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Biographical entry Elliot-Smith, Arthur (1901 - 1972)

MRCS 1924; FRCS 1930; MA Cambridge 1923; MB BCh 1961; LRCP 1924.

3 June 1901
Cairo, Egypt
5 August 1972
General surgeon and Urological surgeon


Arthur Elliot-Smith was born in Cairo on 3 June 1901. He was the son of Sir Grafton Elliot-Smith the distinguished anatomist and anthropologist; his mother's maiden name was Kathleen Macready. He graduated from Clare College, Cambridge, before coming to University College Hospital and on from which he took his Conjoint Diploma in 1924. He received the Cambridge MB BChir in 1961. He was a good athlete and played both rugby and cricket for his hospital, and became President of the Rugby Football Club.

After becoming a Fellow of the College in 1930 he was a surgical assistant at the recently opened Royal Post-Graduate Hospital, Hammersmith, where he worked with Professor Grey Turner; although his interests as a general surgeon were wide, he was already showing a particular interest in urology and paediatric surgery. He had been seconded to the Post-Graduate Hospital from the London County Council service, and returned as senior surgical officer to St Giles Hospital, Camberwell, until his appointment as surgeon to the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, early in 1939. This coincided with the early days of the development of the Nuffield post-graduate departments and the new Clinical School. House officer and registrar posts under him were keenly sought after, because he was a superb surgeon and an excellent teacher. He was a modest man with a constant air of serenity which endeared him to patients, students, nursing staff and colleagues. His judgment and attention to pre-operative and post-operative care matched his technical skill, so that his colleagues regularly sought his surgical help for themselves and their relatives. He was a clinical lecturer and examiner in surgery for Oxford University.

At the outbreak of the second world war he joined the RAMC and served in North Africa and Italy, later becoming consultant surgeon to the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force with the rank of Brigadier.

On returning to Oxford Elliot-Smith was also appointed consultant surgeon to Savernake Hospital, Marlborough, and throughout the Oxford region his influence on surgery became progressively greater. He was a fellow of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and an Associate Fellow of the British Association of Urological Surgeons. Though gentle he was fearless, and could be outspoken when matters of principle were involved.

On his retirement in 1966 he returned to North Africa to work at the Moussat Hospital in Tripoli where he studied the differences in the disease patterns of desert-living and rich urban Arabs. He studied experimentally alimentary transit-times and became intensely interested in dietary fibre. On his return to Oxford after two years in Tripoli his interest in foods and their relation to disease and in soil preservation resulted in his election as President of the Oxford branch of the Soil Association and then of the McCarrison Society. He was an initial Trustee and Honorary Treasurer of the International Institute of Human Nutrition. He also found time to accept responsibility for a new Simon Trust Vasectomy Clinic in the ante-natal department of the Churchill Hospital and during the first two years of its existence he created such confidence that over 2,000 out-patient vasectomies were performed under local anaesthesia.

In 1937 he married Nancy Williamson; their family of four sons and his garden were his two great interests outside his profession; he was particularly interested in hybridizing roses. He died in his garden when in apparent excellent health on 5 August 1972 shortly after his 71st birthday.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet 1972, 2, 389. Brit med J 1972, 3, 478; information from Sir John Stallworthy].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England