Francis Joseph Bentley was born at Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, the son of Hyman Benjamin and his wife Jane Solomon. He was educated at Middlesbrough High School and Durham University, graduating MB BS in 1922, taking the Conjoint diploma the same year. He held appointments as house-surgeon to Grey Turner and house-physician to Alfred Parkin at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne, and then moved to London where he was house-physician to Sir Robert Hutchison, Sir George Still and Hugh Thursfield at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street. Later, under Still’s guidance, he worked for the Medical Research Council on acute rheumatism in childhood. He took his MD in 1924 and his MRCP in 1925, and then entered the tuberculosis service of the Metropolitan Asylums Board as a divisional medical officer. Having decided on a public health career, he joined the staff of the London County Council in 1930, after a short period with Surrey County Council. He kept in close touch with clinical medicine and his report to the Medical Research Council in 1936 on artificial pneumothorax summarized and evaluated this most important therapeutic weapon against pulmonary tuberculosis between the two wars. His paper published in the British Medical Journal in 1940 was the first comprehensive paper on mass radiography in this country, and was the outcome of his work with a large number of soldiers who had joined up at the outbreak of the second world war.
With the establishment of the National Health Service in 1946, he had to decide whether to remain on the LCC’s staff becoming mainly an administrator, or take an appointment in the hospital service. He chose the latter and was appointed medical superintendent at Highwood Hospital for Children, Brentwood, Essex. This proved the most rewarding period of his career. Much research on pulmonary tuberculosis in childhood was carried out at Highwood. Together with his colleagues, S.Grzybowski and B.Benjamin, he produced his major work, Tuberculosis in Childhood and Adolescence, in 1954, which achieved a world wide reputation. This was further developed and evaluated in the many hundreds of carefully chosen slides which are deposited in the Library of the College.
As well as his research, he continued his interest in clinical problems and undertook regular teaching of postgraduates from the Institute of Diseases of the Chest and Great Ormond Street Hospital, and undergraduates from the London Hospital and Guy’s Hospital. Bentley made efforts to have Highwood taken over by the Board of Governors of Brompton Hospital with the intention of making it a teaching hospital, but in this he failed. Towards the end of his active career he became consulting physician at the Black Notley Hospital.
In 1928 he married Josephine Lily, daughter of Max Reichenfeld, a restaurant owner, and they had two daughters. An asthmatic childhood and continued ill health during his professional life had imposed a great deal of restriction on him, but in spite of this he was gregarious, liking good company, films, theatre, good books and good food. He was an erudite and witty conversationalist. He had many hobbies, being a keen gardener in early life and later an untiring traveller and an excellent photographer. After his enforced retirement he became an expert croquet player - defying his medical advisers - and died at Hurlingham, which he had come to love so much, after a pleasant game.
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
[Brit.med.J., 1967, 3, 869 & 4, 61; Lancet, 1967, 2, 678]