Lives of the fellows

Edward Philip George Houssemayne du Boulay

b.28 January 1922 d.25 March 2009
CBE(1985) MB BS Lond(1945) DMRD(1949) FFR(1952) MRCP(1966) FRCP(1973) Hon FACR(1989) DSc De Montfort(1992)

George du Boulay was one of Britain’s leading neuroradiologists, and a world famous veterinary radiologist. When he retired in 1985, he was director of the Lysholm radiological department at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London. Edward Philip George was the second son of Philip, of the British Huguenot family Houssemayne du Boulay, a major in the Egyptian Labour Corps and Egyptian Government Service, and of Mercy Tyrrell née Friend. He was born in Alexandria, in the Swiss Hospital. In England the family lived in Sidcup, and when he was 11 George won a scholarship to Christ’s Hospital, Horsham.

He spent the war years at King’s College, London, and Charing Cross Hospital Medical School, qualifying in 1945. In 1946, after house jobs at Charing Cross and Derby City hospitals, he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve Medical Branch, and was rapidly promoted to flight lieutenant. From 1954 to 1958 he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, Army Emergency Reserve.

In 1948 he returned to civilian life, as a registrar in radiology at the Middlesex Hospital. From 1949 to 1954 he was a senior registrar at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, and maintained his connection with the hospital, becoming a consultant radiologist in 1954 and staying until 1971. He had always been interested in research, both clinical and physiological, and his orientation was towards neuroscience. In 1951 he went to Atkinson Morley’s Hospital, Wimbledon, to work with the neurosurgeon Sir Wylie McKissock. Wylie inspired both George and his senior colleague James Bull [Munk’s Roll, Vol. VIII, p.62] to develop neuroradiology in Britain, sending James to work with Erik Lysholm in Stockholm. James and George formed an extraordinarily fruitful professional relationship. Although George appeared to follow in James’s footsteps, each brought his own talents to their lifelong collaboration, and they were close friends.

In 1954, George became a consultant radiologist at the Maida Vale site of the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases. His interests were broad, and he was radiological adviser to the Nuffield Institute of Comparative Medicine, running the radiology department at Regent’s Park Zoo, which afforded him opportunities for research on primates, largely on the pathophysiology of arterial spasm following subarachnoid haemorrhage, which occupied him for much of his professional life. He was an honorary research fellow of the Zoological Society of London until 2003.

In 1968 he transferred from Maida Vale to Queen Square. Finding there was no office for him, he browsed garden catalogues and, identifying a suitable shed, had it erected on the roof of the radiology department, where it remained for over 20 years; he made the book cabinets and wall benches himself. When James Bull retired in 1975, George succeeded him as director and a year later was awarded the first chair in neuroradiology in Britain, at the Institute of Neurology. James and George were inspiring, generous teachers, personally responsible for the training of the majority of Britain’s consultant neuroradiologists. The Lysholm department was invariably host to several relatively senior radiologists – paid or unpaid – from all parts of the world.

The British Institute of Radiology awarded George its Barclay medal, for special contributions to the science and practice of radiology, in 1968. In 1976, like his National Hospital predecessors Hugh Davies and James Bull, he became president of the Institute, and on his retirement, was made an honorary fellow. Through the Institute he set up the Radiological Research Trust, becoming its first director in 1985, the year in which he was awarded the CBE. He had a quite remarkable talent for fundraising, which culminated in raising tens of millions of pounds for the National Hospital Development Foundation.

George was a founder member of the British Society of Neuroradiologists and the European Society of Neuroradiology, and eventually became president of both (1982 to 1984 and 1986 to 1988). He edited the European Society’s official organ Neuroradiology, now a foremost international journal. When the four-yearly Symposium Neuroradiologicum was held in London in 1990, he was the obvious choice as president.

George’s research collaborators included not only colleagues from several countries, but also those in many different disciplines, and he was always at the forefront of applying new imaging techniques, both clinically and in research. In retirement he worked regularly in the Institute of Neurology and on the possibilities of using computers to interpret radiological images, the latter in collaboration with his son Benedict, professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Sussex.

His first major book Principles of X-ray diagnosis of the skull (London, Butterworths, 1965) was a standard text. Like all his work, it was based on careful observation, rather than transcribing received opinion. The cranial arteries of mammals (London, Heinemann, 1973) was written in collaboration with Pamela Verity, his radiographer at the Zoo, and An atlas of normal vertebral angiograms (London, Butterworths, 1976) with Paul Ross, an American co-worker. Many other volumes followed.

In 1944 George married Vivien Marguerite Glasson. They had six sons (Benedict, Alaric, Giles, David, Paul and Andrew), two of whom predeceased him. Their marriage was dissolved in 1968, and he married Pamela Verity, with whom he had two daughters (Mary Jane and Kathryn). For 40 years his home was in Brington, near Huntingdon, whence he daily commuted the 70 miles to London. Every summer he and Pam invited the Queen Square department to a garden party, at which the children would romp over his two vintage Rolls-Royce cars. The invitation was issued and accepted across the board, not simply by doctors and their spouses, but also by the numerous radiographers, nurses, researchers, secretaries and porters. It was hardly surprising that the Lysholm department was a happy one, and one of many things George passed on to his colleagues was institutional loyalty.

Ivan Moseley

[BIR News Summer 2009, p.2; Neuroradiology (2009) 51:488-489]

(Volume XII, page web)

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