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Biographical entry Platt, Sir Harry (1886 - 1986)

Kt 1948; Baronet 1958; KStJ 1971; MRCS and FRCS 1912; MB, ChB Manchester 1909; MB, BS London, 1909; MD London, 1912; MD Manchester, 1921; Hon FDSRCS 1963; Hon MD Berne 1954; Hon LlD Manchester 1955; Hon LlD Liverpool 1955; Hon LlD Belfast 1955.

  • Image of Platt, Sir Harry
7 October 1886
Thornham, Lancashire, UK
20 December 1986
Orthopaedic surgeon


Harry Platt, the eldest son of Ernest Platt, a master velvet cutter, and of Jessie Cameron Platt (née Lindsey), was born at Thornham, Lancashire, on 7 October 1886. His father later became chairman of United Velvet Cutters, Ltd, and both parents lived to be nonagenarians. Harry's life was dominated by the development of a tuberculous knee joint at the age of five, though the diagnosis was somewhat delayed. As a result of this he was frequently confined to bed and his early education, which was notably catholic, was undertaken privately at home. He read widely and became quite fluent in French and German, as well as a highly proficient musician and pianist. The knee trouble precluded any active participation in sport though his three younger brothers excelled in athletics. Despite the knee problem he had a very happy childhood; but it is significant that, in later life, he remarked that his parents found it far harder to come to terms with his physical handicap than he himself did. Fortunately he was referred to Robert Jones, the internationally renowned orthopaedic surgeon, for whom he formed a deep affection and from whom he received some of his later training.

Music became the passion of Harry's childhood, and in 1903 he prepared three compositions for the Mendelssohn scholarship which was won that year by George Dyson (later Sir George) who went on to become a distinguished composer and Principal of the Royal College of Music in London. After momentary indecision, and partly influenced by Robert Jones, Harry opted for medicine. On entering the Victoria University of Manchester without previous scientific training he had great difficulty with physics and chemistry. He was in the same year as Geoffrey Jefferson, the distinguished neurosurgeon, and they remained lifelong friends. They recall that there were three women student contemporaries who were then kept completely separate in their studies! After an outstanding undergraduate career, he qualified in 1909 from both Victoria and London Universities and secured the gold medal in London. After resident and registrar appointments at Manchester Royal Infirmary with Sir William Thorburn, he demonstrated anatomy in Grafton Elliot Smith's department at Manchester. He later passed the mastership and fellowship examinations, and secured the MD, Manchester, with gold medal, for his thesis on peripheral nerve injuries. His orthopaedic training was mainly at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in London, and in Boston, USA, with Elliot Brackett and R. B. Osgood at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Children's Hospital, whilst he also observed Harvey Cushing's neurosurgery at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. In the days before travelling scholarships he depended upon his father's support and recalled how he had sailed from Liverpool to Boston on S. S. Franconia for £15 in a small first-class cabin. Whilst in Boston he read voraciously the orthopaedic journals in English, French and German, and deeply savoured the musical and operatic life.

On returning to England in 1914 he was appointed surgeon to Ancoats Hospital, Manchester, where he organised the first special fracture department in Great Britain. On the outbreak of the first world war he became a Captain RAMC and was appointed by Sir Robert Jones, the then Army consultant in orthopaedics, to be surgeon-in-charge of a military orthopaedic centre in Manchester. It was there that he acquired his considerable experience of nerve injuries and undertook studies in bone-grafting. He showed great organising ability and later described himself very truthfully as a contemplative man, more of a physician, and "not naturally a great craftsman." He later fostered many other institutions - the Ethel Hadley Hospital, Windermere, and the Children's Hospital at Biddulph Grange, Staffordshire. In 1920 he became consultant orthopaedic surgeon to Lancashire County Council and surgical director of the Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital, Oswestry, and in 1932 orthopaedic surgeon to the Manchester Royal Infirmary, subsequently to become its first Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery in 1939. He held all of these posts until his retirement and, with the inception of the NHS, he also served on the Board of Governors of the Manchester Royal Infirmary from 1948 to 1963. Between the two world wars Harry sometimes claimed that he had won the Ashes for England in 1932, having declared one of Harold Larwood's knees as fit for the notorious "bodyline" tour.

