many others. He had many other interests, being an authority on antique clocks, which he preferred to call time pieces – their provenance, maintenance and repair. Always busy and active, the Hansell home certainly ticked. On retiring to Bath, he and his wife developed their interest in dovecotes. These they studied and photographed throughout the British Isles and elsewhere, publishing three books and many articles on this topic, with a fourth still in preparation.

He is survived by his wife, Jean, also a doctor who shared his many interests, and by his three sons, one of whom is a consultant radiologist at the Royal Brompton Hospital.

R I S Bayliss

[Brit.med.J., 2002,325,394; The Times 7 Aug 2002; The Daily Telegraph 9 Aug 2002]

(Volume XI, page 242)

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