James Stokes Ellis

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 06 September 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:519
  1. Peter Ellis

    Jim Ellis was born in Selborne, Hampshire. He was brought up in Eastbourne, where he was educated as a day boy at Eastbourne Preparatory School. There he met his lifelong friend John Jesson, who became a consultant psychiatrist and in later years lived only 10 miles away from Jim in Fareham, Hampshire. After prepratorya school Jim went on to Charterhouse, where he decided to become a doctor. The Ellis family had interests in the wine business and in goldsmithing—his father having been a member of the goldsmiths' company—but there was no family medical tradition so this was a completely personal choice. Jim had an exceptional musical talent, winning the school music prize with a performance of Chopin's “Revolutionary Etude.” From childhood he had an interest in the theatre—an early memory being going with his father to performances at Eastbourne's Variety Theatre—and this interest covered all aspects of costume and staging, as well as performance. After Charterhouse Jim went on to Pembroke College, Cambridge. There he met and became engaged to Monica Verdon-Roe, who was at Girton, and the couple were married after a five-year engagement in 1938.

    From Cambridge, where he graduated in 1937, Jim went to St Thomas' Hospital, London. He qualified conjoint and Cambridge in 1937, obtaining his English FRCS in 1939 and the Cambridge MChir in 1941. After qualification he worked in casualty at St Thomas' and was Mr Bernard Maybury's house surgeon. He was then appointed to the senior casualty post and, at the outbreak of war, was surgical registrar to Mr Romanis. As a student at St Thomas' Jim had begun to actively explore his interest in the stage. He played in the hospital's Christmas show for five years before the war and then again 10 years later in the late 1940s. His performances at St Thomas' were legendary, and his dedication to comedy and the stage there suggests that he might have pursued a successful stage career if he had not chosen medicine.

    He was in the Emergency Medical Service all through the war till 1946, first in the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, as a general surgeon and then, after attending Watson-Jones' first “trauma course” in Liverpool was sent to Park Prewett Hospital, Basingstoke, in charge of what was called a “fracture A” centre, which developed into the orthopaedic department under V H Ellis from St Mary's Hospital. He finally transferred to the army in 1946 as a major in the Royal Army Medical Corps in charge of the orthopaedic department at the Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot.

    Jim was a member of the first group of Nuffield Travelling Fellows in 1948, visiting North America and attending the combined meeting in Quebec. His visit to America was an important experience, coming as a ray of light in the postwar rationing years in Britain. He retained many links with friends made then and was often host later to visiting United States and Canadian doctors. He returned as chief assistant to the orthopaedic department at St Thomas' under Professor George Perkins until 1950, when he was appointed consultant to the Winchester and Southampton group of hospitals.

    Jim then moved with his young family to a large early 19th century house equidistant between the two hospitals near Otterbourne where he and Monica lived for 20 years. Weekends were spent in the garden and undertaking all the construction work associated with Monica's small poultry business. Jim was extraordinarily adept with his hands and enjoyed constructing Heath Robinsonian structures that solved all local difficulties.

    In 1968 the department at Winchester was reorganised and thereafter he worked only in Southampton till he retired. In that year he started part time work with the Wessex Regional Hospital Board, first as director of postgraduate studies and later also as chairman of the Board's Medical Advisory Committee. When the medical school at Southampton was opened he was appointed as the first professor of orthopaedic and accident surgery in l971, the position he held full time till retirement in 1976.

    Jim's wealth of experience combined with his excellent administrative and committee skills meant that he came to play an important part in the national medical scene. He became a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery in 1964 and did two four year terms of office. He was president of the orthopaedic section of the Royal Society of Medicine, 1970-1, and first a member and then chairman of the Orthopaedic Higher Surgical Training Committee of the college until 1977. He was vice president of the British Orthopaedic Association in 1975-6. He was outside examiner for the Liverpool MChir (Orthopaedics) and for the final examinations at Edinburgh. He went to Iraq as visiting professor in l973 and to South Africa in 1976, in both countries making contacts who were welcomed when they visited Britain. His chief professional interest was in hand surgery and he was a member of the British Society for Surgery of the Hand.

    Jim and Monica had three children, two of whom survive him, and there are four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. From the 1920s Jim had visited Welcombe, a village on the coast of North Devon, with his friend Tony Moon. He and Monica continued these visits throughout their early married life, and in the 1960s they bought a holiday cottage there, where they spent as much time as possible. The cottage initially had no services and was gradually modernised, Jim undertaking all the plumbing and electrical work. Other out-of-work activities involved visits to his much-loved Norfolk Broads, where he insisted on hiring only sail boats with no emergency motor power, and to the west coast of Scotland, where he and his family stayed with Wilfred Brinton, his colleague at Winchester.

    After becoming a consultant in Hampshire Jim performed for many years in the local village drama group, principally in the annual pantomime but also in plays and play readings. For the pantomime Jim wrote the original and quite outstanding music and lyrics—ranging from four part opening numbers for the chorus, through solos and duets for the principal boy and girl, to comedy numbers. He himself played the pantomime dame and also regularly performed an entracte comedy number as well. His contributions were spread over a regular commitment of 15 years. These performances were quite superb. He was able, with exceptional comic talent and the most perfect timing, to reduce audiences night after night beyond laughter to weeping helplessness. His music was highly melodic with interesting subtleties and his lyrics triumphs of comic rhyming. His last work in the theatre was directing a performance of The Boy Friend for the Winchester amateur dramatic society put on as the first production at the Theatre Royal Winchester after it was relaunched as a theatre.

    In retirement he attended adult education classes in music, drama, architecture, and industrial archaeology, and in the latter subject he provided invaluable assistance to Monica in her work, especially on her published book on the Bude canal. The couple went regularly to the theatre seeing virtually all the stage performances at Chichester, Southampton, and Salisbury. Jim was a devotee of opera, and he and Monica never missed performances by touring companies at Southampton and Southsea. With their friends Charles and Chris Manning they had breaks in London, where they would see two plays a day for two or three days, Jim insisting, despite Monica's misgivings, on keeping up with the latest plays.

    They moved to a smaller house in Otterbourne village in the 1990s. Jim's eyesight became increasingly compromised by macular degeneration, which he suffered uncomplainingly. Monica died after a short illness in 2001. They had been a couple who were extraordinarily devoted to each, but Jim suffered the loss stoically and continued courageously to live alone in their house helped by a devoted team of outside carers for a further two years. He finally moved to a nursing home for the last years of his life, where he died on the 3 May 2007 having just celebrated his 95th birthday.


    • Former professor of orthopaedic and accident surgery University of Southampton (b 13 April 1912; q Cambridge/St Thomas' Hospital, London, 1937; FRCS, MChir), d 3 May 2007.

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