Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Trevor-Roper, Patrick Dacre (1916 - 2004)

MRCS 1940; FRCS 1946; MB BChir Cambridge 1940; MD; LRCP 1940.

7 June 1916
Alnwick, Northumberland, UK
22 April 2004
Ophthalmic surgeon


Patrick Dacre Trevor-Roper, known as ‘T R’, was an acclaimed eye surgeon and a successful campaigner. He was born in Alnwick, Northumberland, on 7 June 1916, where his father, Bertie William Edward Trevor-Roper, was in general practice. His mother was Kathleen Elizabeth née Davison. He was educated at Charterhouse, where he was a senior classical scholar, and won an exhibition to Clare College, Cambridge. He went on to the Westminster Hospital for his clinical training. There he was introduced to the delights of ophthalmology by the leading eye surgeon E F King, who occupied a neighbouring mattress in the hospital air raid shelter and introduced him to Moorfields.

He served with the New Zealand Medical Corps from 1943 to 1945 and then specialised in ophthalmology, becoming consultant ophthalmic surgeon to the Westminster and Moorfields Eye Hospitals in 1947. There he established the Moorfields eye bank. He also set up the Haile Selassie Eye Hospital in Addis Ababa and organised the opening of an ophthalmic unit in Lagos and a mobile eye unit in Sierra Leone for the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind.

He was vice-president of the Ophthamological Society of the UK, section President of the Royal Society of Medicine and a founder member of the International Academy of Ophthalmology. He was Doyne medallist of the Oxford Ophthalmogical Society. The Patrick Trevor-Roper undergraduate award at the Royal College of Ophthalmogists was established in 1997.

For 38 years he was editor of the Transactions of the Ophthalmological Society of the UK (which became Eye when the Society became the Royal College of Ophthalmologists). He wrote several key textbooks on ophthalmology, including Ophthalmology: a textbook for diploma students (1955), which later became Lecture notes in ophthalmology and then The eye and its disorders. But it was as the author of The world through blunted sight (London, Thames and Hudson, 1971) that he became known to the wider public. In this amusingly written book, he argued that the proportions, perspectives and palette of many celebrated painters was the result of ophthamological problems such as short sight, astigmatism, glaucoma and cataract.

A gentle, dithery, sometimes impatient, boffin-like man, he had an endless sense of fun and was popular with students, who invited him to be president or chairman of many of their societies. His large circle of friends, who would meet at weekends at Long Crichel House in Dorset, a former rectory and a centre for like-minded writers, included music and literary critics, composers, poets, artists and actors.

In 1955 he was one of a handful of establishment figures to give evidence to the Wolfenden Committee, which ultimately decriminalised homosexual activity between consenting adults. In those days, this was a brave thing to do. Trevor-Roper told the committee that gay men posed no threat to heterosexual youth, and provided evidence of the extent of blackmail of homosexuals, which had led to many suicides.

Later, in the 1960s, he campaigned against the “venal manipulations of drug companies”, particularly the bogus conferences where speakers would puff the companies’ new products. He also campaigned successfully against the opticians’ monopoly of the sale of reading glasses. A trustee of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, he helped found the HIV/AIDS charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust, which was run from his house until it expanded into larger premises.

He travelled widely, visiting, among other places, Borneo, Nigeria, Malawi and the Falklands. In 2003 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and a year later was found to have a cancer in the neck, from an unknown primary. He died on 22 April 2004 and is survived by his partner of many years, Herman Chan. His brother Hugh, the historian Lord Dacre of Glanton, and his sister, Sheila, predeceased him.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2004 328 1137, with portrait; The Daily Telegraph 29 April 2004; The Independent 4 May 2004; The Guardian 6 May 2004.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England