Lives of the fellows

John Bamforth

b.17 June 1930 d.6 March 2018
MB BChir Cantab(1954) MRCP(1960) FRCP(1974)

John Bamforth was a consultant physician at Southampton General Hospital. He was immensely proud of his father, Joseph Bamforth [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.25], a consultant pathologist at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. His mother, Pera Rosaline Cecilia Bamforth née Crawford, was the daughter of a doctor. During the Second World Ward John was educated at a prep school in Northamptonshire at which, he claimed, the most useful thing he learnt was how to identify German aircraft. Not so, of course, because he went on to Winchester College and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he gained a half-blue at golf. For his clinical training, he went to St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School, where he did his house appointments and was a medical registrar.

Between house officer and registrar appointments, he did his National Service in the RAMC. As he was an excellent golfer, one of his main tasks, he claimed, when he was based in Münster in Germany, was to take visiting generals to play a round in order to prevent them from interfering with the smooth running of the regiment.

In 1962 John went to the Mayo Clinic for a two-year research fellowship in gastroenterology, returning to St Thomas’ as a senior registrar in 1964. As part of that job he was rotated to Southampton to work for Kenneth Robertson [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.498], and in 1966 he was appointed as a consultant physician at Southampton General Hospital, where he served until his retirement.

As a physician at Southampton, John Bamforth had a special interest in gastroenterology. He was the first to introduce fibre-optic gastroduodenoscopy to the city, but he was the consummate general physician, at that time, as it has turned out, a dying breed. He approached his patients without preconception or attempted intuition. He understood the value of taking a thorough history and refused to be hurried in doing so. He was painstaking in his examination of the patients and, when his juniors were present, would ask for their opinions. If they got it right he was clearly pleased. If they got it wrong he would gently point them in the right direction. During a ward round, if a junior had heard or read of something new about a particular condition, John would lead the firm down to the library and check on the matter. The poor ward sister was rather nonplussed by this interruption in the ward round, but she bore it stoically.

John Bamforth was a conservative Englishman in the very best sense of the term. Whilst he embraced genuine advances, such as fibre-optic endoscopy, he was deeply suspicious of meretricious innovation in the name of alleged progress. At one time in the early 1970s, there was a demonstration in the hospital of the Lawrence Weed system of problem-orientated medical notes. All listened carefully to what was portrayed as the answer to a maiden’s prayer. John Bamforth said nothing until one of the other consultants asked him to comment. ‘Well,’ he said ‘it reminds me of the Army: teaching the private soldier what to do without having to think.’ He would be horrified to see the modern protocol-driven and tick box notes that currently adorn patients’ files, a monument to the avoidance of thinking.

Another of John’s qualities was firmness of purpose. If he thought a proposal was substandard or incorrect, he would not be moved. Those who worked with him greatly admired this quality. An amusing, non-medical example occurred when he was on holiday in France on the Mediterranean coast. One day out in the bay in his boat he was stopped by marine gendarmes for speeding. He had to go ashore to their office to answer questions. John had no problem accepting that he had broken the speed limit. When however, through an interpreter, he had to give personal details, he baulked at being asked for his mother’s maiden name. Why? He wanted to know. The gendarme shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know but it was required. John then said that the French Revolution had been about liberty, equality, and fraternity, but not a requirement to reveal one’s mother’s maiden name. It became clear to the gendarme that this was a piece of information that was not going to be elicited. So he shrugged his shoulders again and said that he would send the papers through to the French Embassy in London, and John would be sent a notice to pay a fine. None ever came through.

When he was rotated to Southampton as a senior registrar John met Rosemary Ince, a pathologist, to whom he proposed almost immediately. The result was the happiest of long marriages. Rosemary was a formidably distinguished character in her own right. As a Wren, she had served as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. As a pathologist she was one of the first to link mesothelioma to asbestos exposure. It was fitting that such a devoted couple should die within only six weeks of each other. They were survived by their children, Henry, Caroline and Victoria.

Robin Jacoby

(Volume XII, page web)

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