During the second world war he was consultant adviser in orthopaedic surgery to the Emergency Medical Service and an active member of innumerable government committees and other public bodies after the war. He had been elected to the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1940, serving there for eighteen years and being Vice-President 1949-50 and President 1954-1957. He had received the accolade of Knight Bachelor in 1948 and, as was then the custom, was awarded a baronetcy on completing the Presidency of the College. He also became a member of the Court of Patrons of the College and an honorary Fellow of the Faculty of Dental Surgeons and, quite exceptionally, continued to serve on one College committee until well into his eighties when he was also appointed a Knight of the Order of St John. He received honorary degrees from the Universities of Berne, Manchester, Liverpool, Belfast, Leeds and Paris; honorary fellowships of the surgical colleges of American, Canada, South Africa, Australasia and Denmark, and honorary membership of the orthopaedic associations and societies of most countries in the western world and of Latin America. He had been a founder member of the British Orthopaedic Association in 1916, its President in 1934-5 and ultimately an honorary Fellow. A founder member of the Societé Internationale de Chirurgie Orthopaedique et de Traumatologie in 1929, he was its President from 1948 to 1953; he was also President of the International Federation of Surgical Colleges 1955-1966, and its honorary President from 1970. He had been a founder member of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland in 1919 and was President of the Royal Society of Medicine from 1931 and 1932. He contributed to nine textbooks on orthopaedic surgery and peripheral nerve injuries, and a list of all his publications is recorded in the Journal of bone and joint surgery, Harry Platt Birthday Volume, 48-B, No.4, November 1966.

As a man, Sir Harry displayed formidable energy and drive, both physical and mental, despite the handicap of a much shortened leg supported by an appliance. In early years he had a rather shy nature, married to considerable intellectual arrogance, making it difficult for many folk to get to know him well though friends became more numerous as increasing age brought greater intolerance. Many were greatly amused and enlightened by his astringent - often acidulous - comments on colleagues and affairs in general. Privately it was his firm belief that a committee of one was the quickest way to get things done! But his many great qualities of mind and heart, his organisational ability and his far-seeing philosophical outlook more than compensated for any abruptness of manner on first encounter. He married Gertrude Sarah Turney in 1917 and they had one son, who is a barrister, and four daughters. His wife predeceased him in 1980 after 63 years of marriage though for some time prior to her death she had been under institutional care. He continued to live alone with an ever lively mind and intellect, and he had a prodigious memory, even as he approached his century. Shortly before that he gave a five hour interview to a reporter from the British medical journal in which he showed a remarkable recollection of names and past events. His birthday was marked by an orthopaedic festschrift attended by surgeons from many countries - not a few of international renown. A dinner was held at Manchester University on the evening of Tuesday 7 October 1986, attended by a company of 338, with all of whom he insisted on shaking hands while seated in his wheel-chair. After several speeches and presentations had been made the hardy old warrior stood up and spoke for 25 minutes in a firm voice and without a note. A month later, in a last visit to his surgical alma mater he was entertained to dinner in the council room by the President and Vice-Presidents, and by four of the five surviving fellow Past-Presidents. When he died a few months later on 20 December 1986 he was survived by his son, who inherited the baronetcy, and by his four daughters.

A memorial service was held in Manchester Cathedral on 6 March 1987 at which the address was given by A.H.C. Ratcliff, FRCS. A portrait by Sir William Oliphant Hutchison PRSA hangs in the College.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 22 December 1986; Brit. med. J. 1987, 294, 129-130; Brit. med. J. 1986, 293, 864-866, Sir Harry Platt: 100 not out.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England