Updated 14 Feb 2015

Robert Palmer autobiography

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Robert Palmer autobiography

This autobiography was written when the author had retired at 70. More photos are on a separate webpage. Pen-portraits of other members of the author's family are on their own webpage.




1944 |
1947 |
1949 |
1952 |
1955 |
1957 |
1960 |
1962 |
1964 |
1966 |
1968 |
1970 |
1973 |
2014 |

12 1947.
35 1951 First bike, Court Way.
11 1961 Buck. Palace, D of E award.
1961 (age 17)
1986 (age 42)
1990 (age 46)
1995 (age 51)
1999 (age 55)
2004 (age 60)


1944 to 1947


    I was born on 29th July 1944 at five minutes past four (?am or pm) at St Andrews (according to Aunt Lu) or Argyll (more likely to be correct) nursing home, Nether Edge (Sharrow), Sheffield. I weighed 8¼ lbs (the same as John) and was a vaginal delivery (I am not sure how long Mum was in labour with me but clearly it was an easier delivery than for John, for whom the sun set twice on Mum’s labour which was at 37, Court Way, Twickenham by Dr O’Sullivan, and clearly should have been a Caesarean Section). My delivery was by Dr J B Fisher. Aunt Lu says she visited Mum every day and the sheets at the nursing home weren’t very clean. By coincidence John was also born at five minutes past four, but his was definitely in the afternoon. I was presumably conceived in October 1943 at 37, Court Way, which was before Dad went to Italy (he went to Naples with Cable and Wireless on the “blue train”, which was not a train but communication vehicles, on 13th May 1944). Probably not long after this Mum moved up to 107 Banner Cross Road, Ecclesall, Sheffield with John who would have been four years old. John has memories of the year or so he lived there. Granny was 67 at the time and somewhat short tempered, especially when she was cooking. She also worried about money. Uncle Billy lived in the attic bedroom and John enjoyed being taken into the basement where Uncle Billy made his transformers. Aunt Lucy (who was a hospital Consultants secretary, and her husband Norman Brealey who John liked used to come round, also Aunt Dorothy who was a teacher and was married to “Pop” Bowen who was quite a bit older than her (and the relationship and marriage had been frowned on by her parents, and may have shortened the life of her father who died age 68 in 1933). Pop meddled with cars. Uncle Billy also had an old car and when he could get petrol drove everybody to the toad’s mouth and the surprise. They had a terrier dog called Chummy who was somewhat bad tempered. John had no one to play with and used to go to the garages at the top of the road and talk to the “magic man” an imaginary person. Mum says in her memories “after marriage in 1931 we lived care free for 9 years as we could not afford a baby. Then war began in 1939 and I had visions of being alone (she assumed Dad would be sent abroad and she remembered from the first world war that few came back) so I had John (1940). Then carried away with motherhood I had Rob (1944). Best thing I did was give birth to my children. Bern went off with his job to Italy in 1944 and came back a dying man (on a hospital ship to Southampton) in 1946. Dad was not so keen on having children and there is a suggestion Mum “pulled the wool over his eyes” when John was conceived in August 1939 and possibly again with me. I was called Mary before I was born because Dad wanted a daughter. I was about 2 before Dad first saw me in 1946 (he returned to Southampton from Vienna on a hospital ship on 13th April 1946). By this time we had moved back to Twickenham (we probably moved back from Sheffield in the summer of 1945). John went to Brook House school probably in September 1945 and was there until 1946, but probably for less than a year. He did not enjoy it there and his school reports were not good. Aunt Yvonne, Uncle George (Stewart) and Jean and Shirley Jane lived with us for a few months in 1946 at 37 as their house (47 Court Way) had a sitting tenant. This may have coincided with the time John was sent to Worksop to live with Aunt Win and Uncle Frank who were childless. The reasons for him going there were unclear, but it may have been a strain on Dad who was quite unwell. He stayed there until he was 18 just coming to Court Way for holidays, eagerly awaited for by me. Dad had contracted acute rheumatic fever in Vienna and nearly died and was a cardiac cripple for the rest of his life with mitral stenosis. My godmother was Aunt Win (Dougill), and my godfathers Uncle Ernest (Doxey), and W E (Ernest) Burnand, Aunt Lu’s father. I was christened at All Saints Church, Ecclesall (which is where I believe Uncle Wilf, Dad’s elder brother, preached to full houses some years before, and who incidentally was killed in Plymouth, supposedly while demonstrating a grenade which accidentally detonated, 2 days after I was born). I weighed 10lbs at one month, 113/4lbs at two months, and 25lbs at fourteen months. My first tooth was in March 1945, and my first steps on 19th October 1945. My first word was “this”. I was breast fed for 8 months. I probably lived at 107 Banner Cross Road, Ecclesall, Sheffield until late 1945 or early 1946, when we moved back Twickenham.


