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Doctor On The Boil

BOOK: Doctor On The Boil
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Doctor On The Boil


First published in 1970

© Richard Gordon; House of Stratus 1970-2012


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.


The right of Richard Gordon to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.


This edition published in 2012 by House of Stratus, an imprint of

Stratus Books Ltd., Lisandra House, Fore Street, Looe,

Cornwall, PL13 1AD, UK.


Typeset by House of Stratus.


A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and the Library of Congress.




This is a fictional work and all characters are drawn from the author’s imagination.

Any resemblance or similarities to persons either living or dead are entirely coincidental.

About the Author


Richard Gordon
, real name Dr. Gordon Stanley Ostlere, was born in England on 15 September 1921. He is best-known for his hilarious ‘Doctor’ books. Himself a qualified doctor, he worked as an anaesthetist at the famous St. Bartholomew’s Hospital (where he was also a medical student) and later as a ship’s surgeon, before leaving medical practice in 1952 to take up writing full time. Many of his books are based on his own true experiences in the medical profession and are all told with the wry wit and candid humour that have become his hallmark.

In all, there are eighteen titles in the
Series, with further comic writings in another seven volumes, including
‘Great Medical Disasters’
‘Great Medical Mysteries’
, plus more serious works concerning the lives of medical practitioners.

He has also published several technical books under his own name, mainly concerned with anaesthetics for both students and patients. Additionally, he has written on gardening, fishing and cricket and was also a regular contributor to
magazine. His
‘Private Lives’
series, taking in
Dr. Crippen, Jack the Ripper
Florence Nightingale
, has been widely acclaimed.

The enormous success of
Doctor in the House
, first published in the 1950’s, startled its author. It was written whilst he was a surgeon aboard a cargo ship, prior to a spell as an academic anaesthetist at Oxford. His only previous literary experience had been confined to work as an assistant editor of the
British Medical Journal
. There was, perhaps, a foretaste of things to come whilst working on the
as the then editor, finding Gordon somewhat jokey, put him in charge of the obituaries!

The film of
Doctor in the House
uniquely recovered its production costs whilst still showing at the cinema in London’s West End where it had been premiered. This endeared him to the powerful Rank Organisation who made eight films altogether of his works, which were followed by a then record-breaking TV series, and further stage productions.

Richard Gordon’s books have been translated into twenty languages.

He married a doctor and they had four children, two of whom became house surgeons. He now lives in London.



Across the main hall of St Swithin’s Hospital, worn by generations of distinguished doctors and the patients who made them so, on a fine morning in early May two young men in short white jackets were ambling towards the plate-glass front doors.

‘Why do you always do it in the spring, Terry?’ asked Ken Kerrberry, the taller and more assured. ‘It’s so unoriginal. Just like getting flu in January.’

‘But Ken, I tell you this time it’s for real.’ Terry Summerbee was dark-haired and wiry, with a ready smile.

‘Let’s recap, now. The spring before last you were really in love with that well-vatted physiotherapist who treated your strained quadriceps–’

‘Could you blame anyone for going after a bird rhythmically massaging her way up your thigh to a tape of Strauss waltzes?’

‘Last spring it was that little redhead in the refectory. At least she used to give you double helpings of chips. Well, what’s this year’s model look like?’

Terry hesitated. ‘I don’t want it to get round. There might be too much competition.’

‘I swear professional secrecy, by the sphincter of Hippocrates.’

‘What about you yourself?’ Terry asked suspiciously.

‘You know I’m already being drained of energy by that girl from TV–’

‘All right. Mine’s called Stella Gray. She’s that new blonde one down in X-ray. Perhaps you’ve noticed her?’

‘Noticed her? You might ask if I’d noticed Cleopatra turning up to take our see-through pictures. But my dear Terry–’ He laid a fatherly hand on his companion’s shoulder. ‘I do implore you, forget it.’

‘Oh? Trying to put me off? Then you
after her–’

‘No, no! But she’s right out of your class.’

‘Thanks. A nice friendly remark.’

