(Professor) John Burton died recently. He worked in Newcastle before my time there, but his reputation was ever present. When I did some research on eccrine glands as a medical student, I came across some of the papers he published with Sam (Shuster) on sebum. But it was his textbook “Essentials of Medicine” that I still marvel at. A textbook that in places made you break out in laughter the way a Tom Sharpe novel did (The scene on a train was as follows: somebody quietly reading would foolishly try to suppress the inevitable convulsion of laughter — a glance at the book cover, would confirm the hypothesis). I suspect subsequent editions of ‘Essentials’ were sanitised — not certain the Welder from Wigan with Warts, or the differential diagnosis of lipstick on that most prized of organs, survived.
When I actually got to meet John, what struck me most was how dull and conventional he appeared. I am not certain what I expected, but at least with Sam, when you got to meet him, his appearance betrayed his intellect and ability to prick pomposity.
Since I was in charge of organising Sam’s retirement festivities in 1992, I invited John to provide the humour. The ‘old’ seminar room was standing room only, and John’s irreverence and ability to play an audience was — and I realised it at the time — magical. Perhaps the only occasion I ever saw Sam reduced to silence. As they say in Wales about such moments, ‘I was there’.