Dr Peter David Phelps

Obituaries - Clinical oncology
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Dr Peter David Phelps

22/05/1939 to 07/02/2002
Memoir Author: 
Fred W. Wright

Peter Phelps was born in Harrow and educated at Merchant Taylors School and Charing Cross Medical School. He did house jobs at Charing Cross and Leicester followed by an SHO appointment in ENT, also at Charing Cross. He then became an anatomy lecturer (to prepare for Primary FRCS) at Charing Cross, where he met his future wife Susan  then a medical student. He moved to Oxford, becoming an ENT registrar at the Radcliffe Infirmary and gaining the FRCS, but during this period became increasingly deaf.

Reluctantly he decided to switch to radiology, and it was then that I got to know him well. He worked with me as a registrar quite a lot at the Churchill Hospital, Oxford, and in those days one took the DMRD before attempting the Fellowship in Radiology. He was learning lip-reading, but at first was not very proficient so we had many sessions at my house showing him films, and tapping him with a billiard cue to regain his attention or to signify that he had made a mistake. At any rate he sailed through both the Diploma and the FRCR (with a note to the examiners asking that the room lights be turned on as well as the viewing boxes, so that he could lip-read). Peter then considered whether he should stay in radiology or try to return to ENT. He applied for several junior ENT posts, but without success. Philip Sheldon then arranged for him to spend one day a week with Glyn Lloyd at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital, London where he developed his knowledge of ENT radiology. At this time CT was becoming more widely available, and with some encouragement from his Oxford teachers he decided to apply for a consultant post in Coventry, but asking if he could have a session or two at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital. This request was approved, and permitted his research; he later spent more time in London, particularly after he became Director of the Department at Gray's Inn Road on Glyn Lloyd's retirement in 1988. He was also an honorary consultant at Great Ormond St. He retired from full-time work in December 2000 owing to ill health. His experience in ENT, his own personal interest in the causes of deafness, and the progress in CT of the ear, particularly with thin-sections, drove him and Glyn Lloyd to publish a book Radiology of the Ear in 1983, with a second edition Diagnostic Imaging of the Ear in 1990. Soon after this Peter wrote a London MD thesis on CT of the ear. He also gave many lectures (including a superb one at the 1995 Roentgen centenary conference in Birmingham) and wrote many papers on the subject, becoming not only a national but also a world authority on the subject. Most people who heard him speak were absolutely mesmerised by his understanding of the minutiae of inner ear deformities, and he was frequently consulted by radiologists and ENT surgeons almost worldwide. He was also a founder member of the European Society of Head and Neck Radiology, serving as secretary from 1990 to 1993. He organised the annual meeting at University of Warwick 1996, and was the first president of a similar British Society.

In 1997 Peter had a cochlear implant. It took time and patience but he derived great benefit from it, although still needing an interpreter when using the telephone. In the last few years he did the radiology for the cochlear implant teams at Gray's Inn Road, Great Ormond St. and Birmingham.

Peter was a super fellow always pleasant and kind and never complaining, despite his difficulties and it was a pleasure to know and try to help him. His interests outside radiology were his family (his wife is a GP in the Nuneaton area and they had two children, a barrister daughter in London and son a town-planner), vintage motor-cars (and there were several outside the local parish church at his funeral), and touring the canals of England, Wales and France. In his younger days he was a very keen rugby player, and played to a high standard, representing Buckinghamshire, the United Hopitals and playing regularly for OMT.

He also was diagnosed with MS in his thirties fortunately this was mild and he had little motor disability, but there was speculation that it could have been the cause of his deafness. Two years ago he unfortunately developed prostate cancer from which he died. He is virtually irreplaceable in his specialised sphere, as was also noted by David Proops FRCS, ENT surgeon in Birmingham, in his funeral eulogy, which was heard by many of his local colleagues, friends and several former registrar and other colleagues from Oxford.