Lives of the fellows

Sidney Crown

b.11 September 1924 d.12 September 2009

Sidney Crown was a popular consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist at the London Hospital, who became well known in his role of ‘media shrink’ in later life and was an enthusiastic supporter of the arts and local charities.

Born in London, he was the son of Saul Crown, a general practitioner. Educated at King Alfred School in North London, he began to study psychology in South Africa when he was evacuated there with his mother and sister during the Second World War. On his return he completed his doctorate at the Institute of Psychiatry and the Maudsley Hospital in London, supervised by Hans Eysenck and Sir Aubrey Lewis [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.284]. In later years he was to look back with some misgivings on the trials run at the time on pre-frontal leucotomy for intractable schizophrenia. Having managed to make up for his lack of an O-level in physics by studying it at evening classes, he then enrolled at the Middlesex Hospital at the age of 30.

He joined the psychiatric department at the Middlesex shortly after it had been set up by Denis Hill [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.264]. Qualifying in 1959, he did his house jobs at the Middlesex, including ‘one of the most demanding jobs in the hospital’, house physician to Sir John Nabbarro [.Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], and at the Whittington Hospital the following year. Making repeated attempts to pass the MRCP, he described one examination as being very eccentric as the examiner removed his false eye to scratch his eyeball and expected, at one point, a diagnosis of ‘Bethnal Green Lung’. Eventually he passed, and in 1964, proceeded to what was then called the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, in Queen Square, as a senior registrar under Eliot Slater [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.541].

In 1967 he was appointed consultant psychiatrist at the London Hospital and he thoroughly enjoyed the work of promoting psychotherapeutic services to the Whitechapel area. He took a pride in disproving the conventional wisdom of the time that the so-called ‘lower classes’ could not benefit from psychiatric help as much as the more ‘typical’ patients who presented in other areas. Using a wide range of approaches in his clinical work, he provided a liaison psychiatry service that was ahead of its time in that he worked closely with medical and surgical colleagues and incorporated nurses and social workers in his multidisciplinary team. A charismatic teacher, he encouraged his medical students to always consider the psychosocial aspects of the medical cases with which they were presented.

Throughout his career he wrote a number of publications, including, while he was at the Middlesex, the Middlesex Hospital questionnaire, later known as the Crown-Crisp experimental index which is still in use and referred to today as a measure of neurotic symptomatology. Developed with Arthur Hamilton Crisp [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], the most recent edition was published as Manual of the crown crisp experimental index (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1979). He also published Contemporary psychiatry (London, Butterworth Heinemann, 1984) and, with Hugh Freeman, The book of psychiatric books (Northwich, NJ: London, Jason Aronson Inc, 1994) in which the authors attempted to provide commentaries on, and extracts from, all significant literature in the field before that date.

He edited the British journal of clinical psychology (subsequently Psychology and psychotherapy: theory, research, and practice) and was book review editor for the British journal of psychiatry for 46 years. He was said to have a good eye for emerging talent among writers and thought up a range of innovative columns for the journal, attracting many eminent figures in the world of psychiatry to provide contributions. He enjoyed working with the media and was happy to contribute his opinions to popular journalism and programmes; indeed in 1996, he was consultant to a popular work on the psychology of the late Princess Diana, C Hutchins and D Midgley Diana on the edge: inside the mind of the Princess of Wales (London, Smith Gryphon, 1996).

An active man, he played hockey and tennis in his youth and turned to squash and jogging in middle age. He regularly ran the London Marathon raising large sums of money for charity, and completed it for the 10th, and final, time when he was 75. The squash he continued until his 80s, exploiting the fact that he was ambidextrous to make up for decreased mobility. He loved all the arts, especially opera, and, in later years, enjoyed sponsoring artistic endeavours. Highly convivial, he listed ‘wine’ and ‘food’ among his hobbies. A trustee of his local neighbourhood charity, Fitzrovia Youth in Action, he was a great supporter of their activities.

He met his wife, June Madge née Downes, when he was a houseman at the Middlesex and she had come down from Cambridge to start her clinical training. Her father, Edward, was a civil servant. They married in 1964 and were married for 45 years. A distinguished public health physician who was president of the UK’s faculty of public health in the 1990s, Crown was very proud of his wife’s professional achievements and happily joined the ‘wives’ when she was invited to take a partner to an event. They had three children, a daughter and two sons, one of whom, Giles, is a barrister. When he died, after some years of increasing frailty which he bore with stoicism, he was survived by June, his children and six grandchildren.

RCP editor

[BMJ, 2010 340 1273; The psychiatrist online, 2010 34 403 - accessed 12 February 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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