Lives of the fellows

Stanley George (Sir) Clayton

b.13 September 1911 d.12 September 1986
Kt 1972 MRCS LRCP(1934) MB BS Lond(1934) FRCS(1936) MRCOG(1939) MD(1941) MS(1942) FRCOG(1951) FRCP(1977) Hon FCOG SAfr(1975) Hon FRACOG(1984)

Stanley George Clayton was the son of the Rev George and Florence Clayton. He was born at Hankow in China where his father was serving as a Methodist missionary. With his typical sense of humour he often recounted the story of how, at the age of two. when on a journey on the Trans-Siberian railway with his parents, his inquisitiveness caused him to fall out of the train - fortunately, into thick snow. He came to regard this as evidence of his ability to survive.

At the age of eight he was sent to Kingswood School, near Bath, to begin his formal education. From there he went to King’s College London with a Sambrooke scholarship in 1929. Before going on to King’s College Medical School, as a clinical medical student, such was his reputation as a tough forward on the rugby field that he was prematurely recruited into the Hospital’s First 15 at a time when there were several international players in the team. As a medical student he soon made his mark, gaining the Hallet prize of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1931 and the Jelf medal and Todd prize in 1934, the year in which he qualified. After two years of house appointments he became registrar at King’s in 1936, and at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in 1938. During this time he also served as a lecturer in anatomy at King’s College.

The war years saw him serving as a general surgeon as well as a gynaecologist in the EMS and, in spite of a heavy clinical load, he sat and passed successfully both the MD and the MS. Later in the war he was recruited into the RAMC, where he served in Germany with the rank of major. Returning to civilian life and his chosen specialty he was soon appointed to the consultant staff at King’s, Queen Charlotte’s and the Chelsea Hospital for Women.

Until 1963 he filled these appointments with distinction, gaining a reputation as a superb teacher, a sound clinician, and a first class surgeon. But what he really wanted was a full-time academic career and when the opportunity arose to become professor at the Postgraduate Institute at Chelsea and Queen Charlotte’s, he welcomed it in spite of his regret at leaving King’s. Yet his first loyalty was always to King’s and when, after prolonged negotiations, it became possible to establish a professorial chair at King’s, Clayton was an automatic choice. He was one of the most outstanding professors in the post-war era. Though not himself an original scientific research worker, he possessed those intellectual attributes which enabled him to see quite clearly where research was needed to enhance knowledge and elucidate the causes of disease and illness and thus improve the prospects for better treatment of patients. He gathered round him a team of young research workers, all of whom under his guidance made significant contributions, especially in relation to techniques for monitoring the well-being of the foetus during pregnancy and labour. He laid the foundations of an academic department which has become one of national and international repute.

All those who were taught by Clayton testify to his pre-eminence as a teacher. He could present any subject, however complex, with a clarity that few teachers are able to achieve. He was impatient of irrelevancies and always went straight to the core of a problem.

Clayton contributed many original articles to journals, wrote two short textbooks, and edited Medical disorders during pregnancy, London, Churchill, 1951, with Samuel Oram. It was as an editor that he excelled: from 1963-72 he edited the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, having been assistant editor to James Young for many years previously. Under his guidance the Journal more than doubled its circulation worldwide, by improving its quality. Every paper that was submitted was most carefully vetted and edited. His Joseph Price oration to the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1975, should be compulsory reading for any would-be medical author. His title was ‘Printed communications’; being filled with much characteristic humour and command of the English language, he also revealed great understanding. He recalled how, whenever it was necessary to reject an article, he would write to the author in longhand which he felt would make the unsuccessful writer feel that the article had really been given careful consideration. These letters often contained helpful advice. Editing involved many hours of tedious reading but, being a voracious reader, Clayton was quite happy to do this. His reading was by no means confined to medical literature and he was reputed to have read the Encyclopaedia Britannica from cover to cover. His ability to bring out quotations from so many literary sources was a tribute both to his reading and to his memory.

As time passed and his career blossomed it was obvious that he was destined for many high offices. In turn he was vice-president and president of the RCOG, chairman of the conference of Colleges and president of the Association of Family Planning Doctors. He served on the medical advisory committee on medical training in the EEC, and for seven years filled that most onerous of posts: chairman of the distinction awards committee. His administrative skills and obvious integrity enabled him to gain the respect and admiration of all those who worked with him. One of his outstanding achievements was to guide Australian gynaecologists through a minefield of legal and professional problems to a successful outcome when they decided to separate from the parent College and found one of their own. So grateful were they that, at their own expense, they sent over an Australian artist to paint his portrait - which now hangs in the College at Regents Park - and later made him an honorary Fellow of their new Australasian College.

‘No man is wiser for his learning; wit and wisdom are born with a man’ (Table-talk, John Selden, 1584-1654); Clayton was born with a good measure of both. He was not an easy man to know, being a rather shy and private person. At times he appeared abrupt and direct in speaking his mind but he always spoke with conviction. He was somewhat impatient; in a hurry to get on with the next job as soon as the previous one was finished. He was totally loyal to his hospital and medical school, to the Royal College, and to his colleagues and friends. Although not naturally fond of social gatherings, whenever his presence was required by virtue of his office, as on many occasions, he was always charming, whether host or guest, and sincere in his speeches.

Clayton was fortunate to have a happy home life with Kathleen, née Willshire, whom he married in 1936, and their two children. He left his friends in no doubt about the enormous companionship he received from her throughout his professional life, and especially in the years before she died when she was not always in the best of health.

When the Claytons settled in their home at Leatherhead he had little time, and no great enthusiasm, for hobbies; but he had a garden and that garden had to be kept in order. As time passed, he not only did this but also became somewhat of an expert. Relaxing with his friends gave him great pleasure and it was then that his quiet sense of humour was apparent. It was a regular sight to see him. with three other colleagues, take half-an-hour off in the lunch interval to enjoy a game of cribbage in the staff common room at King’s. There was often much hilarity among both onlookers and players. Living in Leatherhead by choice, he appeared to enjoy driving a series of fast Jaguar cars to and from home and hospital every day, and he was greatly saddened when he had to confess that the pleasure of night driving had gone.

Clayton suffered a mild coronary but made light of it. He must have had a good deal of angina but, in spite of this, he was hesitant about worrying his doctors. Following an operation, from which he was recovering quite satisfactorily, he suffered another coronary, this time severe, and died as he would have wished - in the hospital to which he had given devoted service for more than 50 years.

Sir John Peel

[, 1986,293,829; Lancet, 1986,2,759; The Times, l6 Sept 1986]

(Volume VIII, page 90)

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