James Brailsford hid a kind and generous nature and a deeply felt religious conviction behind a life-long outspoken intolerance of unmerited privilege and a fierce battle for what he considered the rightful place of radiology in ultimate diagnosis. He could be a delightful dinner companion to those whom he had an hour before castigated unmercifully in debate, because of that intense antagonism to the introduction of mass-miniature radiography, which, alas, dimmed his well-deserved reputation as a leader in his specialty.
Brailsford had known hardship in his student days. His parents, ‘just honest, simple folk’, could not afford him a higher education. It was his work as a technician in the public health department of Birmingham, for which he had trained the hard way in technical schools and evening classes, which attracted the attention of his chief. Sir John Robertson encouraged him to enter the Birmingham Medical School in 1918 when he was already aged thirty and had given distinguished service for four years as an army radiographer in the First World War.
Immediately after qualifying he was appointed assistant radiologist to Queen’s Hospital, Birmingham. Eleven years later he published his classical textbook, The Radiology of bones cmd joints (1934), a branch of radiology which he particularly understood from his post as demonstrator in living anatomy. This brought him an international reputation. In 1927 he was Robert Jones gold medallist of the Orthopaedic Association; in 1931 Roentgen prizeman of the British Institute of Radiology, which was to honour him in 1944 as Mackenzie Davidson lecturer, and in 1934-5 and again in 1943-5 he was Hunterian professor of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
He will be remembered as the founder and first president of the British Association of Radiologists (later the Faculty of Radiologists). For twelve years from 1934 he made many valuable contributions to the Medical Annual. In 1938 he became honorary radiologist to the United Hospitals, Birmingham, and was still able to give unstinted service to ten other neighbouring hospitals. Many Roentgen societies in Europe and America welcomed him as an honorary member and a distinguished lecturer.
He married, but there were no children; the death of his wife, Amy, in 1959 affected him deeply.
Richard R Trail
[Brit.med.J., 1961, 1, 433-4, 682 (p); Clin.Radiol., 1961, 12, 115; Lancet, 1961, 1, 290 (p); Radiography, 1961, 27, 74 (p); Times, 2 Feb. 1961.]