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Biographical entry Peel, Sir John Harold (1904 - 2005)

KCVO; MRCS 1930; FRCS 1933; BA Oxon 1928; BM BCh 1932; MA 1932; Hon DSc Birmingham 1972; Hon DM Southampton 1974; Hon DCh Newcastle 1980; LRCP 1930; FRCOG 1944; Hon FRCS Canada 1967; Hon FCM South Africa 1968; Hon FACS 1970; FRCP 1971.

10 December 1904
Bradford, Yorkshire, UK
31 December 2005
Obstetrician and gynaecologist


Sir John Peel was perhaps the most celebrated obstetrician and gynaecologist of his era. Born in Bradford on 10 December 1904, he was the son of the Rev J E Peel. From Manchester Grammar School he went to Queen’s College, Oxford, going on to his clinical studies at King’s College Hospital where, after junior posts in surgery and obstetrics and gynaecology, he was appointed to the consultant staff in 1936, and to Princess Beatrice Hospital the following year. During the Second World War he was surgeon to the Emergency Medical Service, and in 1942 was put on the staff of Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead.

Together with Wilfred Oakley, he studied the management of women with diabetes, research that led to a reduction in maternal and infant mortality. A council member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1955, he was president in 1966, when he chaired a debate on reform of the abortion law, driven by his anxiety to reduce the morbidity of illegal abortion. In 1971 he was the author of a report that recommended that all women should give birth in hospital and remain there for several days, a report which wrought a great change in maternity practice, though it did not go unchallenged.

Peel assisted at the birth of Prince Charles and Princess Anne, and in time succeeded Sir William Gilliatt as surgeon-gynaecologist to the Queen, in which capacity he delivered Prince Andrew and Prince Edward (all these, paradoxically, being home deliveries). A quiet, unflappable Yorkshireman, Peel was unfazed by media interest in his royal patients.

He married Muriel Pellow in 1936, and divorced her in 1947, to marry Freda Mellish, a ward sister. Their long and happy marriage was terminated by her death in 1993. He married for the third time in 1995, to an old family friend, Sally Barton. He died on 31 December 2005, leaving her and a daughter by his first marriage.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2006 332 366; The Daily Telegraph 2 January 2006].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England