Lives of the fellows

Henry Rapoport Rollin

b.17 November 1911 d.6 February 2014
MB ChB Leeds(1935) DPM(1940) MD(1948) FRCPsych(1971) MRCP(1975) Hon FRCPsych(1989) FRCP(1993)

Henry Rollin was a psychiatrist at Horton Hospital, Epsom, where he brought an enlightened approach to the care of his patients. He was born in Glasgow in 1911, the son of Aaron Rapoport Rollin, a Lithuanian cabinet maker and trade unionist who spoke four languages, and Rebecca Rollin. The family later moved to Leeds, where Rollin attended the Central High School and then studied medicine at Leeds University. During this period, he boxed and was lightweight boxing champion from 1932 to 1933 of Leeds and the northern universities.

He qualified with the MB ChB in 1935 and was then a house surgeon at Oldham Royal Infirmary. Unhappy in this post, he became a ship’s doctor and in 1938 sailed to Japan and back. On his return, he became an assistant medical officer for the London County Council mental health service. He studied psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital and gained his diploma in psychological medicine in 1940.

From 1941 to 1948 he served in the Second World War, as a squadron leader and then as a wing commander with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He was soon recruited to a team led by the neuropsychiatrist Robert Dick Gillespie [Munk’s Roll Vol.V, p.149], which had the task of eliminating recruits likely to break down under the stress of training. Later he was transferred to London, where he the difficult task of distinguishing between airmen with genuine mental illness and those suspected of cowardice.

Following his demobilisation, he was posted to Cane Hill Hospital, Surrey, where, in 1948, he was awarded an MD for his thesis on aspects of Down’s syndrome. In the same year he was appointed to Horton Hospital as a consultant psychiatrist, and remained there until 1975, becoming deputy medical superintendent. In 1953 he held a Fulbright fellowship to study psychosomatic medicine in the USA. He was deeply skeptical about the value of psychoanalysis, then the dominant treatment there.

When Rollin arrived, Horton was being re-established as a psychiatric hospital after being used to treat casualties during the war. Seeing an opportunity to begin to change the grim conditions, he oversaw the redecoration of the buildings, introduced less drab clothing for the patients and initiated a broad range of occupational therapies and other activities. He set up the hospital’s first outpatient clinic and, under his leadership, Horton became the leading hospital in the UK for music therapy.

He was critical of the care in the community approach and the closure of the large asylums, pointing out that the community actually ‘did not care’. He felt that, at their best, these mental hospitals had offered a valued sense of security to patients, which was missing in the community-based approach to care. However, Rollin also came to regret the damage caused by some of the physical methods of treatment, including the use of insulin, heavy medication, psychosurgery and the overuse of electroconvulsive therapy.

While at Horton, Rollin became interested in the issue of offenders with mental health problems. He was awarded a Gwilym Gibbon research fellowship at Nuffield College, Oxford, to research the subject and published The mental abnormal offender and the law: an inquiry into the working of the relevant parts of the Mental Health Act, 1959 (Oxford, Pergamon) in 1969. From 1960 to 1983 he served on mental health review tribunals, and from 1970 to 1973 he was a member of the newly-formed Parole Board. On his retirement from Horton in 1975 he became a consultant forensic psychiatrist for the Home Office, a role he continued for ten years.

Rollin took a leading role in raising funds for the establishment of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the purchase of the college’s first premises. He was the college’s honorary librarian for ten years and led several study tours. He was awarded an honorary fellowship in 1989, the college’s highest honour.

During his career, he contributed to the British Medical Journal and other publications, and in 1990 the British Medical Journal published his autobiography Festina lente: a psychiatric odyssey (Memoir Club).

In 1973 he married Anna-Maria Rollin (née Tihanyi), a consultant anaesthetist, and they had two children and two grandchildren. An enthusiast for music and the arts, he continued attending the theatre and opera until a few months before he died, in his sleep, at the age of 102.

RCP editor

[BMJ 2014 348 2339 – accessed 12 April 2016; The Telegraph 3 March 2014 – accessed 12 April 2016; Psychiatr Bull (2014). 2014 Jun; 38(3): 141–142 – accessed 12 April 2016]

(Volume XII, page web)

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