Lives of the fellows

Robert Harold Champion

b.21 March 1929 d.16 October 2004
MB BChir Cantab(1953) MRCP(1957) FRCP(1973)

Bob Champion, a consultant dermatologist at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, probably did more to enhance the international reputation of British dermatology than any other dermatologist of his generation. He was born at Sevenoaks, Kent, into a fruit-farming family and educated at Blundells School. He studied pre-clinical sciences at Caius College, Cambridge, where he gained his BA with first class honours and went on to the Middlesex Hospital, London, for his clinical training.

After house officer posts and training in general medicine, he became a registrar in dermatology at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, and then senior registrar at St Thomas's Hospital, London. He was appointed as a consultant dermatologist at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, in 1961 and worked there until his retirement in 1991.

In 1961, when Bob was appointed, Arthur Rook [Munk's Roll, Vol.IX, p.450] was already establishing Cambridge as a centre of clinical excellence in dermatology, and for the next 30 years or so these two men worked harmoniously as an excellent team to further enhance that reputation. Rook became editor of the British Journal of Dermatology and transformed it from the relatively small house journal of the British Association of Dermatologists into one of international importance. Bob was initially his assistant editor, but then took over as editor-in-chief, at a time when its success meant that the workload was expanding enormously. His unfailing courtesy, hard work, deep clinical knowledge and good sense ensured that the circulation and importance of the journal increased even further during the five years of his stewardship.

Arthur Rook, with Darryl Wilkinson and John Ebling as co-editors, went on to publish the famous multi-author Textbook of dermatology (Oxford, Blackwell Scientific) in 1968. Bob Champion wrote six chapters for the first three editions of this magnum opus, and then, as Rook's health progressively deteriorated due to Parkinsonism, Bob stepped into the driving seat as a eo-editor of the fourth edition, effectively bearing the burden for Arthur and performing the work of senior editor. His commitment and dedication as an editor of the 'Rook' textbook throughout the fourth, fifth and sixth editions ensured that this great four-volume text retained its place as one of the best clinical textbooks in the world in any clinical discipline. Dermatologists throughout the English-speaking world routinely refer to it as 'the Bible'.

These daunting literary burdens would have been more than enough for most people, but Bob thrived on hard work and in addition he wrote two admirable monographs on urticaria, with R P Warin [Munk's Roll, Vol.IX, p.555] and M W Greaves respectively, and he also edited three editions of a series of useful volumes entitled Recent advances in dermatology.

Cambridge gradually became a major centre for dermatology training in the UK. Bob and his departmental colleagues organised regular courses in Cambridge, such as those on 'skin biology', which attracted trainees from all over Europe, together with scientific conferences on subjects such as 'progress in biological sciences' and 'urticaria', which attracted world-class scientists. Although he did no laboratory work, he published many papers on clinical dermatology, especially in the fields of allergy and urticaria.

In addition to his academic achievements, he also had a heavy clinical load in Cambridge and neighbouring hospitals. This he undertook conscientiously and with enjoyment throughout his career, believing that the wide clinical experience this gave him was the foundation for his academic work.

He was a successful president of the British Association of Dermatologists in 1988 and his enormous contribution to British and indeed world dermatology was recognised by the award of the Archibald Gray medal in 2001.

Bob was rather quiet and shy, and did not enjoy lecturing or being in the limelight, but he was an astute observer of academic conferences. Although he would never cause offense, if asked his private opinion of some of dermatology's more flamboyant showmen he would deploy his quiet humour to give a pithy but polite assessment of their contribution, often suggesting that more work and less self-aggrandisement might be helpful. He himself preferred the written to the spoken word, his handwriting was idiosyncratic to the point of near-illegibility, and his co-editors would often despair of deciphering his prolific marginal scrawls.

In 1965 he married Phyllis Gaddum, whose father, Sir John Gaddum was an eminent pharmacologist. Their home life in the quiet village of Fulbourn was very happy despite the fact that two of their three children suffered from glycogen storage disease, from which they died in their teens. The loving care which Bob and Phyllis devoted to them over the years inevitably precluded some travel and social activities, but they coped with this burden with great good humour, dignity and fortitude. It was typical on a visit to Bob's home to find him soothing one of the two boys with one hand, while correcting manuscript proofs with the other. Bob himself suffered from severe lower back pain from his thirties, and in 1978 he discovered that he also had massive splenomegaly. This proved to be due to polycythaemia vera, which diagnosis he accepted stoically with an undiminished work-load, even though he was well aware that the condition would eventually enter an uncontrollable leukaemic phase, which it did in 2003.

Outside his family life he was a keen and distinguished philatelist. He collected and became an authority on British Revenue stamps and licences and was an influential president of the Revenue Society of Great Britain. His last book, published posthumously, was on the subject of licences. He was a gentle man and a gentleman - a man of considerable talent, energy and achievement and yet totally self-effacing.

John L Burton
Stephen Roberts

[Brit.med.J.,330,2005,1029]

(Volume XII, page web)

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