Lives of the fellows

Charles Foster Cooper

b.6 March 1917 d.27 September 1990
VRD(1959) MRCS LRCP(1941) MB BS Lond(1941) MRCP(1947) MD(1948) FRCP(1966)

Charles was born in Uganda where his father was Provincial Commissioner (Colonial Service) in Kampala. Charles had a twin sister and, tragically, their mother Catherine, née Foster, died five days after their birth. His father remarried but died eleven years later, so Charles was brought up by his stepmother. He was educated at Chafyn Grove School, Salisbury, and Marlborough and studied medicine at St Bartholomew’s medical school. He was awarded the Wix prize in 1939, qualified in 1941 and entered the Royal Navy as a ship’s doctor in 1942. An early attachment was to HMS Erridge, which was torpedoed. He saw much service in the Mediterranean and during his time with No 3 Flotilla of tank landing ships he took part in the Salerno landings of 1943. He was mentioned in despatches in 1944 for services under air attack. In 1945 he was awarded the testimonial on vellum of the Royal Humane Society for saving a man from drowning, in dangerous conditions. He transferred to the permanent volunteer reserve in 1947 and continued to serve in the reserve until he retired in 1967 as surgeon commander RNVR. In 1959 he was awarded the volunteer reserve decoration.

From 1947-50 Charles was senior registrar at the Royal Free Hospital and later at Bart’s, from 1950-53, where he developed interests in diabetes and gastroenterology. He spent a year at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston USA and with Henry Bockus in Philadelphia. On his return to Britain his first consultant appointment was at Bethnal Green Hospital. He was appointed consultant physician to the Royal Northern Hospital in 1955, to Wembley Hospital in 1956 and to the City of London Maternity Hospital in 1962.

In the years after the war advances in technology were having an inevitable impact in many areas of medical practice and gastroenterology was no exception. Access to the upper alimentary tract for diagnostic purposes was unsatisfactory and developments in other fields gave rise to expectations which were difficult to meet. The Schindler gastroscope, introduced to Britain by Harold Edwards in 1934, remained the most commonly used instrument but was not suitable for routine application. Minicameras had a limited popularity and, although the potential of flexible glass fibres was realized in industry, it was not until 1957 that Hirschowitz was able to demonstrate a completely new gastroscope - the fiberscope.

By 1961 a model made by the American Cystoscope Makers Inc., was in production. It had been successfully used for examination of the oesophagus, stomach and duodenum in outpatients. It was not suitable for examining the fundus and not equipped for biopsy. Within a few years both these problems had been overcome and in 1967 a side-viewing instrument with biopsy channel was made in Japan and became available in Britain. It provided a facility around which an outpatient endoscopy could be built.

Charles had had an interest in the use of fibreoptics for endoscopy and had hoped that a gastroscope would be made in Britain, but this was not to be. His enthusiasm for the new instruments led him to obtain and use fibreoptic endoscopes at an early stage and he soon established an outpatient service at the Royal Northern. In 1971 he became a founder member of the British Society for Digestive Endoscopy. Endoscopy with the new instruments quickly became an essential part of gastroenterology and the need for a separate endoscopy society ceased, merging with the British Society of Gastroenterology in 1979.

For some years Charles organized the gastroenterology course for the Postgraduate Medical Federation and much of the popularity of the course was due to his emphasis on the practical aspects of the work. He was a trustee of Bockus International and conducted the proceedings at their congress in London in 1978.

He was a member of the North London Group hospital management committee where his innate courtesy and patently straightforward contributions were appreciated and served the Royal Northern well. At one time he was a council member of the united services and clinical sections of the RSM and secretary of the section of medicine. He was a Freeman of the City of London, a member of the British Diabetic Association, of the Medical Society of London and of the Hunterian Society.

In 1953 Charles married Margaret, the daughter of Henry Holt MRCP, who was a widow with two very young daughters. They had a son and a daughter and together they made a very close knit, loving and supportive family. Their son Jonathan is an anaesthetist.

In his youth Charles had been described as a ‘gentle giant’. He was very fit and excelled at squash and water polo. A journey in his motorcycle sidecar could be an adventure. In later years he was dogged by the effects of bacterial endocarditis which first made itself evident during a skiing holiday. It led eventually to an aortic valve replacement ana then to his premature retirement from the NHS in 1977. After an interval, he undertook a restricted consultant practice and finally retired to the west country in 1982.

Charles was intensely loyal to his friends and colleagues and placed great importance on face-to-face discussion if dissent or disagreement arose. Characteristically, he would take a new houseman round the hospital to meet people whose cooperation he or she would need, a custom particularly welcome in the specialist departments. He was a compassionate man, a quality evident in his consultative work for the prisoners in Holloway prison. Although he had considerable personal reserve which was not easily breached, it was clear that concern for his family during his long intermittent illness was foremost in his thoughts. Charles particularly loved the sea: as a boy he was asked what he would like to be and replied ‘A sailor or a doctor.’ Happily he achieved both and in both spheres he contributed hugely.

L S Carstairs

[Brit.med.J., 1991,302,956]

(Volume IX, page 98)

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