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Biographical entry Harrison, Sir Donald Frederick Norris (1925 - 2003)

Kt 1990; MRCS 1948; FRCS 1955; MB BS London 1948; DLO 1951; MS 1959; MD 1960; PhD 1983; LRCP 1948; Hon FRACS 1977; Hon FRCS Edinburgh 1981; Hon FCA S Afr 1988; Hon FACS 1990; Hon FRCS Ireland 1991; FRCOphth 1993; Hon FRCR 1995.

9 March 1925
Portsmouth, UK
12 April 2003
ENT surgeon


Donald Harrison was a leading ear, nose and throat surgeon who campaigned against chewing tobacco. He was born in Portsmouth on 9 March 1925, the son of Frederick William Rees Harrison OBE JP, the principal of the College of Technology for Monmouthshire, and Florence Norris. He was educated at Newport High School and then went on to study medicine at Guy’s. After junior posts at Guy’s and the Royal Gwent Hospital, Newport, he did his National Service in the Royal Air Force, during which time he developed an interest in ear, nose and throat surgery. As a registrar at Shrewsbury Eye and Ear Hospital he saw a five-year-old child who had just had a tonsillectomy bleed to death because there was no blood bank at the hospital. This led Harrison to campaign against unnecessary tonsillectomy.

In 1962, he was appointed to the Royal National Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital as a consultant surgeon and a year later, in 1963, became a professor at the Institute of Laryngology and Otology.

Early in his career he became interested in malignant disease of the upper respiratory tract, especially of the larynx and upper jaw, and gained an international reputation in this area, publishing more than 200 articles and several books. He warned the public about the hazards of chewing tobacco and campaigned for the Government to ban the sale of Skoals Bandits.

A brilliant speaker who used no notes, he was widely sought after as a lecturer. In 1972, he gave the Wilde oration, given in memory of Oscar’s father, Sir William Wilde, and in 1974 the Semon lecture, named after Sir Felix Semon, a Victorian laryngologist whose biography he had written. He also gave talks on Richard III and the princes in the Tower and was convinced that while one of the princes’ jaws was not authentic, the other was, since it showed traces of hereditary disease.

He retired in 1990, was knighted for his services to ear, nose and throat surgery, and was made an emeritus consultant to Moorfields Eye Hospital. In 1993, he was made a fellow of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists. A keen supporter of the Royal Society of Medicine, he became its President in 1994. In 1995 he published The anatomy and physiology of the mammalian larynx (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), based on his personal collection of more than a thousand mammalian larynges, many of which came from the London Zoo, including that of Guy the gorilla.

He married Audrey Clubb, who predeceased him. They had two daughters. He had many leisure interests, notably radio-controlled model boats and heraldry, and, after the death of his wife, gourmet cooking. He died on 12 April 2003 of bowel cancer.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2003 327 228, with portrait; The Times 6 May 2003.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England