Imperial College London

Obituary: Sir Roger Bannister CH; 1929-2018


Portrait of Sir Roger displayed in the Roger Bannister Lecture Theatre at St Mary's

Portrait of Sir Roger displayed in the Roger Bannister Lecture Theatre at St Mary's

Professor Jonathan Weber, Acting Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, pays tribute to the late athlete, neurologist and St Mary's alumnus.

  • Medical student, St Mary’s Hospital Medical School; 1952-54
  • House Physician, St Mary’s Hospital, 1955; (Medical Unit: Sir George Pickering)
  • Senior House Officer, Hammersmith Hospital 1956; (Sir John McMichael)
  • Senior House Officer, Brompton Hospital 1957; (Prof Paul Wood)
  • Consultant Neurologist, St Mary’s and Western Eye Hospitals; 1964-1985
  • Chairman, St Mary’s Development Trust; 1995-2004

Roger Bannister, whose death was announced on Sunday, was associated for over 50 years with St Mary’s and other medical institutions now associated with Imperial College London. In 1954 he became arguably the most famous medical student in the world when he captured the sub-four minute mile; he always claimed, however, that it was his career in neurology that was his most sustained and hence his greatest achievement.

Following his tumultuous student career, Roger was appointed house officer to the Medical Unit at St Mary’s Hospital, under Sir George Pickering FRS. Pickering had discovered renin in 1936, and the unit, then the premier academic department at the hospital, was focused on the patho-aetiology of hypertension. Roger then moved through prestigious London senior house officer appointments at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School at the Hammersmith Hospital (under Sir John McMichael FRS) and then at the Brompton Hospital under Prof Paul Wood, then the leading clinical cardiologist. He subsequently undertook his national service, before embarking on his neurology training at Queen Square in 1959. After a one-year fellowship at Harvard in 1963, Roger was appointed consultant neurologist to St Mary’s Hospital and the Western Eye Hospital in 1964. He worked in general neurology and specialised in diseases of the autonomic nervous system; his widely admired textbook on this topic, co-authored with Professor Chris Matthias, in now in its fourth edition.

Sir Roger Bannister
Sir Roger Bannister

I first met Roger in 1982, when I first arrived at St Mary’s as a registrar, learning to manage the first AIDS patients being admitted to Almroth-Wright ward. Many of our early patients had unusual neurological presentations, and Roger was fascinated by this new disease and extra-ordinarily helpful and approachable to a very junior colleague. He left St Mary’s in 1985 to take up the Master of Pembroke College Oxford, but never dropped his close association with St Mary’s. He chaired the St Mary’s Development Trust from 1993-2004, contributing greatly to the refurbishment of the St Mary’s Medical School building following the creation of the Imperial College School of Medicine in 1997. The culmination of this refurbishment, in 2004, was to invite Roger to open the new Roger Bannister Lecture Theatre, embellished by a portrait, the photograph of his record-breaking mile and, in its own secure cabinet, one of the stop-watches used in this most iconic event.

As a Faculty, we mourn this towering figure of 20th century sport and medicine, and celebrate his lifetime of commitment to St Mary’s.


Jonathan Weber

Jonathan Weber
Faculty of Medicine Centre

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