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David Campbell Watt

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 05 September 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d5633
  1. Alastair Macdonald

Dr David Campbell Watt, for 24 years medical director of St John’s Hospital, Stone in Buckinghamshire, died on 30 December 2010 aged 90.

David was born in south London, but aged 10 moved to Oban when his mother died. Educated at Oban Grammar School, David qualified BSc, MB ChB from Glasgow University in 1943. After a spell in general practice in Oban he began his psychiatric career in 1946 in Shenley Hospital in Hertfordshire, then open for only 12 years, which was designed and run on progressive principles. In the same year he and Helen Short from Glasgow, the daughter of a missionary in China, were married. In 1949 the couple moved to London, where he was appointed registrar at the Maudsley Hospital under the fearsome regime of Aubrey Lewis.

Here was forming a cohort of young psychiatrists whose influence in British and international psychiatry can hardly be exaggerated, and which lasts to this day. The climate was then one of rigorous, detailed clinical assessment and scientific knowledge (embracing epidemiology, sociology, genetics, and neurochemistry) in an atmosphere of severe intellectual criticism and challenge, sometimes taking extreme forms. Lewis was, as Mapother was before him, bringing science to British psychiatry; asylum psychiatry. This was what it needed, and David was to carry its intellectual inheritance well into his own retirement.

It was at the Maudsley that David completed his MD in 1951 with a thesis entitled “The contra-indications to modified convulsion therapy.” It was also here that he met Michael Shepherd, Lewis’s admirer and protégé, who became David’s close and perhaps closest friend. They published their first paper together in the same year as he arrived.

While Michael Shepherd was completing his national service in the Royal Air Force at Halton near Aylesbury, he noted the extensive medical records kept at …

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