Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Harris, Nigel Henry (1924 - 2007)

MRCS and FRCS 1958; MB BChir Cambridge 1948; LRCP 1958.

24 November 1924
Grimsby, Lincolnshire, UK
8 July 2007
Orthopaedic surgeon


Nigel Harris was respected in the orthopaedic world, particularly for his participation in British Orthopaedic Association (BOA) conferences, where his pertinent questions often brought meetings to life. He had outspoken views on medico-social and medico-political issues and wrote many letters to The Times in defence of the interests of patients and the freedom of the NHS from political interference. Nigel Harris was born in Grimsby on 24 November 1924, the eldest son of Archibald Harris, a general practitioner. His mother was Lily Nove. He was educated at the Perse School, where he shone at athletics and cricket, and on one occasion when the school entertained a visiting Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) team, he stumped the mighty Jack Hobbs. From Perse he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, and then to the Middlesex Hospital for his clinical training.

He qualified in 1948 and completed house jobs in the orthopaedic department at the Middlesex and the North Middlesex Hospital, where he was greatly influenced by Philip Wiles and Philip Newman. He then served in the RAF, reaching the rank of squadron leader, and was involved in the Berlin Air Lift of 1949, during which on one occasion he wandered by mistake into the Russian sector and narrowly escaped capture.

On completing his training in orthopaedics he was appointed consultant orthopaedic surgeon at St Mary’s Hospital in 1964. He published on osteomyelitis, congenital dislocation of the hip and osteoarthritis, and was one of the first to replace hips and knees. He contributed chapters to Clinical surgery and edited the Postgraduate textbook of clinical orthopaedics (Bristol, Wright, 1983, second edition: Oxford, Blackwell Science, 1995). Having had experience as a house surgeon in the athletes’ clinic which had been set up at the Middlesex Hospital for the Wembley Olympic Games of 1948, he set up a sports clinic at St Charles Hospital, where he became interested in the symphysis pubis strain – the ‘groin strain’ of athletes. He became orthopaedic surgeon to Arsenal Football Club and consultant to the Football Association, where he was highly respected as ‘Nigel the knife’.

Nigel was a friendly extrovert; quick in thought and action and never slow to speak his mind. He campaigned for the rights of patients and for freeing medicine from political constraints. He campaigned to set up the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Wing at St Mary’s and was secretary to the Fellowship of Freedom in Medicine. Among his many outside interests, he was interested in medico-legal work, joined the Academy of Experts, where he was respected for his impartiality and, together with Michael Powers QC, wrote Medical negligence (London, Butterworths, 1990, second edition: 1994). He was concerned at the increased numbers of injuries to policemen and was instrumental in setting up Flint House in Goring for their rehabilitation.

In 1949 he married Elizabeth Burr. They had two sons, Andrew and Mark, who became an anaesthetist. He continued to play cricket and golf for many years, and was a keen hill walker. Unknown to many of his colleagues he owned a racehorse ‘My Learned Friend’. Frank, friendly and open, he never bore a grudge and was always the patient’s friend. He died on 8 July 2007.

M Edgar

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2007 335 831].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England