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Biographical entry James, John Ivor Pulsford (1913 - 2001)

MRCS 1938; FRCS 1940; MB BS London 1940; MS 1942; FRCS Edinburgh 1958; LRCP 1938.

13 October 1913
11 July 2001
Orthopaedic surgeon


John Ivor Pulsford James, or 'Jip', as he was known to all, was a tough character who had an adventurous war in Yugoslavia, gained a reputation as a severely critical taskmaster at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and took on, as a Sassenach, the Edinburgh establishment as Professor of Orthopaedics. He was born in London on 13 October 1913. His father, Stanley Bloomfield James, had led a peripatetic life as a lumberjack in Canada, a soldier in the Spanish American War, a preacher and finally an author. His mother was Jessica née Heley. Jip, who had to finance his own education through scholarships, attended Eggars Grammar School in Alton, Hampshire, and then went on to University College, London. Having taken time out to ride his motor cycle from Cairo to the Cape in pursuit, ultimately disappointed, of his first love, he qualified from UCH in 1938.

After a house surgeon post at the Royal National Orthopaedic, he returned to UCH as surgical registrar in 1941 and joined the RAMC two years later. He parachuted into the mountains of Yugoslavia and worked alongside Tito's guerrilla fighters, treating the wounded in caves and goat sheds, always on the run from the Nazi forces. His services there were recognised after the war by the award of the Golden Star of Yugoslavia. Later in Athens, he was in charge of a surgical division, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

On his return to London, he was appointed consultant at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and spent a year in the USA on a Rockefeller scholarship. It was there that he first became interested in the problems of scoliosis and of hand surgery, subjects on which he was to make important contributions in many publications. As assistant director to H J Seddon at the Institute of Orthopaedics from 1948 to 1958, he ran an excellent postgraduate training programme by giving his trainees an exceptionally hard time.

In 1958, he was appointed Professor of Orthopaedics at Edinburgh University with clinical responsibilities at the Royal Infirmary and the Princess Margaret Rose Hospital. In the same year, he became secretary of the British Orthopaedic Association, taking on in the two roles a prodigious load, but soon gaining an international reputation. Once again training was a major interest, and his training programmes became a model for other specialties.

He was honoured by many orthopaedic societies throughout the world, but what gave him most pleasure was being made a Fellow of the British Orthopaedic Association, an exceptional accolade even for a past President.

In 1968 he married Margaret Samuel, then a junior hospital doctor but later a general practitioner. They had a son, Jonathan, and a daughter, Tamsin, neither of whom saw any virtue in a medical career. He had one granddaughter. On retirement he did a spell in Kuwait, before finally settling down in a delightful Cotswold house in Slad, where he became a keen gardener. He died after a short illness on 11 July 2001.

Sources used to compile this entry: [J Bone Joint Surg 2002 84B (1) 145-146].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England