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Biographical entry Flavell, Geoffrey (1913 - 1994)

MRCS 1937; FRCS 1940; FRCP 1973; LRCP 1937.

23 February 1913
Wellington, New Zealand
28 November 1994
Thoracic surgeon


Geoffrey Flavell was born on 23 February 1913 in Wellington, New Zealand, the son of Alfred William Flavell, an industrialist, and Elizabeth, née Spry-Harris, the daughter of a gold prospector. He was educated at Waitaki Boys' High School, Otago Boys' High School and Otago University, where he read medicine. He then came to England to continue his training at Bart's. He qualified there in 1937. Within four years he passed the Fellowship of the College and became a member of the Royal College of Physicians, being elected to its Fellowship in 1973.

During the second world war he was a surgical specialist in the RAF serving in the Middle East. At the end of the war he retired with the rank of wing commander and subsequently became surgical adviser in thoracic surgery to the RAF.

He trained at the Brompton and London Hospitals, was appointed to the staff of the latter and served as a consultant thoracic surgeon to the North East Thames Regional Health Authority. He was also invited on to the staff of the Royal Masonic Hospital to inaugurate thoracic surgery there. He is remembered as a surgeon with superlative surgical panache who completed operations in half the time it took many of his contemporaries.

A film taken of him correcting an oesophageal abnormality for teaching purposes was once previewed by his staff. With such dispatch did he perform the operation that they had the impression that the film was being shown in fast motion and not projected at the normal speed.

He did not suffer fools gladly and detested having his time wasted. Consequently he was not a committee man and did not become much involved in medical politics. However, when towards the end of his career because of his seniority he was required to chair the London Hospital surgical divisional meetings, his efficiency, command of language, quick thinking and incisive mind ensured that business was concluded swiftly.

Alongside his career in thoracic surgery, Flavell had many interests: architecture, art, history and a knowledge of wine and food. He was elected a Chevalier de la Confrérie de Tastevin de Bourgogne and was a member of the Dr Johnson Society. To foster his activities he travelled to many parts of the world, but an appreciation of his many talents is not complete without recording his literary ability. Many articles on thoracic surgical topics flowed from his pen as well as two books, one on the oesophagus and the other, An introduction to chest surgery, both very informative and easy to read.

He was a traditionalist with a dry sense of humour. In his own BMJ obituary he referred to himself as a 'stoic' who kept a copy of Seneca by his bed. Not opposed to innovation he furthered thoracic surgical knowledge and technique, but he considered well established methods preferable to some so-called advances. When the fibre optic bronchoscope was introduced, partly replacing the rigid instrument, his colleagues remember him disdainfully referring to it as an illuminated piece of spaghetti.

He married Joan Margaret Adams ('Fan') in 1943. She was the sister of the Professor of Pathology at Guy's Hospital. She survived him when he died on 28 November 1994 of cancer of the prostate.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 1995 310 933, with portrait; The Times 30 November 1994; Daily Telegraph 20 December 1994].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England