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Biographical entry Adams, John Crawford (1913 - 2010)

MB BS London 1937; MRCS LRCP 1937; FRCS 1941; MD 1943; MS 1965.

31 October 2010
Orthopaedic surgeon


John Crawford Adams was a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at St Mary's Hospital, London, and the author of several acclaimed textbooks on orthopaedic surgery. He was born in Derbyshire, the son of a general practitioner, and was educated at Oakham School. He entered St Mary's Hospital Medical School in September 1931 and had a successful undergraduate career, winning three major prizes.

In September 1939 he volunteered for the medical branch of the Royal Air Force. He served on a number of RAF stations and hospitals and became part of the orthopaedic service, where he came under the influence of Sir Reginald Watson-Jones and Sir Henry Osmond-Clarke.

After the war he went to the London Hospital, where Sir Henry had joined Sir Reginald, and became a registrar in their department. He had a natural aptitude for the specialty and progressed rapidly. He was appointed as an assistant orthopaedic surgeon at St Mary's in April 1948, to the Paddington Green Children's Hospital in July 1948, and as an orthopaedic surgeon to St Mary's in July 1949.

He was a meticulous and inventive surgeon. His early interest was in the further improvement of the 'V', ischiofemoral, arthrodesis of the hip, which had been developed by Brittain and Howard at Norwich. He published the results of his work in a monograph entitled Ischio-femoral arthrodesis (Livingstone) in 1966, which was based on the essay for which he was awarded the Robert Jones gold medal and association prize of the British Orthopaedic Association in 1961 and his thesis for his MS degree in surgery. A further interest was in the correction of the gross kyphotic deformities, which may develop in patients with ankylosing spondylitis. He devised and constructed a frame with a hinge, which could be placed on the operating table at the level of the deformity. After the spine had been suitably mobilised at the appropriate level, a worm and screw device was employed to open the hinge. A loud crack would be heard as the kyphus was corrected for the desired amount. Many excellent results were obtained using this procedure, with immense benefit to the patients. He had a firm belief in the value of the use of the K√ľntscher nail in the management of fractures of long bones, and constructed a number of devices to help place and retain the limb in a suitable position for operation.

He had a very sharp mind and was an excellent teacher, able to express himself with clarity. He wrote with ease and consequently produced the two most popular books for undergraduate students - Outline of orthopaedics (Edinburgh/London, E & S Livingstone), published in 1955, followed by Outline of fractures including joint injuries (Edinburgh/London, E & S Livingstone) in 1957. These volumes have remained core reading for students and continue to be published, the former now in its 14th edition and the latter in the 12th. After his retirement he recruited David Hamblen as co-editor and, in the more recent editions, Hamish Simpson. Apart from these standard texts, he produced the definitive guide on operative orthopaedics for young surgeons. Entitled Standard orthopaedic operations (Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone), it again ran to a number of editions. In his later years he continued his literary interests, exploring Shakespeare to write Shakespeare's physic (London, Royal Society of Medicine Press, 2000) and then, drawing on his own experience, to write Harley Street: a brief history with notes on nearby Regent's Park (London, Royal Society of Medicine Press, c2008).

He was a major contributor to the success of the British volume of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, which was first published in 1948 with Sir Reginald Watson-Jones as editor. He began to work for the journal in 1949 as a sub-editor, involved particularly in the layout and production before going to print, and was appointed assistant editor in 1950. It was soon realised that there was too much work for this to be undertaken satisfactorily as a spare time job, and so in 1951 he was asked to work for two days per week on a paid basis, giving up hospital sessions to do so. He continued in this role for many years, becoming deputy editor in 1961, but did not wish to take up the post of editor when this became vacant following the death of Sir Reginald in 1972. He continued as production editor until 1977, when he decided to retire after many years of unassuming and meticulous service. He was then invited to join the council of management of the journal and remained on this body until 1985.

His principal hobby was working with silver. This was particularly suited to his surgical vision and manual expertise. He had his own hallmark and produced numerous pieces of considerable merit. He made the silver porringer which was presented to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, by the British Orthopaedic Association at the Combined Meeting of the Orthopaedic Associations of the English-speaking World, held in London in 1976. At a dinner held in my house for his 80th birthday, which was attended by a number of his former trainees, he gave my wife a silver candle snuffer with a rosewood handle. This remains an oft used and treasured possession.

He was a civilian consultant to the Royal Air Force for a number of years and travelled widely to the various orthopaedic centres in the service. He found much pleasure in these activities and took a great personal interest in the surgeons who worked there, stimulated, perhaps, by his own wartime memories.

He was an astute clinician and a skilled surgeon, precise in his operating and inventive in his approach to difficult problems. He was a vocal advocate of the school of 'get it right first time' and drilled his trainees accordingly. Although a quiet and self contained man, he was good company among those he looked upon as friends, and very supportive of his registrars. This trait resulted in the intense loyalty of those who had worked for him, which continued throughout their professional lives.

Frank Horan

Sources used to compile this entry: [Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery [Br]Vol.93-B, No.6, June 2011].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England