Sir Christopher Booth: Clinical scientist and medical historian

 

Christopher Booth was a major figure in academic medicine and a passionate advocate for clinical research during the latter half of the last century. His career reflects the successes and travails of clinical academic medicine at a time of unparallelled advances in basic biomedical science. As an historian he saw issues with a clarity and long-term perspective often lacking in many of his contemporaries.

His own distinction as a physician scientist arose from pioneering research in diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, most notably conducted on patients who had undergone intestinal resection; he and David Mollin were the first to show that vitamin B12 was absorbed in the distal part of the small intestine. This exemplified his approach: the elucidation of biological and pathological mechanisms through clinical research, for which his favourite term was "clinical science", coined by Thomas Lewis.

This work was conducted at the Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith Hospital, where he had initially gone in 1952 as a junior doctor working with John McMichael, Professor and Director of the Department of Medicine. Booth subsequently succeeded Sheila Sherlock as head of the gastroenterology unit.

His appointment as successor to McMichael in 1966 was greeted with surprise by some, but he changed the department's orientation from applied physiology to research on mechanisms of disease, emphasising immunology and cell biology. His influence is felt today with a cadre of clinician scientists who hold key senior academic appointments. He was especially pleased when three of his Hammersmith protégés received knighthoods in the last New Year's honours.

Booth loved the Hammersmith, describing his post there as the best job in British medicine, and in a lecture celebrating the first 50 years of the RPMS he said, "it is a place where there is always a fizz of excitement that gives a champagne quality to every day". But in 1977, Booth became Director of the Medical Research Council's Clinical Research Centre (CRC) at Northwick Park, a newly built district general hospital in North-west London. This was to be a major challenge.

The MRC's vision was for the CRC to undertake research on common diseases largely neglected by the increasingly specialised academic units of the traditional teaching hospitals. Booth wholeheartedly embraced this philosophy and promoted research programmes in areas such as psychiatry, sexually transmitted diseases and other infectious diseases and the genetics of skin and cardiovascular disease. However, by the early 1980s the MRC was under pressure to demonstrate value for money, the NHS, was under financial pressure and it became increasingly clear at Northwick Park that the two cultures – of the NHS medical staff whose priority was to deliver a district service, and the MRC-funded clinician scientists – made uneasy bedfellows. In response to these pressures the MRC set up reviews of the work of the CRC, culminating in its eventual closure.

Booth was a notable medical historian, inspired by his love of the Dales (his mother had restored a cottage in Wensleydale). He brought the lives and influence of Dales doctors to worldwide attention; this was the basis of his election to the American Philosophical Society. He published four books and more than 50 papers on historical topics, became Harveian Librarian of the Royal College of Physicians and helped establish the History of 20th Century Medicine group supported by the Wellcome Trust, which survives today at Queen Mary University of London.

Booth was born in Farnham, and on leaving Sedbergh School in 1942 was conscripted as an Ordinary Seaman, becoming one of the "Frogmen of Burma" of the Sea Reconnaissance Unit. As well as his knighthood he received many honours, and was President of the BMA (1986-87) and the Royal Society of Medicine (1988-89). In retirement he married Joyce Singleton, with whom he found domestic contentment. He was at his happiest relaxing with her in the garden of their cottage in Wensleydale.

Christopher Charles Booth, physician, academic and medical historian: born Farnham, Surrey 22 June 1924; Kt 1983; married 1959 Lavinia Loughridge (one son, one daughter), 1970 Soad Tabaqchali (one daughter), 2001 Joyce Singleton; died 13 July 2012.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...