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Biographical entry Green, Norman Alan (1927 - 2015)

MB BS London 1950; MRCS LRCP 1950; FRCS 1954; MS 1964; FRCS Edin 1990.

2 July 1927
4 May 2015
General surgeon and Urologist


Alan Green was a consultant surgeon and urologist at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and a former president of the Travelling Surgical Society. He was born on 2 July 1927 in Leicester into a non-medical family. His father, Norman George Edwin Green, was a clerk for the Inland Revenue and his mother, Lilian Rhoda Green (née Goins), was a housewife who had worked in a factory. Both parents had sporting and musical genes. His father was advised to make a living as a professional footballer and cricketer, but was badly injured in the trenches at Ypres during the First World War, invalided home with a plate on his femur and discharged from the Army.

Alan Green was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School in Leicester, perhaps more famous for the Attenborough brothers. He was awarded colours for rugby football and cricket, ran for the school at cross country and was the school gymnastic champion for three years. He was awarded a place at St Bartholomew's Hospital, all the questions at interview being on sporting activities, and when Bart's preclinical medical school was evacuated during the Second World War his first two terms were spent in Cambridge, where he was resident at Queens' College.

Returning to London, he lived in digs previously occupied by Gordon Ostlere - aka Richard Gordon, who wrote Doctor in the house. At Bart's he played for the first XV, scoring the opening try against Penzance on the Bart's West Country tour, before sustaining a dislocated knee. A Sunday newspaper account of the match opined: 'Penzance did well in the first half to keep the score at Penzance 0 Bart's 3. But Bart's played much better in the second half with 14 men when Green had been taken off the field, the final score being
Penzance 3 Bart's 3.' What an epitaph to a promising sporting career! A cancelled rugby match in 1947 did, however, mean that Alan spent the afternoon as a dresser on the wards instead, and in the sluice met student nurse Doreen Wright: four years later they were married.

He was awarded two undergraduate prizes: the Wix prize for an essay on the 'Life and works of John Abernethy' and the Bentley prize for a dissertation on 'Congenital cardiovascular defects' in 1948. He became secretary and later president of the Abernethian Society. He qualified in 1950 and house appointments followed at St Bartholomew's Hospital. The next year (rejected for National Service because of his unstable knee) he became a demonstrator in anatomy for three years at Bart's with A J E Cave.

After passing the primary FRCS, he decided on surgery as his career, although he enjoyed working in general practice for several months at a time. He worked as a junior registrar (senior house officer) at Bart's to John Hosford and Edward Tuckwell, then as a registrar in Norwich, where he accrued much experience from being on emergency call every second day at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, and on the other days at the Jenny Lind Hospital for Children. Working with two consultants, he was tutored in major, intermediate and minor surgery. Norman Townsley trained his registrars in cold and emergency neurosurgery in addition to the wider aspects of general surgery. Prefrontal leucotomy was performed in a mental hospital on a Sunday morning. All forms of open prostatectomy were undertaken and the resident staff often performed emergency prostatectomy late at night. Gastric surgery was still common, but Alan was unpopular when he performed a simple mastectomy and axillary clearance, as taught by (Sir) Edward Tuckwell, as opposed to the accepted radical procedure. Perforated peptic ulcer admissions were very common, as were cases of small and large bowel obstruction. Splenic rupture, intussusception and paediatric pyloric stenosis seemed almost as common as acute appendicitis.

Doreen and Alan were married in the church of St Bartholomew-the-Less in March 1951. They had three daughters (Kathryn Ruth, Sarah Elizabeth and Rachel Margaret), who showed considerable musical and sporting talent. Their son, David Alan James, is a structural engineer.

In late 1955 Alan returned to Bart's as a chief assistant to John Hosford and Edward Tuckwell, and inevitably looked after their private patients at weekends. Saturday mornings were spent at St Mark's Hospital in City Road, London, with (Sir) Hugh Lockhart Mummery, an excellent mentor to clinical assistants. Then, in 1958 with the help of a Fulbright scholarship, the family set sail on the Mauretania for a year in America, where Alan gained experience in cancer chemotherapy with Sidney Farber, the father of folic acid antagonists, and other pioneering work, including liver transplantation with Francis ('Frannie') Moore at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.

Returning to the UK, Alan was seconded from Bart's to Chase Farm Hospital, Enfield. On emergency call most nights and sleeping in the hospital, he also covered all orthopaedic emergencies once a week and the orthopaedic registrar turned his hand to general surgery as a token of gratitude! During this two-year period Alan was also a clinical assistant at St Peter's Hospital to Harland Rees. From Bart's he was awarded the Luther Holden scholarships on two occasions: in 1957 on 'The bacteriology of bile, and lymphatics of the gallbladder' and in 1960 on 'Regional perfusion of anticancer agents'. His MS thesis on 'Regional perfusion of anticancer agents' was accepted in 1964.