1947 to 1949


    My earliest memories are of 37 Court Way Twickenham when I was 3 in 1947. I remember going with Mum when she filled up the coal scuttle from the side of the house, which was semi detached. The other part of 37 was occupied by Tommy Farmer and his wife. Tommy Farmer only had one arm, having lost the other one in the first world war. They were perplexed why Mum had children during the war. I believe Mum had a miscarriage on the toilet at 37 between 1941 and 1943. I also remember the motorbikes roaring up Court Way to the technical college at the top of the road (on Egerton Road). An early memory is Mum, Dad and I on holiday in a riverboat on the Thames at Reading. Dad was still well enough to come on holiday with us, and I estimate it was about 1947 or 1948. I also remember the Olympic Games in London in 1948. Dad took John to Battersea fun fair which opened alongside the Games. I knew something was going on but was not told at the time but found out for sure later, and harboured a sense of injustice. John used to come to Twickenham for the school holidays, something I eagerly looked forward to. If he was rough with me Dad got very cross, but never spanked him or me, he left that to Mum. I used to whine a lot, dribble and pick my nose. John started to have his “dreams” which were petit mals, and Dad had difficulty coping with it, which I suspect was one of the reasons he went to Worksop, although the official reason was that he had asthma and the air was cleaner in Worksop. I also remember going on holiday to Swanage, which may have been in 1949 or 1950. Again Dad came, but got mad with me because I whined a lot of the time. On one occasion in the dining room I had a spoon of food in my hand when the door opened and I swung round and deposited the food all over Dad. He got furious. He did have a short temper, probably because he felt ill all the time with his mitral stenosis. We also went to Sheffield, 107 Banner Cross Road, occasionally where granny would show me her jewellery and Uncle Billy would take me down the cellar, and on trips in his car to the Toad’s Mouth, The Surprise and Hathersage. Once we went to Hollycourt House and I played in the garden and somehow got out and got lost. I was wandering around when a man came by and I told him I was lost. I didn’t know the address of Hollycourt House but I did know how to get there from where the trams turned around so the man took me there and I found my own way back (or may have gone to 107, I am not sure). The next episode is going to school.


1949 to 1952


    I went to St Mary’s primary school in September 1949. I remember walking to school with mum and being somewhat apprehensive. It was about a mile and a half walk up Court Way, right on to Whitton Road, right at Kneller Hall with the corner shops (including Mrs Houchin’s and the Grangers sweet shop on the left), and almost immediately over the river Crane and again almost immediately left over the zebra crossing (with Michaels council works and the entrance to the old Twickenham station on the right). Then over the railway and left at the Regal cinema along Amyand Park Road to the school. As I remember it wasn’t long before I was walking by myself which would be unheard of today, though I think mum used to come with me and pick me up, maybe on her bike. There were 19 girls in our class (although that was maybe later on), and only 5 boys (myself, Michael Sacree, David Brown, Richard Hammond and Ian Carey). In the early days there was another boy whose name I forget, but I seem to remember he lived in a houseboat on the Thames because I went to a party there once. One day when we came to school there were teeth all over the road outside the infants playground because I recall a boy picking them up. He had been run over and I never saw him again. I remember Empire Day with the Union Jacks out at the infants class. When I played in the infants playground I used to be bullied. I was called Dumbo because of my protruding ears. Michael was in a difficult position and joined in in a half hearted way. David Trelease was one of the participants as was David Brown. Mum said I had to get David Trelease one on one and punch him. To make sure we followed him back from school, mum pushing her bike and me walking. When we were walking down Court Way a short distance behind David, she got on her bike and with a word of encouragement cycled off. I walked up directly behind David, went round the side of him, and punched him in the face as hard as I could. He went home to Craneford Way bawling and you could hear him in Court Way. I went home and soon after his mother Agnes came round to 37 with David. Mum sent me upstairs and held her own in a stand up row with Mrs Trelease. It worked though and they didn’t bully me any more. However there was another boy Colin Ross (Dad called him Colin Ox) who was about 10 months older than me and lived at the top of Court Way. He used to get home before me and waited for me and came out and beat me up. I was terrified of him. One day John broke up from his school in Worksop earlier than me and was down in Twickenham. He walked a discreet distance behind me and when Colin Ross came to beat me up, he was beaten up and dragged through a puddle by John instead. He never beat me up again. Michael was my best friend and I used to play with him in the council yard near the old Twickenham station. We would also go to Marble Hill and the open air swimming pool in Twickenham. Michael had four older sisters and his father worked for Twickenham Council. Later they moved to the top of Egerton Road near where The Stoop Harlequins rugby football ground is now. We played cricket behind the sheds there. Dad once said to me why couldn’t I have a friend of my own class which upset me more than a bit. After infants school I remember sitting in class and the girl behind me kicked me all the time, and when I finally retaliated it was me that got into trouble and was moved to the bottom of the class. I had a great sense of injustice. At school David Brown was the star. He was the best sportsman and came top of the boys in the exams. He was not particularly nice, partly I suspect because his parents divorced (his mother was very nice and worked at the school). I remember them wanting us to name our favourite song and I named the same one David named, and he shouted at me. David Brown and Richard Hammond sat next to each other in class, then behind them Michael sat by himself (he wouldn’t let me sit next to him, I am not sure why), and I had to sit next to Ian Carey. We were friendly with the Carey family. Ian’s mother Betty was German and I didn’t like her. His father worked for Prudential Insurance and he had a sister Ingrid who was quite a loose cannon and the opposite of Ian who was very careful but not especially bright. Ian’s father Wally had a car and they used to take Mum and I for drives often. I can’t remember Dad ever coming. Dad bought me a Hercules wartime bike, model # NY2258 in 1951 or 1952, and there is a photo of me with the bike. Also a photograph in Dads handwriting of details of the bike is shown, and it is a wartime Hercules model # NY2258. Apparently when Dad first joined the Eastern Cable Company he was told to do something about his handwriting and he developed his “italic script” which he spent a lot of time perfecting. I was woken up one evening after dark (maybe 1948 or 1949) and pushed down to Whitton Road in a stroller to watch a procession. I was none too pleased. Mum and Dad had a big row and woke me up. I got up and sat on the stairs listening for some time before I was spotted. The argument stopped. Dad went out for a walk to the top of Court Way and back to calm himself down as was his wont after arguments. Mum used to say to Dad “can’t you do it” on occasions when he was trying to do something which always made him mad. I was in the garden when a radio request which Dad had made on my behalf for “little red monkey” was played. He was too unwell to get me in time and I missed it. I was very disappointed. We used to go to Richmond on occasion. Dad and Mum bought me a cap pistol in a toy shop in a pedestrian only connecting street, whereupon I ran outside with it, pointed it at a man, and said “bang you are dead”. He was not pleased and I think details of the incident appeared in the “Richmond and Twickenham Times”, the owners of which were the Dimbleby family. This was maybe 1949. Mum used to take me to Twickenham baths and put a harness on me and walk along the side of the pool while I tried to swim. Later she gave me swimming lessons there with a man. Mum took me to Kings Cross and put me in a compartment on a train to Retford. She then went into the next compartment and asked an older couple to keep an eye on me. After we started a soldier came into the compartment (there was no one else in the compartment), and after drawing the blinds molested me and got me to do unprintable things on him. I was more interested in my I spy book. I never told anyone until years later I told Mum. She got terribly upset. Dad and Mum were friendly with the McLachlans who lived near the corner of Craneford Way on our side of the road. They had a daughter Angela who used to take me out in my pushchair. I didn’t enjoy the outings very much, especially when she took me to a fair and put me on a ride which shook me up. Angela had a younger brother Peter who was about 18 months younger than me. I used to play with him a bit, especially at OP (The Exiles Club). He went to Dollar Academy where his father Uncle Mac had been head of school. Sadly Uncle Mac died in his 50’s of lung cancer. Everyone used to smoke back then. Angela also had an older sister Marjorie who drowned when she went swimming in the sea on the east coast of Scotland. This was before Peter was conceived. Mum once undressed as she thought probably correctly that I had no idea what women looked like with no clothes on. After she quickly dressed and refused my request to do it again. We were also friendly with the Horwood Barrets (Horwood and Auntie Elaine) who lived in Craneford Way. They had two children, David who was a few months younger than me and who I played with a bit, and his older sister Suzanne who sadly developed multiple sclerosis. Horwood died in his 50’s of a heart attack, not unusual in those days.There is a photo of me in the Thames at Datchet with David, which was one of Mum’s favourite destinations. David Trelease got his own back on me when he locked me in his shed and I couldn’t get out. I yelled like anything and eventually Mrs Trelease let me out, but I suspect was deliberately slow about doing so. David had a sister Sheila who got a congratulatory first at University but who was not a good looker.
    84 Michael Sacree


