Lives of the fellows

Robert Duncan Catterall

b.9 July 1918 d.5 May 1993
CBE 1983 MRCS LRCP Lond(1951) MRCP(1958) FRCPE(1967) FRCP(1977)

Duncan Catterall was born in Bramhall, Cheshire, where his father Robert Ernest Catterall was a textile manufacturer. His early education was at Cheadle House School and Ottershaw College. He entered The London Hospital medical school as a student in 1946 at the age of 28. Prior to his entry he had had a most unusually varied and brave life. At the outbreak of the second world war, at the age of 21, he joined the Quaker Friends ambulance unit. The unit to which he was attached went to Finland and then to Norway which was being invaded by the Germans.

After escaping to Sweden, Catterall was interned for six months, engineered a release, travelled through Russia, Turkey and Palestine, and joined the British Forces in Egypt. From there he was sent to Greece where he was eventually captured by the Germans and imprisoned there. He later spent four years in a prisoner of war camp in Germany. While a PoW he found himself assisting an Australian surgeon, Leslie le Souef, in the operating theatre and it was this particular experience that made Duncan Catterall determined to take up medicine.

After the war, following qualification, he worked for Ambrose King, then consultant venereologist at The London and the Whitechapel Clinic. He was a registrar from 1952-54 and then spent the next two years at John Hopkins Hospital, Baltmore, USA, with a fellowship in medicine. In 1959 he was appointed a consultant physician and senior lecturer to the Leeds General Infirmary and was later appointed to the staff of the Middlesex Hospital, London, in 1964, with a remit to create the hospital’s first department of genitourinary medicine.

During the 1960s and ’70s Duncan Catterall was at his most productive. He set up a modern department of genitourinary medicine which, within a few years, became one of the leading centres in the UK. He managed, both locally and nationally, to remove the stigma attached to the subject of venereology and later helped to rename it ‘genitourinary medicine’.

From 1978-83 he was specialty adviser to the DOH and used his position to expand services and resources. He was also involved in medical politics as president of the Medical Society for the Study of Venereal Disease and as chairman of the Middlesex Hospital medical committee. He was a meticulous physician and all who were trained by him were influenced by his high standards and his memorable teaching ability.

Not satisfied with being an outstanding clinician, Duncan also carried out research. During this period he published many papers which were among the first to describe and question the specialty. His books included A short textbook of venereology... London, English Universities Press, 2nd ed 1975; Philadelphia USA, Lippincott, 1975, and Venereology for nurses, London, EUP, 1964.

He was not a laboratory scientist but his meticulous descriptive research was ahead of its time. He was no doubt influenced by his contact, when a prisoner of war, with Archie Cochrane [Munk's Roll, Vol.VIII, p.95] famous in later years for randomized controlled trials. Duncan always questioned current practice and recognized the need for a strong academic base for the specialty. Through imagination, hard work, and the involvement of Duncan Guthrie, he was able to raise money for an endowed chair in the specialty, based at the Middlesex Hospital and the first in the UK.

This was yet another step in the acceptance of genitourinary medicine as a specialty akin to others in British medicine and British genitourinary medicine owes a great debt to Duncan Catterall for his role in setting high standards, for generating enthusiasm for research and for creating the first academic base m this country. He was appointed a CBE in 1983.

Apart from his professional achievements, Duncan Catterall was an urbane and widely cultured man and a bon viveur.He spoke fluent French, which he had learnt from a fellow prisoner during the war when together they had translated Charles Morgan’s The Voyage into French. He also had an extensive knowledge of French literature. In 1980 he became Vigneron d'Honneur du Beaujolais.

He married Mary née Williamson, a radiation oncologist, in 1957. They were delightful hosts to many friends and colleagues. There were no children of the marriage.

M W Adler

[Brit.med.J., 1993,307,196;The Independent, 5 July 1993; The Daily Telegraph, 27 May 1993]

(Volume IX, page 80)

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