The sailing doctor makes it breezy

The nameless doctor from Granada’s People and Places on sailing and being breezy about health matters

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From the TVTimes for week commencing 11 September 1960

THE trim, white-painted motor cruiser chugged in from the open sea and made for its home buoy. When it had been safely tied up, its owner, tanned and weather-beaten as from a lifetime in the open air, disappeared down the hatch.

Minutes later he was back on deck, his shorts replaced by a well pressed suit. Shore was only a few powerful oar-strokes away, and soon he was in his car and starting on the 85-mile trip to Manchester.

The purpose of his journey was to go in front of a television camera and tell viewers how to make friends with their ulcers.

The boat’s owner was the People and Places doctor, whose homely chats about the more popular aches and pains are becoming a regular feature of the programme.

Because of the BMA restrictions on publicity, the name of this twinkling-eyed doctor with the manner so suited to television cannot be given.

He is a 42-year-old general practitioner with a bigger-than-average practice, a wife and two children (a third expected in November).

He is a keen believer in as much outdoor life as possible. In the summer he captains his local cricket team. His winter sport is golf (he has a handicap of four) and he likes to sail the boat he keeps moored beneath the ancient walls of Conway Castle.

A man and a small boy in lifejackets
Doctor and son at lifeboat drill

It was during his summer holiday that he drove to Manchester to give his talk on ulcers — and he went off to Wales again as soon as he could. The 30ft Bendigo, which was a Rhyl pilot boat before he bought her four years ago, gives him the holiday relaxation his busy life demands — far from the incessant ringing of the telephone, from the midnight knocks on the door.

And a holiday afloat is a natural choice, for he is no stranger to the sea. Before the last war, as a 17-year-old waiting to go into medical school, he became a deckhand in a Hull trawler and knew the sea in its wildest moods while riding out gales in the Icelandic fishing grounds. During the war he served in the Mediterranean in a luxury liner which had been turned into a hospital ship.

His breezy television approach to medicine has developed from his earlier appearances in Granada’s People and Places, when it was a late-night show.

“Who,” the doctor asked himself, “is going to sit up and listen to a public health lecture at 11 o’clock at night?”

Now he makes a practice of treating his subject in the most lighthearted way possible. He says: “I don’t believe illness is necessarily a matter for solemn faces. Everyone is concerned about health in one way or another and I try to talk about different aspects of it in a way that is easily understandable.

“The fact that it’s a serious subject doesn’t mean it has to be dull. For instance, when I discussed disabilities I thought it interesting to instance famous athletes, among them Olympic gold medallists, whose disabilities did not prevent them from making great physical efforts.”

The doctor had his TV baptism in an interview with Douglas Warth in Granada’s Sharp at Four nearly four years ago. A doctor was needed who was capable of standing up to Warth’s hard-hitting arguments, and this general practitioner, former president of Manchester University Union and a noted debater, was picked for the verbal battle.

“It very nearly developed into a standup fight,” he recalls, “but it was great fun.”

Since then he has been called on to appear in This Week, What the Papers Say and Under Fire. It was in the last that he led the doctors’ protests about their promised pay increases.

“The MP I was attacking said it was most unfair of me to accuse the Government of delaying tactics and assured us that there was going to be no delay at all in doing something about our pay. That was more than three years ago, and it is only now that we are going to get our increases.”

How does the doctor’s family view his TV appearances?

“My four-year-old boy saw me in one programme recently,” he says, “and when I got home he told me he liked Yogi Bear better. I must say that is a point of view with which I have every sympathy.”

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