Obituary: Dr Hugh L'Etang

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The Independent Online
Because Hugh L'Etang was such a modest, understated individual, it would be easy to underestimate his contribution to medical publishing. He was the editor of the Practitioner from 1973 to 1982, a monthly journal for General Practitioners. The Practitioner was at the height of its success, and for much of the time was the only GP journal doctors would subscribe to. For a further eight years L'Etang was consultant editor of the Physician and from 1986 to this year editor of Travel Medicine International.

L'Etang was encouraged to enter medicine by his father. But he was a doctor who preferred to observe rather than to practise, and he did it with a glint in his eyes. He was the best medical copy editor I have ever encountered - precise and totally accurate. He wrote many acclaimed books. He was interested in the effect illness had on world leaders and this resulted in titles including The Pathology of Leadership (1969), Fit to Lead? (1980) and Ailing Leaders in Power 1914-94 (1995).

Although L'Etang was in many respects the quintessential English gentleman, his roots lay outside Britain. His father, Joseph L'Etang, came from Mauritius in the early 1900s to study medicine and stayed on to become a family doctor in London, where he met Frances Maas, whose family was involved in the tobacco business, and they married in 1915.

L'Etang was educated at Haileybury, and won a scholarship to read Physiology at St John's College, Oxford. He completed his training at St Bartholomew's Hospital, for whom he also played rugby. During the Second World War he served with the Royal Army Medical Corps, and was twice mentioned in dispatches. After joining his father in general practice, he was a medical officer with North Thames Gas Board, and then with British European Airways. He became head of the medical department at the pharmaceutical company John Wyeth and Bros in 1958.

L'Etang was a voracious reader, and might have followed a literary career. One of his responsibilities at Wyeth was the writing of advertising copy. He would visit the company's library to research well-known artists suffering from a condition that one of the company's drugs was attempting to treat. A career in medical publishing seemed attractive and in 1969 L'Etang landed himself a job as assistant editor of the Practitioner, becoming editor four years later.

My own debt to L'Etang is enormous. When nearly 12 years ago I set up my own under-capitalised medical publishing company, Mark Allen Publishing, a management buy-out from International Thomson Publishing, L'Etang, then consultant editor of the Physician, one of the two medical journals I acquired, told me he would work for me for nothing.

Several months later he approached me again: "Travel Medicine International is up for sale," he said, "and urgently needs a buyer. If you agree to buy it I will work for the publication as editor, free."

Hugh L'Etang's much-loved wife, Cecily Tinker, was a respected doctor in her own right. They were inseparable. She would accompany Hugh to meetings and help him report them. She was the cornerstone of his life.

Hugh Joseph Charles James L'Etang, medical practitioner and writer: born 23 November 1917; Medical Adviser, North Thames Gas Board 1948-56, British European Airways 1956-58; Medical Adviser, John Wyeth 1958-69; Assistant and Deputy Editor, the Practitioner 1969-73, Editor 1973-82; Consultant Editor, the Physician 1983-91; married 1951 Cecily Tinker (died 1996; one son, one daughter); died London 25 November 1996.