Lives of the fellows

Christopher Joseph Earl

b.20 November 1925 d.4 March 2012
MB BS Lond(1948) MRCP(1950) MD(1951) FRCP(1964)

Christopher Joseph Earl was a distinguished neurologist of whom it was said that he ‘had a remarkable knack for divining the cause of ailments that plague the mysterious inner workings of the nervous system’. Born in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, he was the son of Christopher Earl, an accountant and manager at Nestlé, and his wife Winifred née Lawler, whose father, Joseph, worked on the railways. His family were staunch Roman Catholics and, after attending St John’s Preparatory School in Alton, he was sent to board at Cotton College in Staffordshire. After winning a scholarship, he studied medicine at London University and Guy’s Hospital Medical School.

Qualifying in 1948, he did house jobs at Guy’s, where he was strongly influenced by the eminent neurologist, Sir Charles Symonds [Monk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.563]. He then joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) to do his National Service, serving at Biggin Hill from 1948 to 1950.

On demobilisation he returned to house jobs at Guy’s for two years, before spending a year from 1952 to 1953 as a research fellow at Harvard Medical School on an Eli Lilly travelling scholarship. While there he worked with Derek Denny-Brown [Monk’s Roll Vol.VII, p.146] who was known to have a particular interest in Wilson’s disease, a rare inherited disorder which leads to cirrhosis and neurological and psychiatric symptoms. On his return he became house physician at the National Hospital, Queen Square from 1954 to 1956 and then rejoined the staff of Guy’s as chief assistant in the department of neurology.

In 1958 he was appointed a consultant physician at the National Hospital Queen Square. The following year, he was also appointed physician to Moorfields Eye Hospital, where he exercised a particular interest in ophthalmoscopy and the diagnosis of disorders of the central visual pathways. On the retirement of Lord Brain in 1961, he became consultant physician in neurology at the London Hospital and in 1970 he also joined the staff of the Middlesex Hospital. His career was based on the diagnosis and treatment of the neurologically ill and, with a sharp eye for detail and deductive reasoning, his colleagues were often astounded by his diagnostic abilities which, they said, were ‘reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes solving a crime’. Reputedly having a remarkable memory for individual cases – a frequent saying of his when solving a difficult case was ‘I have seen this before’ – he was also blessed with the ability to communicate with, and reassure, his patients.

An adviser or consultant to a number of Government agencies, he was also a civilian consultant in neurology to the RAF. One time president of the Association of British Neurologists (ABN), he continued to attend their meetings long after retirement and was awarded the ABN medal in 1996. He was a long standing member of the Medical Defence Union and a president of the section of neurology of the Royal Society of Medicine.

In 1951 he married Alma Patience née Hopkins whose father, Samuel Francis Hopkins, was a salesman. Alma was a theatre nurse. When he died after a short illness she survived him, together with their two sons and three daughters and the grandchildren he loved to propel round the garden at great speed in his wheelbarrow.

RCP editor

[Daily Telegraph www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/medicine-obituaries/9169959/Dr-Christopher-Earl.html; Moorfields Hospital www.moorfields.nhs.uk/sites/default/files/Christopher%20Earl.pdf – both accessed 31 October 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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