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Biographical entry Phelps, Peter David (1939 - 2002)

MRCS and FRCS 1968; MB BS London 1962; MD 1984; DMRD 1971; FFR 1973; FRCR 1975.

22 May 1939
Harrow, Middlesex
7 February 2002


Peter Phelps was a consultant radiologist at the Royal Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital, London. He was born on 22 May 1939, in Harrow, Middlesex. His father, Donald Percy Phelps, was part of the family who owned Meyer and Phelps, the surgical instrument makers. His mother, Phyllis Mabel née Willis, became a director of the family firm, as did his younger brother. Peter Phelps was educated at Merchant Taylors' School and trained in medicine at Charing Cross Hospital, where he qualified in 1962. He was a keen sportsman and played rugby for United Hospitals and for Buckinghamshire.

After qualifying, he decided to make a career in otorhinolaryngology and went into the training programme under Ronald Macbeth at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. He became a Fellow of the College in 1968, but, towards the end of his training, he developed tinnitus and then a profound nerve deafness and he was advised that he did not have a future in otolaryngology and was advised to change his interest into fields with less patient contact. The neuroradiologist at the Radcliffe, Philip Sheldon, suggested that he should take up radiology of the ears, nose and throat and, to this end, arrangements were made for him to work one day a week under Glyn Lloyd at the Royal National Throat and Ear Hospital. He had passed his FFR at the first attempt. Thus began a most fortunate and fruitful period of co-operation for the specialties. In a very short time Peter became the national expert on the radiology of congenital diseases of the ear and his opinion was greatly in demand and respected internationally. He published three textbooks on his discipline, one of which, Diagnostic imaging of the ear (London, Springer-Verlag, 1990), won the George Davy Howells memorial prize in 1991. After 1988 he divided his professional time between the Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry and Grays Inn Road, eventually becoming the consultant in charge there. His opinion was often sought in co-operation with his radiological colleagues at Great Ormond Street.

He was a founder member of the European Society of Head and Neck Radiology and in 1996, as secretary, hosted a very successful meeting at Coventry. In 2001 he was awarded an honorary life membership of the Society in recognition of his outstanding services.

This brief outline of Peter's life gives no idea of the character of the man. He was a big man in every sense of the word. Always cheerful and amusing, he made light of his disability that had prevented him from following his chosen way of life. He was very approachable and patient in answering the queries that colleagues presented to him. He always wanted to know how the operative findings corresponded with his opinion. It is likely be many years before someone with the same attributes will appear to carry his work forward. He underwent a very successful cochlear implant in 1997 and did imaging latterly for the cochlear implant programmes both in London and Birmingham. He was very proud to be a member both of the patients and surgeons associations.

Socially, Peter lived life to the full. He was an acknowledged expert in the field of vintage cars and kept a selection of them in his country home, which he serviced himself. His other great love was narrow boating on canals and many holidays were spent boating with his family. In 1972 he married Susan Vicky Brown who is a general practitioner in Bedworth, Warwickshire. There were two children of the marriage, Rosalind and Nigel. Peter died of cancer on 7 February 2002.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England