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Biographical entry Fish, Sir Eric Wilfred (1894 - 1974)

Kt 1954: CBE 1947; FRCS by election 1961; FDSRCS 1947; LDS Manchester 1914; MB ChB 1916; MD 1924; DSc London 1933; DDSc Melbourne 1935; Hon FDSRCS Ed 1962.

30 January 1894
20 July 1974
Dental surgeon


Eric Wilfred Fish was born on 30 January 1894, the son of a Methodist Minister. He was educated at Kingswood School, Bath, and his first qualification was in dentistry at Manchester. This was followed by the MB ChB in 1916 and service in the RAMC during the latter two years of the Great War. After an interval in dental practice he took the MD of Manchester University and while in practice at Sevenoaks gained the DSc (London) in 1932 on the strength of research work he had pursued during the previous ten years and which subsequently continued throughout three decades. The histopathology of enamel, dentine, and the dental pulp, the surgical pathology of the mouth and in particular infection in bone, full denture prosthesis, and the aetiology and treatment of periodontal disease were areas of his chief contributions. To all of these he brought experimental innovation, histological techniques of great skill and most of all a penetrating insight which clarified many of the problems of his time and have passed almost intact into basic understanding and practice today.

For Wilfred Fish, by the generosity of a benefactor, the John Hampton Hale Laboratory was established at the Royal Dental Hospital and his work continued in the Meyerstein Research Laboratory at St Mary's Hospital, where in a neighbouring laboratory he came into fruitful contact with Alexander Fleming. At both hospitals he held consultant appointments over many years, taking his share of clinical work, teaching and administration whilst engaged in busy dental practice in the West End of London. But for more than thirty years it was his research work which claimed most of his effort and concentration of thought and provided the subjects for the continuous output of published work which gained for him an international reputation and numerous academic honours. The implications of 'dead tracts' in dentine, of the stabilization of full dentures, of the formation and treatment of periodontal pockets, to mention only a few of his favourite topics, were of immediate practical importance and he applied them daily in his treatment of patients.

After serving some time on the Dental Board of the United Kingdom he was elected Chairman in 1944, and was appointed CBE in 1947. When the board became the General Dental Council in 1956 he assumed its presidency which he held until 1964, thus completing twenty years at the head of the statutory body charged with dental education and maintaining the highest professional standards. Of all his activities the one which gave him the keenest satisfaction was his association with the Nuffield Foundation Fellowship scheme, for here he could use his encyclopaedic knowledge and shrewd foresight to encourage younger workers in various research fields. In the field of international dentistry he was active within the International Dental Federation, holding office as President of its Scientific Commission from 1931 to 1936 and he was President of the International Dental Congress held in London in 1952.

At the Royal College of Surgeons of England he held all the prizes and lectureships open to him. He became a Fellow of the newly-established Faculty of Dental Surgery and Dean of the Faculty in 1958, was later elected to the Fellowship of the College and played an invaluable part in the creation of the Department of Dental Science, of which he became the first director, the last major appointment of his professional life.

It seemed entirely fitting that the conferment of knighthood in 1954 should mark his contribution to the profession. When he retired to a quiet life in Sussex it seemed to many that a gap was left which none could fill.

He married Hilda Russell in 1916 and had one son and a daughter. This marriage ended in divorce and in 1950 he married Myfanwy Hazel Bruce Hodge. He died on 20 July 1974 aged 80 years.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 22 June 1974; Brit med J 1974, 3, 353, and information from Professor B Cohen].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England