Lives of the fellows

John Warburton Thompson

b.7 November 1924 d.27 November 2012
MB BS Lond(1948) PhD(1960) MRCP(1977) FRCP(1981)

John Warburton Thompson was professor of pharmacology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and director of the pain relief clinic. Born in London, in Guy’s Hospital, he was the son of Frederick John Warburton Thompson, who was private secretary to Sir Henry Wellcome of Burroughs Wellcome before becoming the general manager of Crookes Laboratories Ltd. Educated at the City of London School, which he attended as a choral scholar at the Temple Choir, he studied medicine at London University and the London Hospital, where he was a Price scholar. Qualifying in 1948, he did house jobs at the London before joining the RAF the following year to do his National Service. He served as a medical officer in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) from 1949 to 1951.

On demobilisation he became a research assistant in the department of applied pharmacology in the medical unit of University College Hospital and the department of pharmacology at University College Hospital. In 1952 he moved to the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences (IBMS) at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, where he helped Professor Sir William Paton [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.410] to establish the department of pharmacology. While there he discovered that the collateral sprouting of nerves fibres was the cause of failed sympathectomy and he worked on his PhD, which included research on chemical transmission between postganglionic sympathetic nerve fibres and smooth muscle.

After 10 years as lecturer, then senior lecturer, at the IBMS, he also joined the staff of the medical unit at St George’s Hospital as a senior lecturer in pharmacology. In 1964 he was appointed professor of pharmacology at the University of Newcastle and consultant clinical pharmacologist at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle. At the university he founded the department of pharmacological sciences and was remembered for his infectious enthusiasm as a teacher. While there he commenced innovative research on the effects of psychotropic drugs such as benzodiazapines, nicotine, and cannabis, on human EEG responses.

Together with Ivan Tate, an anaesthetist, he founded a multidisciplinary pain relief clinic at the Royal Victoria in 1978. He was fascinated by the use of alternative methods other than drugs to alleviate intractable pain and became highly proficient in the use of TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) and acupuncture. He was a senior member of the British Medical Acupuncture Society. Highly regarded internationally in his field, he was one of the few Westerners to be awarded a Master of Chinese Medicine. When he retired from academia and the NHS in 1990, he was appointed director of medical studies at St Oswald’s Hospice in Newcastle and also continued his private practice in pain medicine. Continuing to research and write, his last paper, on the subject of electro-acupuncture, was published only a few weeks before his death.

Passionate about music, he was an excellent pianist and organist. Other interests were cine photography and electronics.

In 1969 he married Judith Russell née Hick, whose father Henry was a solicitor. She survived him when he died from a suspected lung infection exacerbating lung fibrosis, together with their son Jonathan, a lawyer, daughter Georgina, an anaesthetist, and three grandchildren.

RCP editor

[BMJ 2013 347 6439 - accessed 5 October 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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