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Biographical entry Philipp, Elliot Elias (1915 - 2010)

MRCS 1939; FRCS 1951;BA Cambridge 1936; MB BChir 1947; LRCP 1939; MRCOG 1947; FRCOG 1962.

20 July 1915
London, UK
27 September 2010
Gynaecologist and Obstetrician


Elliot Philipp was an eminent gynaecologist and obstetrician, author of numerous popular and technical medical works, and a committed religious and charitable Jew. He was born on 20 July 1915 to Oscar Isaac and Clarisse Philipp (née Weil) in Stoke Newington, London. He was educated at Warwick House and St Paul's School. His father, a metal dealer from Hamburg, had come to England in 1908 to open an office, which in due course became the hub of a large and internationally successful operation. Elliot settled on a different career, deciding by the age of seven he would be a doctor, and went on to study at Cambridge University. After graduation he spent a year in Lausanne, due to ill-health, and it was here that he delivered his first baby.

At the start of the Second World War, only a month after qualifying, Elliot left his first appointment at Middlesex Hospital to join the RAF. He joined Bomber Command in East Anglia, where he was responsible for the medical centres at Feltwell and Mildenhall, and by the end of hostilities held the rank of squadron leader. He was offered a long term commission in the RAF to stay as a doctor and medical researcher, but declined, returning to Middlesex Hospital and Addenbroke's, where he had been a clinical student. Subsequent appointments included St Thomas', Royal Free and University College hospitals.

During this time, Elliot was writing books and newspaper articles. His first, for which he had help from his distant relative, Sigmund Freud, was The techniques of sex (London, Wales Publishing Company), first published in 1939 under the pseudonym 'Anthony Havil'. At a time when such guides were few and far between, it became a bestseller, with numerous editions over the next 40 years. In 1950, he became medical correspondent of The News Chronicle.

The following year, he gained his fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons and started working privately in Harley Street. He also joined the staff of Oldchurch Hospital, Romford, as a junior consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology, a demanding job in a small department that covered a large area dominated by the Ford Motor Company. The position gave him the opportunity to undertake research in relation to blood groups and Rhesus factor.

His private practice was growing too, particularly among the French community, since he spoke fluent French and German. He became the official gynaecologist to the French and several other embassies, worked part-time at the French Hospital in Shaftesbury Avenue, and was responsible for the opening of the French Dispensary. As a result of this and similar work, he was awarded the French Legion d'Honneur in 1971.

In 1964, Elliot moved to the Royal Northern Hospital, which incorporated the City of London Maternity Hospital. His responsibilities included the inmates of Holloway prison, and the mental and physical challenges they presented. During this time, as well as developing skills in keyhole surgery, he was closely involved in treatments for infertility and the work with Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards that resulted in the births of the first test-tube babies.

He retired from the National Health Service in 1980, but continued in private practice, seeing patients in Harley Street and operating until the age of 77. He continued writing books and articles, as well as lecturing, until the age of 82. He was always involved in medical ethics and had regular discussions with the Chief Rabbi, Lord Jakobovits, and other religious leaders.

He served as president of both the Medical Society of London and the Hunterian Society, and chaired the historical division of the Royal Society of Medicine, during which time he co-wrote, with Michael J O'Dowd, The history of obstetrics and gynaecology (New York/London, Parthenon, c.1994). He also jointly edited Scientific foundations of obstetrics and gynaecology (London, Heinemann Medical, 1970). Retirement also allowed him to spend more time at the beloved Elizabethan cottage near the Essex coast which he had bought in 1937 and where he wrote many of his books and built up an extensive collection of antiquarian gynaecological books.

Elliot's commitment to Judaism and Jewish charities followed that of his father, one of the founders of the Technion University in Haifa and Kibbutz Lavi. Elliot was an associate governor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was in particular keen to help Jewish educational charities, including Jews' College and the Jewish Widows and Students Aid Trust, of which he was a trustee for over 50 years. He was a mohel, performing circumcisions, as well as on the board of the Initiation Society, the oldest Anglo-Jewish organisation, which ensures standards for circumcision. He regularly attended shiurim and other study groups.

He married Lucie Ruth Hackenbroch in 1939, five weeks after meeting her. They remained happily married for nearly 50 years, until her death in 1988. They had two children, Ann, who died in 1997, and Alan, who survived him. In 1990, Elliot found a new companion, Lady Zdenka Bean, who pre-deceased him in January 2010. His greatest pleasure, however, was being with his grandchildren and great grandchildren. Elliot Philipp died on 27 September 2010, at the age of 95.

Alan Philipp

The Royal College of Surgeons of England