Lives of the fellows

Peter Stradling

b.8 April 1919 d.27 July 2010
MB BS Lond(1942) MRCS LRCP(1942) MD(1947) MRCP(1947) FRCP(1966)

Peter Stradling was director of the chest unit at Hammersmith Hospital, London. He was born in Yeovil, Somerset, the son of Sir Reginald Edward Stradling, a civil engineer, and Lady Inda Stradling née Pippard. He was educated at Berkhamsted School in Hertfordshire, and then went to University College Medical School for his professional training. As a young man he showed a great interest in people, animals, electronics and photography. Some of his very early photograph albums are still with the family.

At medical school, he obviously enjoyed his studies and personal references show that he was near, or at the top, of his year group. His greatest joy at medical school was to find his future wife, Angèle Mabel Peggy Snow (‘Peggy’), from among his fellow students and they married in 1942, in Exeter Cathedral, directly after qualifying. His junior hospital jobs, at University College, were completed during the difficult war years, with his seniors regarding him very highly. He worked for a number of consultants, including Andrew Morland [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.294], C J Marshall, R S Pilcher [Munk’s Roll, Vol.X, p.387] and M Pearson. He had an initial interest in obstetrics and gynaecology, working for F J Browne and James Young at the then British Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith Hospital. He then spent 10 months in general practice in war-torn London with Margaret Finlayson, followed by a casualty officer post at University College in 1944, and as a medical officer at West Middlesex Hospital in 1945. His experience of chest medicine with Andrew Morland had been enjoyable and he decided to commit himself to this specialty, taking up the post of senior assistant medical officer at Clare Hall Chest Hospital and County TB Sanatorium in South Mimms in 1946. In 1947, he took up the post of assistant tuberculosis physician under Hugh Toussaint at the Central Middlesex Hospital and Willesden Chest Clinic, which was to be a formative post in determining the direction of his career.

During his time at Willesden Chest Clinic, many patients with TB were receiving artificial pneumothorax treatment which was carried out exclusively in TB sanatoria. However, there was a major shortage of beds in sanatoria, where patients would often spend many months receiving inpatient treatment and recovering. Thus patients were often waiting over six months for entry into a sanatorium before they could start their pneumothorax treatment, simply due to this lack of beds. In response to this unacceptable situation, Peter and Hugh Toussaint admitted patients briefly to Central Middlesex Hospital for the initial pneumothorax, and then continued the pneumothorax refills as outpatients at Willesden Chest Clinic, even performing this procedure in patients’ homes when necessary. This was initially regarded by others as potentially dangerous, but proved entirely satisfactory and rapidly became normal practice. In addition, he was an enthusiastic proponent of the mass miniature radiography service for the early detection of TB, and introduced double reading of radiographs to reduce observer error.

In 1948, he was appointed as a consultant chest physician to the Postgraduate Medical School of London at Hammersmith Hospital, being one of the youngest consultants ever at 28. Already interested in TB, he was heavily involved in the introduction of the new chemotherapy regimes. He took part in many of the early randomised controlled trials of streptomycin, isoniazid, PAS (para-aminosalicylic acid) and, later, rifampicin, again pushing for home therapy wherever possible. He was also responsible for writing and producing a set of information leaflets for patients on their disease and its treatment, unusual in those days.

Feeling that TB treatment had come of age, Peter looked around for other areas on which to turn his attention. After becoming interested in cytology, he turned to bronchoscopy as a useful diagnostic tool to improve cytological sampling, particularly in lung cancer. In those days, bronchoscopy was the preserve of a few thoracic surgeons, so Peter went to Robert Laird and John W Jackson to learn how to do rigid bronchoscopies under general anaesthesia. He brought the technique from Harefield Hospital back to the Hammersmith and began his own regular weekly list. He soon began to innovate, using the latest Hopkins rod optical systems to improve the view obtained. Peter had always been an enthusiastic photographer and brought these skills into the theatre to produce increasing high quality photographs; this required many adaptations to the bronchoscopy equipment, new anaesthetic approaches, and experiments with film processing, all of which he revelled in. In 1968 this led to the first edition of his book, Diagnostic bronchoscopy (Edinburgh and London, E & S Livingstone), for which he received the Lancet trophy for the best photographs in the medical press. A little later, in 1972, he was made a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. These were the two accolades of which he was particularly proud. His book was translated into several languages, ran to six editions (the last published in 1991 and reprinted in 1993), and is still sold and used today. A particularly interesting paper by Peter and his consultant colleague Graham Poole [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] on the conservative management of pneumothorax, was published in 1966 (Thorax 1966:21(2):145-149), but it took over 25 years before this approach began to be more widely adopted.

During this time Peter was a major contributor to national consultative bodies and national professional medical organisations. Between 1959 and 1964, he was a member of the Joint Tuberculosis Council. Between 1957 and 1962, he was on the standing committee of members of the RCP, being the chairman and members’ representative on Council in 1962. He occupied various posts in the British Thoracic Association between 1956 and 1980, including councillor, treasurer, chairman of the research committee and finally president, from 1977 to 1979. International recognition came in the form of the Webb-Waring travelling fellowship in respiratory disease in the USA in 1968, visiting professorships to various North American universities in 1974, and his election as vice-president and councillor to the International Bronchoesophalogical Society in 1980.

Peter retired in 1979 down to the West Country. However, he continued working, with regular bronchoscopy lists at Exeter and Torbay hospitals for many years. During this time he collected many more unique and high quality photos for the sixth and last edition of his book in 1991. During his retirement years he participated in local life, winning many local photographic competitions, and recording village life. He and Peggy travelled the world in their retirement, building up a vast knowledge of foreign countries and returning with the most beautiful photographs from which he produced his competition prints in the darkroom upstairs. He was also involved locally in producing excellent photographs for the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS) church recording project, revelling in the precision required. His and Peggy’s home in Sampford Brett, Somerset, became a haven for their children and grandchildren in which to spend their holidays. All the grandchildren have very happy memories of their time with ‘GrandPeter’, as he was called, although his attention to grammatical correctness often left them mystified!

It was very sad that his last 10 years of life were increasingly afflicted with memory loss. However, his personality, charm and quick wit were retained until the end. He leaves his wife, Peggy, three children – Pat (a retired heath visitor and lecturer in health and social care), Hugh (a retired GP) and John (a chest physician) – eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

John Stradling

(Volume XII, page web)

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