Obituary: John Watson-Farrar

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The Independent Culture
WORLD-WIDE, MORE than 500,000 hip joints are replaced annually. Alongside G.K. McKee, John Charnley and Peter Ring, John Watson-Farrar was a pioneer in the development of this operation for hip arthritis.

Though born in Canada, his formative years were spent in Jersey during the German Occupation. Whilst others were paying a high price for disobedience, his ownership of a crystal set provided him with early knowledge of the Allied landings in 1944. A camera - with which he would photograph German aircraft - also remained secret. It was during these years that he developed a strong sense of duty to the disadvantaged and underprivileged. This remained a lifelong characteristic.

He received little formal education during the Occupation. At Victoria College, Jersey, his teachers were removed, and lessons were given by senior pupils. In spite of this, he went up to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and then to the London Hospital. After graduation he returned briefly to Jersey, but soon realised that, if he was to fulfil his childhood ambition of becoming an orthopaedic surgeon, then he would have to train in England.

Experience at the Lord Mayor Treloar Hospital, in Alton, Hampshire, and a further period at the London Hospital brought him into contact with many eminent orthopaedic surgeons of the day. He spoke fondly of W.A. Law, Sir Reginald Watson-Jones and Henry Osmond Clark, who expressed surprise when in 1960 he become the Senior Registrar to G.K. McKee at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Watson-Farrar recalled the jibe, "So, you're going to work for that fool who plays around with artificial hip joints!"

In fact, McKee had struggled from 1940 to develop a durable artificial hip joint. John Charnley's use of acrylic cement to fix the prosthesis to bone was the breakthrough. The youthful enthusiasm and common-sense practical ability of Watson- Farrar led to a definitive design and technique - the McKee-Farrar Total Hip Replacement, used from 1961. Watson-Farrar had made several major contributions to the design, sizing and geometry of the hip prosthesis. Surgeons came from all over the world to see him effortlessly demonstrate the technique of hip replacement. He developed his own hip prosthesis which he used to good effect from the early 1970s.

In 1965 Watson-Farrar was pleased to be appointed Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, a post he occupied with distinction for 26 years. As his interest in the hip waned over the years, he began to concentrate on orthopaedic trauma, particularly, fractures of the elderly. He saw to it that the frail elderly were operated on promptly and went on to good rehabilitation - again, his will to improve the lot of the disadvantaged. Ashill Ward at Dereham Hospital, a highly effective unit for such patients, is a continuing memorial to his determination.

Watson-Farrar was a technically gifted surgeon. He brought simplicity to complex surgical operations. His patients would have been even more confident of his skills as an orthopaedic surgeon had they known that he could just as ably rewire a house or plumb in a central heating system.

His communication skills were best used with patients, who would instantly recognise his warmth and concern for their welfare. He used the language of the layman to great effect and abhorred the pomposity he saw in others. All could see that he greatly valued the contributions of hospital workers at every level. All of his former registrars will remem-ber the support he gave them in decision-making and in the operating theatre at any time of day or night.

At the same time, "JW-F" was fearless and courageous in taking on Health Service authorities if he thought that the care of his patients was compromised by administrative decisions. He used television and newspapers with great skill in pursuit of his aims. On one occasion he was dressed down by the chairman of the emerging trust - this amused him greatly. Such whistle- blowing would have met with even less favour in today's Health Service.

In 1957 John Watson-Farrar, a very private man, married Shirley Galpin, with whom he shared many interests, including animal welfare. After her death in 1996, he married Penny Ward and found an extreme but all too brief happiness. They had planned to travel, but his health only allowed them one brief visit to Jersey - where his heart lay - and another to Paris. His Canadian passport had expired, so he became a British citizen for the first time at the age of 70. This too appealed to his impish sense of humour.

John Watson-Farrar, orthopaedic surgeon: born Edmonton, Alberta 29 June 1926; Consultant Ortho-paedic Surgeon, Norfolk and Norwich Hospital 1965- 81; married 1957 Shirley Galpin (died 1996), 1996 Penny Ward; died Carleton Rode, Norfolk 23 July 1999.