Obituary: Dr John Padel
Wednesday 24 November 1999
He thought, worked, taught and wrote within what is known as the "Independent" tradition in British psychoanalysis, as distinct from the Klein Group or the Contemporary Freudian Group. His thought owed much to Ronald Fairbairn and D.W. Winnicott; and his teaching of Freud, whose ideas he both loved and was critical of, is thought by his students to have been especially inspiring. For many, he opened the door to a truly human understanding of the complex and baffling concepts in psychoanalytic thought. He was erudite, with his knowledge of classics and English literature.
Padel came from the North, from Carlisle. He studied Classics at Queen's College, Oxford, on a Hastings Scholarship and then taught Classics as a schoolmaster until 1949 when, at the age of 36, he decided to switch career and train as doctor, and then psychoanalyst. He took the necessary exams to get into medical school and from 1950 to 1955 studied at Middlesex Hospital Medical School, where he became a houseman. He also began training at the British Psycho-Analytical Society. In 1957 he became House Medical Officer at Shenley Psychiatric Hospital, Hertfordshire, and in 1959 Psychiatric Registrar at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington.
In 1960 he began his long and fruitful relationship with the Tavistock Clinic as Senior Registrar and Lecturer: seeing patients, running groups, supervising, and lecturing on the development of psychoanalytic theory. He was an enormously charismatic and revelatory teacher, devoting great time and thought to his students. His famous series of introductory lectures on the history of psychoanalysis was made the more vivid by the fact that he always managed to lose the texts through the year - probably on purpose, since he insisted on rewriting the lot for each new year of students.
From 1969 until 1977 he was Deputy Director of the London Clinic of Psycho- Analysis, at the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, and from 1973 to 1979 Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital, where he taught clinical psychotherapy.
For 30 years up to his retirement in 1994, he also practised privately as a psychotherapist. He was a popular lecturer internationally - in Rome and Bologna, in the United States and Japan. He often illustrated these lectures and papers by references and quotations to poets and composers: to Yeats, Donne, Haydn, the Greek and Latin poets, and above all Shakespeare. He was a serious follower of contemporary poetry - his modern poetry library was extensive - and in 1981 he published a book on Shakespeare with the fighting title New Poems by Shakespeare, suggesting a new interpretation through re-ordering the Sonnets and supporting his argument with detailed historical evidence.
While he was working on New Poems by Shakespeare, colleagues who were interested in his researches waited impatiently to hear the next stage of his part detective work/part psychological analysis of the texts and the history. There were puzzles and dilemmas, and I recall his summing up of the process, at a time when he had just made a breakthrough with a particularly troubling problem. He said: "It isn't really so much about answers . . . it's about asking the right questions."
The theme of the book is the notion that the Sonnet sequence arose in the aftermath of the death of Shakespeare's son, and thus the emphasis in the poems is on the parents' concern that the son should marry and produce children. It is an inspired insight. The book remained controversial, receiving less attention than he had hoped for from scholars, some of whom thought that the detailed working-out of the theme was too intricate to bear the weight of theory.
John Padel's thoughtfulness, generosity and imaginative relating to students and to young analysts was remarkable, and memorable. He took people on in a non-intrusive way, whether referring a patient, commenting on a paper, or responding to a request for help with a difficult clinical or theoretical problem. Such generosity from so distinguished a figure in the field helped many a young analyst to find his/her feet at a critical early stage in a career.
Linked with this generosity was his courtesy. This was not simply a matter of manners. He was a gentleman; a term now more often ascribed to mannerliness than to the substance of real consideration for the other. Such courtesy might be meant, in its more 16th- or 17th- century sense, as denoting what belongs to the true Renaissance man. Padel's courtesy was the bedrock from which came his work as a physician, a psychoanalyst, a scholar, a musician; as a remarkable friend and colleague; and, of course, essentially as a husband and father. He had an extraordinary capacity to celebrate learning in all forms, and this had an infectious quality, so that his enthusiasm brought forth an answering response in oneself.
He played the cello from early childhood, and played quartets regularly every week until his last illness. He met his wife Hilda Barlow, a clarinettist, at Bernard Robinson's Music Camp and he brought up his children - as he and his brothers and sister were brought up - to play stringed instruments and chamber music. On his 84th birthday he played Brahms and Dvork String Sextets with all his children.
John Hunter Padel, psychoanalyst: born Carlisle 3 May 1913; Psychiatric Registrar, St Mary's Hospital, Paddington 1959-60; Registrar, Tavistock Clinic 1960-62, Senior Registrar 1962-64, Lecturer and Honorary Consultant 1965-79; Deputy Director, London Clinic of Psycho-Analysis 1969-77; Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry, Maudsley Hospital 1973-79; married 1944 Hilda Barlow (three sons, two daughters); died Oxford 24 October 1999.
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