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Biographical entry Angell-James, John (1901 - 2002)

CBE 1967; MRCS and FRCS 1928; MB BS London 1924; MB ChB Bristol 1924; MD London 1927; MRCP 1927; FRCP 1965; FRCS Edinburgh 1971.

23 August 1901
19 June 2002
ENT surgeon


John Angell-James, known as 'Jack', was in his day the doyen of ear, nose and throat surgeons. He was born in Bristol on 23 August 1901 into a medical family. His father, John Angell James, was a doctor. His mother was Emily Cormell née Ashwin. After Bristol Grammar School, he did his medical training at Bristol and Guy's Hospital. In 1924, he qualified from both London and Bristol Universities with honours.

After resident appointments in Bristol and London from 1924 to 1928, he embarked on a career of clinical research and teaching in ear, nose and throat surgery at the Bristol Children's Hospital and the Bristol Royal Infirmary. His first appointments were in the pre-NHS era and honorary, to the Children's Hospital in 1928 and, in the following year, to the Bristol Royal Infirmary. With the advent of the NHS, he held definitive consultant posts at both hospitals from 1948 to 1966. He was active in Bristol University: he was a clinical tutor from 1928 to 1955, and later became a lecturer. He was head of the department of otorhinolaryngology from 1955 to 1966.

During the second world war, he served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the RAMC, mainly in the Middle East, being an adviser in his specialty.

In the 1960s, he pioneered two new operations. One was transethmoidal hypophysectomy approached through the nose. Harpooning the pituitary gland using specially devised instruments and an operating microscope, he helped patients with hormone dependent metastatic breast cancer: few other surgeons became adept at this technique. The other operation he pioneered was successful in relieving Meniere's disease by selective destruction of the semicircular canals using ultrasound. This was a preferable alternative to the existing conservative treatment of salt and fluid deprivation, and, in more severe cases, destruction of the inner ear, which cured the vertigo at the expense of resultant deafness.

Many honours came his way: he was Hunterian Professor in 1962, Semon lecturer in laryngology to the University of London in 1965, James Yearsley lecturer in 1966 and gave the Sir William Wilde memorial lecture to the Irish Otolaryngology Society in 1966. He was made an honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1976, having previously received the Dalby prize in 1963 and the W J Harrison prize in 1968.

He wrote extensively and contributed to many publications on diseases of the ear, nose and throat, ultrasound as a diagnostic tool and Meniere's disease. He was chairman of the editorial committee of Clinical Otolaryngology.

He was a member of many societies and bodies in the UK, including the section of laryngology of the Royal Society of Medicine (President in 1955), the British Association of Otorhinolaryngologists from 1942 (President from 1966 to 1969), and the Otolaryngological Research Society (President in 1978). Locally, he was a member of the South West Laryngological Society, becoming Chairman in 1956, and the Bristol Medico-Chirurgical, serving as President in 1961. He was also active in the British Medical Association, being Chairman of the Bristol division from 1966 to 1967, and President of the Bath, Bristol and Somerset branch from 1968 to 1969, having already received the Jobson Horne BMA prize in 1962.

From 1948, he was a member of the Collegium Oto-Rhino-Laryngologicum Amicitiae Sacrum, serving as a councillor from 1966 to 1974 and becoming President in 1974. He enjoyed travelling with fellow specialists in the UK and became a member of the Visiting Association of ENT Surgeons of Great Britain from 1948, serving as President from 1965 to 1966.

In spite of a busy working schedule, Jack travelled abroad frequently, being visiting lecturer to many universities, including Toronto, Vermont, Cornell, Baylor, Chicago and also the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He inevitably became an honorary member of many specialty societies overseas, including the Irish Otorhinolaryngological Society, the equivalent in South Africa, and was also a corresponding member of Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Hals-Nasen-Ohren-Heilkunde Kopf und Hals Chirurgie. He was awarded the coveted Colles medal of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland in 1963.

He had what many would regard as a successful private practice; but he never sent invoices to friends, colleagues or those who had served their country. This may seem unusual to the present generation, but was the norm in those who had given their services voluntarily and also after the NHS came into being, that is until market forces took control!

A tall handsome man, with a ramrod straight back, an aquiline nose and blue eyes, Jack combined his surgical career with farming, keeping pigs - occasionally practising new surgical techniques on them - and a herd of prize Guernsey cows. His prize bull was often sent around the county by rail from Bristol Temple Meads Station. He exhibited his prize heifers at the Bath and West Show. In 1974, he won the silver medal at the International Dairy Event, Stoneleigh Park, for his calf and lamb resuscitator. He was active in the Gloucester Society, becoming President in 1977, and also of the Colston Society from 1984 to 1985.

He retired in 1966, and lived to be 100. He was still milking cows in his seventies, shooting in his eighties, and was writing his autobiography when he was nearing his century. He had a stroke early in June 2002 and died from pneumonia two weeks later, on 19 June. He was predeceased by his wife Evelyn Miriam née Everard. He leaves a son, Roger, and two daughters, Rosemary and Jennifer.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Daily Telegraph 13 July 2002; BMJ 2002 325 224, with portrait; Who's Who 2002].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England