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Biographical entry Blacklock, Sir Norman James (1928 - 2006)

KCVO 1993, OBE 1974, MRCS and FRCS 1957, MB ChB Glasgow 1950, LRCP 1957.

5 February 1928
Glasgow, Scotland
7 September 2006


Sir Norman Blacklock combined several careers; as a distinguished surgeon in the Navy, later as professor of urology at the University of Manchester, and as medical adviser to the Queen on her official trips abroad. He was born in Glasgow on 5 February 1928, the son of John William Stewart Blacklock, professor of pathology at Glasgow University and subsequently St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, and Isabella née Roger, a nursing sister. After the High School in Glasgow was bombed, Norman moved to the McLaren High School in Perthshire. He trained in Glasgow and was awarded the Rankine memorial prize and the Asher Asher gold medal. He graduated MB ChB in 1950.

At the Western Infirmary he was influenced by Sir Charles Illingworth in surgery and William Snodgrass in medicine. At the Royal Infirmary professor of surgery, J A G Burton, and Arthur Jacobs awakened a lifetime interest in urology.

National Service called and he volunteered for the Royal Navy, serving on HMS aircraft carriers Theseus and Warrior, where he dealt with injuries from flying training and crash landings.

Back in civilian life, he became a surgical registrar and lecturer in surgery at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. He then moved to Ipswich, and subsequently the Royal Masonic and St Bartholomew’s hospitals in London.

He was asked to rejoin the Royal Navy and was posted to the Royal Naval Hospital Chatham and then, in the true service pattern, to Royal Naval hospitals Plymouth, Malta and Haslar (the principal Navy teaching hospital). There he developed a department of urology with a keen interest in urinary tract stone disease. He was always happy to advise patients from the other services. In 1972 he was appointed the Royal Navy director of surgical research and was appointed OBE two years later.

In 1976 the Queen’s honorary surgeon was unable to accompany her to Luxembourg, so Norman was nominated in his place. For the next 17 years he accompanied the Royal party on their trips overseas, duties which had to be fitted into his busy clinical and academic career. Norman carried his ‘black bag’, which contained a range of urgent remedies, pills and potions, first aid instruments and equipment, including a miniature resuscitator/defibrillator. Fortunately these were not required and, apart from mild gastric problems in the Far East, the Queen did not require medical advice, though her staff often did. The Duke of Edinburgh christened him ‘Dr Hemlock’, but never reported sick. Norman was knighted after his last trip with the Queen, to Hungary in 1993.

In September 1978 he retired from the Royal Navy as a surgeon captain. Unusually for a service surgeon, he was appointed to an academic post, as professor of urology at the University of Manchester, working at the University Hospital of South Manchester. He developed lithotripsy in the north, obtaining the machine and training a team to use it. This pioneering enterprise reflected his long interest and experience of renal stone formation. Microanatomy of the prostate and causes of hyperplasia formed other research interests in his department. He published extensively in refereed journals from 1965 until his retirement.

Outside medicine, he was interested in gardening, bread-making and cooking, and travelling in a motor caravan. He married Marjorie Reid in 1956. They had a son, Neil, and a daughter, Fiona. Both are medical graduates. Sir Norman died on his 50th wedding anniversary, after falling and hitting his head.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 15 September 2006; BMJ 2006 333 810].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England