Experience in London accrued in major thoracic surgery as his wide general surgical experience was consolidated: he learned the art of bronchoscopy, having already mastered gastrointestinal endoscopic techniques. In Norwich he had used an old thoracoscope for peritoneoscopy. Working with Alan Birt was a bonus in the field of direct vascular surgery as opposed to all forms of sympathectomy, in which he had been well trained.

When the resident surgical officer post became vacant in Norwich he returned there in June 1964 to replace J M Ridley Thomas as a general surgeon with a urological interest, forming the second of two firms with Alan Birt, the other being headed by Norman Townsley. All surgeons had beds at the separate West Norwich Hospital, some three miles away, where ward rounds and operating took place on a regular basis. In view of his paediatric experience, Alan had sessions at the Jenny Lind Hospital for Children, joining his mentor Norman Townsley and taking emergency admissions on alternate days. Peripheral clinics and operating were the norm: lists in north Norfolk commenced after the outpatient clinic finished at 6pm and lasted three hours with the help of GP anaesthetists. Life was busy as in so many provincial consultant posts.

Following the recommendation that Norwich should start a specialist urology unit, Alan became the first pure urologist in East Anglia, in the fine tradition of his 18th century predecessors who as the famous Norwich School of Lithotomy had been 'cutters for the stone'. Nonetheless he still covered general surgery when his colleagues were away (performing his only right hepatic lobectomy at this time, and repairing an aortic aneurysm presenting as renal colic!). Michael Ashken joined him in 1968 as a urologist, and Christopher Gaches in 1972 for vascular access and organ retrieval, supporting what was the first urology and renal unit in East Anglia.

A number of medical and para-medical managerial posts followed, including secretary of the Norfolk branch of the BMA and numerous regional committees. A keen anatomist, he examined for the FRCS primary examination and in Edinburgh as well. He led examining teams for the English College in Khartoum and Sri Lanka, and served as chairman of the core group setting multiple choice questions. At times over 15 years he was external examiner for the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, where he was warmly welcomed by the examiners there. For the Edinburgh College he travelled to Hong Kong, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia to examine for the primary and final FRCS, and taught on postgraduate courses in Nepal, Singapore and Kuwait. He was awarded the FRCS Edin for services to the Edinburgh Royal College. In East Anglia, he was an external examiner over many years for the MB BChir in Cambridge.

In 1981, Alan hosted a meeting in Norwich of the British Association of Clinical Anatomists and he subsequently became the Association's president. He was also president of the section of urology of the Royal Society of Medicine from 1985 to 1986, and also the Norwich Medico-Chirurgical Society. In 2004 he was elected a freeman of the Worshipful Company of Barbers of London.

For many years Alan was the backbone of the Travelling Surgical Society. He first travelled with the Travelling Surgical Club (as it then was) as a guest to Holland in 1970, and was formally elected at a home meeting held at Haslar in the autumn of 1970. Doreen and Alan made many friends at home and abroad travelling with the Club. Over the years he gave many short papers at meetings, the first being in Norway 1971 on 'Cryosurgery of the prostate gland', on which he was later to give a Hunterian lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons in 1974. Other topics included 'The episcopal licensing of medical practitioners', 'Anatomy - the forgotten subject in medical education', 'Testicular tumours' and 'Parathyroid surgery'. Alan was elected president of the Society in 1989. As president Alan gave speeches in the language of the country visited, often being taught at the University of East Anglia (UEA). He held the post until 1991, when the club visited Newport for the AGM. He managed to say grace in Welsh and handed the baton on to Ivan Johnston.

From 1997 until his death Alan was archivist of the Society. His assiduous collecting of memorabilia received on foreign travels was legendary. He did much to safeguard the records, retaining one complete set for the Society, and forwarding copies of the annual reports to the Wellcome library and the libraries of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and Edinburgh each year.

Retiring early from the NHS in 1990, he continued to engage in private urological practice with some medico-legal work until the age of 66. In retirement he was able to enjoy the close proximity of Norwich Cathedral in which he and Doreen, both committed Christians, had worshipped for many years. Their retirement home was in the Cathedral Close, from which they had an unrivalled view of the spire, and found attendance at choral evensong a sheer joy. Archival duties for the Travelling Surgical Society and writing tributes for the 'Lives of fellows' of the Royal College of Surgeons occupied much of his leisure time.

Alan Green died on 4 May 2015, aged 87. He was survived by Doreen, their three daughters and son. His friends and colleagues feel a bottomless depth of gratitude for the friendship that this god-fearing, gentle man extended to all around him. He will be much missed.

Tim Williams

Sources used to compile this entry: [Travelling Surgical Society - accessed 22 June 2015; Eastern Daily Press 28 May 2015].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England