Dr Charles Wortham Brook CBE 1901-1983

It is with deep regret that we record the death of Charles Brook, a lifelong fighter for the poor, the rich and the disadvantaged. He felt compassion and concern both for the individual and the group and he had a fierce intolerance of injustice and no time for stupidity. He was described as “a gentle insurgent” and the phrase suited him well.

Charles was born in January 1901 in Lincoln into a comfortably established middle class family of Tory views, his father being an ophthalmologist From his earliest years he was a rebel and his family were shocked when he became secretary of the Cambridge University Socialist Society. When he was a medical student at Bart’s he met and married Iris Benyon, a nurse who was herself no mean fighter for women in general and for nurses in particular (NUCO Guild of Nurses & COHSE). Twins followed and later he was to become a devoted grand-father. This was to be a lifelong alliance which provided support and security to each.

In the twenties of this century socialist doctors in Germany and Austria had already organised themselves into groups several hundreds strong and were influencing public opinion through medico-political discussions and publications. Here however it was not until 1930 that a similar body came into being as a result of correspondence between Charles and Dr. Ewald Fabian, a Berlin dentist.

Charles was a busy man – he was a general practitioner and a London County Councillor – and he was reluctant to agree to Dr. Fabian’s suggestion that he should form a similar group here. However he did finally write a letter published in the Daily Herald, inviting doctors “who might be interested in forming a body of socialist doctors” to get in touch with him. As a result a preliminary meeting was held in December 1930 and on November 2nd that year a constitution was adopted at a meeting over which Somerville Hastings, then M.P. for Reading, presided. The founder-members agreed that the name of the body should be the Socialist Medical Association. From the beginning other health workers such as nurses and social workers became members. Both Charles and Somerville Hastings were certain that to be effective the new body must be affiliated to the Labour Party and its constitution was framed in accordance with Labour Party views.

The S.M.A. at once set to work to elaborate a statement of policy on the best way to provide health services free to all at the time of need, and in 1932 the Labour Party Conference passed an S.M.A. resolution calling for a state medical service. The 1934 Conference accepted a document on a National Health Service.

Charles Brook’s reluctant initiative had borne rapid fruit. He continued as Hon. Secretary until 1938 when the pressures of his many activities led to his resignation. He remained a Vice-president for the rest of his life and he continued to take a great interest in S.M.A. activities, though of recent years from a distance.

He was a founder member of Spanish Medical Aid in August 1936 which provided invaluable medical help of many kinds to the Spanish Republican Government forces and the International Brigade. Some 20 doctors from Western countries went to Spain and he was also able to help those from Germany and Austria who after Franco’s victory could not return to their own countries.

He was at one time a London County Councillor and it was a report of his speech demanding better facilities in Tooting that led to Dr. Fabian’s letter. Later when he was in practice in Eltham he became a Kent County Councillor and leader of the Labour group on it. He had a life-long interest in the theatre and at one time thought of becoming a professional actor.

This account may give some idea of Charles’ many interests and activities. Perhaps Ted Willis best summed up his personality when in his appreciation of him in Socialism and Health Jan/Feb 1972 he said “He has based his entire life on the principle that anything that is wrong and anti-human is every-man’s business and concern”.

Elizabeth Bunbury SHA newsletter Nov/Dec 1983

Note The Brooks lived at Mottingdeane, High Road, Mottingham, London, SE9

Wife Iris Beynon organiser NUCO/COHSE


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