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Biographical entry Tait, Francis Selby (1902 - 1993)

MRCS 1924; FRCS 1933; MB ChB Birmingham 1924; LRCP 1924.

9 December 1902
Hexham, Northumberland
1 November 1993
Obstetrician and gynaecologist


Selby Tait was born on 9 December 1902 in Hexham, Northumberland, the son of James Andrew Tait, BA, a Congregational Minister, and his wife Anne Olene née Clemmetsen, who was Norwegian by birth. He attended the Dame School, Hexham, then the Lancaster Royal Grammar School, where he was awarded the science prize. In 1919 he went up to the University of Birmingham Medical School where he graduated in 1924, having been awarded the gold medal for midwifery.

After appointments as resident surgical officer at the General Hospital and resident medical officer at the Birmingham Maternity Hospital he was appointed to the staff of the Birmingham United Hospital in 1936. On appointment, as was the custom until 1960, he did the foreign tour, visiting other centres of excellence in Europe. In 1938 he saw the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Edgbaston and in 1939 worked on the plans for the new Maternity Hospital there - which actually opened in 1968, the year after his retirement!

In 1939 he mobilised with the 35th British Military Hospital serving in Tidworth, Iraq, India and Ceylon. He became a major in the RAMC but in 1944 was recalled to the Birmingham United Hospitals on the death of Sir Beckwith Whitehouse. He attended patients at a temporary wartime unit at Lichfield until it closed in 1949, as well as at the General Hospital. He oversaw the opening of the Lawson Tait operating suite in 1959 and the design of the new outpatient department at the Women's Hospital. Each consulting suite had its own subwaiting area set back to make bays which gave some seclusion for waiting patients and minimised their embarrassment, a new concept in patient welfare in the postwar period.

In 1946 he joined the new full-time Professor Hugh McLaren at his new obstetric unit in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and was appointed assistant lecturer in obstetrics and gynaecology. He also practised gynaecology at the General and Women's Hospitals, and in addition was visiting gynaecologist to Tamworth Hospital and external examiner at Oxford University.

His illustrious predecessor, Lawson Tait (not a relative, but a source of inspiration) had been the first surgeon in the world to remove the appendix at the Women's Hospital in 1880. Selby taught about the appendix and practised the technique for invagination of the appendix without breaching the intestinal wall.

He always took a great interest in nurse training and was a lecturer and examiner for the Central Midwives' Board. He was Chairman of the Nursing Committee when the new buildings for the Queen Elizabeth School of Nursing opened and also the School of Physiotherapy.

After retirement he took a major part in the 1971 Centenary celebrations of the Birmingham and Midland Hospital for Women and wrote its history. An account of these celebrations is given in the Bulletin of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry of Birmingham. He attended clinical meetings at the hospital, now having more time to attend regularly. For seven or eight years he helped out colleagues in several Midland hospitals as a consultant locum.

In 1941 he married Joyce K Smith SRN, who predeceased him in 1958. They had two daughters - Frances Ingrid Tait, ALA, M I Inf Sci, who is an information research manager for ASLIB and the BBC, and Anna Marie Imrie-Tait, who is a stills producer.

In 1960 he married Katherine M Jones, also a nurse, who was the Education Officer for the Royal College of Nursing in Birmingham.

Fly-fishing was a lifelong hobby, as was his interest in classical music and opera. He was a keen scholar of the history of art, medicine and local hospitals.

He died on 1 November 1993, being survived by his second wife Katherine and his two daughters, Frances and Anne.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from his widow, Mrs Katherine M Tait, and address by Hamish Nicholson, FRCS, FRCOG].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England