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Biographical entry Payne, Reginald Theobald (1896 - 1967)

MRCS 1923; FRCS 1925; MB BS London 1927; MS 1932; MD 1934; LRCP 1923.

15 March 1896
20 October 1967
General surgeon and Physician


Reginald Theobald Payne was born at Northampton on 15 March 1896. When he was aged 65 he published a remarkable book The watershed in which he gave a vivid picture of his childhood and schooldays. He was the eldest of four brothers, and as his father, who had a furniture business in the town, brought up his family as Unitarians, teetotallers and vegetarians, strongly opposed to the teachings of orthodox medicine and favouring instead a strange form of hydrotherapy, the wonder is that Reginald, after serving as a non-combatant in the first world war, ultimately became a medical student.

He did well at St Bartholomew's where in 1924 he was appointed house surgeon to Sir Holburt Waring. After other house posts in the throat and the skin departments, he became a demonstrator of anatomy at Bart's, and later registrar at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, and clinical assistant at St Peter's Hospital. These appointments are significant as indicating that he was training himself to be a teacher of general surgery, the next steps being a chief assistantship on a surgical unit at St Bartholomew's, and experience in pathology as curator of the museum, a post he held in 1932 and 1933, by which time he was aged 37. In the course of this training he took the degrees of MS in 1932, and MD in 1934.

Further indications of his academic ability are afforded by his election as Erasmus Wilson Demonstrator at the Royal College of Surgeons in 1931, when he took as his subject sialography, and on four occasions as Hunterian Professor, first in 1929 when he lectured on varicose veins and ulcers, in 1932 on excretion urography, in 1936 on pyogenic infections of the parotid, and in 1938 on cancer of the stomach. All these lectures were carefully thought out, clearly expressed, and well documented from his own material, they were indeed models of scientific exposition. He won the Buckston Browne Prize and medal of the Harveian Society in 1937. In addition to his continuing interest in the salivary glands and in venous disorders, he later devoted special attention to certain aspects of preventive medicine, in particular the menace of asbestosis, the relationship between oral contraceptives and thromboembolism, and the evils of ill-designed and poorly manufactured footwear.

In 1936 he was made casualty surgeon at St Bartholomew's, a post which in those days was regarded as preliminary to a staff appointment; and by virtue of the amount and variety of his clinical experience, together with the high quality of his scientific publications, he must have been a strong candidate for the next consultant vacancy. However, in 1938 he became assistant surgeon at the British Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith Hospital, and remained there, except for a few months in the Emergency Medical Service early in the second world war, until he resigned in 1945.

He was then 49, and for the remaining 22 years of his life he did not have any hospital attachment, yet, remarkably enough, he carried on a busy and successful consulting practice, at No 49 and later at No 95 Harley Street, until the day before he died. Though not opposed to the ideal of a health service, he was a vigorous critic of the political and, in his opinion, illiberal character of the service as established in 1948, and this must explain why he never sought a consultant appointment. His early upbringing made it hard for him to conform to majority opinion; it also made him rather a solitary, introverted person to whom intimate friendship did not come easily, and so much of an individualist that he did not take kindly to collaboration in a group. This was a serious defect which not only deprived some hospital of a valuable consultant, but also robbed a general of medical students of a first-rate teacher.

However, it must be emphasized that to his patients he was the ideal medical man, physician as well as surgeon, who took infinite pains to attend to every detail of their personal affairs as well as their disease, and always seemed to have time to discuss their every question. They appreciated his conscientiousness, his richly-stored mind, his love of books and of painting, in which he became expert both in oils and watercolours. He was also an enthusiast for the open-air, and particularly fond of walking and swimming. He had a happy home life with his devoted wife Isabella Margaret, herself a trained nurse, and his two sons, one of whom became a pathologist (Richard Wyman Payne, MD Cambridge), and the other an Anglican clergyman.

Payne died at his home 21 Norfolk Road, London NW8, on 20 October 1967, aged 71.

Parotid gland diseases. British encyclopaedic of medical practice, edited by Sir Humphry Rolleston, 1938, 9, 449-462.
Salivary glands. British surgical practice, edited by Sir E. Rock Carling and Sir J. Paterson Ross, 1950, 7, 430-453.
The watershed [autobiography to the end of the first world war] 1961.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1967, 4, 241].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England