Thursday, January 28, 2016
Making of a Child Psychiatrist (37): Back to the Grind (7)
You could be forgiven for asking if I ever seriously got down to the study of medicine. I would have to admit that I was not someone who rushed home in the evening and spent several hours writing notes about the happenings of the day. In those early days of clinical learning, despite the thrill of being a medical student, I was not studious. I certainly had relevant textbooks, and would on occasion dip into a particularly fascinating clinical issue. I gained all of my early knowledge from patients, ward round discussions, and the ongoing course of lectures (which I never missed, and during which I did take notes). Sadly I have to admit that even though I had an emotional attachment to the King’s library left over from that very first interview, I rarely went into the place – even though it had early texts dating back centuries (which these days would fascinate me), and was filled with first editions of work by Joseph Lister and others (a veritable history of medicine). My days of being a library monitor were over.
As I have mentioned before, today we have the Internet and Google, and can find brilliant summaries of most of life on Wikipedia. It is so easy to get instant information when necessary, and I am guilty in recent years of quite openly checking up some medical fact on ‘Dr. Google’, when I am presented with something from a patient about which I am unclear.
But in those first few years of medical training, I had retained my practice of ‘cramming’ on a topic in the weeks before a test or major examination. There was a natural advantage in this, which may already have become clear from earlier chapters. I was someone who had lots of time for the fun of being at medical school. Some would call my activities ‘diversions’. For me they were central to my life.
Not only did I play bridge and lots of sport, but there were opportunities to continue my interest in theatre. So, I took the opportunity to audition for a part in the KCH version of ‘The Beaux' Stratagem’ a rollicking comedy by George Farquhar, first produced at the Theatre Royal in the Haymarket, London, on March 8, 1707 (according to Wikipedia). I found myself playing Archer, one of a pair of rogue gentlemen, the other being Aimwell (played by one Graeme Garden). The story was of dissolute young men who had blown their fortunes. Debt-ridden, they flee London to provincial Litchfield, with the idea of marrying for money (their ‘stratagem’).
At that point Graeme was not yet famous, although he had done pre-med at Cambridge University where he was a member of the Footlights Club, and performed with the 1964 Footlights revue, ‘Stuff What Dreams Are Made Of’ at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In my usual naïve way, I knew nothing about Graeme or his past; all I knew was that he was a good actor, a delightful and generous person, someone who occasionally was hysterically funny in his rather dry way during rehearsals.
The show ran for two nights before Christmas on the stage of the refectory at King’s, was great fun to do, and seemed to go down well. Whether that was Farquhar’s funny script or the rather frequent innuendo (picked up very easily by a medical audience of course), or how well we did as actors, I cannot remember.
In retrospect, and having not been part of Graeme’s immediate circle, I had no idea about his emerging pressure from possible success in radio, and the decision that loomed large for him in 1965 as we neared finals.
All I knew was that Graeme and another student from Cambridge, the rather sombre ex priest Andrew Cardwell, and I found ourselves discussing a possible pantomime for the next Christmas (1965). Graeme had it in mind to adapt Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ with Caliban as a two-part pantomime horse. The ideas flowed thick and fast. I offered to direct the pantomime, and Graeme accepted. In fact Andrew and I shared duties of Director/Producer/Stage Manager, the sort of thing you do at these events for Med Schools. It ended up being one of those extraordinary processes which included devising a shipwreck scene on a stage that offered little, and working with a cast of what seemed like hundreds of people who wanted to be part of the fun, some actors with little stage experience, and some dancers with little background in dance. One of the delightful personal bits for me was that I was able to get Jan into the cast, given her prior training in theatre. She has little memory of her time being ‘a nymph’, except some residual embarrassment about ‘flailing limbs’ not being quite in sync with everyone else. I also had a small walk-on part as the bosun during the early shipwreck scene, enjoying all the ‘Argh me hearties’. The show was hysterical (as might be expected given what we now know about Graeme) and ended up being as much fun for the audience as it was for the crew (always a bonus).
Graeme, through late 1964 and early 1965, had been developing the radio show ‘I’m sorry, I’ll read that again’ with Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie (the first of which went to air in April 1964). Jan and I have a delightful later memory of sitting in the middle of the front row at one of the recordings (on complimentary tickets thanks to Graeme) watching the three of them with John Cleese, Jo Kendall and David Hatch. Hysterical!
Let me just finish this piece about theatre. An opportunity arose in 1966 to enter The University of London One Act Play competition. For the life of me I cannot remember how it all came about, but a small group of us got talking, got excited, and made a decision to do it. Harold Pinter’s ‘The Lover’ was a brand new one-act play first performed in 1965, and someone had seen it and enthused. We read it and enthused. Given my recent history I offered to direct (though I had an unexpressed wish to be the male lead). I do not have a program on file, and embarrassingly cannot remember the names of our actors. I have looked on the Internet, but on this occasion it failed me. Doubtless it will all come to me before this book gets published. The female lead was the young woman who had played our Miranda in the pantomime Tempest - good actress, blond and beautiful. I cannot remember the male actor. Hopefully someone will remind me in due course.
The script, of course, is brilliant:
“RICHARD (amiably'). Is your lover coming today?
RICHARD. What time?
RICHARD. Will you be going out ... or staying in?
SARAH. Oh ... I think we'll stay in.
RICHARD. I thought you wanted to go to that exhibition. SARAH. I did, yes ... but I think I'd prefer to stay in with him today.
RICHARD. Mmn-hmmn. Well, I must be off.”
Of course (spoiler alert) we find out that Richard is both the husband and the lover in this rich interplay of subtle emotion.
There were always problems getting enough rehearsal time, but we ended up feeling we had done our best. We had a stage manager, but most of the props were culled from people’s flats. Jan remembers that our bright pink bedspread was used to cover the bed in the play!
Taking on a new play by Pinter was just so ambitious, and personally I always felt that our rehearsals were a bit underdone. But, in life you do what can be managed, and pray that everyone else had the same problems. The only night of the play was performed in front of an audience at the Med School Refectory, and adjudicated formally by someone important. We were thrilled to find out after some weeks that we had won. I never did find out if we were the only entrant. I believe I was away in Plymouth doing midwifery when the award was made; I think our ‘Sarah’ collected the cup on our behalf. It was subsequently placed in the KCH library (that I rarely visited) for the rest of the year before the next competition. I believe I saw the cup once, but by then life and marriage and examinations and medicine had taken over, so the event was spectacular and fun, but just part of a passing show (which is probably why, irritatingly, I cannot remember the associated names).
Just a small rider to the above. I did keep in some intermittent contact with Graeme over the years, albeit we were both busy in the extreme and our paths divergent, with him in England and me in Australia. When he did a tour to Australia in 2005, and included Brisbane, I invited a group of Brisbane locals (emigrés from our years at King’s) to lunch with Graeme at a restaurant on Southbank – Allan Askew (a retired surgeon), Mike Ward (Professor of Gastroenterology, now retired and a sculptor), Lucy Ward (née Dawson, now a retired GP, and an internationally known artist). We reminisced about our times and fortunes. And Jan and I caught the show with Graeme and Tim and Bill (‘The Goodies’) and went backstage and reminisced some more.