1952 to 1955


40z 1955: St Mary's primary school, Twickenham. Left to Right:
back: Margaret Phillips, Angela Blythman, Susan Trickle, Jacqueline Woolard, Frances Archer, RJP, Valerie Gray, Ian Carey, Anne Butcher, Mrs Andrews
middle: Michael Sacree, David Brown, Kay Harle, Judith Nicholson, Pauline Watkinson, Caroline Bunn, Joan Ford, Richard Hammond, Jimmy Panormo
front: Mariann Potter, Pamela Hitchinson, Margaret Beauthorpe, Sandra Croll, Maureen Bowles, German girl, Anne Glazebrook

    41z David Horwood-Barret (R), RJP at Datchet
    09 Before operation
    14 After operation
    I had quite severe bat ears. I think it was February 1954, though it may have been February 1953, when Ian Carey (who also had bat ears) and I were driven to Lord Mayor Treolars Hospital in Alton by Ian’s father Wally Carey, where we both had our ears pinned back under general anaesthetic. I remember the dry mouth from the premedication, and a number of attempts to find a vein. The surgeon was Mr Reidy, a Consultant plastic surgeon at The Westminster Hospital, and who I anaesthetised for many years later in 1971 when I was an SHO at Westminster. It was a very good result as the photographs before (photo 9) and after (photo 14), show. I believe they now do it under local anaesthetic, except in children who still have a general anaesthetic. When I was in the senior year at St Mary's primary school (on the badge it reads "Conemur" which is Latin for "Let us try"), my form mistress was Mrs Andrews who lived opposite us in Court Way. My school reports invariably said "lacks confidence", and I remember a school visit to Twickenham Baths and the headmistress Miss Ashton being amazed when I jumped off the top board several times. She later got me in her office shortly after our mock 11 plus and asked me who the top boy in our year was. "David Brown of course" I said. "Well do you know that he only got 1 more mark than you in the mocks", she replied. The photo of class 1 at St Mary’s primary school in the summer of 1955 shows back row right to left, Mrs Andrews, Anne Butcher, Ian Carey, Valerie Gray, myself, Frances Archer, Jacqueline Woolard, Susan Trickle, Angela Blythman, Margaret Phillips, middle row right to left, Jimmy Panormo, Richard Hammond, Joan Ford, Caroline Bunn, Pauline Watkinson, Judith Nicholson, Kay Harle, David Brown, Michael Sacree, and front row right to left Anne Glazebrook, German girl, Maureen Bowles, Sandra Croll, Margaret Beauthorpe, Pamela Hitchinson and Mariann Potter. Another friend I had at St Mary,s was Christopher Harper, who was at the school for maybe a year and a half in probably 1954 and some of 1953 and or 1955. His mother ran the greengrocers shop at the corner and his father a shop in Balham. At St Marys I wanted to become a doctor. This is the dissertation I wrote verbatim, "The major influencing factor in my choice of medicine as a probable career is my interest in the profession. I believe that without interest one cannot progress adequately. Since my early childhood the doctoring profession has attracted me and I have always sought to further my knowledge in this sphere pleasurably. My interest in the arts subjects has always been limitedand I regard them as detrimental to human progress, however I do think that many scientific careers nowadays are striving towards the manufacture of weapons for destructive purposes, whereas medicine strives to make good of destruction. Also I believe that good health is the most important possession of an individual, without which his happiness cannot be complete, therefore if I can do my best to promote general health I will feel I have succeeded". I think I wrote this in 1955 at the end of my time at St Mary’s, although it is possible it was later. I also wrote some reminisces of my years at St Marys in 1963. I talk of “the fun Michael and I had in the council yard, the old blacksmith, Mr Allen, Mr Grumpy in the field, the walk along the old path to the railway line alongside the greenhouses, looking for matchbox labels, running up the steps to the ghost room etc. I remember David Brown who was always the leader and who I hated because he always used to sneer at me. I remember not being very good at sport in my early years. Dad helped me a lot for my 11 plus. Miss Ashton always said I lacked self confidence. I recall train spotting, trips to Chessington zoo, The Exiles Club, and Twickenham swimming baths. I much enjoyed going to Worksop and looked forwards to John coming for the school holidays”. Other little incidents I have written about “playing doodles with Michael at St Marys, walking through Bushey Park with Mum and Dad, conker hunting especially at Cole Court when Michael and I were were caught and made to dump all our conkers, holidays at Bognor Regis, the holiday in Swanage when I was so bad tempered though I can’t remember why, walking over Reigate Hill with Uncle Jim, Mum telling me that granny had died, riding to the Toad’s mouth with Uncle Billy in the Austin 7, getting lost at Uncle Earnest’s old garden in Sheffield, being told by Stephen Allsop that I was his best friend, the fights with Colin Ross, playing cricket with Michael behind the garages, the excitement before fireworks day and the thrill of sorting through my fireworks over and over again, the apprehension when I was competing at Twickenham rugby ground in the crawling race, when I was locked in David Trelease’s shed, the annual party at Meadowbank etc etc”.

