John Hughes-Games

Persuasive promoter of homeopathy and committed Bristol GP for over 40 years

Monday 10 October 2011 03:44

John Hughes-Games was an effective, persuasive promoter of homeopathy as a broadcaster, writer and lecturer.

John Hughes-Games, doctor and homeopath: born Parksville, British Columbia 26 May 1927; general practitioner 1954-1997; President, Faculty of Homeopathy 1984-87; married 1955 Hilary Cove (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1964), 1975 Susan Driver (two sons); died Bristol 22 July 2004.

John Hughes-Games was an effective, persuasive promoter of homeopathy as a broadcaster, writer and lecturer.

His lectures inspired generations of doctors to take up homeopathy and in 1988 he founded the Bristol Medical Homeopathic Group in a vain attempt to save the city's Homeopathic Hospital in Cotham after its patients were moved to the Bristol Eye Hospital. The hospital building was bought by Bristol University for student residences but, as a compromise, a homeopathy outpatients department was opened in its grounds in 1994.

Hughes-Games was one of Bristol's most flamboyant and best-loved characters, as well known in the city's social and sporting circles as he was on the council estates of south Bristol where he worked tirelessly as a GP for over 40 years.

He firmly believed that homeopathy should only be practised and used as complementary treatment by properly qualified doctors. He had seen the results of lay homeopathy in cases where serious illnesses had failed to be diagnosed by non-medical professionals. He regularly published articles and letters and these included powerful attacks on unqualified homeopaths.

Both his father Guy and his mother Betty came from well-known Bristol families, but John Hughes-Games was born on Vancouver Island in Canada where his father - who suffered bouts of depression - had moved to start a poultry farm. The venture did not work out and the family was back in Bristol before John was a year old.

There was a strong medical tradition on his mother's side. Two generations of her family, the Munro-Smiths, had worked as surgeons in Bristol. John Hughes-Games went to preparatory school in Bristol before he was sent to board at King William's College on the Isle of Man to escape enemy bombing in the South-west.

He did not do well academically, but National Service came to his rescue. He served with the Royal Artillery in Kenya for 18 happy, fulfilling months. He learnt fly-fishing in the foothills of Mount Kenya and was delighted to discover later the coincidence that the first trout he landed had been exported to Kenya from Bristol Waterworks Company's fishery at Ubley, which serves Blagdon and Chew Valley lakes. He also learnt Swahili.

After National Service, he crammed hard to catch up on missing academic qualifications and was accepted at Bristol University's Medical School, qualifying as a doctor in 1954. With his useful family connections, Hughes-Games could have joined a well-heeled practice in one of Bristol's smarter areas. Instead he chose to work in south Bristol among very mixed communities. Privately, he would say that the privilege was his - his commitment to his patients and their communities was total.

Hughes-Games began to explore the complementary role of homeopathy after one of his patients died following routine treatment, and took his first homeopathic course in the 1960s. He met and established a warm friendship with the distinguished Dr Margery Blackie, honorary homeopathic consultant to the Queen, and spent 18 months working a day a week at her practice in Thurloe Street, South Kensington.

Blackie invited Hughes-Games to join the practice. He would have succeeded her as the Queen's homeopathic consultant, but his loyalty to his Bristol patients was too strong and he declined, much to Blackie's regret. In 1996, he became a Vice-President of the Blackie Foundation Trust and also served as Chairman of the William Kadleigh Memorial Fund which supports young homeopathic doctors.

Away from work, he was a keen fly-fisherman and a founding member and later Chairman of West Country Fly Fishers. His favourite fishing haunts were Blagdon and Chew Valley lakes and the rivers Usk and Wye in Wales and the Tay in Scotland. Hughes-Games had many other interests, including rough shooting, and was a useful amateur artist and loved sketching.

He was also a keen amateur photographer - one of his earliest schoolboy photographic experiments was to rig up a camera with a trip wire attached to a mousetrap. He was very proud of the resulting print which clearly showed a mouse's bottom. He enjoyed gardening, driving and acting as an assistant for hot-air balloon flights by inflating them and then chasing them across the countryside so that he was on hand for landings.

John Hughes-Games was a devoted father and, after his first marriage was dissolved, brought up his son and daughter himself. He married his second wife Susan, a biology teacher, in 1975 and, to his joy, became father to two more sons.

When Hughes-Games turned 70, it took all his sunny character and extrovert good humour to conceal his bitterness when, after more than 40 years' devotion to the NHS, his only official recognition was a curt letter informing him that he would be no longer be allowed to practise as a GP because of his age. Instead he continued to treat patients with homeopathy from his home in Bristol until his final illness.

The swashbuckling, larger-than-life Hughes-Games never did things by halves. When he was recently undergoing treatment at the Bristol Oncology Centre, he was appalled to discover that the grubby windows through which he tried to peer had not been cleaned for seven years. He asked friends to contribute to a £1,500 appeal for every single window in the building to be scrubbed. The money has been raised and tendering for the work has begun. Even after his death, John Hughes-Games is still adding a little sunshine to the lives of patients and NHS colleagues.

James Belsey

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