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Biographical entry Bolam, Reginald Frederick (1924 - 2007)

MRCS and FRCS 1962; MB BS London 1952; LRCP 1962.

3 January 1924
London, UK
28 July 2007
Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK
General surgeon


Reg Bolam was a locum consultant general surgeon. He was born on 3 January 1924 in south London, the first of the three children of Harriet and Frederick Bolam. He grew up in Streatham and won a scholarship to Bec College, was in the top stream, joined several public libraries and borrowed several books from each, every week. Childhood holidays were spent with relatives who had a farm in Lincolnshire, to which his father took the family on his motorbike and sidecar, Reg riding pillion.

At the outbreak of war the school was evacuated to Lewes, and Reg was billeted on a farm. There he learned to help with the harvesting, and to shoot rabbits for the pot. He played the piano, sang in the local church choir and played piccolo in the Boys’ Brigade, with whom he went to the Albert Hall. He became a good middle distance runner, and for a time was in the same club as Roger Bannister.

He injured his right elbow as a boy, when falling through a trapdoor. This resulted in an ankylosed elbow, but the experience influenced him to become a surgeon, an ambition not encouraged by his headmaster, who thought him too shy and short-sighted. At 16 he had to leave school to help with the family finances, and worked in the Civil Service until he was old enough to volunteer for the Royal Navy. He served for the last three years of the war in Malta as a petty officer radar mechanic. It was there that he met his first wife, Joyce, saving all his tots of rum for the wedding.

On demobilisation, he was awarded a grant to complete his education and entered University College Hospital to study medicine, qualifying in 1952. After junior posts he passed the FRCS in 1962 and was appointed consultant surgeon to the Kent and Sussex Hospital, Tunbridge Wells. There he was a really general surgeon.

In the sixties he worked as a consultant surgeon in the Middle East, where he made good use of the opportunities to indulge his interest in archaeology. On returning to England he did a series of locum consultant posts, until he retired in his sixties.

The long hours worked by junior doctors, and the repeated necessity of moving house every six months or so, put great strain on his marriage to Joyce, who had given him his first son, Roderick. Like so many wartime marriages, it failed. He then married Marie, who gave him his second son, Andrew. They moved to Tonbridge, and fostered a little girl called Anita. Sadly, Marie developed a terminal illness and died in 1994. He then married Susan, by whom he already had a daughter, Polly.

One of his many interests was opera: he was a friend of the English National Opera and a keen member of the Tonbridge Music Club.

In 2002, he suffered a fall on an escalator coming back from the British Museum, from which he never fully recovered. He died on 28 July 2007 in hospital in Tunbridge Wells, as a result of extensive cerebrovascular disease and epilepsy.

John Blandy

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from Susan Bolam; BMJ 2008 337 668].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England