Peter Bishop was born in Harrogate, Yorkshire, the son of a medical practitioner, Thomas Henry Bishop, and of his wife, Sarah Grace (née Williams), herself the daughter of an iron master. He was educated in Berlin, at Charterhouse, and then at Trinity College, Oxford, from whence he came to Guy’s Hospital for his clinical training.
After he qualified in 1929, Peter Bishop was appointed, in turn, to be assistant house surgeon, outpatient officer, and house surgeon at his own hospital, then resident obstetrician to Frank Cook, whose influence later played a considerable part in shaping his career. In 1930 he was appointed demonstrator in the physiology department and also acted as assistant anaesthetist at Guy’s, until the post of lecturer in physiological chemistry became available in 1933.
By now he was writing and lecturing on the endocrine control of the female sex cycle, and developing what was to be a lifetime interest in gynaecological endocrinology. He became a clinical assistant in the gynaecological department and, in 1936, the first clinical endocrinologist to Guy’s Hospital. To this were added other appointments - deputy superintendent from 1938 to 1945, medical officer in charge of the hospital Emergency Medical Service during the war years, endocrinologist at Chelsea Hospital for Women in 1944, senior lecturer in applied physiology and Guy’s consultant endocrinologist in 1946, and senior lecturer in the gynaecological aspects of endocrinology at the Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith in 1948.
Peter Bishop’s main publications included numerous papers on the clinical uses of sex hormones, some early work on corticosteroids, a very lucid and pioneering book on Gynaecological Endocrinology and a singlehanded review of Recent Advances in Endocrinology (1954). As a stylish and stimulating lecturer, writer and teacher, he influenced an entire generation of undergraduate and postgraduate students throughout the medical world.
He was an energetic man but, as Sir Arthur Sims travelling professor in Australia in 1964, he found himself in such demand, both as a lecturer and socially, that it was as much as he could do to maintain the pace. There was no escape from the demands made on him as a lecturer — in Madrid, where he was made an honorary member of the Endocrine Society; in London, where he was Rolleston lecturer of 1965; and in Oxford, where he was Litchfield lecturer.
He had the unusual distinction of being elected a fellow of both the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, became medical consultant to the Family Planning Association, and was at various times chairman of a number of organizations that were concerned with endocrinology and fertility. Perhaps the appointment which gave him the greatest pleasure, however, was his appointment as master of the Society of Apothecaries in 1967, the year of his retirement.
Peter Bishop’s home life was a very happy one. He enjoyed good company and had a ready wit, which was perhaps best brought out in his amateur theatrical productions, as author of three Guy’s Hospital residents’ plays, and producer of five. In 1937, he married Phyllis, the daughter of a surgeon, Edward Owen Thurston. They had a son and two daughters, who had the rather unusual experience of spending part of World War II in the Warden’s House at Guy’s, while their father was spending as much time administering the emergency service, or shovelling incendiary bombs off the hospital roof, as he did with his family.
His outside interests never deflected him from the serious purpose of his life, which was to develop hormonal forms of treatment, during a period in which the majority of his colleagues were totally sceptical, both of their value and their potential. Perhaps the breakthrough came in 1938 when, at the request of the Therapeutics Trials Committee of the Medical Research Council, he undertook the first clinical trial of the earliest synthetic oestrogen, diethylstilboestrol, synthesized by EC Dodds and his colleagues in 1938. He became enthusiastic, but his experiences led to the warning that ‘we may expect some more surprising effects than nausea and vomiting from the promiscuous use of this compound’. His studies led to a better understanding of gonadal dysgenesis and of menstrual disorders.
They also led on to the combined forms of treatment from which the contraceptive pill was eventually developed. His warning about high doses proved timely, after a large number of complications emphasized the importance of controlled dosage. These problems were subsequently overcome through the work of others, but, in a world which is still beset by the problems of population control, his studies had a seminal role in stimulating the development of major areas of continuing research.
[Brit.med.J., 1979, 1, 691; Lancet, 1979, 1, 281, 394; Times, 19 Nov 1979; Daily Telegraph, 20 Jan, 23 Jan 1979; Nature, 1979, 278; Guy’s Hospital Gazette, 94, 2289; Brit. J. Family Planning, 5, (1)]