Bryan Ashworth

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 13 February 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f575
  1. E H Jellinek

Bryan Ashworth’s father was an engineer and had served as an observer in the Royal Flying Corps in the first world war. His mother had managed a hotel. Ashworth described his schooling as the least happy period of his life, but he did sufficiently well in examinations to receive a major county scholarship to see him through his medical studies. Clinical teaching at that period was at Dundee, where he had his first junior post as house physician to Dr (later Sir) Ian Hill. After further junior posts in the Manchester area he was called up to serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps for two years, mostly in Ghana, which he seemed to enjoy but not enough to become a regular in the RAMC. Further medical registrar jobs were partly in neurology, first in Manchester and then in Bristol. As a senior registrar there he went to Stockholm for the best part of a year, as a Wellcome travelling fellow, for research with Erik Klas Henrik Kugelberg, a professor of clinical neurophysiology.

Bryan’s first consultant job in Manchester was unsatisfactory, and he moved to Edinburgh in 1970, where he worked as a neurologist and university lecturer, until he retired at the age of 63. He was fully stretched by his work but found time for outside interests. He had particular interests in neuro-ophthalmology and medical history (he chaired the Scottish Society of the History of Medicine in 2004-7), as well as in medical administration and politics, albeit less enthusiastically.

He had transferred partially to the Royal Infirmary from the north side of Princes Street and was involved in the eventual move of all the neurosciences to the Western General Hospital, but he also continued to work at the Royal Infirmary.

A bibliophile, he became the honorary librarian at the Edinburgh College of Physicians from the early 1980s to 1992.

He published more than 50 papers on neurological topics, eight of these on neuro-ophthalmological topics. He published, or co-published, four books1 2 3 4. He wrote extremely well, and carefully, with almost unrestrained criticism of his colleagues.

In his personal relationships he seemed distant. He had no surviving family, and his personality was bound to have been affected by his own medical history. As a final year medical student he noted enlargement of one testicle. Four years later, as a medical registrar, he became very ill with enlargement of one cervical gland and symptoms of retroperitoneal metastases. Diagnosed as having a seminoma he came under the inpatient care of the pioneer of radiotherapy, Ralston Paterson, in Manchester, who administered experimental megavoltage treatment for three months. The tumours disappeared, and Bryan returned to work at the end of six months. He published an anonymous account in a short paper about his story and feelings in the BMJ,5 and a fuller, open account in his autobiographical book.4

With an interest in medical ethics and in trying to update Hippocrates, he attended postgraduate study groups at the University of Wales and an MA for philosophy in healthcare in 1993.

He was an excellent and devoted physician, trained at the time when neurology was more of a craft than a choice in neuroinvestigations, and it was good to have worked alongside him for 17 years.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f575


  • Neurologist (b 1929; q St Andrews 1952; MD, FRCP Edin, FRCP Lond) , d 20 November 2012.


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