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Biographical entry Talbot, Clifford Heyworth (1925 - 2009)

MRCS and FRCS 1953; MB BChir Cambridge 1948; MChir 1957

22 April 1925
Southport, Lancashire, UK
24 March 2009
General surgeon


Clifford Talbot became one of the country's leading thyroid surgeons following his appointment as a consultant general surgeon to the Sheffield Royal Hospital in 1961. He rapidly gained a fine reputation for his outstanding technical ability and was highly respected as a colleague, trainer and mentor. He continued in the finest tradition of surgical technique pioneered by Cecil Joll two generations previously.

He was born in Southport, Lancashire, on 22 April 1925, the son of Frank Heyworth Talbot, a barrister, and Mabel Jane Talbot née Williams. He was a pupil at the Downs School, Malvern, between 1933 and 1939, where he gained an academic scholarship to Leighton Park School, which he attended from 1939 to 1943. At both schools he continued to develop his interest in cricket.

Having originally decided to become a surgeon as an eight-year-old, his ambition was unwavering: he gained a place at St John's College, Cambridge, followed by clinical years at Guy's Hospital, qualifying in 1948. At Cambridge, he pursued his love of cricket, representing the St John's College first XI. In 1949 he was called up for National Service and was a medical officer at the Military Corrective Establishment in Colchester.

In preparation for a surgical career, he was keen to improve his knowledge of anatomy and taught medical students as an anatomy demonstrator at Cambridge in 1951. From 1952 to 1953 he was a house surgeon at Guy's and his FRCS followed in 1953. He was a registrar in Sheffield between 1954 and 1956 and was then appointed as a senior registrar in Bristol, where he remained until 1961. He was awarded his MChir in 1957.

He was appointed as a consultant general surgeon to the Sheffield Royal Hospital in 1961 at the age of 35. He built up a very large thyroid practice and was an early proponent of multidisciplinary team working, building a close professional relationship with Donald S Munro, the eminent Sheffield endocrinologist. He published widely and reported on the surgical management of over 600 cases of thyrotoxicosis and more than 100 cases of autonomous hot nodules. He published his 10 year results of over 200 patients with Graves' disease treated by subtotal thyroidectomy, with an emphasis on the development of late hypothyroidism. He had a large experience of treating thyroid carcinoma, reporting his experience of over 100 cases, confirming that, in the absence of extra-thyroid dissemination, lobectomy is safe and effective. Large personal case series of operations performed in a standardised manner, such as those carefully documented by Clifford Talbot, are now part of surgical history.

Clifford valued the close working relations he enjoyed with his team, and in particular the registrars. He trained them meticulously and encouraged them to make surgical decisions confidently and operate under supervision. He was very conscientious, always at the end of the phone for emergencies, and went into the hospital without hesitation if the registrar called for help. He was so supportive, and his trainees really appreciated working with him.

Clifford played an important part in the amalgamation of the surgical departments of the Royal Infirmary and the Royal Hospital in Sheffield into the newly built Royal Hallamshire Hospital in 1978, where he had a pivotal role in the organisation of the new outpatient departments.

He was a superb mentor to newly appointed consultants. I felt extremely fortunate to have such a supportive colleague in my early days, one who actively encouraged us to develop our practices and our management roles without restraint. He was a father figure on a very happy and functional surgical unit. We so much admired his wisdom, clinical judgment, gentlemanly demeanour and his technical ability

He was a keen member of the Sheffield Town Trust, one of the oldest charities in England, during the latter part of his career, using its funds to protect and safeguard the city's heritage and environment. Clifford loved his adopted city and he wanted to give something back. He was also a well-loved and active member of the Grey Turner Surgical Club.

On the day of his retirement he ceased all clinical work 'at a stroke' and concentrated on his family and his woodwork. He was an expert turner. But perhaps his greatest love was fly fishing. The Derbyshire river, the Derwent, was at the bottom of his garden and across a field; he liked nothing better than to teach his grandchildren to 'present the fly beautifully'.

He enjoyed a long, healthy and active retirement before falling ill in his early eighties. Typical of Clifford, he continued to lead life to its full, until metastatic disease presented as a short illness just before his death on 24 March 2009. At Guy's he had met Margaret Hilda Hooper, a ward sister, and in 1950 they married. He adored Margaret and was hugely supportive to her. They had three children, David, Mary and Jenny, who survive him.

Andrew Shorthouse

The Royal College of Surgeons of England