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Biographical entry Ellis, James Stokes (1912 - 2007)

MRCS 1937; FRCS 1939; MB BChir Cambridge 1937; MChir 1941; LRCP 1937.

13 April 1912
Selborne, Hampshire, UK
3 May 2007
Orthopaedic surgeon and Trauma surgeon


Jim Ellis was professor of orthopaedic and accident surgery at the University of Southampton. He was born on 13 April 1912 in Selborne, Hampshire, the son of Frank Stokes Ellis, a wine merchant who went on to serve in the First World War with the Royal Fusiliers, and Ada née Parkes, whose family were jewellers in London. Ellis was educated at Eastbourne Preparatory School and then Charterhouse, where he decided to become a doctor. He went on to study at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he met Monica Verdon-Roe, then at Girton. After a five-year engagement the couple eventually married in 1938. After Cambridge, Ellis went to St Thomas’ Hospital in London, qualifying in 1937. Two years later he gained his FRCS, and the Cambridge MChir in 1941.

After qualifying he worked in the casualty department at St Thomas’, as Bernard Maybury’s house surgeon. He was then appointed to the senior casualty post and, at the outbreak of the Second World War, was surgical registrar to W H C Romanis. During the war he was in the Emergency Medical Service, first on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, as a general surgeon. He then attended Watson-Jones’ first trauma course in Liverpool, and was sent to Park Prewett Hospital, Basingstoke, in charge of what was later to become the orthopaedic department under V H Ellis from St Mary’s Hospital. In 1946 he transferred to the Army, as a major in the RAMC, in charge of the orthopaedic department at the Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot.

In 1948, Jim was a member of the first group of ABC (American-British-Canadian) Travelling Fellows, visiting North America. He retained his links with his North American colleagues, and was often host to United States and Canadian doctors.

He returned to the UK, as chief assistant to the orthopaedic department at St Thomas’ under George Perkins. In 1950 he was appointed as a consultant surgeon to the Winchester and Southampton group of hospitals. In 1968 he began to work part-time for the Wessex Regional Hospital Board, first as director of postgraduate studies and later also as chairmen of the board’s medical advisory committee. When the new medical school at Southampton was opened he became the first professor of orthopaedic and accident surgery in 1971. He retired in 1976.

Ellis became a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery in 1964 and completed two four-year terms of office. From 1970 to 1971, he was president of the orthopaedic section of the Royal Society of Medicine, and was later chairman of the orthopaedic higher surgical training committee of the College and vice president of the British Orthopaedic Association (1975 to 1976). His main professional interest was in the surgery of the hand, and he was a member of the British Society for Surgery of the Hand. He was an examiner for Liverpool and Edinburgh universities and visited Iraq in 1973 and South Africa in 1976.

Since childhood, Ellis had been fascinated by the theatre, with all aspects of costume and staging, as well as performance. His early memories included attending performances at Eastbourne’s Variety Theatre with his father. As a student at St Thomas’ he played in the hospital’s Christmas shows for five years before the war and then again ten years later, in the late 1940s. His performances were legendary and he might have pursued a successful stage career had he not chosen medicine. After becoming a consultant he performed in the local village drama group in Hampshire, in the annual pantomime, but also in plays and play readings. While he wrote outstanding music and lyrics for the pantomime, he himself would play the dame. These performances were superb and, with his exceptional comic talent and timing, he was able to reduce audiences to helpless laughter night after night. His last work in the theatre was directing The Boy Friend for the Winchester Amateur Dramatic Society, put on at the newly re-launched Theatre Royal Winchester. In retirement, Ellis and his wife went regularly to the theatre, to Chichester, Southampton and Salisbury, and, while on breaks to London, saw two plays a day for two or three days, keeping up with the latest performances.

He was also interested in architecture, archaeology and, in earlier years, gardening. Ellis and his wife lived in a large early 19th century house near Otterbourne for 20 years, where they brought up their family of three children, two of whom survive him. They also had a holiday home at Welcombe, in north Devon, which they bought in the 1960s. Always adept with his hands, Ellis gradually modernised the cottage, undertaking all the plumbing and electrical work himself.

Jim’s eyesight became increasingly compromised by macular degeneration, which he suffered without complaint. Monica died after a short illness in 2001. Jim continued to live alone in their house in Otterbourne village for a further two years, helped by a team of carers. He finally moved to a nursing home for the last years of his life, where he died on 3 May 2007, just after his 95th birthday.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2007 335 519; information from Carolyn Walton].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England