My inspiration

Revisiting the formative years and remembering inspirational people

Brian Tompkins, optometrist and co-director of Tompkins Knight and Son Optometrists, part of Hakim Group, shares a selection of people that were an inspiration to him during the early years of his optometry career


Who has been an inspiration, and can you tell us more about them?

There are two people I would like to mention. Firstly, optometrist Patrick Bicknell. He’s the genius old boy that I did my pre-reg with. He did some work at the London Refraction Hospital, now known as the Institute of Optometry, and he worked in a couple of hospitals. He’s such a great dedicated professional.

Earlier this year I had the chance to meet him again, virtually. He’s now in his 90s and I was surprised that he was savvy enough to jump on to some tech to speak to me. He’s also still reading Optometry Today to stay up to date with all the latest eye news.

I would also like to share more about Monty Knight (James Montague Knight). He offered me my first job and he was also an inspiration to me. After I left my pre-reg with Patrick I went straight to work in Tompkins Knight & Son, in 1976. At the time I joined it was called Knight & Son, but it wasn’t Knight & Son, it was actually Knight, Son and Grandsons.

The practice was established in 1868, by Alfred Knight. He went into business with his son, and he started as a jeweller. He was one of the first to receive the British Optical Exams, in 1894, and we have clinical records in the practice that date back to 1905. He then had two sons that both went on to become optometrists, after the war. I joined with one of those men, Monty Knight.

Can you remember when you first met Patrick and Monty? What were your first impressions?

I remember talking to a guy who said: “Do you want to go into a shop, or do you want to actually learn how to do clinical practice? Then go to an independent, you'll learn the proper way,” and that kind of set me off. Ultimately, I went into clinical independent practice.

I met Patrick when I was looking for a job for my pre-reg, at interview stage. After I passed my exams, I joined him in his practice in Streatham, London, in June 1975.

As for Monty – I’m a Northampton boy and I’d been at school with one of Monty’s sons. One of my longstanding school mates, who I had been friends with since my first year at grammar school, had contact lenses fitted by Monty when he was about 11 years old. So I kind of knew the family. I had other job offers at the time, but Monty’s practice felt like one I wanted to work at, and I started in June 1976.

What attributes do you most admire about them?

Both men were investigative geniuses. They delved into everything to try and find out what a condition was, by listening to a patient’s concern. Both were really dedicated at doing every additional examination.

I admired Monty’s dedication and admiration for optical equipment. When I joined, the equipment in practice was considered cutting edge for its time. I remember he would make binocular vision devices for stereopsis. Monty was innovative and was fitting RGP lenses from as early as 1954.

Old practice front
Knight & Son optometrists in 1980, the year Brian Tompkins when into partnership

Why did you decide to study optometry?

In those days you didn’t need straight A results in three A-Levels to get into optometry, so I think that helped. I also think it helped that I liked people. When you are an optometrist, you need to be a people person. By the time I had met Patrick and Monty my dedication to optometry was already set.

Did they shape any of your career choices?

I developed a contact lens interest at university, which was still a developing field in the early 1970s. In Monty’s formative years he had gone to every extra exam he could, and we started going to the British Contact Lens Association (BCLA) meetings in the early 1970s. As soon as I joined the practice we were taken to British Contact Lens Association (BCLA) meetings in London on a regular basis. I later went on to become the BCLA president for a couple of years. Monty inspired my contact lens work and dedication to the patient.

We had a laboratory in the practice, and we used to make scleral lenses from an impression mould in the lab at the practice in Northampton. I’d be there until eight or nine o’clock, grinding and polishing and doing all sorts of things. Of course, now scleral lenses are one of the biggest lens options around in the market for very complex eyes, so we’ve almost gone full circle in the lenses we’re using. Currently one of my big lecture topics is talking about scleral lenses.

Today, so much of our practice is dedicated to speciality contact lens work. I guess both gave me that grounding


Is there a field within optometry that you think they excelled in?

They were both extremely good at binocular vision and had exceptional contact lens fitting skills. They also both had outstanding refraction skills and excellent technology capabilities in contact lens fitting too.

A collector contacted Tompkins about the sign they had found and kept in their shed

Can you share one thing you’ve learnt from them?

To be a good investigator and to look hard at what you’re seeing in front of you.

One thing I learnt from Monty would have to be the scleral lens fitting. We learnt it a little bit at university but not many had the opportunity to carry it on. Today, so much of our practice is dedicated to speciality contact lens work. I guess both gave me that grounding.

What advice did they given you about your future career?

The career advice came prior to meeting Monty or Patrick and it was probably while I was in the first few years at university and this was simple: be a good clinician.

Monty was innovative and was fitting RGP lenses from as early as 1954


Is there anyone else that you would like to mention that has inspired you throughout your optometry career?

Anyone involved in the BCLA is an inspiration because anyone that joins is dedicated to the world of contact lenses. So, I tip my hat off to anybody who has ever been BCLA president or a part of the council because they really are a dedicated crew of professionals looking to further contact lens work within optometry.

I would like to also acknowledge the optometrists I work with in my practice, Keyur Patel and Debra Grant. We've developed into a team of specialists. Debra is our binocular vision queen. She does all the binocular vision work in the practice that needs more than just the basics, and she’s brilliant at it. Keyur is an American trained Independent Prescribing glaucoma specialist and he's just genius at the clinical side of practice. Each of us works on different aspects within the practice so I really am blessed.

To be completely honest, more broadly speaking, we've got a fantastic team, from a clinical tech who is utterly brilliant to all the dispensing optometry team. Everybody working in the practice has the same ethos of dedicated clinical work.

Lastly, I would like to also mention Baroness Knight of Collingtree, Jill Knight, who was an MP and in the House of Lords. I got to know Jill in her own right but also because she was Monty's wife. She was always behind the AOP and our campaigns in parliament.

If you could help to inspire someone that wants to work in an independent practice, what words of advice would you offer?

If you’re an optometry student and want to specialise then reach out to any independent or even any optometrist that you know has speciality and say, “Can I come and spend a few days with you?” It’s a great opportunity to join in with the practice and learn new skills. To any student who wants to do that kind of process, talk to somebody – we’re a small profession and networking is brilliant.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree, Jill Knight, sadly passed away earlier this year in March 2022, aged 98.