Lives of the fellows

Peter John Dally

b.2 January 1923 d.25 June 2005
MB BS Lond(1953) DPM(1956) MRCP(1958) FRCP(1966) FRCPsych(1973)

Peter Dally was one of the first British psychiatrists to specialise in the clinical assessment and management of patients with anorexia nervosa. Previously the province of general physicians, anorexia nervosa came to be recognised as fundamentally a psychological disorder with a characteristic psychopathology involving a distorted body image and fear of weight gain. Although predominantly seen in young women, Dally recognised that the condition could also occur in much older women and reported a number of cases with onset in middle life, naming this variant anorexia tardive. He developed new ways of treating anorexia, introducing insulin therapy and chlorpromazine, but later abandoned these methods in favour of a psychotherapeutic approach based on behaviour therapy principles.

Peter Dally, the son of Arthur Thomas Dally, a senior dentist in the Royal Navy, seemed set for a naval career after leaving Ipswich School. He went to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, and served in the Second World War, reaching the rank of lieutenant. He was invalided out of the service in 1947 and decided on a change of career to medicine. He graduated at St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School, where he distinguished himself as a prize winner, and then decided to specialise in psychiatry. At St Thomas’ he met his future wife, Ann Mullins, who also became a psychiatrist.

During his first psychiatric training job at St Ebba’s Hospital, Epsom, he contracted poliomyelitis, which left him severely paralysed and resulted in a permanent limp. Having recovered from the acute illness after a stormy course he went on to complete his psychiatric training at St Thomas’, where he was greatly influenced by William Sargant [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.434], at that time one of the leading, and most controversial, figures in British psychiatry. With Sargant he pioneered the use of antidepressant drugs in the management of psychiatric illness and together they wrote influential papers on clinical psychopharmacology. Dally was then appointed a consultant to Westminster Hospital, where he remained throughout his consultant career. The inpatient service where he treated his anorexic patients was based initially at All Saints’ Hospital, Lambeth, and later at the Gordon Hospital. He was a popular teacher and his clinical opinion was widely sought. While at Westminster he continued to publish, writing several books on topics including anorexia nervosa, drug treatment and psychology and psychiatry for nurses. His original papers were essentially based on astute clinical observation and included studies on the long-term outcome of anorexia nervosa, the features of anorexia tardive and psychologically mediated abdominal pain.

Peter Dally had considerable presence, probably enhanced by his physical disability, and not surprisingly he established a successful private practice which he continued following his retirement from the National Health Service. Although his marriage was dissolved in 1969 he and his ex-wife continued to work together in private practice. During his retirement, which was spent in Sussex, he was able to devote more time to literature which had always been a major interest. He published psychological studies of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Virginia Woolf, which were well received. He is survived by four of his six children (Mark, Emma, Jane and Adam). Two sons (Simon and John) predeceased him.

Geoffrey Lloyd

[The Independent 12 July 2005; The Times 28 July 2005; Brit.med.J., 2006, 332, 307]

(Volume XII, page web)

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