John Pilkington Clayton

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 01 March 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i1234
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. Tenterden
  1. jacquiyoung1{at}

Surgeon apothecary to HM Household at Windsor who saved the Queen Mother from choking on a fish bone

John Pilkington Clayton, who has died aged 94, was surgeon apothecary to the Royal Household at Windsor and to HM the Queen Mother’s Household at the Royal Lodge, Windsor. He featured in newspaper reports in November 1982, when he was called out to attend HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother after a fish bone became stuck in her throat. The Queen Mother, aged 82 at the time, was still choking and unable to swallow when Clayton arrived. He advised that she should be taken immediately to hospital, where she made a speedy recovery.

John Clayton was born in Ryde on the Isle of Wight in 1921. He had four siblings, two of whom died before he was born. His father was Brigadier-General Sir Gilbert Clayton, a British army intelligence officer who went on to become a distinguished colonial administrator in Cairo. Clayton travelled extensively in his early life, on one occasion meeting Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. The emperor’s brother gave him piggyback rides along the corridor of the train that was taking the family back to Cairo. Clayton continued travelling throughout his life and developed a lasting interest in the Middle East. After his father died in 1929 the family settled at Hampton Court, where his mother had a grace and favour apartment.

Clayton was educated at Wellington College and then Caius College, Cambridge, where he was a choral exhibitioner. He went on to King’s College Hospital and qualified in 1957. He served in the medical branch of the Royal Air Force Voluntary Reserve from 1947 to 1949, reaching the rank of squadron leader. After working as a senior resident at Nottingham Children's Hospital he joined a general medical practice in Windsor in 1953.

In 1962 Clayton was appointed school doctor at Eton College and became the senior school doctor three years later. He was an astute diagnostician with some unusual medical knowledge according to John Briscoe, who worked alongside him for many years and became a good friend. Briscoe once consulted him about a pupil with a rash that he could not diagnose. John asked, “Where is his room?” When told it was on the top floor, he asked if it had a window onto the roof. When told yes, he asked if the boy had a pigeon as a pet. He did, and the rash was promptly diagnosed as pigeon mite bites.

Clayton managed to give equal attention to his town patients, the school, and the royal family. Briscoe says that punctuality was not one of Clayton’s strong points, but his patients adjusted by turning up 10 to 15 minutes late for their appointments. He was, however, never late for prearranged consultations at Windsor Castle. In recognition of services to the royal family he was appointed a member of the Royal Victorian Order in 1975 and commander of the Royal Victorian Order on retirement in 1986.

In addition to his other duties, Clayton was medical officer to Royal Holloway College for 28 years and to Black and Decker for 15 years. He was appointed an honorary Old Etonian in 1985 and was a liveryman of the Society of Apothecaries.

Clayton never married but was very proud of his six nephews and nieces and many godchildren. He had a succession of housekeepers until his widowed sister, Patience, came to live with him. He eventually retired to Wiltshire where he lived with his good friends Patrick and Priscilla Manley in Market Lavington. The house had room for his grand piano, which he played with great flair and enthusiasm. He was a member of the local Devizes Piano Circle, playing regularly up to the end of his life. He loved singing and was a member of the church choir and local choral society.

A regular churchgoer, John played the organ when needed and served as a churchwarden. James Campbell, the rector of St Mary's Church in Market Lavington, recalls how John's wit and skill as a raconteur added to many gatherings. He said that John had a stoical nature and didn’t like to burden others with his complaints. He remained fiercely independent to the end, determined not to move away from his home.

John Pilkington Clayton (b 13 February 1921; q Cambridge/King's College Hospital 1957; MRCS Eng), d 6 January 2016.

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