‘You’re right. It
. To start with, her father’s a millionaire–’

‘Yes, it’s all round the hospital. He’s in polymer resins, though don’t ask me what anyone could possibly want them for.’

‘She’s jet set. We aren’t even off the ground. She’s been around – St Tropez, Nassau, Nepal. You name it, she’s revelled in it. She won’t look at mere medical students, I assure you. Even housemen and registrars are liable to get their fingers frozen.’

‘I happen to know she’s melting in my direction. As for the money, that doesn’t make the slightest difference to me.’

‘Personally, I can’t understand what she’s doing in a dump like this at all.’

‘She has a sense of vocation and she’s keen on photography.’

‘You take my advice and leave her playing happily among the barium enemas.’

‘I intend to ask her out,’ Terry said firmly.

Ken laughed. ‘That’ll set you back. It’s no good trying to fob her off with a bag of crisps and a trip up the Post Office Tower, you know. And don’t forget, mate – the dean’s little class examination in medicine strikes on Monday week. If you fail it’s back six months, and no excuses. We won’t be able to talk him round this time. You know what a mood the old dear has been in the last few weeks – twice as dithery and half as connable.’

‘Relaxation is the best preparation for both childbirth and examinations,’ Terry told him smugly.

They had reached the front doors, giving on to a broad flight of stone steps and the courtyard, in which some half-dozen grimy-looking plane trees were struggling into bud. The courtyard itself was separated from the road by a line of stout iron railings, pierced by gates flanked by two brick pillars. The pair watched with idle curiosity as a Rolls-Royce swung through the gates and came to a halt at the foot of the steps. Their feelings turned to surprise as the occupant got out, parking in that spot being strictly forbidden even for the dean. They turned to frank alarm with a better view of the driver. The two young men stood wide-eyed and open-mouthed as a tall, burly figure dressed outlandishly in a knickerbocker suit of gingerish tweed, on his head a deerstalker cap, on his face an aggressive beard, came stamping determinedly up the steps.

‘It can’t be!’ Terry gasped. ‘I never believed he really existed.’

‘It’s like meeting the griffin or some other fabubus beast,’ exclaimed Ken.

‘If you ask me, more likely the abominable snowman–’

‘You! You two. You would be medical students, would you not?’

‘Y–yes, sir.’

‘I thought as much.’

Sir Lancelot Spratt, FRCS, stood stroking his beard, transfixing them with the glare that, until his retirement, had impaled generations of St Swithin’s men with surgical efficiency.

‘Are you familiar with the writings of the seventeenth-century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes?’

familiar, sir,’ said Ken, the braver of the two.

‘He described the life of prehistoric man as poor, nasty, brutish, and short. I have always felt that an apt description of the modern medical student. Stand up, boy!’ he roared. ‘Take your hands out of your pockets. It is not only offensively unaesthetic, but it will give you osteoarthritis of the cervical vertebrae in middle age. What stage have you reached, in what you are pleased to call your education?’

‘Second medical clerking, sir,’ they said hastily together.

‘H’m. Though I suppose you haven’t much time for studies these days? Doubtless you occupy yourselves beating unfortunate policemen over the head with banners at demos. I abhor violence,’ he told them forcefully. ‘I know you’re all hair and high principles, but if you happen to object to the state of the world you were born into, write letters to the newspapers. The pen is mightier than the sword.
is what civilization is all about, though I don’t suppose it had occurred to you.’

‘I’m a pacifist, sir,’ said Terry.

‘They always seem to get into bloodier fights than anyone else. Well, I can’t waste all day with you.’ Sir Lancelot strode into the building. ‘Porter! Where’s that blasted porter? Dozing as usual, I suppose?’

The head of Harry the porter appeared round the glass screen of his lodge. For a moment the man’s expression suggested he saw St Peter himself, impatiently rattling his keys. But having kept his job for twenty years solely through the quickness of his wits, his gnarled face assumed a smile as he said, ‘It’s Sir Lancelot! What a surprise. I’m real pleased to see you again, sir.’

‘You are
pleased to see me at all,’ the surgeon informed him. ‘You omitted to pay over my winnings from the very last bet I asked you to place for me, at Kempton Park on the afternoon I retired.’

