Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Watson-Farrar, John (1926 - 1999)

MRCS and FRCS 1959; MB BCh Cambridge 1952; MA 1953.

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
23 July 1999
Orthopaedic surgeon


John Watson-Farrar, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, one of the better-known pioneering provincial centres, was born of English parents in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, in 1926. 'J W F', as he was affectionately known, spent his formative years in Jersey during the German occupation. His teachers from Victoria College were 'removed' by the Nazis, and he gained much of his education from senior boys. His ownership of a crystal radio set allowed him early access to the news of the Allied landings in 1944.

In spite of this disruptive beginning, he went to Gonville and Caius, Cambridge, gaining his BA and then proceeded to the London Hospital, qualifying in 1952. Returning to Jersey briefly after graduation, he realised that he should pursue a career in surgery and would need to train in England. Experience at the Lord Mayor Treolar's Hospital and a further period at the London Hospital brought him into contact with the eminent orthopaedic surgeons of his day, including W A Law, Sir Reginald Watson Jones and Henry Osmond Clarke.

After obtaining the FRCS in 1959, he became senior registrar to G K (Ken) McKee in Norwich in 1960. At the time of his application, some said, "so you are going to work with that fool who plays around with artificial hip joints"! Charnley's use of acrylic cement was one of the breakthroughs that McKee had been looking for, and with J W F's youthful enthusiasm and several major contributions in geometry, size and design, the McKee-Farrar hip (metal on metal) replacement was first used in 1961. John's own skills were not confined to orthopaedics - he rewired his house and installed central heating without help.

Appointed consultant in Norwich in 1965, he proved a great asset to a centre that had developed a great orthopaedic reputation. He himself was a technically gifted surgeon who had the ability of making difficult operations seem easy. In his early years he was frequently visited for his expertise in teaching these new techniques. While his interest in hip joint surgery declined in later years, his enthusiasm in trauma increased, particularly in the frail and elderly. He developed a highly successful rehabilitation unit at Dereham Hospital outside Norwich. Perhaps this was part of his desire to help the disadvantaged, of whom he had seen so many during the war years. He was fearless and courageous in dealing with authorities he felt were impairing his patient care. He retired in 1991.

John married Shirley Galpin in 1957; they had no children. Both had a love of animals and their home was a refuge for those who were sick or injured. They both abhorred the culling of seals and actively protested on the Wash - using the media to help their cause. After Shirley's death from cancer in 1966, he married Penny Ward. They had hoped to travel, and John even got a British passport for the first time at the age of 70, as his Canadian one had expired some 25 years earlier. This appealed to his impish sense of humour. Ill health allowed him just two fleeting visits, one to Paris and the other to Jersey, where he renewed old friendships. John died on 23 July 1999. A well-attended thanksgiving service was held in Norwich Cathedral on 22 October and was addressed by Hugh Phillips, senior orthopaedic surgeon to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, and President of the British Orthopaedic Association.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 1999 319 1009, with portrait; information from Hugh Phillips].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England