Lives of the fellows

Napier Arnold Thorne

b.28 December 1920 d.14 April 2008
MB BS Lond(1945) MRCS LRCP(1945) MD(1949) MRCP(1949) FRCP(1972)

Napier Arnold Thorne was a consultant dermatologist at the London Hospital. He was born in London, the son of Arnold Thorne, a civil servant working at the Bank of England, and Wilhelmina Rosa Thorne née Ayson, the daughter of Robert Ayson, a farmer. From St Aubyn’s preparatory school, Woodford Green, Napier proceeded to Eastbourne College. Having decided on a career in medicine, he enrolled as a student at St Bartholomew’s Medical College in the year the Second World War broke out and qualified as the war ended in 1945. Being a student in those war years in London also involved a civil defence commitment, especially during the Blitz (1940 to 1941).

After house physician posts at Bart’s and the Lister Hospital, Hitchin, where he also worked in anaesthetics, he became a medical registrar at Whipps Cross Hospital in East London in 1946. He remained there until 1951 as a registrar and then a senior registrar, acquiring his MRCP in 1949 and his MD in the same year.

In 1951 he moved to a training post in dermatology when he was appointed as a senior registrar in the department of dermatology at the London hospital under Brian Russell [Munk’s Roll, Vol.X, p.428]. In 1954, he was appointed as a consultant dermatologist at several hospitals in East London, namely St Andrew’s Bow, St George-in-the-East and Mile End. The next year he added St Andrew’s Billericay. In 1956 he was also appointed to the Prince of Wales General and St Ann’s Hospital, Tottenham.

In 1969 Mile End Hospital was merged with the London Hospital and the dermatology departments at Mile End and at Tottenham became his main responsibilities until he retired from the NHS in 1985. For many years he was chairman of the medical executive committee of the Tottenham group of hospitals.

When Thorne was training in dermatology at the London, a new drug, isoniazid, became available for the treatment of tuberculosis. His department at the London Hospital had under its care large numbers of patients with a form of tuberculosis of the skin, lupus vulgaris, being treated with the Finsen light, an ultra-violet source, a form of treatment introduced to the UK from Denmark earlier in the century. He was one of the first to evaluate the use of isoniazid in lupus vulgaris, publishing his results in the Lancet in 1953 (‘Treatment of lupus vulgaris with isoniazid; review of fifteen cases’ The Lancet. 1953 May 16;1[6768]:964-8). The early fifties also saw the introduction of cortisone and its derivative hydrocortisone into therapeutics and he published one of the early evaluations of hydrocortisone, applied topically to the skin as a cream or ointment, in the same journal (‘A valuation of hydrocortisone ointment.’ The Lancet. 1955 May 21;268[6873]:1038-43). Later he wrote on aspects of the treatment of psoriasis with various coal tar fractions, on the management of ulceration of the lower limbs and on ageing as a cutaneous phenomenon, among other topics.

Napier Thorne was always a part-time NHS consultant and over the years built up a substantial private practice in dermatology, consulting in Harley Street and with honorary appointments at the Italian Hospital in Queen Square and at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in St John’s Wood.

He was for many years a well-known member of the dermatological community, a member of the British Association of Dermatologists and of the St John’s Hospital Dermatological Society, and a regular participant at the monthly meetings of the dermatology section of the Royal Society of Medicine.

He was a regular attender at the meetings of the Medical Society of London and served as a councillor for three years from 1966. Thereafter he was a councillor of the Hunterian Society for a similar period. He took an interest in University of London politics and was an elected member of the standing committee of the University Convocation for over 20 years, and was a senator of the university from 1970.

Napier had a jovial outgoing personality, mixing easily in any social circle and having an infectious chortle. He was known by all in his hospital world as ‘Nappy’ Thorne. He was quite loquacious and encountering him in the hospital corridors or elsewhere could mean being delayed for several minutes as he held forth on this or that!

In 1953 he married Pamela Joan Houchin, herself a medical doctor. They had a son and three daughters. Napier was a devoted family man, enjoying gardening in his London homes – he lived in Highgate or Hampstead for many years – and at his weekend retreat on the south coast, where he enjoyed dinghy sailing and racing. After he retired he and his wife moved south of London to be near their family.

Harvey Baker

(Volume XII, page web)

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