Joseph Bamforth was born in Stockton Heath, Warrington, where his father, also Joseph, owned a chemist’s shop in Winnick Street and was a town councillor. His son, our Joseph, was educated at the Boteler Grammar School, Warrington, and thence went to Liverpool University to study medicine. He qualified with the Conjoint in 1911 and did his house appointments, HP and HS, at Liverpool Royal Infirmary. He had a spell in general practice in a Lancashire town but became interested in pathology, held a Holt Fellowship in pathology, and became a Lecturer in Pathology at Liverpool University. It was here that he met Blair Bell and worked with him in the intravenous lead treatment of cancer which he continued to use for cases with diffuse secondaries after he came to London.
He joined the RAMC in 1914 as a pathologist and served in Salonika, where he developed a vaccine for plague. He also met L.S. Dudgeon, who after the war invited him to join the Pathology Staff of St Thomas’s Hospital, London; he was appointed Assistant Bacteriologist in 1922.
His first interest was clinical bacteriology and with his meticulous care and wonderful memory his clinical opinion on cases was highly respected. He published four papers on bacteriological subjects, was joint author in two more, and wrote three on clinico-bacteriological problems, the most original of which appeared in the J.Hyg. 1924, in which he described a small outbreak of dysentery which he found to be due to B.Sonne — the first time that this had been shown in this country. He published papers on E.coli and developed the treatment of S.aureus infections by staphylococcal toxoid.
In about 1927 Dudgeon began to use exfoliative cytology in the diagnosis of malignant pulmonary disease. Bamforth became interested in this and the first of his thirteen papers on exfoliative cytology was a review of all the cases in which the cytological examination of the sputum and of pleural fluid had been used in the diagnosis of lung carcinoma at St Thomas’s Hospital up to 1946, including a number of his own reports.
Following on this he became involved in the diagnosis of uterine carcinoma by exfoliative cytology, having read papers by Papanicolaou, whom he was delighted to meet on the latter’s visit to this country. Seven papers came from his pen on this subject, the first of which was in the Postgraduate med J. 1956; in this he showed that ordinary haematoxylin and eosin staining was as good as Papanicolaou's and he used it as his routine method from then on. He took every opportunity to speak at meetings of gynaecologists on the problem of cervical smears and their great value in the diagnosis of early malignant disease. Their appreciation of this was shown by his election to the FRCOG in 1958. His book Cytological Diagnosis in Medical Practice (Churchill, 1966) is a classic.
Bamforth retired at the age of 66 from St Thomas’s Hospital, but it was to an active life at the Royal College of Surgeons under the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, continuing his researches into exfoliative cytology and adding histochemical techniques; at the same time he ran a consultant service in diagnostic cytology. At the age of 70 he was appointed the first William Shepherd Research Fellow at King’s College Hospital; here he continued to work also part-time until he finally retired altogether from active work in 1961.
He was elected the first President of the British Society for Clinical Cytology in 1963, and he represented the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in Paris, in 1965, at the International Congress for Exfoliative Cytology. He was teaching pathology for the FRCS to a group of students, at their request, only a month before his death.
Joe Bamforth was a kindly man who never said anything nasty about anyone. He was a first class teacher of bacteriology, he was a most meticulous worker in the laboratory and a very painstaking reader of the literature on his subjects. Some of his ‘absent-minded professor’ type of habits in the laboratory at St Thomas’s endeared him to all. He was a keen long handicap golfer and a great asset at the Staff-Students yearly weekends at Rye. He developed an interest in trout fishing in the late 1920s and graduated from ‘path.lab.week ends’ at the Elan Valley Reservoirs at Rhayader to become a member of the Whitewell Fishing Association.
In 1929 he married Miss Crawford, daughter of a member of the IMS and grand-daughter of Sir William Murray, one-time Commandant of Netley Hospital. He had one son, John, FRCP, a consultant physician at Southampton General Hospital.
[Brit.med.J., 967, 1, 434, 508; Lancet, 1967, 1, 453; Times, 13 Feb, 1967, 22 Apr, 1967; Nature, 8 Apr, 1967]