Hugh Burt, who had been director of the department of physical medicine and rheumatology at University College Hospital since 1947, died shortly before his sixty-fifth birthday. He was born in Buxton, where his father, Dr J Barnes Burt, had laid the foundations of a distinguished rheumatological practice, before moving to Bath. His grandfather was also a doctor, and Hugh had a keen interest in continuing the family tradition, his special talents allowing him to play a critical role in the transitional years faced by physical medicine after 1945. His mother was Dorothy Armitage, whose grandfather, Sir Elkanah Armitage was Lord Mayor of Manchester and knighted by Queen Victoria in 1849.
He was educated at Westminster School and gained an exhibition to Trinity College, Cambridge, where both his great grandfather and great great grandfather had read mathematics and become wranglers. He subsequently entered University College Hospital Medical School and, after preliminary appointments at UCH and at the West London Hospital, enlisted in the RAMC, becoming lieutenant colonel in due course, so beginning a long association with the Army which he continued to serve as adviser in physical medicine to the War Office until his death.
His deep concern with the mechanisms and relief of pain in his field of work, coupled with innate organizing ability, led to his making a large contribution to the establishment of physical development centres, convalescent depots, and other military rehabilitation services. These qualities were deployed to the full as he built up his department at University College Hospital, gathering round him a group of loyal physiotherapists and other colleagues; his championship of the paramedical remedial professions was furthered by his work on the council of the Professions Supplementary to Medicine.
His unobtrusive but firm leadership was valued by his colleagues, whom he served as vice-chairman of the medical committee and as member of the board of governors. He took endless trouble over his patients, yet found time to edit the Annals of Physical Medicine, to act as examiner in physical medicine for the Royal College of Physicians, to become president of the British Association of Physical Medicine and of the section of physical medicine of the Royal Society of Medicine and to serve in more than one capacity on the Empire Rheumatism Council. He contributed chapters to two books and wrote many practical articles, mostly on the subject of back pain, and the part that physical medicine had to play in its relief.
He was a quiet, unassuming man whose wide reading was reflected in his understanding of Tudor history and his interest in English literary style, but the qualities valued most highly both by his friends and by all those who came to him for help were his patience, kindliness and shrewd humorous observation of the human scene, which enabled them to see their troubles in proper perspective. In the last years of his life he developed a taste for gardening, which he shared with his old friend and surgical colleague, Doreen, daughter of Simeon Nightingale, engineer and company director of Stockton, whom he married a few days before he died in University College Hospital.
[Brit.med.J., 1976, 1, 966; Lancet, 1976, 1, 704-5; Rheumatology Rehab., 1976, 15, 126]