published 31/08/2012 at 18:26 BST
Popular and outspoken clinician whose speciality was gastroenterology, he was also a researcher and historian.
Sir Christopher Booth, who has died aged 88, was one of the great names of modern British medicine, outstanding not only as a clinician, but as an administrator, historian, researcher and research manager. He was also one of medicine's most colourful characters: rumbustious and outspoken, he would have fitted well into a Fielding novel or a Hogarth painting.
Booth's clinical speciality was gastroenterology, in particular diseases of the small intestine. He was, in turn, professor and departmental director of medicine at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith hospital, director of the Medical Research Council's Clinical Research Centre at Northwick Park, and research director at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. He was also president of the British Medical Association.
He was born in Surrey, a twin and one of five children. A grandfather was an organ builder and his father, Lionel, invented the telephoto lens. His mother, Phyllis, was a teacher. He was brought up in Wensleydale, Yorkshire, and educated at Sedbergh school, where his best subjects were French, German and history.
In 1942 he joined the navy as an ordinary seaman and frogman in the Sea Reconnaissance Unit, training in California and serving in Burma. A navy doctor encouraged him to enter medicine. He graduated from St Andrews University in 1951, did his house jobs in Dundee, and went to the postgraduate medical school attached to Hammersmith hospital as house physician to an eminent Scot, Sir John McMichael.
After a year at Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridge he returned to Hammersmith as resident medical officer. His research showing that vitamin B12 is absorbed at the far end of the small intestine earned him an MD from St Andrews and the Rutherford gold medal in 1958.
At Hammersmith he rose to become professor and director of the department of medicine from 1966 until 1977. "He was an outstanding clinician," said Dr Stephen Lock, former editor of the British Medical Journal, "and many famous doctors older than he, including the neurologist [Lord] Russell Brain, chose his care when terminally ill." He loved the Hammersmith, and told his colleague Sir Keith Peters that he had "the best job in British medicine", at "a place where there is always a fizz of excitement".
In 1970 the Medical Research Council established a clinical research centre attached to an ordinary general hospital, Northwick Park in Harrow. Part of the aim was to engage hospital consultants in research into the diseases they routinely saw and treated. In 1978 Booth was appointed its director. It was a difficult task as the hoped-for collaboration and expansion never happened, but he made the best of it, retiring in 1988, aged 64.
He had already served a two-year term as president of the BMA and a year later the Royal College of Physicians appointed him Harveian librarian, a post he held for eight years. He was concurrently chairman of the Royal Society of Medicine. Around this time he was recruited by the Wellcome medical history institute to work with Professor Tilli Tansey promoting the study of clinical biomedicine. Together they created the History of Twentieth Century Medicine Group, of which he was convenor. He resigned in 2007, aged 79, but continued as a research fellow in the Wellcome Institute. He produced four books and 50 papers as a historian in addition to his clinical publications. As editor of the journal Gut, he was admired by colleagues and loved by his editorial staff.
Booth managed to be both charming and notoriously outspoken, saying on one occasion that taking the doctors' pay demand to the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, would be not a red rag to a bull, as a colleague suggested, but "a red rag to an old cow". At the Hammersmith, which had a leftish and egalitarian ethos, he graphically described what he would do with the offer of a knighthood. However, when the honour came, he accepted, in 1983. Booth's last years were limited by health problems but he was intellectually active to the end, writing a chapter on being a patient for the Oxford Textbook of Medicine.
He is survived by his third wife, Joyce, two daughters and a son.
Christopher Charles Booth, doctor, academic and historian, born 22 June 1924; died 13 July 2012
published 31/08/2012 at 18:26 BST