Intended for healthcare professionals


Douglas Ellis: pioneer in fertility treatment

BMJ 2023; 381 doi: (Published 01 June 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;381:p1251
  1. John Illman
  1. London, UK
  1. john{at}

When teaching trainees vaginal repair surgery, the legendary Douglas Ellis demonstrated a dissection technique using the scalpel’s tip, not its blade. If they got it right, he said, it would make a scratching noise like that of Mr McGregor’s hoe in The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

They would never understand how to do the operation properly, he insisted, without reading and “hearing” the Beatrix Potter classic. His edition included a noise inducing push button. He gave copies to students who lacked one. Mr McGregor’s hoe was a favourite party piece when he invited his “A team” to dinner.

This anecdote points to eccentricity, but there was nothing quirky about Ellis in the operating theatre. He was a meticulous surgeon. He was a dapper bon viveur and a snappy dresser with a bright yellow Porsche. His passions included hunting, shooting, and bird watching. Above all else, he was an uncompromising old school surgeon, and one of only three NHS consultants at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, in the 1970s—there are now 54.

He was also a pioneer in fertility treatment. In 1973 he and J G Williamson reported induction of ovulation with tamoxifen. This put him centre stage in an …

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