Lives of the fellows

Philip Hugh-Jones

b.22 August 1917 d.1 June 2010
BA Cantab(1938) MB BChir(1942) MD(1949) MRCP(1950) FRCP(1959)

Philip Morrell Hugh-Jones, a leading chest physician who carried out pioneering research into lung physiology, was also an intrepid explorer. Born in London, the illegitimate son of Philip Edward Morrell, a solicitor, author and Liberal politician, who was the husband of Lady Ottoline Morrell, he had a difficult relationship with his father. His mother, Alice Louisa Jones, who gave him her surname, worked for The Nation (the forerunner of The New Statesman) and was associated with the Bloomsbury Group. Her father, Evan, was a wholesale draper. Educated at Highgate School, he won an exhibition scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge where he gained a first in part one of the natural sciences tripos before qualifying in medicine in 1942. After a brief spell doing house jobs at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, he joined the staff of the Medical Research Council (MRC) in the same year and spent time in Dorset investigating the effect that the fumes from tanks had on the bodies of their operators. This was the beginning of his lifelong interest in chest medicine and he continued this work at the MRC in Cardiff where he studied the effects of coal dust on miner’s lungs.

In 1952 he and his family moved to Jamaica where he became senior lecturer in medicine at the University College of the West Indies for the next three years. On his return, he was appointed a consultant physician to the Hammersmith Hospital and lecturer at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School. He also continued research as part of the MRC, making an important contribution to the understanding of lung function and diagnosis and treatment of emphysema. In 1964 he moved to King’s College Hospital and there set up the chest unit which was to lead the field in finding solutions to the treatment of lung diseases, asthma, and sleep disorders. While continuing his research, he found time to treat his patients with care and concern and was popular with his junior staff for his energy and enthusiasm.

Throughout his life, he had a great appetite for adventure. During the three years he spent with his family in the West Indies, he led expeditions to various parts of South America including the mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia and Brazil. On one visit to the latter, he joined a Royal Geographical Society expedition to an isolated native Xingu community. Almost as much an anthropologist as medic, he was fascinated by historical and cultural artefacts from such places and often treated visitors to his home to displays of a native blow-pipe, made to fire poisoned darts at high speed.

A keen mountain climber, he was famous for trying to lure staff away to join him on a trip to Wales and had been known to be found at the bottom of a rocky outcrop marking exam papers. To his companion’s concern, he often picked and cooked the local mushrooms. A talented artist, he painted the scenery on his travels and made quick sketches of fellow commuters on the London Underground or fellow diners at the Royal Society of Medicine.

In 1940 he married Sheila née Hails, whose father, Frederick, was a grocer. They had two sons and a daughter. Later he married Hilary and they had another child. In spite of struggling all his life with bipolar disorder, he was a successful man who was convivial and entertaining, welcoming his friends to a house filled with art and music as well as strange antiquities and rare butterfly breeding experiments. When he died, Hilary survived him together with his four children, including his son, Stephen, now a lecturer in social anthropology and a fellow alumni of King’s, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

RCP editor

[Kings College Cambridge Annual report - accessed 8 June 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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