Dr John Clayton (1921-2016)

Medical Officer (1953-62) & Senior Medical Officer (1962-81)

Dr John Clayton, who has died aged 94, was a former Surgeon Apothecary to the Royal Household at Windsor and to the Queen Mother at Royal Lodge, and for many years school doctor at Eton College.

In his role as the Queen Mother’s doctor, it was he who was called to Royal Lodge in November 1982 when a fish bone became lodged in her throat. He immediately insisted that she be taken to the King Edward VII Hospital at Windsor, where she made a speedy recovery.

Clayton was the youngest son of Brigadier-General Sir Gilbert Clayton, a British Army intelligence officer and colonial administrator in Cairo praised by TE Lawrence as “the perfect leader for such a band of wild men as we were”. His father’s involvement with the Middle East made a deep impression young John, who took a lasting interest in the Arab world.

John Pilkington Clayton was born on February 13 1921 at Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, one of five siblings, two of whom he never knew because they died in childhood. His brother Sam married Lady Mary Leveson-Gower, a maternal cousin of the Queen. After his father’s death in 1929, the family moved to Doddington, Lincolnshire, finally settling at Hampton Court, where his mother, Lady Clayton, a gifted artist, had a “grace and favour” apartment.

His early life was peripatetic and took him to Jerusalem, where on one occasion he inadvertently tolled a bell making the locals think the Turks were invading, and on another he encountered Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia on a train. The emperor’s brother gave him piggy-back rides along the corridor of the steamer taking them back to Cairo.

John was educated at Wellington and was a choral exhibitioner at Gonville and Caius College, Cambrdige. He qualified in Medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons and Physicians in 1945, then served in the medical branch of the RAF Voluntary Reserve from 1947 to 1949, reaching the rank of squadron leader. During the Malay Emergency he drove a jeep ambulance.

After a spell as senior resident at Nottingham’s Children’s Hospital, he became a general medical practitioner at Windsor between 1953 and 1962, during which time he thought it would be useful to obtain a university medical qualification, and so, remarkably, he sat and passed Cambridge finals in 1957.

In 1962 he moved to Eton and became junior school doctor at the College, succeeding Dr Wiley as senior school doctor in 1965 and, later, working in perfect harmony with the other school doctor, John Briscoe.

Clayton was a skilled diagnostician. When Briscoe consulted him about a boy with a rash, he employed Sherlock Holmesian techniques, enquiring whether the boy’s room was on the top floor with a window on to the roof, and if he had a pigeon as a pet. He worked out that the rash was due to pigeon mite bites.

In 1965 he became Surgeon Apothecary to the Queen’s Household at Windsor, with a surgery in the castle, and took on responsibility for the Queen Mother at Royal Lodge. For these services, he was appointed MVO in 1975 and CVO on retirement in 1986.

He also served as a medical officer to Royal Holloway College from 1953 to 1981 and to Black & Decker (1955-70). He was appointed an honorary Old Etonian in 1985 and was a Liveryman of the Society of Apothecaries.

A connoisseur of snuff, he kept various mixtures – floral for evenings, a more robust variety for mornings – each in an elegant silver case.

In later years John Clayton, who was unmarried, retired to a house in Market Lavington which he shared with Patrick Manley and his family and friends from Eton days, enjoying playing his Bechstein grand piano and building a reputation as a witty raconteur. He was a respected attender of the local church and a member of Dauntsey’s choral society. He was joined there by his widowed sister, Patience Marshall. After her death, he was fiercely independent until the end.