Lives of the fellows

Peter Hudgson

b.3 February 1936 d.17 February 2005
MB BS Melbourne(1958) MRACP(1963) MRCP(1970) FRACP(1971) FRCP(1978)

Peter Hudgson, consultant neurologist at Newcastle upon Tyne, was a remarkable and memorable man. I well recall receiving an enthusiastic letter recommending him for an appointment at the Newcastle General Hospital from my old friend Arthur Schweiger, who was head of neurology at Prince Henry's Hospital in Melbourne and at Monash University. He said that this chap was a bright young doctor of ebullient and forceful personality, who also had considerable clinical, declamatory and teaching skills. How right he was! After junior hospital appointments in Melbourne, Peter came to Newcastle upon Tyne in 1964, and soon made a notable impression, not only because of his clinical skills, but also because of his remarkable personality. Throughout his career, he worked hard and played hard, and no one who met him could forget having done so in view of his lively, cheerful and extroverted attitude to life. He was also, however, a kind, caring and compassionate doctor, and an able research worker, particularly in the fields of histopathology and electron microscopy.

Educated at Box Hill Grammar School in Melbourne and then at the university there, he graduated in 1958 and subsequently worked as a junior resident medical officer, a senior resident, a registrar in pathology, and finally as a senior medical registrar, during which time he achieved not only a broad understanding of general internal medicine, but also special expertise in neurological diagnosis, investigation and management. On his arrival in Newcastle, he worked first for four months as a senior house officer and then for the next year as a registrar in neurology, during which period he began to take an increasing interest in the programme of neuromuscular disease which was being conducted in the department at that time.

While he was a capable and enthusiastic registrar, there were many occasions when his liveliness and irreverence broke through. One such occasion occurred when I arrived early one Friday afternoon for my ward round, and was waiting for the junior staff to complete their round which invariably preceded mine, when I heard a loud Australian voice coming down the corridor saying, "Sister, has his bloody majesty arrived yet?"

In April 1965, because of his interest in research, he was appointed research associate and honorary senior registrar in neurology at the Newcastle General Hospital, and worked on tissue culture of normal and dystrophic muscle and on electron microscopic and histochemical studies of tissue obtained from patients with various muscular dystrophies and other myopathies. For one year, in order to complete his clinical training, he moved to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle as first assistant in neurology to Henry Miller, and undertook a major programme of undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, as well as conducting a weekly outpatient clinic at Sunderland General Hospital and also many ward consultations on behalf of his chief in Sunderland and in Newcastle.

In July 1968 he returned to the Newcastle General Hospital as a senior research associate, being promoted to principal research associate and honorary consultant in October 1968. Many of his published papers on the ultrastructural findings on muscle and nerve in patients with a variety of neuromuscular diseases were published at that time, in collaboration with colleagues working in the muscular dystrophy laboratories. This work achieved for him an international reputation and he was regularly invited to speak at conferences in the UK and overseas. Peter wrote and spoke fluently and lucidly, and also presented scientific papers with clarity and flair. Occasionally, his innate enthusiasm led him perhaps to draw conclusions a trifle ahead of the scientific evidence, but this tendency never impaired his dedication to his work, nor indeed the regard in which he was held by his medical and scientific colleagues.

He was also an able and effective mentor to the many young research workers, both doctors and scientists, who came from across the world to work in the Newcastle department. His collaboration with Albert Aguayo from Montreal, with whom he developed a fruitful personal relationship, was notable. After 1971, when he became a consultant and part-time senior lecturer, inevitably his clinical practice grew, with some detriment to his research programme, in which, nevertheless, he retained an abiding interest throughout his professional life. He was also a noted teacher and adviser to junior medical staff who liked and admired him, even when amused and perhaps at times slightly shocked by some of his more outrageous opinions. He helped to organise, along with many others in the department, the outstanding International Conference on Neuromuscular Disease hosted in Newcastle in 1974.

Outside his work, Peter enjoyed many other interests. He served in the Territorial Army Royal Army Medical Corps from May 1966 for several years, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He became president of the Newcastle University Medical Society and student secretary of the Newcastle division of the British Medical Association. He greatly enjoyed sport, being an above average squash player, and his love of cricket enabled him to turn out regularly to keep wicket and to bat in the annual cricket match for the 'neurology Ashes' between the departments of neurology at the RVI and the General. His golfing prowess was a little less notable in the beginning, but in a match against the RVI at Brancepeth Golf Club, on one occasion he struck the ball firmly arrow-straight along the middle of the fairway, and exclaimed loudly to all around, "You little beauty!" Peter would inevitably have failed the 'Tebbit test', as when cricket or rugby was played between England and Australia he invariably supported his native country. However, he was nothing if not ecumenical, in that whatever England played against one of our natural sporting enemies such as France, South Africa or even New Zealand, he became a vocal and enthusiastic Anglophile.

Peter was someone who made friends easily. Very few were deterred by his ebullient extroversion, but virtually everyone who knew and worked with him will remember him with deep pleasure and affection as an outstanding human being. His first marriage was dissolved in the early 1960s and he subsequently married Margaret (née Stevenson), a Newcastle medical graduate and part-time anaesthetist, who was a wonderful and loyal helpmate to him throughout his distinguished if occasionally turbulent professional career. He had one daughter from his first marriage and three from his second, and Peter was a proud and dedicated family man and an enthusiastic grandfather. Sadly, for his last few years of his life, he suffered from failing health, but his end came tragically as a result of a major injury following a fall down the stairs at his Gosforth home.

John Walton

[Brit.med.J. 2005 330 604]

(Volume XII, page web)

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