John Robinson Wilson was born at 31A Ellers Road, Leeds, on 19 November 1919, the son of John Cooke Wilson, wholesale butcher, and his wife, Lilian (née Robinson), and was educated at Stonyhurst College and Leeds University where he qualified with the Conjoint Diploma and the University MB ChB in 1943. He held house appointments at Leeds and Sheffield, and then spent two years as a ship's doctor in the Orient line. He returned to Leeds as surgical registrar at St James's Hospital, held a similar appointment at Bradford Infirmary and took the FRCS in 1951. The following year he worked as surgical registrar at the West London Hospital, but for the rest of his life he abandoned clinical work for medical journalism and novel writing under the pen-name of John Rowan Wilson.
In 1954 he was appointed to the international clinical research staff of Lederle Laboratories, and in 1958 became medical director of the company in the United Kingdom. From 1962 till 1965 he was assistant editor of the British medical journal, but resigned in order to devote more time to his novels and to become international editor of World medicine. In 1971 and 1972 he assisted Dr Hugh Clegg to launch the new journal Tropical doctor, subsequently taking over the editorship when Dr Clegg retired.
Wilson had a unusually critical mind and a brilliant personality, and although he ridiculed human follies he was always so fair-minded that he attracted many friends. He owed a great deal to the devotion and support of his wife Sheila who survived him when he died suddenly on 22 May 1973 while on holiday in Cyprus.