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Biographical entry Tanner, Norman Cecil (1906 - 1982)

Grand Cross, Patriarchal Order of St Mark, Alexandria, 1960; Grand Band of the Star of Africa (Liberian) 1968; MRCS 1929; FRCS 1931; MB ChB Bristol 1929; MD 1954; Hon FICS 1961; FACS 1966; FRCSI 1969; LRCP 1929.

13 June 1906
12 October 1982
General surgeon


Norman Cecil Tanner was born on 13 June 1906, 3rd son and 4th child of H J Tanner, building contractor, and Annie Harding, he was educated at Merchant Venturers' Technical College and Bristol University where he graduated MB ChB in 1929. He held junior medical and surgical appointments in Bristol (Professor A Rendle Short) and London, becoming FRCS in 1931. He worked in the London County Council hospital service at Putney, Lambeth and Highgate until 1939, when, being unable to undertake military service, he became senior resident surgeon at St James's Hospital, Balham, in 1939. He remained on the staff there until he retired and he made the name of that hospital known internationally. He was appointed consultant surgeon to Charing Cross Hospital in 1953.

His early years at Balham were difficult. There were few resident staff and the operating theatre opened on to a public corridor. He was performing a major operation one day when a man in a bowler hat, carrying a furled umbrella, walked into the theatre. After a visit to that theatre, the late Frank Lahey said that he had never seen better gastric surgery, despite the primitive conditions. Tanner's surgical reputation was built mainly on his vast experience of gastric surgery. He was an early user of the gastroscope and he developed a very large practice in peptic ulcer and cancer surgery, although he became well known for his original contributions to the cure of herniae. He was a sound and popular teacher of surgical trainees and was often invited to operate abroad, a task he readily undertook provided that a previous trainee was willing to see to the post-operative care of his patient. He was unusually skilled at developing and teaching safe techniques to young surgeons and he imparted the principle of good surgery by example; 'if you will worry about this tonight in bed, get it right now.' A kindly and compassionate man, he maintained good relationships with his colleagues, old and young, and surgeons in many countries were proud to claim that they had been trained by him.

Tanner was awarded the Jacksonian Prize in 1948, a Hunterian Professorship in 1960, and he was a member of Council of the College from 1963 to 1971. He delivered many eponymous lectures at home and abroad notably the Lettsomian Lectures of the Medical Society of London, the Gallie Lecture in Toronto, the Moynihan Lecture at Leeds and the first Simpson-Smith Memorial Lecture. He was visiting Professor at Ein Shams University, Cairo in 1954, the Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, in 1960, the Universities of Vancouver, Saskatoon, Toronto and Winnipeg in 1965, and the Universities of Quebec and Singapore in 1971. He was external examiner in surgery in the Universities of Cambridge, Singapore and Khartoum, President of the British Society of Gastroenterology, the West London Medical Society and two of the sections of the Royal Society of Medicine. He served on the editorial board of Gut, becoming its sub-editor, and of the British journal of surgery, latterly as its vice- chairman. He was elected Hon FICS in 1961, Hon FACS in 1966 and Hon FRCSI in 1969, and he was awarded the Grand Cross of the Patriarchal Order of St Mark, Alexandria, and the Grand Band of the Star of Africa (Liberian).

He married in 1940, Evelyn Winifred Glennie, a medical graduate of Aberdeen University who was an anaesthetist and they had a daughter who became a dental surgeon, and two sons, one a consultant plastic surgeon and the other a research registrar in surgery. His main interests were music (violin and opera) and, latterly, golf. He died suddenly on 12 October 1982, in his 77th year, survived by his wife and three children.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1982, 2, 1280, 1499; The Times 16 October 1982].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England