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Biographical entry Taylor, Selwyn Francis (1913 - 2000)

MRCS 1939; FRCS 1940; BA Oxford 1936; MA BM BCh 1939; MCh 1946; DM 1959; Hon FRCS Edinburgh 1976; Hon FCS South Africa 1978.

6 September 1913
Sale, Cheshire
11 January 2000
Endocrine surgeon, General surgeon and Paediatric surgeon


Selwyn Francis Taylor, an internationally known surgeon and postgraduate teacher, was born in Sale, Cheshire, on 6 September 1913. His mother, Emily Edwards, was a teacher and his father, Alfred Petre Taylor, a headmaster. He was educated at Peter Symond's School, Winchester, before proceeding to Keble College, Oxford, with a Gibb's grant. He graduated BA in 1936, and then went to King's College Hospital, London, on a Burney Yeo scholarship. This was a foretaste of things to come.

Shortly after qualifying, he enlisted in the RNVR, serving from 1940 to 1945 as Surgeon Lieutenant Commander in the Atlantic on destroyers as a surgical specialist, and in East Africa, Malaya and Australia. Perhaps this whetted his appetite for the sea, and, as the orator for his honorary Fellowship of the Edinburgh College, James A Ross, said, gave him, "his deep bronzed complexion in the summer months as yachtsman of renown with his sailor wife. The salt water also gave him the thirst of a connoisseur of fine wines!" He later became chairman of the International Wine Society.

After the war, he returned to King's College Hospital, and gained a George Herbert Hunt scholarship from Oxford University to study at the Sabbatsberg Hospital in Stockholm, his mentor being Clarence Crafoord. From 1948 to 1949, he was a Rockefeller travelling fellow in the USA at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.

Although a general surgeon initially, he inclined towards endocrine and paediatric surgery on his appointments as honorary surgeon to Belgrave Hospital for Children (1964 to 1965) and as consultant surgeon to King's College Hospital from 1951 to 1965. As surgeon to the Hammersmith Hospital and senior lecturer to the Royal Postgraduate Medical School from 1947 to 1978, he practised thyroid and parathyroid surgery exclusively, becoming Dean from 1965 to 1978.

A prolific writer, he was involved in over 300 publications, not only on his specialist subjects of thyroid and parathyroid diseases, but as editor of Recent advances in surgery (London, J & A Churchill, 5th to 8th editions), also Rose and Carless' Manual of surgery (19th edition) and, with Leonard Cotton, A short textbook of surgery (London, English Universities Press, 1967). It was said that, "he had a gift for tearing the heart out of a book and publishing the essential facts from a mass of irrelevancies." All this led to his becoming chairman of Heinemann Medical Books.

Of importance to the College, he served on the Council from 1966 to 1978, being senior Vice-President from 1976 to 1978. Apparently he did not speak volubly, but when he did people listened because he had something important to say! He was Cecil Joll prizeman (1976) and Bradshaw lecturer (1977). Furthermore, he made major contributions to postgraduate training at home and overseas, travelling extensively and being an excellent ambassador for British surgery, known for his wide interests and great talents.

He was a member of numerous societies. Many honours came his way, including being President of the Harveian Society (1969), President of the London Thyroid Club, Keat's lecturer to the Society of Apothecaries and President of the International Association of Endocrine Surgeons, indeed it was his vision that led to the foundation of this vibrant society. Albeit in poor health, he attended a meeting in Portugal in 1999, a year before his death.

Selwyn was external examiner to eight medical schools at home and abroad, consultant to the Royal Navy, member of the Armed Forces Board, and honorary Fellow of the College's sister organisations in Edinburgh and South Africa.

He and his wife Ruth regularly attended home and overseas meetings of the Travelling Surgical Society of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Made a member in 1955, he was given honorary membership for his major support and contributions. On one visit to Bordeaux, the lack of scientific input was offset by his arrangements for wine tastings and an excellent meal with wines to complement each course at Chateau Leonville Barton! One of his last publications appeared in the BMJ in 1992 entitled 'Confessions of a Benedictine drinker'. In this he traced his first sip as a boy of nine to ward off the rigours of learning to swim in the Atlantic, to its use after dining unwisely!

He had played tennis for his teaching hospital as a student, and continued this form of exercise with his long-time friend, Bernard Williams of Portsmouth (with whom he also sailed), until their combined ages were over 160 years.

He married Ruth Margaret Howitt, also a doctor, in 1939. They had a son, Simon, a management consultant, and a daughter, Jane, a psychoanalyst. Selwyn died on 11 January 2000. Sadly, his last few years were troubled with cardiac problems and an unhealed fracture.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2000 320 517, with portrait; information from Ivan Johnston; College and Faculty Bulletin 2000 82( 9) 312].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England