Dr David Skeggs: Radiologist who pioneered the combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy

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The Independent Online

David Skeggs was a radiologist of international renown.

Many of his former patients around the world today owe their lives to his skill and devotion. It is ironic that he should have succumbed in the end to the disease, cancer, that he fought against for so long in others.

Skeggs was born in 1928, the son of a doctor in Stevenage and the youngest of five children. He was educated at Winchester, and it was was probably the most formative period of his life. He was there during the war years, when conditions were at their bleakest and the school appeared to us boys to be in the hands of a bunch of elderly eccentrics, all the younger masters having left to fight. Skeggs revelled in all this. Later in life, when in the presence of fellow Wykehamists, Skeggs would delight us with impersonations of his housemaster, the Bobber, and other dons. He and several of his contemporaries at Hoppers, his house, all of whom went on to become extremely distinguished, would meet every year for dinner in each other's homes, a ritual continued to this day.

Skeggs read medicine at Oriel College, Oxford then went to St Bartholomew's Hospital, qualifying as a doctor in 1952. He left Barts in 1954 to do his National Service, spending two years as a surgeon in the Royal Navy, mostly at sea in the Persian Gulf.

In 1956 he returned to Barts, where he decided to specialise in radiology, eventually becoming Senior Registrar. He left in 1964 to become Director of the Radiology Centre at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, where he carried out his important pioneering work during the next 25 years. At the head of a team of colleagues he developed the world's first fully computerised cancer treatment machine.

This technique, known as "conformational therapy", focussed the beam of radiation on the tumour moreaccurately, with less damage tothe surrounding tissue. He alsopioneered the combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in the treatment of cancer.

His last post before retirement was as Director of Radiotherapy at the Cromwell Hospital until he was 75. As a recognition of his achievements in the fight against cancer an annual David Skeggs Lecture was established in 2003 at the Royal College of Radiologists

While he was still working he was a member of the Board of Visitors of Ford Open Prison, on the Council of Wycombe Abbey School and a Governor of the English Speaking Union, and in retirement he became Chairman of the UCL Cancer Institute Research Trust. He was totally committed to his work and widely respected for his integrity, professionalism and devotion to his patients' care.

He had many outside interests which retirement gave him the time toenjoy to the full. He played an excellent game of tennis to the end, loved bridge, music, chess, foreign travel, wine and to mention just a few ofhis interests. He also loved a flutteron the Stock Exchange, even though he never had much money to playwith. One of his more unusual hobbies was driving steam engines andhe visited Poland twice to drive trains there.

Another was the council allotment in Barnes that he tended for half a century and that kept his kitchen supplied with the most succulent vegetables. Cooking was one of the great passions of his life, and anyone who hasn't eaten his leek quiche hasn't lived.

David Skeggs was a handsome, cheerful, outgoing man who always appeared 20 years younger than he was. At his happiest when enjoying himself with his family or entertaining his many friends, he never talked about his work unless asked. Nevertheless he was enormously helpful to anyone who needed medical advice of any kind.

David Bartholomew Lyndon Skeggs, radiologist: born Stevenage 26 August 1928; married 1957 Anne Hughes (two daughters); died 22 December 2010.