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Biographical entry Dix, Victor Wilkinson (1899 - 1992)

MRCS 1923; FRCS 1926; MB BChir Cambridge 1925; LRCP 1923.

24 May 1899
29 June 1992
Urological surgeon


Victor Wilkinson Dix was born in Dorset on 24 May 1899 and educated privately. He served in the Royal Flying Corps from 1917 to 1919, then went up to Cambridge to study medicine there and at the London Hospital. He was appointed assistant surgeon to the London in 1930 and eventually became Professor of surgery there from 1947 until he retired in 1964. During the second world war he served with the Royal Army Medical Corps in north Africa and north east Asia from 1941 to 1947.

Early in his career Victor Dix developed an interest in urology. After seeing Von Lichtenberg use Uroselectan for urography in Berlin he used the method himself in Britain and gained an international reputation for the surgery of hydronephrosis. While serving in north Africa during the war he saw large numbers of dehydrated young troops with ureteric calculi; he developed a method to remove these that was unrivalled for accuracy, speed and simplicity.

Dix was an elegant and rapid operator though not easy to assist, his headlamp making it difficult for anyone else to see into the depths of a wound. In urethral instrumentation his mountaineer's hands were surprisingly delicate and dexterous: no stricture was too difficult for him to negotiate, no bladder calculus could resist his classical lithotrite. The method that he developed with Walter Shanks for treating bladder cancer with radon seeds was a major advance over the cruel techniques then widely used. For one who kept such meticulous notes it is a pity that he wrote so little, for to his wide experience he added total recall. Much of his effort went into editing the multi-volume Encyclopaedia of Urology from 1958 to 1965.

Although his main interest was urology, he persuaded the board of governors of the London Hospital to build a surgical research laboratory and used this to entice the brilliant young Scottish investigators W T Irvine and H D Ritchie to the hospital. They changed the whole style of surgical teaching and, among other research projects, instigated fundamental studies into the physiology of peptic ulceration that eventually led to the H2 antagonists, which virtually eliminated the need for surgery.

With his colleague Gerald Tresidder, Dix established a purpose-built outpatient department with its own x-ray suite, and there, long before day case surgery became a catchphrase, large numbers of procedures were performed under local or general anaesthesia. Twice each month in the combined cystoscopy follow through clinic some 50 check cystoscopies for cancer would be performed by his team of assistants at four tables between 1.30 and 4 pm.

An expert photographer, mountaineer and tennis player, Victor was a passionate opera goer: Puccini would move him to tears. He was a founder member of the British Association of Urological Surgeons, becoming its President in 1962, and served on the Court of Examiners of the College.

He died on 29 June 1992 aged 93, and was survived by his wife, two daughters and a son.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 1992 305 642, with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England