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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Begg, Percy Raymond (1898–1983)

by J. D. Jenner and M. R. Sims

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Percy Raymond Begg (1898-1983), orthodontist, was born on 13 October 1898 at Coolgardie, Western Australia, and registered as Raymond Percy, eldest of three children of English-born parents Percy William Begg, accountant, and his wife Fannie Elizabeth, née Jacob. In 1900 the family moved to Adelaide. `Tick’ attended Pulteney Street School and the Collegiate School of St Peter, where he was a champion high-jumper. He spent a year as a jackeroo before enrolling in dentistry at the University of Melbourne (B.D.Sc., 1924). In 1924-25 he trained at the (E. H.) Angle College of Orthodontia, Pasadena, California, United States of America. Returning to Adelaide, he entered into practice as an orthodontist and lectured part time (1926-63) at the University of Adelaide. On 26 April 1928 at St Andrew’s Church of England, Walkerville, he married Evelyn Ellen Hamilton.

Discarding the tenet, held by Angle, that a patient’s full complement of teeth must be retained, in 1928 Begg began extracting selected premolars to correct dental crowding and in the early 1930s devised new techniques for repositioning teeth. The University of Adelaide conferred a D.D.Sc. On him in 1935. Begg went on to develop a new light-wire differential force method of treatment; his papers (1954, 1956, 1961) in the American Journal of Orthodontics established him as an orthodontist `of international renown’. His light-wire appliance was made a permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. In 1959-74 he lectured and conducted postgraduate courses throughout the world, demonstrating a series of technical and clinical innovations. He produced a textbook, Begg Orthodontic Theory and Technique (1965); later editions (1971, 1977), written with P. C. Kesling, were translated into Spanish, Italian and French.

As an orthodontist, Begg was forward looking and innovative, consistently pushing at the frontiers of clinical advancement. Always immaculately groomed and dressed, he was 5 ft 11 ins (180 cm) tall with erect carriage, a straight profile, dark hair and eyes, and a piercing gaze. In his relationships with his students, staff and patients he was domineering and demanding. When lecturing, he communicated poorly, appeared vague and expressed intolerance of other clinical techniques. In many ways his manner seemed to be modelled on that of his teacher, Edward Angle. However, at every opportunity he invited dentists and students to visit his practice, to view his patients during treatment, and to examine the records of finished cases. He possessed a good sense of humour and had a fund of jokes for his patients.

A founding member (1927) of the Australian Society of Orthodontists and honorary member of the Australian Dental Association, South Australian branch, Begg was also a fellow of the International College of Dentists and of the (Royal) Australian College of Dental Surgeons. In 1977 the American Board of Orthodontics presented him with the Albert H. Ketcham memorial award. The Australian Society of Orthodontists’ Foundation for Research and Education established the P. Raymond Begg award in 1978. Begg societies of orthodontics were formed in Europe, North America, Japan and the Philippines.

Begg retired in 1980 and next year was appointed AO. Survived by his wife, and their son and two daughters, he died on 18 January 1983 at Glen Osmond and was cremated. In 1986 the Begg Memorial Museum was established at the dental school, University of Adelaide. A portrait by Robert Hannaford hangs in the school’s orthodontic clinic.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Healey (ed), S.A.’s Greats (2001)
  • American Journal of Orthodontics, vol 83, no 5, 1983, p 445
  • Australian Orthodontic Journal, vol 8, no 1, 1983, p 39
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 14 Nov 1980, p 7, 21 Jan 1983, p 13
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

J. D. Jenner and M. R. Sims, 'Begg, Percy Raymond (1898–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 19 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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