Lives of the fellows

Arthur Hamilton Crisp

b.17 June 1930 d.13 October 2006
MB BS Lond(1956) MRCS LRCP(1956) DPM(1960) MRCP Edin(1961) MD(1967) MRCP(1970) FRCPsych(1971) FRCP Edin(1972) FRCP(1975) DSc(1980) Hon FRCPsych(1996)

Arthur Crisp was professor of psychiatry at St George’s Hospital Medical School, where he was chairman of the department of mental health sciences, and a leading authority on anorexia nervosa. He was born in London, the son of John William Crisp, an electrical engineer, and was educated at Watford Grammar School. At school he was captain of rugby and athletics. He was set on an engineering career, but a knee injury and a prolonged stay in hospital may have been the spur to change direction and study medicine. He went to Westminster Medical School, qualifying in 1956 and winning prizes for medicine, surgery and social medicine.

He held house posts at Westminster Hospital and was then a registrar in neurosurgery at St George’s Hospital, under Sir Wylie McKissock. He then decided on a career in psychiatry and, after passing the diploma in psychological medicine, was appointed as a senior registrar at King’s College Hospital, where Denis Hill [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.264] became his mentor. When Hill became professor of psychiatry at the Middlesex Hospital, Crisp joined him as his lecturer and then senior lecturer.

In 1967 he was appointed as professor of psychiatry at St George’s Hospital Medical School. His department became known for its humanistic outlook, based on a combination of social, psychological and biological approaches.

He published extensively, with many papers focused on the interaction between mind and body. He particularly studied the psychopathology, aetiology and pathogenesis of anorexia nervosa, and outlined the core feature of the condition – the fear and avoidance of normal body weight. His treatment programme came to be considered a gold standard. His other research included investigations into psychosomatic aspects of cardiac pacemakers, myocardial infarction, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine and obesity.

He also promoted the cause of psychiatry within medical education. He was dean of the faculty of medicine of the University of London from 1976 to 1980 and was successful in integrating psychiatry into the final medical examination. As chairman of the education committee of the General Medical Council he broadened the curriculum to include psychology and sociology. He was chairman of the advisory committee on medical training to the European Community and a World Health Organization adviser on medical education. He was a visiting professor to many universities, including Harvard and Sydney.

After he retired he directed Changing Minds, a five-year campaign organised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists to reduce the stigma of mental illness. For his contributions to psychiatry and his work for the college, he was elected an honorary fellow in 1996. In his retirement he also devoted more time to carving in wood, at which he became very skilled.

In 1957 he married Irene Clare Reid, the daughter of a civil servant. They had three sons. He died from cancer of the kidney.

RCP editor

[The Guardian 5 January 2007; The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh – accessed 25 February 2014;, 2007 334 540; The Times 6 December 2006; Psychiatric Bulletin (2007) 31:157-158]

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List