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Surgeon-Gynaecologist to the Queen (1961-1973)
Born 1904 Died 2005

Not to be confused with either John Peel the Cumbrian huntsman or John Peel the Radio 1 DJ, Sir John Peel who died on Saturday, 31st December 2005 at the venerable age of 101, was one of Britain's leading gynaecologists in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Born John Harold Peel on the 10th December 1904 he was educated at the Manchester Grammar School and Queen's College, Oxford where he read Physiological Sciences. He later qualified as a doctor at King's College Hospital Medical School, London in 1930, and became a member of the Royal College of Physicians two years later. He remained at King's College Hospital for the early part of his medical career, specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology and rose to the status of consultant surgeon. He moved to the Princess Beatrice Hospital in London in 1937 where he remained until 1965. He also became a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) in 1944. By 1955 he was sufficiently well regarded in his profession to became a member of its council, was the honorary treasurer from 1959 to 1966, and president between 1966 and 1969. He became an honorary fellow of the College in 1989.

Having assisted his predecessor Andrew Gilliatt with the the births of Prince Charles in 1948 and Princess Anne in 1950, he became Surgeon-Gynaecologist to the Queen in 1961 and was thus responsible for the delivery of Prince Andrew in 1960 and Prince Edward in 1964. He also delivered Princess Margaret's children, David Armstong-Jones, Viscount Linley in 1961 and Sarah Armstrong-Jones in 1964.

Apart from assisting the Windsors in the business of ensuring the succession to the throne he is remembered for two particular contributions to British life.

Firstly, it was during his period of office as President of the RCOG, that David Steel brought forward his bill to legalise abortion, and thus found himself becoming chairman of the RCOG committee established to advise the government on the issue. Since he believed that permitting medical termination of pregnancy would reduce the risk of death and disease associated with the back-street abortion trade, he took a leading role in persuading the committee to come out in support of the proposal, and thus played a role in bringing the Abortion Act 1967 to the statute book.

Secondly, in 1971 he was the author of the Peel Report, an Enquiry into Domiciliary Midwifery Beds Needs which he carried out on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Security. The principal recommendation of the report was that all women should give birth in hospital, believing that this would reduce both maternal and infant mortality. (This was despite the lack of any evidence of a link between such mortality rates and the hospitilisation of expectant mothers.) Nevertheless this resulted in an expansion in the provision of hospital maternity services at the expense of what is technically known as 'domiciliary midwifery services'. (Thus if you have experienced any problems getting a home birth with the NHS now you know who to blame.)

Described as a keen gardener and fisherman, he was married three times and in later life became a sponsor of an organisation called 'The Responsible Society' (now known as Family and Youth Concern) which campaigned on the issues of sexual morality and enabled him to express his views on the "pernicious theories" of "trendy experts" intent on "the glorification of sex for physical satisfaction alone".

In 1960 he was created Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. His full and formal designation was, John Harold Peel KCVO, MA, BM BCh (Oxon), FRCP, FRCS, Hon FRCOG, Hon DSc (Birm), Hon FRCS(C.), Hon FCOG (SA), Hon FACS, Hon FACOG, Hon NMSA, Hon DM (Soton), Hon SCh (Newcastle)

John Harold Peel was the author of;

  • Textbook of Gynaecology (1943)
  • Lives of the Fellows of Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 1929-1969 (1976)
  • A biography of William Blair Bell (1986)


Sourced from the Daily Telegraph obituary of Sir John Peel, filed 02 January 2006 together with the Biographical note to the Caesarean section survey: records of Sir John Peel at http://www.aim25.ac.uk/cgi-bin/search2?coll_id=4974&inst_id=7

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