Obituary: Anthony Baskervyle Strong

The BIR regrets to announce the passing of Anthony Strong, BIR Fellow (6 December 1938 - 22 June 2020). 

Anthony Strong was a Fellow of both the British Institute of Radiology and the Institution of Engineering and Technology. He was one of the pioneers in the early development of computed tomography and led the team that productionised both the EMI brain scanner and the first body scanner. He also played an important role in protecting the early EMI patents and led the development of the first volumetric spiral scanner.

Anthony Baskervyle Strong was born in Farnham on the 6th December 1938. His schooling included Saint Andrew’s Preparatory School, Pangbourne College and Battersea College of Technology. He became a graduate apprentice at Pye Laboratories in Cambridge in 1961 and his role included working on CCTV monitoring and control systems for nuclear power stations. At Trawsfynydd, he discovered a sheep stranded on the power cap of the reactor and had to chase it out of the building while still wearing his bulky hazmat suit! In 1966, he moved to Aylesbury to work at General Precision Systems (later Redifon) to work on flight simulators.

In 1972, Anthony was employed by EMI Medical Systems as Engineering Manager of the X-Ray Division to productionise the Nobel Prize-winning work of Sir Godfrey Hounsfield on X-ray computed tomography (CT). Numerous improvements to the working to the design were added by Anthony’s team, including the patient table still used on all modern scanners.

The first proof of principle test for a full body scanner, based upon Hounsfield’s ideas, was conducted on a modified Mark I scanner in November 1973 by Anthony and group of colleagues. Tony Williams from EMI Central Research Labs was the first to be scanned, while David King from Anthony’s team controlled the machine. Emboldened by this success, Hounsfield’s team went on to produce a working prototype of body scanner in December 1974. Anthony and his Operating Division team were central in bringing this body scanner (and the CT-1010) from research prototype into production. Thanks to their efforts, hundreds of those machines were made and gave many years of good service in hospitals around the world.

Now appointed Manager of New Technology, Anthony was able to guide the productionising of what became the EMI general purpose scanner, the CT-5000 (Emerald), the first of which was installed at Northwick Park Hospital in London. This was a combined CRL/Operating Division project designed to speed up the process of delivering images to the diagnostician. In 1975, the CT-5005 whole-body scanner was displayed. The latter was far in advance of the original brain-scanning design and was the first fully operational full-body scanner.

Later designs, including the CT-6000 (Topaz), decreased scan times and further increased image quality.  Unfortunately, at this time, much of Anthony’s efforts were occupied defending the patents on the EMI design.  While EMI won these cases, their technical lead rapidly evaporated. It is important to note that Anthony, because of his detailed knowledge, often took the lead in fielding the core technical questions. This resulted in EMI earning enough patent royalties to make its CT scanning activities profitable. 

EMI’s strategy for developing a new generation of scanners focused on perfecting the CT-7070, instead of developing the ‘family of scanners’ that Anthony suggested would more fully exploit the emerging global market. To further complicate matters, the US market had retracted after purely political concerns about the rising cost of medical technology.

During this period, EMI won Queen’s Awards for Innovation (1975) and Exports (1976) and Anthony delivered numerous papers on the development of CT and was part of the team that presented the Faraday Lecture, ‘The Diagnostic Electron’. It was becoming clear that without significant investment and EMI Medical would soon be too small to compete with the global players. As the company retracted, Anthony sketched out the initial specifications for the proposed CT-7090 to the Board, but the die was cast, and EMI were taken over by Thorn Electrical Industries in 1979. Within weeks of completing the take-over, Thorn decided to dispose of the CT scanner business.

In August 1980, Philips Medical Systems asked him to lead their CT development. Anthony set to work, with their excellent international team, improving the image quality of their T-300 model. Once again, friction with a US partner delayed development. By 1981, secret work had begun on the T-500 (Sirius). This design began as a joint project with Sir Godfrey Hounsfield’s team and used an updated X-ray tube and detector array that created faster and clearer images with far less power. By 1988, the prototype was producing 3D images that were ahead any of the other fourth generation designs. Philips were confidently assured by their international partners that as the new machine was uncompetitive – even though it used less power and was 20% cheaper!

The first production model of the T500 was installed at the Academic Hospital in Utrecht, taking its first volumetric Spiral Scans on 30th April 1988. Alas, the management at Philips hesitated to introduce the design into the highly competitive CT market. Anthony returned to the UK disappointed, though he was confident that spiral scanning would eventually prove to be an essential diagnostic technology.

With the CT industry dominated by global medical companies, occasional consultancy roles were the only viable option in the UK. In between contracts, he wrote papers on providing imaging technology to the developing world, taught courses on advanced electrical engineering at Oxford Brooks University and acted as an expert witness in patent cases.

Anthony Strong was one of those rare individuals who understood how to both lead and manage. He always saw Sir Godfrey Hounsfield as the key innovator in the early history of CT and did not hesitate to leap to his defence whenever Godfrey’s ideas were misunderstood or misrepresented.

Anthony Strong is survived by his wife, June, three children and one grandchild. He loved classical music and enjoyed studying the history of science and the development of scientific instruments. He also enjoyed exploring the British countryside – often walking late in the evening so he could stare up at the stars.



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