Biographical entry Blandy, John Peter (1927 - 2011)
CBE 1995; FRCS 1956; BA Oxford 1948; BM BCh 1951; MCh Oxon 1963; DM 1963; Hon FRCSI 1992.
- 11 September 1927
- 23 July 2011
- Urological surgeon
John Blandy was professor of urology at the Royal London Hospital and the Institute of Urology. He was a product of the old Empire, from which he inherited many wonderful characteristics and none of the bad ones. His father was Sir E Nicholas Blandy. At the time of John's birth in the Edith Cavell nursing home in Calcutta on 11 September 1927, Sir Nicholas was serving as assistant commissioner in Barisal. The district was then a part of Bengal and now is in Bangladesh. John's mother was Dorothy Kathleen Blandy née Marshall.
It was unusual for the children of the Empire to be born overseas, as it was considered too dangerous. John's older brother had died at birth in India and his father's first wife of cholera. His mother was, therefore, sent back to England for the birth of John's older sister, Helen. As this had gone well, John was delivered in India, but went to England at the age of three for safety from the diseases of the East and, later, to begin school at Edinburgh House, Lee-on Solent.
For much of this period he was separated from his parents, who were busy governing India. Nonetheless, he had a happy childhood at a school that encouraged learning from a much broader curriculum than was usual. He lived with a family that looked after many other children whose parents were overseas.
At the beginning of the war, he re-joined his parents in India and went to prep school in Darjeeling. Here he developed his love of painting. He excelled at academic work. In the 1942 school certificate exam in English he wrote an essay on all eight questions when only four were required, but still came first amongst all the candidates from India. His father died in the same year. The family returned to England, at great peril from U-boats and John went to Clifton College in Bristol. In 1947 he won a scholarship to Balliol, Oxford, and went up to read medicine in the following year. His anatomy tutor was Le Gros Clark.
Clinical training began at the London Hospital in 1948. Apart from the ward work, particularly influenced by Donald Hunter (editor of Hutchison's clinical method and specialist in occupational diseases), he further developed his painting and became a proficient skier. He graduated in 1951 and did house jobs at the London, the first with Clifford Wilson.
In 1953, he married Anne Mathias, a staff nurse at the London, daughter of Hugh Mathias. It was a happy marriage from the very start and John records in his memoirs that they skipped down the altar steps in Tenby, on the way to a honeymoon in Lincolnshire. They had four daughters, Su, Caroline, Nikki and Kitty. All have followed in the footsteps of their parents, Kitty as an artist, Su as a paediatrician, and Caroline and Nikki as nurses.
He was no sooner married than he was sent off to the RAMC to do his National Service. He had several postings in the UK, ending as medical officer in Cowglen. There he wrote his first paper on a stress fracture of the femoral neck following excessive route marching.
Once back to civilian life, he began a meteoric career in surgery, leading on to urology, then considered to be a small subspecialty. He was an assistant to Victor Dix at the London Hospital. In 1960 he was awarded a Robertson visiting fellowship at Presbyterian St Luke's Hospital in Chicago. Here he researched the use of intestine for the construction of continent urinary reservoirs. This formed the basis of his doctoral thesis which was awarded in 1963.
The other most important outcome of his service in Chicago was to learn transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP). This operation was hardly known in the UK, where Millin's open prostatectomy was still the popular operation for the benignly enlarged prostate. On his return to the London, he began a protracted battle to establish this new and much less traumatic operation. It was certainly an uphill task, partly because it was difficult to learn to do well and partly because 'general surgeons with an interest in urology' felt that the open operation that they had learnt as registrars was much superior. John's excellent text book on TURP (Transurethral resection London, Pitman Medical) was first published in 1971. It remains the standard work on the subject.
While climbing the training ladder at the London and later as resident medical officer at St Peter's Hospitals, he published on a wide range of topics including the vascular anatomy of the colonic wall, bladder cancer and testicular cancer. He also designed a set of retractors for the newly described Gil-Vernet operation for staghorn calculus.
He was appointed as a consultant general surgeon at the London in 1964. Although nominally a generalist, he immediately began to work almost exclusively in urology with the support of Gerald Tresidder. Together they worked to raise the standards of urological care introducing, amongst other things, the revolutionary idea that cystoscopies should be done with sterile water rather than tap water which was usually contaminated with Pseudomonas pyocynea!
In his training he had been strongly influenced by David Innes Williams, the pioneer of paediatric urology. He was elected to the Society for Paediatric Urology and developed surgery for children, especially hypospadias, at the London. This led on to work on the surgery of urethral strictures, then treated mainly by repeated urethral dilatation. He used and developed the two stage inlay urethroplasty devised by his colleague, Richard Turner Warwick. Renal transplants were the great surgical excitement of the 1960s and were started at the London by John and the vascular surgeon, Douglas Eadie.
In 1968 he was appointed a consultant at St Peter's Hospitals at the same time as John Wickham and Richard Turner Warwick. In the following year he was awarded a personal chair in urology.
His output of research papers is legendary. He wrote in a style that encouraged readership and did many of the illustrations himself. His books were all medical best-sellers and strongly influenced his students and trainees. Most UK medical students learnt their urology from his Lecture notes in urology (Oxford, Blackwell Scientific). Many of today's consultants did their research in his department and owe their careers to his unstinting support.
He travelled widely as a guest lecturer and visiting professor, often being elected as an honorary member of the relevant national urological society. He was council member of the Royal College of Surgeons, chairman of the training board and vice president from 1984 to 1986. It was due in large part to his influence that the first part of the FRCS became an exam on surgery in general as an entrance to higher surgical training. The final FRCS became a qualifying exam in the chosen sub-specialty. Amongst many other achievements, he was president of the British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS) from 1984 to 1986, of the European Association of Urology (1988) and of the European Board in Urology (1991 to 1992). He was elected to the American Association of Genitourinary Surgeons (1977).
In the New Year honours of 1995 the Queen appointed him CBE for services to surgery. He was awarded the St Peter's medal of BAUS in 1982 and the Willy Grégoir medal of the Société Internationale d'Urologie in 2001.
Although medicine in general and urology in particular were the areas in which he was best known, he was truly a renaissance man. He read widely, but also enjoyed tinkering with the broken engines of motor cycles and cars that he had as a registrar. While returning from India in 1942 he helped to repair the broken engine of his ship. Both in working life and in retirement, he was a fine painter and sculptor. It was easy to know when a committee meeting had become too long as he would get out his pad and quietly sketch his fellow sufferers. At dinner in the RCS he used to tour the portraits with other guests, give a learned critique of the artist and a life history of the subject.
He died on 23 July 2011 from a sarcoma. His funeral was private, but a memorial service in St Giles, Cripplegate, next to his home in the Barbican was full with family, friends and colleagues. The eulogies, readings and music, including the drinking song from act one of La Traviata, reflected his joy of life and enthusiasm for the achievements of his family and students.
Sources used to compile this entry: [Life and urology: the memoirs of John Blandy, Trowbridge, Cromwell Press, 2006].
The Royal College of Surgeons of England
Created: 3 November 2011, Last modified: 21 December 2012