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Biographical entry Yellowlees, Sir Henry (1919 - 2006)

MRCS 1950; FRCS 1983; KCB 1975; CB 1971; BM BCh Oxford 1950; LRCP 1950; MRCP 1966; FRCP 1971; FFCM 1972; Hon FRCPS Glasgow 1974; Hon FRCPsych 1977; Hon FRCP Edinburgh 1993.

16 April 1919
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
2 March 2006
Chief Medical Officer


Sir Henry Yellowlees was Chief Medical Officer for England from 1973 to 1983. He was born on 16 April 1919 in Edinburgh, the son of Sir Henry Yellowlees, a psychiatrist, and Dorothy Davies, a cellist. He was educated at Stowe and University College, Oxford, but deferred his medical training to join the RAF, where he became a flying instructor. After the war he went up to Oxford to read medicine, going on to the Middlesex Hospital for his clinical studies.

After house appointments he became a resident medical officer at the Middlesex. His skilful handling of an epidemic among the staff drew him to the attention of Sir George Godber and before long Henry was involved in medical administration, first as medical officer at the South West and later the North West Regional Hospital Boards, and finally the Ministry of Health. There he became Deputy Chief Medical Officer in 1966 and finally Chief Medical Officer in 1973, despite having suffered a coronary thrombosis. During his time the NHS went through a series of massive and destructive reorganisations, wrought by Barbara Castle and her successors just at a time when important new developments were taking place in medicine and surgery. After he left the Department of Health he worked at the Ministry of Defence, restructuring the medical services of the Armed Forces.

He married Gwyneth 'Sally' Comber in 1948. They had three children, Rosemary (a nurse), Lindy (a psychiatrist) and Ian (an anaesthetist and pain specialist). After his wife's death in 2001 he married Mary Porter. He died on 22 March 2006.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Who's who; BMJ 2006 332 1037; The Guardian 12 April 2006.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England