Intended for healthcare professionals


J W P Bradley

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 21 July 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4724
  1. Averil Olive Mansfield Bradley

John W Bradley (“Jack”) was born in Paulton in Somerset and was christened John William Paulton Bradley. His mother Gladys was know by her family as “Danny,” and his father, William Henry, was a distinguished epidemiologist who, after serious injuries sustained in the war, became a patient in Oxford and met Thomas Strong, the dean of Christ Church. He decided then to become a doctor and was a student at Christ Church, Oxford, and then Guy’s Hospital in London.

John was born while his father was resident medical officer at Downside School.

In 1937 John became a chorister at Christ Church, and he looked back on those years with great happiness. He loved the singing and also enjoyed football. In 1939 he was awarded the “work and progress” prize. He had the good fortune to retain his voice when it changed from a treble into an excellent tenor. His voice enabled him in 1942 to obtain a choral scholarship to Westminster School, and he joined Grant’s House

The second world war, however, meant that almost all his time at Westminster was actually spent in Herefordshire. He told of the bicycle journeys between classes (sometimes 7 miles apart) and between home and school.

At the end of the war he followed in his father’s footsteps and became an undergraduate medical student at Christ Church, where his tutor was Trevor Heaton, who had also been his father’s tutor. He subsequently did his clinical course at Westminster Hospital Medical School where he found the teaching to be excellent. He graduated in 1955.

He had joined the Oxford University air squadron. He said he did this because of the excellent Sunday lunches that they received, but a brief glance at his flying log book makes it plain that he wanted to fly and first began to train in February 1945 in a Tiger Moth. His first solo flight was on 1 November 1946 in a Tiger Moth.

He continued when he moved to London as a member of the University of London air squadron from 1949 to 1952 and continued flying intermittently thereafter.

He flew Tiger Moths, Harvards, Meteor VII, Chipmunk, and Balliol, and accrued well over 100 pilot flying hours and about the same as the second pilot.

He always found difficulty in reading and later felt that he was dyslexic. He used drawing as a method of learning anatomy and was able to draw with both hands simultaneously. He answered anatomical questions with drawings rather than words, but the examiners seem to have accepted this.

In spite of all this he graduated on time.

In 1952 he was house surgeon at the Gordon Hospital and then the Royal Northern, and in a letter, Alan Small wrote that he “had never felt happier at the care that my patients were receiving” and Bill Gabriel said he had “a real flair for surgery” and that he “operates well and carefully.”

Not surprisingly on call up for national service he entered the Royal Air Force in 1953 as a trainee surgical specialist and in 1956 as a squadron leader he was posted as the first medical officer to Operation Grapple on Christmas Island in the Pacific.

He was in the advance party that arrived by sea and had to wade ashore as there were no landing facilities—or for that matter any other facilities until they created them.

The intention was to drop a megaton hydrogen bomb, but the first bomb dropped in May 1957 was well below the hoped for one megaton. However, the fourth bomb, in November 1957, exceeded that goal with a yield of 1.8 megaton.

Jack took some amazing photographs of these events and also of the local birds and fishes, while providing medical care for the 3000 service personnel on Christmas Island. They were mostly young and healthy, and the bomb itself did not cause any casualties, so the workload was not unduly onerous. Faced with a possible outbreak of Asian influenza, Jack consulted by mail with his father concerning their management.

At the end of his military service he returned to training in surgery, first at St James Hospital, Balham, then at Sutton and Cheam. He was resident surgical officer at the Brompton and registrar at Westminster in 1961-63 and St George’s in 1963-67, where he became first assistant. During this appointment he spent some time at Winchester.

He was influence by some of the great names in surgery including Norman Tanner, Charles Drew, Victor Riddell, and Rodney Smith.

In 1967 he was appointed consultant surgeon to Hillingdon, Harefield, and Mount Vernon hospitals. He took up his post on 18 July 1967. He was a member of Hillingdon Area Health Authority in the late 1970s and then a member of Brunel University Council.

He developed a particular interest in vascular surgery, and, although largely self taught, he was skilful in aortic and peripheral vascular surgery. But he was a real general surgeon in the old fashioned sense of that name. He encompassed with ease the varied skills needed for thyroidectomy, colectomy, pancreatectomy, nephrectomy, etc.

His research began at St George’s and the Buxton Browne Farm, Downe, where, using the external oblique aponeurosis, he developed aortic grafts. He hoped to develop the technique for the design of aortic valve replacements. His main research was carried out with Professor Neville Woolf, for whom he had a great admiration and from whom he learned a great deal about research and its conduct. The operative work took place at the Huntingdon Research Centre between 1965 and 1968.

He was diffident about his teaching abilities, but those who were taught by him felt privileged to have been his trainee. One of his former trainees sent me a diary extract from 1972: “An expression of freedom and joy—to watch Mr Bradley work. The harmony of mind, body, and spirit happily united. The grace of a ballet dancer; the calm of a quiet spring afternoon; the excitement of discovery; the contentment of competence and a job well done. That is the kind of surgeon I want to become.”

A senior and highly respected surgeon wrote to say: “he was one of the best one to one teachers I have ever known.” “I used him as a role model, not just for trainees but for myself.”

His first marriage was to Heather in 1959; the couple had three children, Russell, Lesley, and Jason. His second marriage was to Averil (also a surgeon). Jack retired in 1992.

There are six grandchildren: Poppy, Helen, Catherine, Harry, Charlotte, and Alexander.

He died at home in Paddington and leaves his wife, Averil.


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4724


  • Former general surgeon (b 1927; q Oxford 1952; FRCS Eng), died two weeks after aortic valve surgery on 30 September 2013.

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