Sir Norman Blacklock

Urologist and 'Britannia' surgeon


Norman James Blacklock, naval officer and surgeon: born Glasgow 5 February 1928; Consultant in Surgery and Urology, and Director of Surgical Research, Royal Navy 1970-78; OBE 1974; Medical Adviser to the Queen (on overseas visits) 1976-93, Extra Gentleman Usher 1993-2006; Professor of Urological Surgery, Victoria University of Manchester 1978-91 (Emeritus); CVO 1989, KCVO 1993; married 1956 Marjorie Reid (one son, one daughter); died Portsmouth 7 September 2006.

Norman Blacklock combined several careers that are usually mutually exclusive. He was a general and trauma surgeon, a consultant urologist and Professor and Head of Department of Urological Surgery at the Victoria University of Manchester - where he set up a lithotripsy service, the first non- invasive treatment for kidney stones. He was a naval surgeon with experience of trauma treatment who accompanied the Queen on Britannia, later taking leave from his university post from time to time to be with her on her overseas tours. He was a contributor to several textbooks on medicine and surgery and his research advanced our knowledge of prostate enlargement and cancer, and of kidney stone formation.

He was, said his former colleague Sir Miles Irving,

a quiet man for a surgeon; very kind, a gentle man in the true sense of the word. He was a kind man, and a urologist who made major advances in the understanding of prostatic disease.

Blacklock was a reassuring personage in the royal entourage, carrying a black bag packed with medicines, a portable defibrillator and other resuscitation equipment. He took diplomatic account of the Queen's enthusiasm for homeopathy. Britannia always had a naval anaesthetist on board, and the Queen brought her own surgeon (she is known to prefer the company of servicemen). The royal yacht had a fully equipped operating theatre, and the Queen's Flight is fitted with emergency medical equipment. Blacklock also had to liaise with the best local hospital in case the Queen needed in-patient treatment.

The Duke of Edinburgh nicknamed him "Hemlock". The press corps did the same, but were happy to consult him when needed. The Queen never suffered from anything worse than gastroenteritis on her trips, and only in very hot climates, while the Duke never admitted to being ill and recoiled from the sight of a medical receptacle.

Part of Blacklock's job was to vet the food being offered by host countries. In Belize, Central America, the prized dish at a feast was a roast agouti or paca, known locally as a gibnut, a 2ft-long nocturnal rodent prized for its delicious flesh. He had to explain to Her Majesty that it was "a dressed-up rodent". The British tabloid press reported this as "Queen Eats Rat" and in Belize the animal is now known as the royal gibnut.

Norman Blacklock was born in 1928 into a Scottish medical family with a naval tradition. When he was 13 the family home was badly damaged by a near-miss from a 2,000lb bomb in the Glasgow blitz and he was evacuated, to McLaren High School, Callander, in Perthshire. He qualified in medicine at Glasgow University and did his postgraduate house jobs at the Western Infirmary and Glasgow Royal Infirmary in the following year. He followed this by three years' National Service in the Royal Navy, serving on HMS Theseus and Warrior, where he treated trauma victims.

He remained a naval reserve officer when he returned to civilian life as registrar and lecturer in surgery at Glasgow Royal Infirmary for two years, followed by two years in Ipswich. By then, the Navy needed to expand its cadre of surgeons within the service and asked him to rejoin. His first appointment was at the naval hospital in Chatham, followed by hospitals in Plymouth and Malta.

Blacklock was then posted to the navy hospital at Haslar, serving Portsmouth, where he launched a department of urological surgery, and carried out research into the anatomy and inflammatory disorders of the prostate, and on renal stone and its aetiology. He became the Navy's Director of Surgical Research, retiring in 1978 after a 20-year stretch.

During his last two years in the Navy he accompanied the Queen on a visit on Britannia to Luxembourg, standing in at the last minute when the designated surgeon was taken ill on the eve of departure. This was originally a one-off arrangement, but was so successful that he accompanied the Queen on the many visits she made in 1977, her jubilee year. He continued to be royal surgeon on her overseas visits until 1993. Britannia was phased out during this time, and he accompanied her on the Queen's Flight instead. He was appointed CVO in 1979 and advanced KCVO in 1993, at the end of his last royal tour, to Hungary.

Unusually for an ex-service doctor, he became an academic, being appointed Professor at Manchester University. He was based at Withington Hospital in south Manchester where, with the encouragement of the North Western Regional Hospital Board, he set up a lithotripter centre for treating kidney stones. Hitherto, stones had been removed using open surgery; the lithotripter machine broke stones down using ultrasound waves, usually as an out-patient procedure. Other hospital regions rapidly bought the machine and offered a similar service.

Blacklock published over 80 papers on prostatic disease and kidney stone, including studies on dietary influences, and contributed to numerous textbooks.

In his retirement he travelled, tended his garden, cooked, and baked bread. He remained in good health. On the afternoon of his 50th wedding anniversary he fell while ascending some steps and died a few hours later. He is survived by his wife and his children, Neil and Fiona, both of whom are doctors.

Caroline Richmond

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