David Bett was born at Palmerston North in New Zealand. Both his parents were second generation New Zealanders and each was one of eight children. David himself, however, was an only child. His father, Douglas Home Bett, was a surgeon who practised in New Zealand. His mother, Olive, was the daughter of Richard Gore. When David was aged about 14 his father retired from practice and came with the family to live in Jersey, in the Channel Islands. David was sent to school in Sherborne, Dorset, and in 1939 he entered Exeter College, Oxford. At this time the war caught up on him and the family, but they managed to escape from Jersey before the German invasion. From Oxford he went to Westminster Hospital for his clinical training and after qualification became casualty officer at Westminster Hospital. In 1946 he took a three year short service commission in the RNVR and this was later extended to six years. Most of his naval service was spent on naval airfields but he was also involved in stopping illegal immigrants from Europe entering Israel. He reached the rank of lieutenant commander.
It was not until after he left the Navy that he decided to specialize in dermatology. He obtained the MRCP in 1954 and then went to Edgware General Hospital as a houseman to refresh his mind and bring him up to date with hospital medicine. He was better qualified than most of the registrars at the time. Later he became registrar at St John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin and senior registrar to Charing Cross Hospital. He was the first person to undertake a regular dermabrasion session at St John’s.
As a consultant in the NHS he practised at Bromley and Farnborough (Kent), Sidcup and St Stephen’s Hospital, Fulham. With the reorganization of the health service St Stephen’s became part of the Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster Area Health Authority (Teaching) and so he became a member of the Westminster teaching staff. His busy practice left little time for research, but he published a few papers in medical journals, including one on dermabrasion and one on sugar consumption in acne and seborrhoeic dermatitis.
As an individual David was self-effacing, tending to underestimate his ability. He was conscientious and friendly and very well liked by his patients and colleagues.
David’s chief interest outside medicine was the theatre. He took part in amateur dramatics before his marriage, and he also tried his hand at writing plays and short stories. He hoped that on his retirement he would be able to move back to the Channel Islands and take up writing more seriously. Unfortunately this was not to be. His other interest was the great outdoors, and the family had regular camping holidays in France. It was within a few minutes of returning home from a skiing holiday that he had his fatal coronary.
Whilst at Edgware General Hospital he met and married Rosemary Hall, an occupational therapist. Rosemary’s father was Norman Ball, who practised as a general practitioner in Greenwich until his death in a car accident in 1936. There were many other doctors on both sides of her family and she is a cousin of Sir Edward Pochin FRCP. They had two sons and a daughter.
[Lancet, 1977, 1, 612]