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Biographical entry Fraser, James Graham Farncombe (1936 - 1994)

FRCS 1967; BM BCh Oxford 1962; MA 1962.

1 May 1936
8 February 1994
ENT surgeon


Graham Fraser was born on 1 May 1936, the son of Arthur Fraser, a banker, and his wife Phyllis, née Farncombe, a radiologist who was the daughter of a general practitioner. He was educated at Westminster School followed by Worcester College, Oxford, and received his clinical training at Guy's Hospital. He qualified BM BCh in 1961 and obtained the FRCS in 1967. Having decided on a career in otolaryngology he was appointed surgical registrar in that specialty at University College Hospital, then senior registrar at Guy's, where he was influenced by Myles Formby and Philip Reading. He joined the surgical staff of UCH as consultant ENT surgeon in 1971 and in 1973 was appointed in a similar capacity to the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital; he became an examiner for the FRCS between 1989 and 1993.

In 1963 Fraser married a physician, Dr Patricia Mary Thompson, an epidemiologist, and they had twin daughters, one of whom became a microbiologist. From an early stage in his career, Fraser had an especial interest in the problems of severely deaf people and pioneered cochlear implantation in this country. Despite early success in the USA many of Fraser's colleagues and especially the senior administration in the NHS remained sceptical about the technique and absolutely refused to provide funds to support this new, exciting and potentially rewarding development. However, they completely underestimated the resolution and drive of Graham Fraser, who obtained funds from the Sir Jules Thorne Trust to fund thirty operations. These proved to be most successful and so impressed the then Minister of State, David Mellor, that he agreed to provide £3 million to establish seven specialist centres. Britain's cochlear implant programme was thus firmly established and many hundreds of deaf people have benefited as a result of Fraser's determination and sagacity. The distinguished politician Lord Ashley of Stoke was one of the early beneficiaries who gave Fraser much support and encouragement. The initial implants were simple single-channel devices but when reliable multi-channel implants evolved the quality of speech information was greatly improved. Fraser was in charge of a programme to develop a new multi-channel European device incorporating all the benefits of modern technology at the time of his premature death.

He was President of the British Cochlear Implant Group from 1990 to 1993, a member of Council of the British Association of Otolaryngologists from 1991 to 1994 and of the Council of Management of the Royal National Institute of the Deaf from 1974 to 1990. He was a member of the Council of the Otological Section of the Royal Society of Medicine and was awarded its prestigious W J Harrison prize in 1993. He was Patron of the National Association of Deafened People from 1986 to 1994, and had many publications to his credit, the majority of these relating to cochlear implantation. Fraser was a warm-hearted, generous individual who detested the traditional hierarchy present in many hospitals and always maintained that it was an individual's expertise and the contribution that this could make to a multidisciplinary team that really mattered, and not their title or status.

Fraser had a deep appreciation of the cultural heritage and beauty of Britain and his interests included walking, especially in the fells, wild life preservation, computing and photography. His rather earnest demeanour often hid a sparkling sense of humour and the mixture of his outspokenness, tact, humour and expertise combined to make him a remarkable and greatly loved personality. Britain's cochlear implant programme will be an enduring memorial to Graham Fraser and the gratitude and affection of his patients is immeasurable.

This very distinguished otolaryngologist died from cancer on 8 February 1994, aged 57.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 1994 308 1158, with portrait; The Times 11 February 1994; The Independent 23 February 1994].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England