Obituary: Professor Peter James
Monday 11 October 1993
DURING the 1950s, dental epidemiology emerged as a significant factor in planning dental needs for the future. Among those involved, Peter James's was a name that arose with increasing frequency and carrying growing authority.
Along with others, such as Geoffrey Slack and Douglas Jackson, James became involved in studies of the dental health of schoolchildren (at that time generally poor); the possibilities of prevention of dental disease; and the benefits of water fluoridation. The message of prevention was gradually heeded, and over the next decade became one of the cornerstones of dental education and started to influence the shape of dental practice.
After leaving the Navy, James studied Public Dental Health at St Andrews University, then further developed his interest in the subject while in London at the Institute of Dental Surgery, and later at the Royal Dental Hospital, in Leicester Square - which has now merged with Guy's in United Medical and Dental Schools of Guy's and St Thomas's - where he became Director of the Department of Children's Dentistry.
In 1965 the Birmingham Dental School realised that it should become more fully involved in research into the prevention of dental disease and its teaching, and James was appointed to the newly established Chair of Dental Health. There, he developed a team, some of whom he brought from the Royal Dental Hospital, to undertake this new task. In addition to initiating an active research programme and undergraduate teaching, he established a postgraduate course in Dental Health, through which passed many of those now in senior posts in dental public health.
James became Dental Adviser to the Government Social Survey study of adult dental health in 1968 and later, with members of the Birmingham Dental Health Unit, took part in the surveys of children's dental health, from 1973 onwards. Over the years, these surveys have shown a steadily improving standard of dental health in the population of England and Wales. For a period of five years he was Consultant Adviser in Community Dentistry to the Department of Health.
James was one of those involved in the founding of the British Society for the Study of Community Dentistry. He became its first President and when the society had developed sufficiently to publish its own journal in 1984 he became its first editor, a post that he held until shortly before his death. It was as an editor that two of James's particular talents came into their own. First, he was a caring man who always wanted to help and encourage his authors, and, secondly, he enjoyed the use of the English language. I remember many discussions with him about the correct usage of such words as 'which' and 'that' as well as more complex matters of expression.
Following one of the substantial reorganisations of the National Health Service in 1974, the concept of training specialists in the emerging discipline of Community Dental Health began to be discussed. At that time the idea was not without its opponents, and progress was slow, but during James's period of chairmanship of the Specialist Advisory Committee interim criteria for training were established and the first specialist appointed.
At Birmingham, in addition to running his department, James undertook the usual administrative load that falls to the lot of a professor and he was Director of the Dental School from 1978 to 1982, during which time he served on innumerable committees within the university and the National Health Service. When he retired in 1987 this was marked (among other parties) by a dinner given in his honour by the City of Birmingham, which was attended by Edwina Currie, then a minister at the Department of Health.
Photography was another facet of James's life that will not easily be forgotten by those who knew him. He was, in fact, a very good photographer and used his camera to record all sorts of scenes and
Peter James was very much a family man. He married Denise Bond, a fellow dental surgeon, in 1947 and they have four sons who all live within easy reach of their home at Stratford. He and Denise were generous hosts and the Pump House seemed always full of family or guests. For a number of years their holidays were spent on Tresco, in the Scilly Isles. In spite of his illness he had spent a happy few weeks there shortly before his death.
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