the British Society for the History of Radiology

Report of the 8th meeting of the International Society of the History of Radiology (ISHRAD) in Brussels 28 Sep 2019

“Reflections on the International Day of Radiology” – a paper by Arpan Banerjee on the Oxford Medicine website




Report of the  British Society for the History of Radiology annual  lecture 2019

Godfrey Hounsfield – Inventor of the CT scanner

Report by Dr Arpan K Banerjee  Past Chair Brit Soc History Radiology

This year’s  annual  lecture of the BSHR on 18 Feb was delivered by Liz Beckman and Stephen Golding  in the Governor’s Hall  at St Thomas’s Hospital, London.

Liz Beckmann, an electrical engineer by training and Past President of the BIR, and Stephen Golding,  a retired radiologist from Oxford and also a Past President of the BIR.  Both had the honour  and privilege of  meeting  and getting to know Hounsfield and the double act was not just a chronological biography of the great man but peppered with reminiscences and personal reflections which gave the presentation a unique dimension and had the audience of over fifty riveted to their seats. Hounsfield was born on 28 Aug 1919 and the lecture was a celebration of the centenary year of his birth. It was also nice to see several people in the audience who had worked directly with Hounsfield.

When  the classic presentation on CT scanning occurred  on 20 April 1972 at the scientific congress of the British Institute of Radiology (BIR) people realised what an extraordinary advance had been made in the field of radiology. Radiology and the practise of clinical medicine  was to be changed forever.

Everyone had to have one of these new machines.

Hounsfield came from humble origins the youngest of 5 children  born to a father who had hit hard times and Hounsfield grew up in modest circumstances on a farm. At Magnus School near Newark, Hounsfield did not excel academically -- although he did like maths and physics -- and his school report said he was intellectually retarded. Hounsfield was  an experimenter and liked making things. He was imbued with an  insatiable  curiosity. Holidays  would be taken in the Lake District. Hounsfield liked  taking long walks and  was a keen rambler.

He  did not go to university  but joined the RAF and worked on radar and  started working for EMI in 1949 where he started to develop his interest in computers. The work here was to lead to the development of the CT scanner and the famous 1972 papers with Ambrose.

Hounsfield was showered with honours and a Nobel Prize in 1979  and a knighthood in 1981 but  always remained modest and shy . He did not like the limelight and actually disliked lecturing and giving presentations and being in the limelight. He had no interest in money or power.

The 21st anniversary of the discovery was celebrated at the Glasgow meeting in 1993 ( I remember it well)  and was attended by Hounsfield. He was also happy to give his name to the eponymous Hounsfield  lectures started by the efforts of  Dr Golding  and initially funded by the BIR and the first lecture was deliverd by the late Martin  Blomley  in 1997 on the topic of functional  imaging with contrast agents. This lecture was to be  given annually by a young researcher and not just  the great and good in radiology.  Hounsfield  would  often attend  and always enjoy questioning the lecturer about the new ideas. It was this that gave him the greatest pleasure.

Godfrey,  forever  the  unassuming and retiring  bachelor,  died in 2004 and left money in his will to help with the BIR lectures. His legacy lives on in the way modern medicine is practised.

All those who attended the lecture were left humbled by hearing  a brilliant exposition about not only a remarkable scientific genius but also a man of wonderful character.

Report of History of Radiology session Liverpool  10 June  2019

by Dr Arpan K Banerjee Past Chair Brit Soc History of Radiology

This year’s annual radiology imaging and oncology  congress was again held in the ACC , Liverpool. The radiology history session organised by the BSHR was held on the Monday 10 June and consisted of four talks.

Professor Duck opened with a talk ‘The Marie Curie Hospital Hampstead 1929-1967’.

Marie and Pierre Curie discovered radium in 1898 and in 1925 a  UK trial  using radium was commenced in uterine cancer patients. In 1929 the hospital opened to treat women with cancer with radiotherapy. The hospital had high voltage radiotherapy equipment, a diagnostic radiology and a pathology department.  Funding was obtained from several charitable sources. Over 13000 cases were seen during the time the hospital was open and patients with cancer of the  cervix, uterus and breast were treated along with other cancers. It is interesting to note that menorrhagia was also treated with radiation in this era. Sadly the hospital was bombed in 1944  and facilities eventually moved to the Mount Vernon in 1967.

The next talk was delivered by Dr Arpan K Banerjee titled ‘Some common eponymous signs in gastrointestinal radiology-who were the eponymists?’ Gastrointestinal radiology is full of eponymous signs ranging from Chilaiditi’s sign, Rigler’s sign and triad, Carman’s sign in barium radiology and eponymous disease like Crohn’s disease to name a few. A brief biographical vignette of these pioneers were presented along with the original descriptions of the signs and examples were shown.

The next talk was given by Prof Adrian Thomas titled ‘Tuberculosis and radiotherapy: a historical perspective’. The talk covered the different approaches and models of treatment throughout the ages  with particular reference to TB treatment. Radiotherapy started in Vienna with Leopold Freund. Finsen had experimented with light therapy which fell out of fashion. Lupus vulgaris was treated successfully with radiotherapy. Eventually with rapid pharmacological progress in the latter half of the last century physical forms of treatment were abandoned in favour of pharmacotherapy.

The final talk was delivered by Elizabeth Beckman ‘Godfrey Hounsfield –the centenary of his birth.’ The audience was given an overview of his ancestry and early unpromising start as evidenced by his school reports. It is often the case that people who go onto achieve great things  often have undistinguished school careers.

Hounsfield the bachelor was a shy unassuming modest character and what came across was how humble he remained in spite of his great discovery of the CT scan which was to revolutionise medical practice, the 1979 Nobel Prize (shared with Cormack) and other accolades that were showered on him.

The stand in the exhibition was a tribute to Hounsfield and thanks should be given to Dr Thomas for this and also mention must be made of Dr Thomas’s poster exhibit on ‘Graves Disease and radiotherapy: the work of Florence Stoney.’

Radiograph of Recumbent Man 1898? By

Arthur Radiguet [Wellcome Collection]