Intended for healthcare professionals


Arnold Maran: otolaryngologist who became known as the “Voice Doctor”

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 12 February 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k437
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Arnold Maran will be remembered by many as the “Voice Doctor,” a moniker he earnt for his work optimising the vocal chords of singers and actors—and also of former president of Iraq Saddam Hussein. Maran liked the moniker so much that he used it in the title of his 2005 book, The Voice Doctor: The Story of Singing.1

But Maran’s voice work, which started in the late 1980s, came late in his distinguished medical career. His more important contribution to medicine started nearly 20 years earlier, when he helped pioneer surgery for head and neck cancer in the UK.

In 1972 Maran teamed up with fellow otolaryngologist Philip Stell (read obituary: to publish their popular and esteemed Stell and Maran’s Textbook of Head and Neck Surgery and Oncology. An updated fifth edition of the book, with a foreword and an introduction written by Maran, was published in 2012.2

“Without doubt, his single most important clinical contribution was the introduction, with Professor Stell, of a training system for head and neck cancer surgery to the UK,” says Janet Wilson, professor of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at Newcastle University.

Wilson, who was a clinical and surgical trainee under Maran in Edinburgh, adds: “He was a gifted surgeon and never wary of taking on a new surgical challenge as technology advanced. In addition to his head and neck cancer work, he was a talented facial plastic surgeon and one of the pioneers of endoscopic sinus surgery.”

Maran also was a leader in the surgical community, serving as treasurer, secretary, and finally president from 1997 until 2000 of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. Michael Lavelle-Jones, the current president, says Maran hugely contributed to “taking the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh forward.”

Italian heritage

Arnold George Dominic Maran was born on 16 June 1936 in Edinburgh to an Italian mother and a father who was second generation Italian. During the second world war—with the UK and Italy on opposing sides—young Arnold tried to conceal his Italian heritage.

In 1951, at the age of 15, Maran made his first trip to Italy and fell in love with the country. “It was ‘la dolce vita,’” Arnold later said. “Such a contrast to postwar Britain.”

He studied medicine at Edinburgh University. After qualifying he trained in ear, nose, and throat medicine at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary. In 1963 he became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, and a year later decided to leave his hometown.

“I had had the same friends since I was five,” he later said. “I knew what my job would be, and I knew where I’d be buried. I was a senior ear, nose, and throat registrar. So I decided to go to America and retrain as a neck and head cancer specialist. I was 28, and people thought I was mad.”3

He spent a year at the University of Iowa and then returned to Scotland for an appointment at the Royal Infirmary in Dundee. In 1967 he received his doctorate from Edinburgh. After six years in Dundee, he returned to the US for additional training, this time at the University of West Virginia, and in 1975 he became a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. He then returned to his hometown and was appointed consultant otolaryngologist. He joined the faculty of Edinburgh University, where he later was appointed the first professor of otolaryngology.

“He was an original thinker,” says Janet Wilson, who collaborated with Maran on several research projects. “He was a careful and patient teacher who attracted an international following of fellows. He was always able to give a strategic view in terms of career planning, which was valuable because then, as now, career guidance in medicine can be rather lacking.”

Edinburgh Voice Centre

In his spare time, Maran was involved in the Edinburgh music scene. He liked opera and also played piano in jazz bands. He heard about human voice research being done in Edinburgh by Colin Watson, an opera singer and recording engineer. Maran contacted Watson and the two men founded the Edinburgh Voice Centre, one of the first voice clinics in the UK.

“Colin built a computer to measure the voice, and I used an endoscope with a keyhole camera to see the vocal cords,” Maran recalled in a 2005 newspaper article about the publication of The Voice Doctor.4 “The software checks to see if the vocal cord muscles are being used properly, or if there are minor abnormalities. Gradually, it became known in the singing world that there was a peculiar duo in Edinburgh, one of whom knew every singing role, and the other who had these toys to measure it all. Stars started coming from all over Europe.”

Maran believed that performing artists needed specialised medical care along the lines of sports medicine for athletes. In 1998 he published a paper on the topic in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.5

Maran over the years declined to name any singers treated at his voice clinic, saying publicity would not be good for their careers. But it is known that his patients included singers and actors who performed at the annual Edinburgh International Festival. Brian McMaster, former director of the festival, said: “Arnold Maran’s skill, knowledge, and care saved many a singer’s career and many a performance.”

One voice patient that Maran did name publicly was Saddam Hussein, whose family physician was an Iranian man who had trained under Maran in Dundee. Maran made several trips to Iraq, and on one occasion examined Saddam for a hoarse throat.

“I remember telling him to speak more slowly, just like the American president Jimmy Carter,” Maran later recalled. “In retrospect, it really was the wrong thing to say. But he actually took that idea up and changed the way he spoke.”

After retiring in 2000, Maran divided his time between his homes in Orchard Brae in Edinburgh and the Umbria region of central Italy. In addition to his voice doctor book, he was also the author of Mafia: Inside The Dark Heart and Golf at the North Pole: The Arctic and the Ancient Game.

Maran’s leadership roles included that of president of the Medico-Chirurgical Society of Edinburgh, of the Scottish Otolaryngological Society, and of the laryngology section of the Royal Society of Medicine. In 2004 he was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree from the University of Hong Kong, where he was a regular visitor over the years and where he mentored many surgeons. His other honours include the Walter Jobson Home Prize of the British Medical Association, the Yearsley Medal of the Royal Society of Medicine, the professional Medal of Helsinki, the WJ Harrison Prize, the Semon Medal of the University of London, and the Leon Goldman Medal of South Africa.

One of his most moving experiences, he once recalled, was visiting Mother Teresa at her hospice and orphanage in Calcutta in the early 1990s. “And this little Albanian woman said to me, ‘You’re very lucky to be a doctor. But you must remember, medicine is not a profession. Medicine is not a business. Medicine is a vocation.’”6

Maran added: “I then thought I should stay there and lift people out the gutter and look after them. Then I came back home, went to the private hospital, took out tonsils, and sent an invoice. It made me feel so small. I regret I never did that work in India.”

Maran leaves his wife, Anna, and two children.

Arnold George Dominic Maran (b 1936; q Edinburgh 1959; FRCS Ed, MD Ed, FRCS Eng, FACS, FRCP Ed, FDS (Hons) RCS Ed, FCS (Hons) S Afr) died after a short illness on 10 December 2017


View Abstract

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription