Obituary: Duncan Catterall

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The Independent Online
Robert Duncan Catterall, physician: born Bramhall, Cheshire 9 July 1918; Consultant in Venereology, Leeds 1959- 64; Director, James Pringle House, Middlesex Hospital 1964-83; CBE 1983; married 1957 Mary Williamson; died London 5 May 1993.

DUNCAN CATTERALL established the first Chair of Genito-urinary Medicine at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, and went on to set up an examination for a Diploma in Genito-urinary Medicine at the Society of Apothecaries of London in 1973. He was determined to establish a more scientific base and to raise standards in his speciality of genito- urinary medicine.

On leaving school he entered his father's cotton manufacturing firm, starting as a bobbin boy and at that time intended to become a captain of industry. The Second World War diverted him from this aim.

Although not a conscientious objector, Catterall deplored violence and volunteered as an ambulance driver with a Friends' Field Ambulance. The unit served in the Winter War in 1939-40 but, when the Russians overran Finland, it retreated to Norway, then being invaded by the Wehrmacht. Catterall escaped with other members of the unit to Sweden, where he was interned for six months. He managed to secure his release and, after travelling through Russia, Turkey and Palestine, joined British forces in Egypt. He was then sent to Greece and chose to stay behind with the wounded and was captured by the Germans at Kalamata.

Conditions in the prison camp were horrific and, at a thanksgiving for his life and work held at the Middlesex Hospital, two former fellow prisoners recalled his extraordinary good humour, his panache and his ability to defuse difficult situations and to mediate, skills he used to great benefit later in life as theE successful chairman of many committees. He escaped while being transported to Germany but was recaptured near the Swiss borderTHER write error and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner.

These years had two important effects on his life. Assisting an Australian surgeon in the operating theatre made him determined to take up medicine after the war. Secondly, he learnt to speak French fluently from a fellow prisoner and this skill, along with his fluency in German, was most helpful when serving on committees in Brussels and on advisory groups at the World Health Organisation.

He entered the London Hospital Medical College when he was 28 years old and subsequently decided to specialise in venereology. He furthered his training at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He held a consultant post in Leeds for five years before founding a new department of genito-urinary medicine (venereology) at the Middlesex Hospital in 1964. In doing so he made his mark both nationally and internationally and was at various times President of the Medical Society for the Study of Venereal Diseases and the International Union against the Venereal Diseases and Treponematoses. He was adviser to the Department of Health and to the British Army in his discipline.

Catteral was a fine physician and his sartorial elegance on the wards is still remembered at the Middlesex Hospital. He was a memorable and effective teacher and, at the suggestion of students, became involved, at its inception, in the London Medical Group (LMG), which was developing a multidisciplinary approach to medical ethics, becoming Chairman of its Consultative Council in 1973 until his retirement. His principal contribution was to ensure that those who lectured under the auspices of the LMG represented, as he put it, 'the best in British medicine'. Subsequently he served on the governing body of the Institute of Medical Ethics and he was a founder member of the editorial board of the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Duncan Catterall was urbane, civilised and a bon viveur. He became a Vigneron d'Honneur du Beaujolais in 1980 and enjoyed selecting from a good menu. The government of Finland honoured him with a Winter War Award at the end of the war and he was appointed CBE in 1983. Unfortunately his retirement was marred by a debilitating neurological illness, but he bore this with fortitude.

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