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06 March 2008

John Randell (1918 – 1982) Psychiatrist.

See also Richard Green, John Randell and ... 

John Randell was born in Penarth, Glamorgan, Wales, and qualified as a doctor at the Welsh National School of Medicine in 1941. From 1942-6 he was a Surgeon Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), and then worked at Guy's, St George's and St Thomas's, all in London.

In 1950 he was appointed Physician for Psychological Medicine at Charing Cross Hospital. There he worked with Lennox Broster who had been treating intersexuals, since the 1930s, but not transsexuals as such. At the end of the 1950s he wrote a paper on 50 transvestites and transsexuals that he had worked with. In his 1960 MD thesis (Prifysgol Cymru/University of Wales) he discussed 61 mtf and 16 ftm cases. This was one of the first higher degree theses on transsexuality.

B'ham Post 21 Nov 1964 p9
During the 1960s he was seeing 50 cases a year, which rose to nearly 200 in the 1970s. By his own figures, he saw 2438 patients (1768 mtf, 670 ftm). He also spent half his time with general psychiatric patients. In 1969, his name was mentioned several times in press reports about the First International Symposium on Gender Identity, and he testified at the Corbett vs Corbett trial that he ‘considered that the respondent (ie April Ashley) is properly classified as a male homosexual transsexualist', (which contributed to the legal problems of transsexuals and intersex persons in the UK for the next 35 years).

From this time on he was the ‘expert’ sought out by the media and appearing on the occasional radio programs. In 1980 the News of the World claimed that he and his surgeon, Peter Phillip, had made London the ‘sex-change capital of the world’. However Randell had not been in favour of surgery until his patients who had had surgery abroad returned with positive evaluations. Even in the 1960s less than 10% of his patients managed to achieve surgery and only a third of the mtfs of those had vaginoplasty. Even in the 1970s when numbers increased, still only 15% of patients achieved surgery.

However by then he was arguing that surgery could be appropriate and that psychotherapy did not work. Even then he restricted surgery to sane, intelligent, single and passable individuals. Passable implied conforming to Randell’s old-fashioned ideas of being ‘ladylike’, that many women had abandoned by the 1970s. Until the end he continued to refer to patients, including post-operatives, by the pronouns of their birth gender, and would tell an mtf accepted for surgery that ‘you’ll always be a man’.

Most patients describe him as brusque, rude and cold. However Tula found him to be ‘absolutely charming’ (perhaps because she passed so well).  He is the unnamed doctor in the Julia Grant television documentaries who shocked most reviewers by his attitude.

Randall is the doctor who told Christopher Wilson, the author of Dancing With The Devil: The Windsors and Jimmy Donahue, that Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, had Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) = a woman with XY chromosomes.

Other patients include Mark Rees the town councillor, Rachael Padman the physicist, Alice Purnell the activist.

He died of a heart attack.

*Not the physicist nor the Conservative MP.
  • John B. Randell. "The Early Recognition of Psychiatric Disorders in Adults". Medicine Illustrated, vol IV, 215-220, 1950.
  • John B. Randell. "Euphoriant Effects Of "Preludin". The British Medical Journal. 2, 5043, 1957: 508-509.
  • John B. Randell. "Transvestitism And Trans-Sexualism: A Study Of 50 Cases". The British Medical Journal. 2, 5164, 1959: 1448-1452.
  • John B. Randell. Cross Dressing and the Desire to change Sex, MD Thesis, University of Wales, 1960.
  • John B. Randell. "Preoperative and Postoperative Status of Male and Female Transsexuals" in Richard Green & John Money (eds), Transsexualism and Sex Reassignment, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1969.
  • John B. Randell. "Indications for Sex Reassignment Surgery" Archives of Sexual Behavior, 1:2, 153-161, 1971.
  • John B. Randell. Sexual Variations. London: Priory Press. 1973.
  • John B. Randell. Transsexualism and its management, Nursing Mirror, 45-47, 1977.
  • David Pearson (dir). A Change of Sex. With Julia Grant. BBC TV. 1980.
  • Alice Purnell. "Dr John Randell", Beaumont Bulletin, 14:2, 1982.
  • "Dr J.B. Randell",  S.H.A.F.T. Newsletter, 15, 1982.
  • Dave King. “Pioneers of Transgendering: John Randell, 1918-1982”. University of Ulster: Gendys Conference, 2002.


  1. Anonymous17/9/10 11:21

    Wallis Simpson did not have AIS. There is definite proof that she was infertile due to a botched abortion that her mother forced her to have at a young age. There is all sorts of speculation that Wallis Simpson, Jamie Lee Curtis and Julia Child all were born with AIS but there is no proof at all. And in Simpson's case proof that she did not have the condition. I have xx male syndrome. I'm small at 5'3 but look like any male. My genitals are normal. I cannot father children of course. XX male syndrome is different than Klinefelter's syndrome. Ian

  2. Perhaps there is an earlier higher degree thesis on transsexuality: Georges Aubert. Trois cas de désir de changer de sexe. PhD thesis Lausanne University. Tavannes: Burkhalter, 1947.

  3. I was treated by Dr. John Randell in the mid 1970's and I found him extremely easy to get along with and he was extremely compassionate.

  4. I'd love to watch 'A change of sex ' again , it's time it was viewed 40 years on to see how times have changed

    1. It’s currently on bbc4 and the iplayer. Hate that bloody doctor, arrogant and condescending and just plain awful. Every time I’ve seen him in this I’ve wanted to smack him hard with something.

    2. watching it at the moment and i can't stand the man

  5. Just awful to watch him 'talk' to dear Julia in the interview when he berates her for getting a breast op. He would never have got away with that attitude a decade or so later. He was so out of touch and living in the past of how he thought women should be. I have watched the series a few times and Julias encounters with him make me cringe, how she held it together and didn't lump him one I'll never know.

    1. I agree, made me so angry. As the mother of a teen trans daughter the idea of anybody talking to them like that makes me sick and anxious that things have changed before I deliver my child into their ‘care’ (eventually as we wait to get even near the top of the 3+ year wait list.

  6. I went to see this man in 1969 and was shocked at his anger and hostility. I was deeply traumatized by the event and have been affected by it ever since.

  7. Anonymous20/3/24 11:51

    Then came Dr Russell Reid ...


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