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Biographical entry Tucker, William Eldon (1903 - 1991)

CVO 1954; MBE 1944; TD 1953; MRCS 1928; FRCS 1930; MB Cambridge 1934; B Chir 1946; LRCP 1928.

6 August 1903
Hamilton, Bermuda
4 August 1991
Orthopaedic surgeon


'Bill' Tucker was born on 6 August 1903 in Hamilton, Bermuda,where his ancestors had been colonists in the 17th century and where his father, also William Eldon Tucker, was a surgeon whose contributions to the profession were recognized by the award of the honorary FRCS in 1952. His mother was Henrietta, née Hutchings. Like his father before him, Bill went to Sherbome School and to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where both of them distinguished themselves on the rugby field. Bill went on to St George's with a junior scholarship but continued to play rugby for England, winning three caps between 1926 and 1930. He qualified with the Conoint in 1928 and spent two years on the house at St George's, after which he served briefly at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and became surgeon to St John's Hospital, Lewisham from 1931 to 1937. He Joined the staff of the Royal London homoeopathic Hospital in 1937 and retained that appointment until his retirement in 1967. At the same time, in association with Sir Morton Smart, he set up the Park Street Clinic, where he became famous for the treatment of sporting injuries.

He had joined the Territorial Army in 1930 and was called up at the outbreak of war to serve in the RAMC as surgical specialist. At the retreat from Dunkirk he elected to stay with the wounded soldiers for whom he was caring in an underground first aid centre; he was captured by the advancing Gennan army together with his orderly, who had been a masseur in his peacetime clinic. During his years of captivity he became renowned for the care he gave to his fellow prisoners and for his ingenuity in constructing temporary artificial limbs from whatever materials were available. The Red Cross Orthopaedic Committee visiting POW camps singled out Major Tucker for special praise and on his return to Britain he was awarded the MBE.

Back in London he continued to build the reputation of the park Street Clinic and soon hit the headlines with his treatment of Denis Compton's knee: in 1950 he removed a small piece of bone from the cricketer's patella, and seven years later removed the entire patella with admirable consequences for the mobility of the knee and the performance of the batsman. The operations received widespread media coverage and Tucker was soon advising a wide variety of sportsmen in all walks of life. He was called in to advise on the management of George Vl's leg after his operation for vascular problems and was awarded the CVO in 1954.

He wrote a number of books directed towards the sportsmen themselves: first, Active alerted posture in 1960 and Home treatment in injury and osteoarthritis, in 1961. Later, with his second wife, Molly Castle the joumalist, he published Sportsmen and the injuries. Being widely regarded as one of the first pioneers of sports medicine he was a founder member, together with Sir Adolphe Abrahams and Sir Arthur Porritt, of the British Association of Sport and Medicine. He retained an active association with the Territorial Army until 1963 when he retired as honorary colonel of the 17th General Hospital, TA.

'Larger than life' is a phrase which crops up in descriptions of his character. A man of boundless energy, he entered with gusto into his multifarious activities, whether surgical, sporting, social or military, and for relaxation he exhibited his skill as a ballroom dancer. He married first in 1931 Jean Fergusson, by whom he had two sons, William and James, and secondly Beatrice (Molly) Castle, the journalist who assisted him with his later books. In retirement in Bermuda he produced in 1976 Young at heart, a title which properly reflected his continued enjoyment of life, although Molly's death in 1987 was a severe blow, from which he never appeared to recover. He died on 4 August 1991 aged 87 years, survived by his sons, two granddaughters and two great granddaughters.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 1991 303 989; R J Sports Med 1991 25 170 and 241; The Times 6 August 1991].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England