Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Neville Samuel Finzi—British radiotherapy pioneer

Arpan K. Banerjee
Solihull, UK

Neville Samuel Finzi. Courtesy of British Institute of Radiology.

Neville Samuel Finzi was born on June 25, 1881.1 He was the son of Gerald Finzi’s uncle, Leon, who was also a doctor. Gerald Finzi was a British composer famous for his song cycles, choral music, and reflective instrumental and orchestral works including a violin and cello concerto. Neville attended University College Hospital Medical School in London and qualified with the conjoint diploma and a London University MBBS in 1903.1,2 He was appointed Medical Officer to the electrical department of the London Metropolitan Hospital in Hackney, East London, which had been founded in 1836 to treat the poor. When the hospital closed in 1977, services were taken over by St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, a major teaching hospital in London.

Finzi found his metier early and spent his career in the development and practice of radiotherapy. In the early part of the twentieth century, radiologists performed both diagnostic and therapeutic work, often with radium treatment. Specialization of radiotherapy into a separate discipline started in the 1920s, thanks to pioneers like Finzi. The first radiotherapist was Leopold Freund in Vienna, who, in 1896 (the year after Röntgen’s discovery of X-rays), used radiotherapy to treat a mole.

Finzi’s career took off in 1907, which was also the year the Royal Society of Medicine was formed in London. Finzi was active in the electrotherapeutic section, which in 1932 became the radiology section. In 1907 Finzi gave a presentation to the inaugural meeting of the clinical section on radium treatment. Others present at the meeting included William Osler and Alexander Fleming.

In 1913 he joined the staff of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, one of the oldest teaching hospitals in the UK, developed his interest in megavoltage radiotherapy, and became an expert in treating laryngeal tumors with radiotherapy.2 In 1913 he published his book Röntgen Therapeutics and described his experience with endoluminal radium treatment for esophageal cancer.3 In 1921 he visited the headquarters of the Siemens engineering company in Erlangen, Germany to inspect the latest high voltage radiotherapy machines, and in 1924 purchased one of these machines for the hospital.

In 1925 he became the last president of the Röntgen Society (the oldest and first radiology society in the world) before it merged with the British Institute of Radiology in 1928. In the 1930s he purchased the latest high voltage treatment machines for his patients and in 1939 treated Sigmund Freud (who had left Vienna) for his jaw tumor. In his 1933 Mackenzie Davidson Lecture, he argued that high voltage treatments would result in better cancer treatment outcomes with less damage to normal tissues. He was one of the early pioneers of this treatment.3

His long association with the Royal Society of Medicine resulted in his becoming president of the radiology section in 1943, a section which is still going strong to this day. In 1955 he became master of the Society of Apothecaries in London. He published papers in the Archives of the Röntgen Ray, British Journal of Radiology, and the Royal Society of Medicine journals. These ranged from the harmful effects of radiation to new treatment methods, and even included a paper describing radiation treatment for arthritis.4,5,6

He retired in 1946. Outside work his interests included music (he was an honorary member of the Bach cantata club) and he was an experienced mountain climber (president of the Alpine Club from 1946-48).7 He never married. Finzi died on April 3, 1968, and his sisters Winifred and Isobel left a considerable legacy from his estate for the Royal Society of Medicine radiology section to fund a prize for the best paper presented by a radiology trainee at the annual Finzi meeting, which was named in his honor. His legacy was also used to fund the radiology presidential badge and chain of office at the Royal Society of Medicine.


  1. Fleming J. A. C. Obituary of N.S. Finzi Brit J Radiology 41 552 1968
  2. Archives of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London
  3. Finzi N. S. Radium Therapeutics Hodder and Stoughton, OUP 1913
  4. Finzi N. S. Electro-Therapeutical Section of the Royal Society of Medicine-Radium in the Treatment of malignant growths Archives of The Roentgen Ray 14 (10) pp: 323-329 1910
  5. Finzi N. S. Sixty years of radiology. Radiotherapy Br J Radiology 29: 245-249 1956
  6. Finzi N. S. The early days of radiology. Clin Radiol 12 143-146 1961
  7. Banerjee A K Finzi N.S Proceedings of the UK Radiology Congress 2017

ARPAN K. BANERJEE, MBBS (LOND), FRCP, FRCR, FBIR, qualified in medicine at St. Thomas’s Hospital Medical School. London. He was a consultant radiologist in Birmingham from 1995-2019. He served on the scientific committee of the Royal College of Radiologists 2012-2016. He was Chairman of the British Society for the History of Radiology from 2012-2017. He is the Treasurer of ISHRAD and adviser to radiopaedia. He is the author/co-author of numerous papers and articles on a variety of clinical medical, radiological, and medical historical topics and seven books including Classic Papers in Modern Diagnostic Radiology 2005 and “The History of Radiology” OUP 2013.

Summer 2020



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.