Lives of the fellows

James Patrick Watson

b.14 May 1936 d.3 August 2016
BA Cantab(1957) MB BChir(1960) DCH(1963) MRCP(1964) DPM(1967) MRCPsych(1971) MD(1974) FRCPsych(1977) FRCP(1978)

James Watson (known as ‘Jim’) was emeritus professor of psychiatry at King’s College, London and an honorary consultant psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, having been one of a group of young British psychiatrists in the 1960s and 1970s charged with the task of transforming the care of the mentally ill from the large asylums into general hospital and community facilities. He approached this task with enthusiasm for improving clinical care, a deep commitment to the training of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, and to relevant research.

Jim was the eldest of three brothers born to Hubert Watson, a teacher, and Grace Mizen, who qualified as a doctor at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School. His aunt Violent Mizen also trained in medicine at the Royal Free Hospital. The family was evacuated from Hackney to Haselmere, Surrey during the Second World War and later moved to Blackheath. The three brothers were educated at Roan School for Boys in Greenwich, and all subsequently gained entrance to Trinity College, Cambridge. Jim excelled academically and in sport, was head boy, captain of football, cricket and in the chapel choir, and played soccer for the Cambridge University Falcons. Sadly his mother died from a stroke in his final year, but he successfully obtained his undergraduate degree and gained the Burney Yeo entrance scholarship to King’s College Hospital Medical School, London for his clinical training in 1957.

By the time he graduated in 1960 he had decided to specialise in psychiatry, probably nurtured by the clinical teaching of Denis Hill [Munk’s Roll, VII, p.264] at King’s and encouraged by winning the White prize in psychological medicine. During his first house appointment in King’s casualty department, he noticed a senior medical student, Christine Colley, and they were married in April 1962 after she had qualified. After two further house jobs in paediatrics and pathology at King’s, Jim undertook general medical training in London at the Brook and Mayday hospitals, gaining his MRCP in 1964. Trainee psychiatrist appointments at the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley hospitals and the Institute of Psychiatry as a senior house officer, registrar, senior registrar, researcher and locum consultant followed from October 1964, where he was particularly influenced by the psychotherapist Robert Hobson, and community psychiatrists Jim Birley [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] and Douglas Bennett. In May 1971 he was appointed as a consultant and senior lecturer in psychiatry at St George’s Hospital and Medical School, London.

From September 1974 Jim was foundation professor of psychiatry at Guy’s Hospital Medical School, where he remained until his retirement on 31 December 2000, establishing a department of psychotherapy and psychiatry, which was popular with both medical students and trainees in psychiatry and other aspiring mental health professionals. In 1975, in collaboration with his wife Christine (by then specialising in sexual and reproductive health care), he set up an innovative marital and sexual problems clinic at Guy’s, which was staffed by an enthusiastic multidisciplinary team. The department was a very happy one with the various disciplines working well together, with the additional opportunity to relax together on the annual skiing chalet holidays organised by Jim.

During his tenure, Guy’s Hospital Medical School was united with St Thomas’ in 1982 and finally with King’s College Hospital Medical School, to create a division of psychological medicine within King’s College, London. He was made professor emeritus on his retirement in December 2000. At the same time the NHS psychiatric services at Guy’s, St Thomas’ and King’s College hospitals were incorporated into the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust.

Jim was always actively engaged in research and listed 125 main publications, which attest to his interest in clinical innovation in order to evaluate and improve mental health care. His commitment also meant he was enthusiastic about his teaching responsibilities to both medical students and postgraduate trainees, which ensured his training programme was deservedly popular. He also embraced other mental health professions and was able to persuade the University of London to launch an MSc in mental health studies directed at these disciplines. This was extremely successful and led to collaborations with other universities in the Middle East, where he was able to facilitate a basic level diploma in mental healthcare. He developed a close working relationship with mental health services in rural Pakistan, where innovative schemes included working collaboratively with some mosques and madrasas.

Jim was well read in philosophy and theology, and maintained a characteristically open mind and was scientifically rigorous when evaluating psychiatric treatments. He maintained that the beneficial effect of psychotherapeutic interventions could be attributable to non-specific factors, particularly empathy and positive regard for the patient.

He was always in demand as a chairman or member of university, college or health authority committees and as a visiting examiner at home and overseas. He also served as vice president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists from 1998 to 2000. Perhaps his most surprising appointment was as honorary civilian consultant psychiatrist to the British Army for 20 years from 1980 to 2000. A less military character would have been hard to find!

After retirement, Jim and his wife moved to the Cotswolds, where he was able to fully indulge in his hobby of growing vegetables and making home preserves. He may have inherited this from his maternal ancestors who were market gardeners.

Within the family it was known that, although Jim was a highly intelligent man, he could occasionally exhibit a spectacular lack of common sense. He survived an attempt to siphon petrol from one car to another utilising the suction tube of a vacuum cleaner and on another occasion cut off the electricity supply to the home by severing a particularly stubborn ‘root’ in the garden, which proved to be the mains cable.

When Christine retired from the NHS in 1997, the Watsons bought a beautiful holiday home in Umbria and enjoyed 15 long summers there entertaining family and friends and delighting in the art, music and culture of central Italy. Jim was a keen opera-goer, both in Italy and at home, and in the winter enjoyed regular visits to the English National Opera in London.

Other retirement interests included support for his local Anglican Church and for psychiatrists at home and abroad, chairing the local GP practice patients’ support group, and trusteeship of the Soundwell Music Therapy Trust, which provides music therapy for people suffering mental ill health.

He was survived by Christine, his four sons, Peter, Andrew, John and Robert, and seven grandchildren. He was proud that John was elected an FRCP in 2007.

Christine Watson

[The Guardian 13 September 2016 – accessed 5 April 2017; BMJ 2016 355 6030 – accessed 5 April 2017; BJPsych Bulletin April 2017, Vol.41, Issue 2, pp.123-4 – accessed 5 April 2017]

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List