Lives of the fellows

Anthony Howard James

b.12 January 1921 d.5 August 2010
MD Toronto(1944) BM BCh Oxon(1944) MRCP(1946) DM(1950) FRCP(1964)

Anthony James’ professional career was unusual in that he started in academic medicine, only to move later on to a district general hospital at Hillingdon. He was born in Hillingdon, Middlesex, the son of George William Blomfield James, a psychiatrist, and Marie Magdeleine Augeard, the daughter of a lawyer from Poitiers. He was educated at Ampleforth and Trinity College, Oxford. His preclinical training was at Oxford, but his clinical studies were carried out at the Toronto Medical School, where he was a Rockefeller medical student (from 1942 to 1944). He completed his clinical studies at St Mary’s Hospital in London, graduating in 1944.

At St Mary’s Hospital he was a house physician, registrar and research assistant on the medical professorial unit directed by Sir George Pickering [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.464]. During this period he spent one year at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, in the department of Francis D Moore. After seven years (1945 to 1952) at St Mary’s Hospital, he was appointed as a senior lecturer to the professorial medical unit at the Welsh National School of Medicine in Cardiff directed by Harold Scarborough [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.439]. His research interests included the causes and pathological basis of peptic ulceration and the problems of electrolyte metabolism. He was invited to write a volume on gastric physiology in the Physiological Society monograph series (The physiology of gastric digestion, London, Edward Arnold, 1957). He remained in Cardiff until 1964, having been appointed as a reader of medicine in 1962.

With such a strong 17-year academic background, it was surprising that he should have chosen to return to his place of birth to become a consultant physician with a special interest in gastroenterology at Hillingdon Hospital in 1964. At that time, the only academic aspect of this post was a strong undergraduate teaching connection between St Mary’s and Hillingdon Hospital. He remained in post for 24 years, until his retirement in 1986.

Clinical practice in district general hospitals at this time was divided into those who believed in ‘general medicine’, and those who were keen to provide data that the outcome for patients looked after by ‘specialists’ was better than for those who were looked after by ‘general physicians’. Anthony James strongly believed in ‘general medicine’, arguing that it was difficult to fragment the clinical scene, and that well-trained physicians should be able to manage any clinical problem, assuming that they had benefited from the kind of background experience that he had himself.

His career included a love of teaching, not only in academic surroundings, but also in the district general hospital. He became the first clinical tutor at Hillingdon. At a time when the use of computers in medicine was in its infancy, his interest in computing (self-taught) was applied to determine the dosage of warfarin in the out-patient anticoagulant clinic, developing the necessary software himself. This resulted in an excellent service for patients at Hillingdon Hospital and was later adopted by others elsewhere.

He was interested in the aetiology of Crohn’s disease. As a result of studying the dietary habits of patients with the disease, he thought there was an association with breakfast cereals, particularly corn flakes. Subsequently other studies, which he felt were technically flawed, produced contradictory findings. In retirement, he continued to pursue his original ideas and concluded that Crohn’s disease occurred in people with a genetic deficiency of DNA repair capacity.

On his own admission he was not gregarious by nature, tending to work on his own, which he felt was perhaps the result of a hearing defect. He knew he had an active mind, but he thought it was inclined to wander, a trait which made it difficult for him to study and perhaps prevented him from reaching his full potential. He was capable of displaying deep insight into problems, and this often gave his sayings and writings originality. His hobbies included sailing, rambling, dancing, golf, drawing and painting. He was very active in his church.

He married Margaret MacKenzie in 1950 and they had twin sons (Michael and Peter) and a daughter (Helen). Margaret died in 2001. In 2002 he married Tamara, widow of Donald Taylor. She died in 2007. He was survived by his three children, six grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.

G P Blanshard
G C Sutton
R P Britt

[Brit.med.J., 2011 342 657]

(Volume XII, page web)

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