Ken Pridie Obituary

This obituary was published in JBJS 45B, August 1963:


Kenneth Pridie, Lecturer in Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Bristol and Senior Orthopaedic Surgeon at Bristol Royal Hospital and Winford Orthopaedic Hospital, died suddenly on May 4,1963, at the age of fifty-seven years while reading a paper to the South-West Orthopaedic Club meeting at Exeter. He had had to reduce his activities since the first evidence of cardiac insufficiency in 1962 and appeared to be doing well until shortly before his death when his friends were alarmed by news of heart failure, but he insisted on giving his paper on anterior fusion of the cervical spine.

Born in Bristol, educated at Clifton College and the University of Bristol, Ken was a true son of that ancient city, in which he spent his whole life and to which he contributed considerable lustre, both in orthopaedic surgery and in sport. K. P. was an impressive personality, a character in the best sense of the term, and his life and work depict the originality of his mind. Once equipped with his Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, he made comparatively brief visits to Bohler’s Clinic in Vienna, to Watson-Jones’s Fracture Clinic in Liverpool and to Girdlestone at Oxford, and by the age of twenty-eight was appointed Assistant Fracture Surgeon at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, to become the first surgeon in Bristol to devote himself entirely to orthopaedic surgery. His ability, enthusiasm and boundless energy led to his early recognition in Bristol and in many centres throughout the country as one with an important contribution. In these early days he worked closely with the late E. W. Hey Groves, who had recently retired from the Bristol General Hospital. Hey Groves frequently visited the Fracture Clinic and these two personalities, with much in common, would have long and entertaining arguments, Ken being typically uninhibited even in the presence of this doyen of orthopaedic surgery. Throughout his life he retained a great admiration for Hey Groves, to whose inspiration he always felt he owed so much, and who had, even in those early days, already successfully performed most of the technical innovations of recent years.

The Fracture Clinic grew in numbers and reputation, and in spite of poor premises became one of the best known in the country. Ken Pridie also took a leading part in extending the activities of Winford Orthopaedic Hospital to include adult patients, and this expansion was accelerated by the exigencies of war. He spread his influence by setting up clinics in -Bridgwater, Burnham-on-Sea and Tetbury Hospitals.

In these early days K. P. seldom missed a meeting of the British Orthopaedic Association, which he enlivened by his frequent interventions, something sadly missed in recent years. To see his massive form advance towards the rostrum would stimulate flagging interest, and a smattering of over-statement would only whet the appetite. He was a forthright and colourful speaker, with a great aptitude for quotation and a pleasant wit. He was never ashamed to ask questions or confess ignorance and, in spite of a formidable exterior, always retained an engaging humility. His contributions to the literature were not numerous, and those who worked with him know that his ideas and practices should have had a wider circulation and that he could have written more to our great benefit.

He was original in thought and practice and always averse to the slavish following of established methods. He welcomed innovation and never became set in his ideas, even in fields to which he had contributed a great deal. He was always showing new interests and attacking new problems with a youthful enthusiasm and vigor. Some of his most valuable contributions comprised the application of engineering and carpentry to orthopaedic surgery: the traction beam with square rods throughout, to obviate the rotation of pulley fixtures, usually ineffectively held by the overworked thumb screw; the grapple attachments to enable it to be fixed readily to any type of bed; the wooden frame for holding the leg with knee bent so controlling rotation and simplifying radiography in fractures of the neck of the femur; the frequent use of the Forstner augur bit as in his operation to fuse the ankle; the widespread use of staples; the excellent ball-cutter for the acetabulum in hip arthroplasty, comprising a tool far superior to any other designed for this purpose: and many ingenious modifications to instruments which have enhanced their effectiveness. He was a true disciple of Hey Groves.

The techniques favoured by K. P. were simple and he eschewed the elaborate and complicated whether in theory or practice. He was a beautiful operator and always a courageous one. Although full of vision and enterprise, his practice always remained sound, held in check above all by the kindness of heart which preserved his patients from too much surgery and from that painful elaboration of after-treatment which one sometimes meets. Although his interests in orthopaedic surgery were widespread, his best known work was in the treatment of fractures and in osteoarthritis of the hip and knee. ” New hips for old ” was his challenging call in an article on arthroplasty.

In the field of sport K. P. was outstanding. He was the University heavyweight boxing champion in 1925-26 and played regularly in the pack for the Bristol Rugby Club between 1929 and 1934. It was in shot putting, the discus and in hammer throwing that he was best known. He held the record as Midland shot-putting champion from 1931 to 1951, and broke the British native record for discus in 1931. He represented England in the Empire Games in 1930 and 1934 and was selected for the Olympic Games in 1932, although he was unfortunately prevented from participating.

For all his eminence in orthopaedic surgery and athletics, it will be as a man that K. P. will best be remembered; his infectious enthusiasm made one feel better for being in his company. His witty sayings, kindly humour and simple tastes endeared him to the children of his colleagues and most certainly to all of his delightful family of seven children.

He was utterly devoid of malice, with a very kind heart set in a powerful physique and controlling a strong personality, withal a man of integrity and warmth and the staunchest of friends. He was content to devote his undoubted talents to furthering orthopaedic surgery in Bristol and was not a seeker after high places. He was not a ” committee man ” but could be irritating and irrepressible in committee, usually presenting some aspect of the subject normally ignored yet worthy of further consideration.

His originality and personality brought numerous overseas visitors to Bristol and many were privileged to be entertained by K. P., with Joanna his wife and the seven children, at The Chalet, their country resort with a few acres of woodland, perhaps to participate in a barbecue or in the felling of trees, but certainly in some vigorous open air occupation which was so dear to his heart. Others might meet the Pridies in the Isles of Scilly where swimming and boating were the regular holiday activities based on their diminutive holiday abode on St Mary’s.

Bristol and British orthopaedic surgery have lost a great character in a man different from most of us and with a greater capacity. There was a touch of genius in Ken. He might have made a greater contribution to orthopaedic surgery but, if he had, we must surely have lost in other directions. The man we mourn was so broad in his interests and loyalties that he might, well have been diminished by even greater concentration on one aspect of life. His very many friends will join in extending heartfelt sympathy to Joanna his widow and to their family.

A.L. E-B.