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Biographical entry Parks, Sir Alan Guyatt (1920 - 1982)

Kt 1977; PRCS 1980-82; MRCS and FRCS 1949; BA Oxford 1943; BM, BCh 1947; MCh 1954; MD Johns Hopkins 1947; MRCP 1948; FRCP 1976; Hon FRCS Ed 1981; Hon FRCPS Glas 1981; FRCP Ed 1981; FRACS 1981; Hon FRCSC 1982.

  • Image of Parks, Sir Alan Guyatt
19 December 1920
3 November 1982
London, UK
Colorectal surgeon


Alan Parks became President of the College but died while in office. He was born on 19 December 1920. After education at Sutton High School and Epsom College he proceeded to Brasenose, Oxford, in 1939, graduating BA in 1943. He was due for enrolment at Guy's for clinical training, but was one of a small wartime group selected for further training in America, becoming a Rockefeller Student at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, in 1943. He was medical intern there and graduated MD in 1947 before returning to Guy's to complete his BM, BCh in the same year. He served as house surgeon to Sam Wass and Sir Heneage Ogilvie, passed the MRCP in 1948 and FRCS in 1949. There followed two years in the RAMC, when he was a graded surgeon and served in Malaya, Japan and Korea. On returning home he was resident surgical officer at Putney and then registrar and senior registrar at Guy's from 1953 to 1959, having obtained his MCh in 1954.

Parks was an only child, and himself believed that this made it difficult for him to adjust socially. At an early age he developed a wide interest in crafts and hobbies, his later attraction to surgery was largely attributable to this. He was head boy at Epsom and a good athlete who earned his place in the rugby XV. He was a big man and at wartime Oxford, when blues were not awarded, he was captain of athletics and a forward in the university XV.

Early in his career he decided which field of surgery was to become his life's work. At Guy's Hospital his study of 'thick sections' of the anal canal enhanced the knowledge of anatomy, leading to papers on fistulas, the development of the submucosal plane of dissection, and submucosal harmorrhoidectomy. His first published work appeared in 1954 with the anatomical study of the anal canal in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine. This was followed with a thesis on the surgical treatment of haemorrhoids for the degree of Master of Surgery at Oxford University. Alan's interests at this stage also included fibroadenosis of the breast, in which he collaborated with Sir Hedley Atkins, when he was research assistant, and the lymphovascular systems of the leg. His main interest, however, remained in the lower bowel; papers on submucous haemorrhoidectomy (1959) were followed by others on fistula-in-ano (1961), pelvic floor physiology (1962), pharmacokinetics of the intestinal wall musculature (1963), per-anal removal of rectal tumours (1970), techniques of colo-anal anastomosis (1976) and the 'pelvic pouch' operation after pan-proctocolectomy (1980): each of these introduced a new field or altered surgical practice. It is a truly astonishing list and a full bibliography was published in a commemorative supplement by the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England 1983.

He joined St Mark's in 1959, the only consultant surgeon to be appointed without having been a resident. Soon after this his interest switched to a better understanding of anorectal physiology in relation to continence. Parks gathered around him experts, neurophysiologists and neuropharmacologists and young men clamouring to work with him. He left a devoted band form all parts of the globe with a better understanding of the function of pelvic-floor muscles. He perfected the technique of colo-anal anastomosis and ileoanal anastomosis with a reservoir (Parks' pouch) - a technique dependent upon his work on sub-mucosal dissection and an understanding of pelvic physiology. In these two procedures his technique as a master surgeon is well exemplified, it was perhaps in the operating theatre that he was able to teach at his best, demonstrating his special techniques and instruments.

In addition to his demanding clinical commitments he undertook a heavy load on behalf of the profession and shortly after being elected to Council in 1971 he became an honorary secretary of the Joint Consultants' Committee, being elected Chairman the following year. Few but those closest to him realised how much time, energy, and personal expense he devoted to this work; for this and his seminal contributions to surgery he received the accolade of knighthood in 1977. He was elected President of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1980 having previously been Hunterian Professor in 1965; he was to be Hunterian Orator in 1983. He was consultant surgeon to the Army, had been President of the Section of Proctology at the Royal Society of Medicine, an examiner for Cambridge University, and chief medical adviser of BUPA.

He was particularly proud and delighted by the award in 1980 of the Ernst Jung Prize in medicine in recognition of his signal contributions to colorectal surgery and physiology. In 1981 the University of Geneva awarded him the Nessim Habif Prize and he was later awarded Honorary Fellowships of the Edinburgh, Australasian, and American Colleges of Surgeons and of the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow and Canada. He was corresponding member of the German Surgical Society, and honorary member of the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, and, only a few days before the onset of his fatal illness was admitted to Honorary Fellowship of the Italian Surgical Society. He possessed a deep faith which pervaded all his activities. He was at the time of his death President-elect of the Christian Medical Fellowship. He would always do what he conceived to be his duty, even when exhausted,

Sir Alan was blessed by a supremely happy marriage to Caroline Cranston, herself a medical graduate, who survived him with their four children. They much enjoyed visits to their seaside home in Dunwich, Suffolk, bird watching. Parks' own hobbies included craftwork with old books, binding and particularly engraving.

In October 1982 Sir Alan suffered a myocardial infarct when in Rome. Later he was moved to London and died on 3 November after emergency cardiac surgery at St Bartholomew's Hospital.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit. med. J., 1982, 285, 1434; Lancet, 1982, 2, 1111; The Times 5 November 1982. For a full bibliography see Ann. Roy. Coll. Surg. Engl. Special supplement 1983.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England