‘Did I, sir?’ He looked aghast. ‘It must have slipped my memory, being so upset at you leaving us–’

‘Don’t blather, man. Is the dean in?’

‘His board says so, sir.’

‘Good. Well, follow me. Jump to it. I never move about this place without an escort. And what are those trolleys doing hanging about in the main corridor? Get them tidied away immediately. The patients don’t want to walk into the place and be reminded they might be pushed out of it.’ His eye fell on a notice board. ‘And kindly remove that Ministry poster saying, “We want Your Blood”. Could easily be taken wrongly by nervous patients. Good grief, nurse – what’s the laundry been doing to your uniform?’

A young blonde nurse stopped dead, regarding him with the same alarm as the two students.

‘I can distinctly see your patellae,’ he told her.

‘Oh! Yes.’ She looked down at her skirt. ‘It’s the new matron, sir. She’s given us permission to shorten our uniforms. To be more fashionable, sir.’

‘I imagined St Swithin’s followed the dictates of Harley Street, not Carnaby Street,’ Sir Lancelot told her loftily. He peered at the bib of her uniform. ‘Is that what’s wrong with you?’

She fingered the metal label. ‘That’s my name, sir. I’m Nurse Smallbones. We all wear them now.’

‘Good grief,’ muttered Sir Lancelot again. ‘You wouldn’t find
agreeing to that. I always preferred to do my duties here in complete anonymity. Please lengthen your clothes, nurse. They are quite immodest. Harry, where are you! I’m off to the dean.’

Rubbing his hands briskly together, as though making for a good dinner or an interesting operating list, Sir Lancelot started down the crowded main corridor like a tank through a cornfield.

The dean’s office was on the ground floor of the medical school, to the far side of the hospital building. Sir Lancelot had reached only half-way, when he pulled up suddenly with a shout of, ‘You!’

‘Good morning, Sir Lancelot,’ said a pleasant faced, curly-haired young man with a small fair moustache, in a long white coat with a stethoscope round his neck. ‘I thought you were still living it up among the geishas? I do hope you had a good time? How was the Taj Mahal by moonlight?’

‘I did not see the Taj Mahal, through indisposition. What the devil are you doing here, Grimsdyke? I thought the hospital had purged itself of you long ago.’

‘I’m doing a locum, for a junior medical registrar who’s on honeymoon.’

‘H’m. Knowing you, it’s a wonder you didn’t offer to be your registrar’s locum on the honeymoon, instead.’

‘I don’t think I’d have enjoyed it much, sir. The registrar’s a she.’

‘Oh…is a junior registrar job the best you can do for yourself? At your age?’

‘Come, sir.’ Grimsdyke pulled the end of his moustache, looking pained. ‘I’m not that old. And these days the seven ages of man seem to be telescoped a bit. There’s only youth and doddering senility.’

Sir Lancelot glared. ‘And which category do I come into, pray? I’m genuinely disappointed you haven’t climbed higher up the medical ladder. Even if the lower rungs are admittedly as crowded as Oxford Street during the sales – with the same ruthless elbowing going on, too. Not content with having been our oldest student, you want to be our oldest junior doctor. If your ambition’s simply to become the Peter Pan of the medical profession, I suppose it’s your affair.’

‘I have other interests, sir,’ Grimsdyke informed him.

‘Medical moonlighting, eh? There’s plenty of it about – struggling doctors working all week-end so that prosperous middle-aged ones can play golf. To be expected, I suppose, with the disgraceful rates of junior hospital pay.’

‘I took this job as a refresher-course, really. One does get so terribly out-of-date. Now I know why I kept failing my finals – I was a student so long, all the treatment I was taught at the beginning had by then been discovered as highly dangerous.’

‘Well, keep out of my hair, anyway.’

‘But surely, sir, you’ve retired–’

‘We’ll see about that,’ Sir Lancelot told him shortly. ‘I mustn’t keep the dean waiting any longer. I told the fellow I’d be here an hour ago.’

BOOK: Doctor On The Boil
10.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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