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Biographical entry Radley Smith, Eric John (1910 - 2003)

MRCS 1933; FRCS 1935; MB BS London 1933; MS 1937; LRCP 1933.

31 March 1910
Norwood, Surrey, UK
19 January 2003
General surgeon
Alternative Names
  • Smith, Eric John


Eric John Smith was a consultant surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital, London. He was born on 31 March 1910 in Norwood, Surrey, the second son of Robert Percy and Edith Smith. His early life was overshadowed by the death from Hodgkin’s disease of his elder brother who had been a child prodigy, and Eric spent his schooldays trying to fulfill the promise of his brother. In this he was far from unsuccessful, winning prizes and commendations at all his schools – Paston’s in Norfolk, Haverford West Grammar and Sutton County Grammar (the moves being occasioned by his father’s work as a construction engineer). He went up to King’s College Hospital at the age of 17 and again distinguished himself, being rewarded with the Jelf medal and Huxley prize, as well as gaining four distinctions in his finals. A keen sportsman, he represented the college at cricket and rugby. He was proud of being the last house surgeon of Lord Lister’s last house surgeon (Arthur Edmunds) and was appointed as a surgical registrar at King’s, and later house surgeon at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases.

At the age of 29 he was appointed to consultant sessions at Brentford Hospital, thereby beginning an association with Brentford Football Club, one that lasted for the rest of his life, as he became in turn medical adviser, director and President.

At the outbreak of the second world war he was appointed consultant general surgeon in the Emergency Medical Service at Horton Hospital, Epsom, in which over 60,000 patients were treated during the war. His special contribution was to act as triage officer at Epsom station when trainloads of casualties arrived, and with his quick assessment and remarkable memory he directed each one to the appropriate ward in the hospital. At the same time he was working at Hurstwood Park Neurological Hospital. When in 1946 he joined the Royal Air Force as a surgical specialist, he undertook further neurosurgical specialist duties. In 1948 he spent a year with Olivecrona in his neurosurgical unit in Sweden, one of the world’s pre-eminent centres.

He was appointed as a consultant general surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital, continuing his interest in neurosurgery by undertaking some of the earliest prefrontal leucotomies in the UK. He also pioneered hypophysectomy in the treatment of breast cancer. It is curious that this most conservative of men should have made his special contribution in two of its most radical fields.

He was also surgeon to the Royal Ear Nose and Throat Hospital, and much valued the work he was called upon to undertake in close association with his colleagues there, especially in the area of intracranial sepsis. During his active years, and indeed long into retirement, his expert opinion was much sought in legal cases, due to his clarity of thought and expression.

In 1937 he married a King’s sister, Eileen Radley, not only incorporating her name with his as ‘Radley Smith’, but being called ‘Radley’ thereafter by all his colleagues and acquaintances. They had a son, Nigel, and three daughters, of whom the eldest, Rosemary, qualified in medicine and had a distinguished career as a paediatric cardiologist. Sadly his son predeceased him as a result of lung cancer. Despite the time he gave to football, almost never missing a Brentford match, Radley took a great interest in farming, specialising in raising dairy cattle. He died on 19 January 2003.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England