    Probably in early 1955 or maybe 1954 John and I went to visit Old Oak Common railway sheds near Feltham. We found ourselves on the wrong side of the railway tracks of which there were about 5 as I remember. John insisted on crossing. Despite very severe reservations I eventually acquiesced and waiting for a clear moment and carefully stepping over the live rails we both safely got across.
    100 Written by me on March 11th probably 1954, though may have been 1955. It was marked by our form master or mistress.
    10 Michael Sacree, RJP, John Palmer Twickenham Baths, 1954 Dad gave us 10 shillings when we swam our first width


1955 to 1957


    I sat my 11 plus at St Mary’s primary school in the early summer of 1955 just before I was 11. I don’t think I had any coaching but Dad may have helped me (he certainly helped me a lot when I was at Hampton Grammar and I have a feeling he helped me for my 11 plus). Anyway I passed very easily I think and was invited to an entrance exam for Latymer Upper School, which had been Dads second choice (his first choice was City of London school). Hampton Grammar School was his third choice. Anyway I sat the exam at the school in Hammersmith and in the maths section there were things that I had never been taught at St Mary’s (maybe fractions), so there was no way I was going to pass and I duly failed the exam. I was then told I was going to Thames Valley. Dad made a big stink about that and said I should go to Hampton Grammar (apparently they were miffed that they were not my first choice) and in the end Hampton Grammar accepted me and I went into form 1A (the top form) based on my 11 plus result. I think I had an IQ test around this time and it was 129 if my memory serves me correctly. I think John’s was around 134.
    I found Hampton Grammar which had about 800 boys terrifying and the work hard going and the boys in my form very bright. I remember after being there for about a week David Brown (who also was in my year at Hampton Grammar as was remarkably enough Colin Ross who was with me in 2 alpha, but never spoke to me) became friendly with a boy called Carpenter (chips) and laughed at me during the lunch breaks because I had got lost one morning and couldn’t find the right classroom. I used to hate the lunch hours because I had nothing to do and I would wander around trying to make it look to the other boys that I did have something to do.
    Anyway as time went by I gradually settled and made friends with a group Seaman (Sebe McIlroy), Morris (Beller), and a ginger haired boy whose name I forget. They teased me a bit but I hung on because I felt too self conscious without any friends. My nickname was Poly (an abbreviation of Polyphemus the one eyed giant).
    Our form master was “Jasper” Parry and he used to give me a lot of encouragement. I joined the boxing club and did quite well. I remember fighting Micky Hannan in the semi final of the heavyweight division. He boxed for the school and I was told he had private boxing lessons. At lunch he walked up to where I was sitting and extended his fist to my chin and got me to do the same. I was very apprehensive, but in the fight I made his nose bleed and only just lost a very close decision. It gave me a lot of self confidence. I subsequently boxed for the school and won. Shortly afterwards they stopped boxing altogether. I also did quite well in cross country running.
    Later I became friendly with Christopher Langham who was in 2 latin A and like me cycled to school (in the first form I took the trolley bus). He used to cycle past 37 and I waited for him. I enjoyed cycling along the cycle lane adjacent to the Chertsey Road, and even more so when Dad bought the white bike from Uncle Jim for £9 to replace my old black bike. I would often leave early to bag a fives court.
    I did not do very well academically and in the second year was in form 2 alpha which was in effect the C form. I did not receive the encouragement at Hampton Grammar that I later got at The Masonic School, and was drifting somewhat. I did write a book about Shakespeare though which I still have.
    A lot of time at the weekends I played with Michael Sacree, and occasionally with Ian Carey. When John was down for the holidays I did most things with him such as table tennis at the Exiles Club and visits to the swimming baths at Twickenham (also with Michael) and Isleworth, and trips to the Science and Natural History museums in South Kensington and trips to Kew Gardens with John and Michael.
    I had mice. My favourite was Willie who remarkably was given to me by Colin Ross, and also Silver. Another favourite was Chippie the budgerigar. Unfortunately about a week before Dad died I turned the lights off (as Chippie was flying) for fun. He flew into the fire and the Stewarts came round and wrung his neck. Even in my diary I put a different story down.
    I avidly followed the fortunes of Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United and during the summer the England cricket team. I also kept stamp and matchbox label albums and trainspotted at Twickenham station, Surbiton, Clapham Junction and Kings Cross and even sometimes Paddington, Liverpool Street, Charing Cross and Retford when I was up in Worksop. Throughout 1956 and for most of January 1957 I kept a diary.
    Mum often took me to the Exiles Club and played tennis with me. She served underarm.
    In August 1956 Mum, John and I stayed in Wally Carey’s identical twin brother's caravan at Bognor Regis. Dad was too unwell to come, and anyway the caravan would have been too small for him. I got the small short bed and John got the double bed, but nevertheless complained about the crack down the middle. We looked for Flook in the shop widows. Later we stayed in Mrs Knight’s bungalow in Angmering which was much more comfortable.
    About a month before Dad died I got an inkling that he was getting iller. He had a cyst removed from his scalp under local anaesthetic by Dr Hamilton, and he wore a truss for an inguinal hernia which he was too ill to have corrected surgically. He was in heart failure and would regularly cough up blood, and was tired all the time. Dr Hamilton had warned him not to go to work but he used to literally drag himself there and back every day. After he died (described in my section about him) everybody came to his funeral including John, but I was not allowed to go. He was cremated and his ashes buried in an unmarked spot as I remember (because I did attend that) close to the entrance of All Hallows Church in Twickenham (where Mum’s ashes are also, but they are in the crypt which is a separate building and you walk down some stairs).
    After Dad died (January 1957, he was 51), Mum went to see the headmaster of Hampton Grammar, Mr Garfield, and he said you cannot raise a boy without his father, so it was decided that I should go to The Royal Masonic Institute for boys, a boarding school in Bushey, Hertfordshire. Dad had given ten shillings a week to the Masons, and used to drag himself to the Doric Lodge in Surbiton once a month. I didn’t want to go, and when I sat the entrance exam I deliberately did badly thinking they wouldn’t take me, but all that happened was that I was put in the C form with rather unintelligent boys.


