Books of 1952: Doctor in the House

the book:

Doctor in the House by Richard Gordon

Because the UK is celebrating Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee around now, this week's books all have a first publication date in 1952.

chapter 9  set in London

I rolled out of bed and dressed with the enthusiasm of a prisoner on his execution morning. The night outside was as thick and white as a rice pudding. After a glance through the curtains I pulled a green-and-yellow hooped rugby jersey over my shirt and a dirty cricket sweater over that. I tucked the ends of my trousers into football stockings, wrapped a long woollen scarf round my neck and hid the lot under a duffle coat. I looked as if I was going to take the middle watch on an Arctic fishing vessel.

The reason for this conscientious protection against the weather was the form of transport allotted to the students to reach their cases. It was obviously impossible to provide such inconsequential people with a car and we were nearly all too poor to own one ourselves. On the other hand, if the students had been forced to walk to their patients the race would have gone to the storks. A compromise had therefore been effected some ten years ago and the young obstetricians had the loan of the midwifery bicycle.

observations: Yes, well, how nice to think he’s going to deliver babies wearing these dirty clothes. The narrator is a medical student at the fictional St Swithin’s teaching hospital, and this book was sold as a fictionalized memoir. The narrator has the author’s name, though this was changed for the classic British films that followed, with Dirk Bogarde playing ‘Simon Sparrow’, while James Robertson Justice was unforgettable as Lancelot Spratt, the surgeon who ‘wore a suit cut with considerably more skill than many of his own incisions’ – though at Christmas time when he was let loose on the turkey he could ‘slit a bird to ribbons in a couple of minutes.’

But the book is really a collection of hospital anecdotes strung together round the framework of a doctor's training. Many of the stories have the air of being old chestnuts in medical circles, but because RG is a skilful writer, and because the stories are good ones, the book is hilarious, absolutely laugh-out loud funny.

Links up with:
Call the Midwife, of course – more babies being delivered in poor areas of London. The busybody doctor uncle in Louisa M Alcott’s Eight Cousins knows everything, while Molly’s father in Mrs Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters is a good doctor but a bit lacking in judgement in other areas.

The man in the duffle coat is Sir David Stirling, the founder of the SAS – this photo of his statue was taken by Ronnie Leask and can be found at
Wikimedia Commons.