David Birkett died suddenly; he was murdered in brutal circumstances. He was born at Spennymoor, Co.Durham, the son of Lionel Christopher Birkett, an analytical chemist. He went as a King’s Scholar to Durham School and subsequently as a scholar to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he obtained a double first in the Natural Sciences Tripos.
He entered St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, for his medical training and it was there, under Bob MacKenna [Munk's Roll, Vol.VIII, p.308] and Peter Borrie [Munk's Roll Vol.VIII, p.36], that his interest in dermatology was awakened. He was called up for National Service and served for two years as a medical specialist in the RAMC in Germany, then returned to Bart’s for training in dermatology.
In 1967 he returned to north-east England as a senior registrar at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne. His career as a dermatologist was unusual in that he was appointed to South Tees RHA in 1968, moved to Hastings in 1969 and then back to South Tees in 1976 - where he worked until his death. He gave himself an arduous work schedule covering eight clinical sessions weekly in five district general hospitals spread over a 20-mile radius.
His main hobby was palaeopathology, which he studied and developed to an extent which resulted in his acceptance as an international authority on the subject and he travelled widely. In 1982 the College awarded him the Medicine-Gilliland travelling fellowship and he used this to pursue his studies in America and Germany. He had a retiring nature and could rarely be persuaded to speak in public at medical meetings, but his talks on ‘old bones’ fascinated medical audiences everywhere. He seldom missed the afternoon meetings of the dermatology section of the Royal Society of Medicine, in London, which was perhaps not unconnected with the fact that it gave him the preceding morning free to examine more bones in the vaults of the British Museum.
He kept fit with regular jogging and to prove it, aged 55, he completed the London Marathon in 1989 with sponsorship from his Middlesborough dermatology department. His intellect, impartiality and dry sense of humour were greatly appreciated by his colleagues who sought - and readily obtained - his advice in his capacity as chairman of the local medical committee in Teeside.
At the time of his death he was chairman of the Northern Regional Dermatology Subcommittee, and a member of the committee of the British Association of Dermatologists.
He married Stephanie Veronica, daughter of John Prince, a journalist, in 1962. There were three children of the marriage which later ended in divorce.
T C Hindson
[The Daily Telegraph, 6 Feb 1990]