1957 to 1960


    Spring 1958
    at Davos by Alan Perrow
    I reluctantly went to Derby House (E) at The Royal Masonic School in September 1957. I was a direct entrant and so knew nobody, whereas all the other boys in my year in Derby knew each other from the junior school (except Chris Wakeford who was also a direct entrant). I was in form 3BC (essentially form 3C). “Blog” Goodenough was the ineffectual head of house and “Percy“ Thompson the largely absentee housemaster (he lived outside the school in Bushey Village). The fifth formers ran the house and ran riot. The worst ones were Leadley, Howarth, Cotton etc. They had us third formers running around after them (we had to get up early to fill their washbasins from the only hot water tap), and trips to the tuck shop, and any “perceived” misdemeanour resulted in “knobbing” which was a hard knock on the top of the head with the clenched fist, or a boneshaker which was a thud on the head with both hands intertwined. I recall cleaning Leadley’s corps boots and he was not satisfied and hit me on the head with the heel of the boot and I burst into tears. Other punishment was the bench treatment, your bare bottom was dragged across the wooden changing room bench and you might catch a splinter or two, the corps boot treatment when you were stood in the corner and corps boots thrown at you, and the radiator treatment where your hand was held down on the hot radiator. It was like Tom Brown’s schooldays. This was all a baptism of fire for me, but the worst part was my treatment by some of the boys in my own year, particularly Tyrell (his brother was a fifth former but perversely one of the nice ones), Heywood and to a lesser extent Picton and Fawkes. I always remember being “sent to Coventry” and as I was a direct entrant I sat at the end of the meal table with the plates of food passed down, and for a time I received nothing. We had Sunday afternoon walks, and because no one would walk with me, I used to hide in the outdoor toilet for the duration of the walk rather than be ridiculed for having no one to walk with. For some reason which I never fathomed I was called “piggy” Palmer, subsequently shortened to “snouter” and ultimately by Ray Wicks to “gnouta” which stuck with me for the rest of my time there. This was accompanied by a “Yorkshire” eeeeee as I must have had a slight accent. Anyway it really shook me up and as it was sink or swim I applied myself to academic work and sport. Of course you never told anyone, and Mum was blissfully unaware of my plight. In 3BC I came top in just about every subject. D D Kennedy, one of the masters, took an interest in me and told me to ask one of the masters in Derby, Dougal Reid, if I could move up to the B stream. The headmaster Hugh Mullens said that was not possible because I had not done any Latin. Mum offered to arrange for me to have Latin lessons during the holidays, and JDF Smith the Latin master (who sadly later committed suicide) kindly gave me individual tuition. I remember being almost lynched by classmates in 3BC when I foolishly said they were a bit thick when my promotion was imminent.

    In 1958 Goodenough was expelled for going out with one of the Irish “skivvies”, and Mike Blamey took over as head of house (Bill Cheffers refused it). Almost right away there was a big improvement in the lot of us third formers. In the meantime I was doing well in 3B form and subsequently 4B form and I was moved up to 4A form. The other boys from Derby in 4A were Malcolm West, Richard Fawkes and Ray Wicks. At the end of that year I seem to remember I took 3 O level subjects, Maths, English Language and English Literature (Twelfth Night and Autobiography of a Super Tramp were our books) all of which I passed comfortably. I reached the dizzy height of second in the A form (Malcolm was first and Robin Gibson the previous top boy had been moved up to the fifth form). In the holidays I remember being glued to The Quatermass Experiment on TV. As time went by I began enjoying school more. I was becoming friendly with Malcolm and Ray and also John Hunter, all in my year in Derby. I enjoyed the sport that was on offer, particularly swimming and water polo which I was good at, also rugby and cross country and track in the summer. I also enjoyed cricket. I definitely did not enjoy the cadet corps and dreaded Tuesday mornings when we had to wear uniform.

