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SAMJ: South African Medical Journal

On-line version ISSN 2078-5135
Print version ISSN 0256-9574

SAMJ, S. Afr. med. j. vol.101 n.9 Cape Town Sep. 2011




Searching for Pappworth


To the Editor: Maurice Henry Pappworth (1910 - 1994) was a controversial figure. A lifelong outsider, he chose an unconventional career path as a private medical tutor rather than accepting anything less than his first job choice - a consultant post in a London teaching hospital. This story is not remarkable, as many reconsider their options after disappointment in their careers. However, Pappworth excelled as a tutor, helping 1 600 junior doctors to pass the gruelling MRCP in post-war London, many from overseas and more than 200 from South Africa.

Pappworth's other major contribution, which has not been fully documented or appreciated, is his contribution to the development of medical research ethics. Pappworth was a whistle-blower, and his 1967 book, Human Guinea Pigs,1 is a major milestone on the journey towards the modern system of research ethics committee review.

As Director of the Glasgow Clinical Research Facility I have for many years taught health care professionals about the conduct of clinical research. While working on a book on the history of clinical trials2 I first encountered Pappworth and have since been interested in his story. His contributions need to be re-evaluated, and to this end I am working on his biography.

I never met Pappworth and must rely on those who did, which is the purpose of this letter. Many South African physicians attended Pappworth's classes in his Harley Street consulting rooms in the 1950s to 1970s, and I would very much like to hear their memories of the man and his methods. If you were one of his students and are willing to share your memories with me, please contact me by e-mail at or by post at the address below.

Historical research is only as good as its sources. First-hand accounts of those who were actually there will always trump others, and it is by speaking to those who worked closely with him that I hope to find Pappworth and offer him the re-assessment I feel he deserves.


Allan Gaw
Director, Glasgow Clinical Research Facility
Tennent Building
38 Church St Western
Infirmary Glasgow G11 6NT


1. Pappworth MH. Human Guinea Pigs: Experimentation on Man. London: Routledge, 1967.         [ Links ]

2. Gaw A. Trial by Fire: Lessons from the History of Clinical Trials. Glasgow: SA Press, 2009.         [ Links ]

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