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Obituary: Elliot Philipp

Elliot Philipp1915–2010

Eminent gynaecologist and obstetrician, author of numerous popular and technical medical works and committed religious and charitable Jew, Elliot Philipp died on 27th September, 2010 at the age of 95.

Born on 20th July 1915 to Oscar and Clarisse Philipp in Stoke Newington, London, Elliot Philipp was educated at Warwick House and St.Paul’s School. His father, a metal dealer from Hamburg, had come to England in 1908, to open an office, which in due course became the hub of a large and internationally successful operation. Elliott settled on a different career early, deciding by the age of seven he would be a doctor, and went on to study at Cambridge University. After graduation he spent a year in Lausanne, due to ill-health, and it was here that he delivered his first baby.

At the start of World War II, only a month after qualifying, Elliot left his first appointment at the Middlesex Hospital, to join the RAF. With Bomber Command in East Anglia, based at Feltwell and Mildenhall, he was responsible for those medical centres, by the end of hostilities holding the rank of Squadron Leader. He was offered a long term commission in the RAF to stay as a doctor and medical researcher but declined, returning to the Middlesex Hospital, and Addenbrokes Hospital where he had been a clinical student. Subsequent appointments included St.Thomas’s Hospital, The Royal Free Hospital and University College Hospital.

During this time Elliot was writing books and newspaper articles. His first, for which he had help from his distant relative, Sigmund Freud, was The Technique of Sex, first published in 1939. At a time when such guides were few and far between, it became a best seller with numerous editions over the next 40 years. In 1950 he became medical correspondent of The News Chronicle.

The following year, he gained his Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons and started working privately in Harley Street. He also joined the staff of Oldchurch Hospital, Romford, as Junior Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology a demanding job for a small department that covered a large area dominated by the Ford Motor Co. The position gave him the opportunity to undertake research in relation to blood groups and Rhesus factor.

His private practice was growing too, particularly among the French community since he spoke fluent French and German. He became the official gynaecologist to the French and several other embassies, worked part time at the French Hospital in Shaftesbury Avenue, and was responsible for the opening of the French Dispensary As a result of this and similar work he was awarded the French Legion d’Honneur.

In 1964 Elliot moved to the Royal Northern Hospital which incorporated the City of London Maternity Hospital. His responsibilities included the inmates of Holloway prison, and the mental and physical challenges they presented. During this time as well as developing skills in keyhole surgery he was closely involved in treatments for infertility and the work with Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards, that resulted in the births of the first test-tube babies.

He retired from the National Health Service in 1980 but continued in private practice, seeing patients in Harley Street and operating until the age of 77. He continued writing books and articles, as well as lecturing until the age of 82. He was always involved in medical ethics and had regular discussions with the Chief Rabbi, Lord Jakobovits, and other religious leaders.

He served as President of both the Medical Society of London and the Hunterian Society, and chaired the Historical Division of the Royal Society of Medicine, during which time he jointly wrote the History of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. He also jointly edited Scientific Foundations of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Retirement also allowed him to spend more time at the beloved Elizabethan cottage near the Essex coast which he had bought in 1937 and where he wrote many of his books and built up an extensive collection of antiquarian gynaecological books.

Elliot’s commitment to Judaism and Jewish charities followed that of his father, one of the founders of the Technion University in Haifa and Kibbutz Lavi. Elliot was an Associate Governor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was in particular keen to help Jewish educational charities, including Jews College and the Jewish Widows and Students Aid Trust, of which he was a trustee for over 50 years. He was a Mohel, performing circumcisions, as well as on the board of the Initiation Society. He regularly attended shiurim and other study groups.

He married Lucie Ruth Hackenbroch, in 1939, five weeks after meeting her. They remained happily married for nearly 50 years, until her death in 1988. They had two children, Ann who died in 1997, and Alan who survives him. In 1990 Elliot found a new companion, Lady Zdenka Bean, who pre-deceased him in January 2010. His greatest pleasure however was being with his grand-children and great grandchildren.

He wrote an autobiography around 1987.

Books written or edited by Elliot Philipp include:

  • (Under the name Anthony Havil) The Techniques of Sex 1939 and numerous subsequent editions
  • (as Victor Tempest) Near the Sun 1946
  • (As Philip Embey) Woman’s Change in Life: a Book for every Woman 1955
  • Hilton’s Rest and Pain 1950
  • From Sterility to Fertility 1957
  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology 1961
  • Scientific Foundations of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 1970 and later editions
  • Childbirth 1978
  • Overcoming Childlessness 1984
  • Safe Sex: The pleasure without the Pain 1987
  • The facts about the Menopause 1998
  • History of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 1995