    In the summer term of 1958 an event took place of which I have always been ashamed. One of the fifth formers who has since become famous (and I better not name him) was made up to house prefect. One evening after lights out (9pm I think) he came to the junior dormitory and gave us a somewhat inappropriate talk. Chris Wakefeord and I went to Percy Thompson and told on him and he was depreed (lost his prefectorial status). I have always deeply regretted having done that, and never again have “blown the whistle” on anyone. I don’t suppose he ever found out who it was and I have never apologised to him, (though I have tried to contact him).

    In the winter term of 1959 I played for the colts rugby team coached by Mr Beams.

    In the spring of 1960 when I was 16 I went on the Snowdon expedition with the school. The sad details are on my website www.bearmead.co.uk/SNOWDON.htm. Tony Evans, one of the three boys killed, was moved up with me from form IVB to IVA. John Brenchley was in form IVB. I recently had a communication from his younger sister after 54 years. Attached are 1958 and 1959 school reports.
    1959, me playing billiards in Derby House common room
    With Mum outside Derby House


1960 to 1962


    RJP on the tennis practice wall
    at the Exiles Club 1960
    I think it was the spring term of 1960 (though it may have been earlier) that I hatched the hare brained scheme of putting a shop front lady model on the roundabout near the school. Rob Wicks (now sadly deceased) and I set off in the early hours, retrieved the model (I can’t remember how I got it but I seem to remember I had secreted it somewhere near the shooting range) and put it at the roundabout. By sheer bad luck we were caught by a police car and driven back to the headmaster in the early hours of the morning to face almost certain expulsion and one’s whole future destroyed. As we were coming up the drive I had a brainwave and told the police to turn right to the chaplains room rather than left to the headmasters. The Chaplain was Stuart Russell and the police handed us over to him. He swore us to secrecy and saved our bacon. I never did thank him adequately.

    I did well in my “O” levels in July 1960 passing physics, chemistry, biology, French, geography, history, and I seem to remember Use of English (I had passed maths and English Language and English Literature the year before). My only failure was in Additional Maths (calculus etc) which “Tek” Kenny taught and which I never got the hang of. These results got me into the sixth form where I had elected to do physics, chemistry and biology. I had hoped to come back in September as a house prefect but was very disappointed to be overlooked. Malcolm had been made a house prefect early in 1960 when he was still in the fifth form, and Ricky Fawkes (who was two days younger than me) and Ray Wicks were made house prefects from my year. Ian MacIntyre was made head of house to take over from Mike Blamey and I suspect he had recommended Ricky and Ray to Percy Thompson over me. David “fruity” Picton was also in the sixth form and was not a prefect although there were other reasons why that may have come about. John “nads” Hunter (who dropped dead on the squash court in his early 40’s), and Keith Scott were in remove form for one year. Peter Hofman who was in the year below had jumped a year. Ian Higgins took over as housemaster (Mullens had a policy of housemasters being resident in Ston), and Percy Thompson’s study was made available for the five of us (myself, Picton, Hofman, Hunter, Scott), which was some consolation. Ben Renoir was a house tutor.

    I lucked out with the sixth form masters, Tom Clinton took chemistry, Brian Bignell physics and “cassamoeba” Clarke took biology. We also had classes in English with Mullens and later Mr Tough.

    I was enjoying life at Ston more by this time, in particular the sport. I was good at rugby (number 8 and line out jumper) and cross country. Also I was a good middle distance runner (880 yards and the mile). I wasn’t bad at cricket particularly as a medium fast pace bowler. I was also a good swimmer and very good at water polo (probably the best in the school) and also latterly at basketball. Mainly because I was good at sport meant I was accepted and not teased as much. I probably spent too much time on sport to the detriment of my studies.
    Running mile 1961-2

    At sports day in 1961 I came second in the mile. “Plonka” Taylor won and I remember beating Ernie Tomlinson which was a surprise. In the photo below it is Manning behind me which makes me wonder if the photo is sports day 1962 when Mum and John came to watch and maybe John took the photo.

    In the summer of 1961 John and I went on a cycle holiday in Ireland. Details are on John’s website on www.eyemead.com/I2-LOG.htm
    [I planned to do the whole circuit Cork to Cork, Robert only found this out half way round, we quarreled, but went back from Larne with only 2/3 of the Circuit done - Brother John]

    When I went back to school in September 1961 I was made up to house prefect. As I remember the prefects in Derby were Fawkes, head of house (a slight surprise as Malcolm had been a house prefect before Ricky Fawkes, Malcolm I seem to remember was made head of remove). Also Ray Wicks, David Picton, Peter Hofman, Dan Tempest. That autumn I was captain of the house cross country team which we won, beating Burwood. I also was in the school rugby 1st XV. I played for them throughout the season, but was dropped for the last match and selected instead for the 2nd XV which inadvisedly I refused to play for, incurring the wrath of the master in charge. I was invited for the team photograph, below, but to my extreme annoyance did not get my colours. I think I tried harder at rugby playing for the house than playing for the school.
    1961 rugby 1st XV
    Back row, L to R: Nick Lomas, ?,?,Doug Walker, RJP, W Barrington Jones,?,?, “Homo” Hill
    Front row, L to R: Bob Skillicorn, John Richmond, Ernie Tomlinson, Chris Brookman captain, Derek Merrell,?,Brian Hoare.
    Hill master in charge
    Now deceased:Barrington Jones, Tomlinson
    Richmond put me on a charge at camp.
    Brookman sustained a basal skull fracture at one of our away games and now has Parkinsons maybe related to the injury.
    Probably in the spring term of 1962 I did my mock A levels and did not do too well.

    I took an enormous risk which I shudder about to this day when I rewrote one of the answers and switched it for the answer I had put in the actual paper. The papers were as yet unmarked in a drawer in Tom Clinton’s study in Connaught house and I went in there and switched them. If he had happened to come in I hate to think what would have happened.

    My results in the mocks put the fear of God in me and I worked flat out during the Easter holidays and when I got back for the summer term presented the three masters with numerous answer papers for them to mark on old A level papers I had done. I don’t think they were too pleased.
    Invitation to Buckingham Palace
    Richmond & Twickenham Times

    In the meantime I had been working for my Duke of Edinburghs gold award. The expedition part was to Cornwall, and the special interest part was taking cars apart believe it or not, but I regret that was a bit of a fudge on my part. The athletic standards were no problem. I went up to Buckingham Palace with Mum on 12th December 1962 (after I had started at Medical School) to get the award (see photos below).

    I also had another “event” around this time. We were allowed home during term time if this were possible time and distance wise. We could leave after school finished on the Saturday morning and had to be back that evening before 10 pm. As I had only personal study for the last session of the morning I left earlier than I should have by the back entrance. Unfortunately I had not remembered or not been told that there was a meeting of all the house prefects with Derek Merrell the head of school about the “little boy” problem. Derek noticed that I wasn’t there. When I got back to school that evening Peter Hofman was sitting in my study and it soon became apparent that it was a serious matter. When I saw Ricky Fawkes about it I asked how he had got away with going out with one of the “skivvies” and getting caught. He said that had nothing to do with it. I thought that it was favouritism. It looked as though I would be depreed (lose my prefectorial status). I did not see why it was such a big deal. Anyway I concocted a cock and bull story which necessitated Mum writing a letter to Mr Higgens explaining my reason for leaving school earlier than I should and I got the benefit of the doubt as it was hard for them to prove one way or the other, but had to do many extra prefectorial duties as punishment.

    I was working quite hard for A levels, and was in the school athletics team running the mile. I played occassionaly for the school second eleven at cricket, though Mr Beams thought I was a good enough bowler to be in the first eleven.

    As luck would have it I got the flu while I was doing A levels, and had to do the Chemistry paper in the sanatorium. There occurred an episode which clearly demonstrated a flaw in my character. Chemistry was my weakest subject. I took the paper in my sanatorium room. The invigilator was one of the nurses and you could hear her walking down the corridor. She would come and go. I had hidden the chemistry textbook on a ledge up the chimney and when I opened the paper and hadn’t a clue about the first question I got the book down from the chimney until I heard the nurse coming back and replaced it. My mark in Chemistry was 40% which was the pass mark. St Mary’s only wanted three passes.

    In my defence I never cheated again throughout medical school and the postgraduate exams.

    Around this time I went for medical school interviews. My first interview was in Newcastle and I got a reserve place. Subsequently I went for an interview at Charing Cross which I failed, St Bart’s where I got a place for 1963 and ditto for St Mary’s where I did an IQ test. St Mary’s said three passes was OK.

    At the end of the summer term I went to the dreaded cadet camp in Gosport I think it was. John Richmond put me on a charge, the officious little shit, and I was marched in front of under officer Brian Hoare and lost a stripe (from corporal to lance corporal). Both of them were with me in the rugby 1st XV.


1962 to 1964


    In the summer holidays of 1962 I got my A level results, 40% in chemistry, 45% in physics and 55% in biology. The pass mark was 40%. Both St Bart’s and St Mary’s had offered me a place in 1963 with three passes. Therefore I was planning to go back to Ston for a third year sixth and play lots of sport and have a good time. Maybe given the circumstances that would not have been possible because why would they want me back at all. Anyway events took over. While I was on a holiday with Ian Carey in Germany St Mary’s phoned Mum and explained that there was a last minute vacancy for 1962 and I was being offered it because I lived within commuting distance in Twickenham. Mum accepted this offer on my behalf as I was in communicado. I found out when I got back from holiday and had mixed feelings, but it was a fait accompli. By this time I had passed my driving test and had bought a second hand upright Ford Popular. Come the beginning of term I drove to school and parked it nearby. There was a couple of weeks before I was due to start at St Mary’s. Ricky Fawkes and Peter Hofman also came back, but both were planning to leave fairly soon, so had I not had the last minute offer at St Mary’s I would probably have been head of house. After a few days I was called to Mr Mullen’s office where he brusquely informed me that the school was not a free hotel and given the change in my circumstances I had no right to be there. Not a word of congratulation for getting from the C form to Medical School. Mr Mullens was known for having “his favourites!” and I certainly wasn’t one of them. I did also have the dubious distinction of being possibly the only 3rd year sixth former ever to be only a lance corporal after my demotion at camp. Jerry Davenport was head of school.

    I duly started at St Mary’s, I think in late September 1962. I lived in Twickenham. I had joined Twickenham tennis club where I met John Garland who had been the year ahead of me at Ston. I also joined Richmond water polo club.
    Twickenham tennis club
    RJP, Philip Greening, John Garland, David
    at Lilleshall Hall tennis camp, June 1963
    Richmond Water Polo Club
    Steve Higgens, Max Kelly, Les Fox, Gerry Forse, RJP, Willy Holmes
    Bill Haverley, Terry Lyons, Steve Piper, Mike Johnson, Ken Coles.
    At the freshers get together at St Mary’s I had joined the St Mary’s swimming and water polo club and the tennis club. The captain of St Mary’s swimming club was John Kerr and it was him who started calling me Bob which caught on and was a pleasant change after years of "gnouta". John Kerr was a very nice man and encouraged me in water polo. I had to improve my free style as you can’t use breast stroke for water polo as I did at Ston.

    I took a while to get to know other students in my year because I was naturally shy and diffident, but gradually became friendly with Roger Pearce and Chris Hutter and also John Fox and Pin Seah from the swimming club at St Mary’s. I commuted to St Mary’s from Twickenham by train.
    John Fox and Pin Seah
    Rosemary Briars 1962
    London-Brighton walk
    Early in my time at St Mary’s I did the London to Brighton walk. In the meantime I kept in touch with Michael who was a keen cyclist, and a “mod” with a lambretta and a little hammer.

    In October 1962 it was the Cuban Missile Crisis. John was living at 37 as he was working at Hawkers in Kingston since September 1961 on the supersonic P1154 vertical take off aeroplane until September 1964 when the government cancelled the project. Then he worked for S. Davall in Greenwood, N. London doing electronic engineering. He cycled there and back (7 miles each way). Anyway there was significant anxiety about the possibility of nuclear war (justified as later information has come out) and he talked about us moving temporarily to south west Ireland.

    Mum had various jobs, first at Jane Powell’s in Twickenham, then a dress shop in Richmond, then Bentall’s in Kingston, and then Wetherall’s an upmarket ladies clothes shop within Wright brothers in Richmond. These jobs would have covered a number of years going into the 1970’s and I am not sure of the exact time frames.

    I had various girl friends during this time, Rosemary Briars, (see photo #5), Hilary Long, Carol Wadey, Hilary Campbell among others.

    Meanwhile I was not exactly shining in my academic pursuits and languished in the bottom third of my year until the autumn term of 1963 when I pulled my socks up. Then for six months I worked ferociously hard leading up to 2nd MB which was the major obstacle in a medical career. I used to sequester myself in Mum and Dads bedroom, though I am thinking I might have slept in the little bedroom.

    In November 1963 Mum shouted from downstairs that JFK had been shot.

    One of my few relaxations was watching Dr Finlay’s Casebook on TV on Sunday evenings.

    Because it wasn’t necessary to pass pharmacology in order to get through 2nd MB first time (you could be referred in pharmacology) I rather neglected it instead concentrating on anatomy, physiology and biochemistry (my least favourite subject). This had near disastrous results. I came near the top in the three major subjects, but did badly in pharmacology and to my surprise a number of us were not signed off by the pharmacology professor and therefore were not going to be allowed to sit 2nd MB at the end of the spring term 1964. Of all those in that category I had easily the best results in the three major subjects. I had an enormous sense of injustice and canvassed the professors of anatomy. physiology and biochemistry who were sympathetic as I was one of their top students. I also saw the president of the students union Peter Beck. Ultimately the decision was reversed for myself and about five others. After that I started swatting up pharmacology (which I had intended to do anyway but started earlier than planned).

    Meanwhile I kept the swimming and water polo going, also some tennis in the spring. Sadly Philip Greening, a friend of John Garland and myself at Twickenham tennis club and a non swimmer, commited suicide by jumping into the Thames near the convent in Twickenham after a row with his father I think (see newspaper article #6).

    Anyway 2nd MB arrived. After the exam Roger, Chris and myself all went for a row on the Serpentine waiting for the results that afternoon. We all passed including in pharmacology. I did particularly well and had a BSc interview along with John England, Andrew Hay, Roselle Hewlett and Janet Kean. They all passed and I failed. Only John England and Andrew Hay opted to do a BSc. Sadly later both John England and probably (though it may have been accidental) Roselle Hewlett commited suicide.
    My year at St Mary's taken at a later reunion.
    back row L to R Gordon Horner, Eric Taylor, ---, ---, ---, RJP, Roger Pearce, Pin Seah, Phil Watts.
    middle row L to R Brian Carr,---, ---, John Isserlin, Chris Hutter, ---, Mike Mills, Mike Bishop, John Fox.
    Front row L to R Corrie Van Den Bosch, Margaret Davies, Di Smith, Sandy Siddons, Monica Spring, Janet Kean, -, Gill Carrington.
    In my year and not in this photo were: Nick Walker, Cliff Bailey, Ian Brown, Alan DelMar, Roger Evans, Tom Fletcher, Don Forster, Jacqui Freeman, Bob Jones, Hugh O'Donnell, Graham Orr, Richard Perryman, Ray Rault, Ian Rennie, Angela Jeffs, Andrew Simmonds, Wynne Weston-Davies, Arthur Wightman, Dave Goldstein, Alan Greenwood, Susan Tegwyn-Davies, Andrew Hay, Brian Hopkins, Sally Hughes, Patrick Jeffrey, Huw Penry, Wynne Griffiths, Roselle Hewlett, John England.
    As of February 2015 those no longer with us are: John England, Roselle Hewlett, Wynne Griffiths, Roger Pearce, Huw Penry, Graham Orr, Nick Walker, Tom Fletcher, Bob Davies, which is 9 out of 47".


1964 to 1966


    Chris Hutter in flat
    Roger Pearce and RJP on holiday
    When I started my clinical years as a medical student I shared a flat in Shepherds Bush with Roger Pearce and Chris Hutter (see photo of Chris and myself in flat April 1964, and photo of Roger standing next to me at St Brivael’s Youth Hostel in the summer of 1963). Unfortunately it did not work out too well (largely my fault) and Roger moved into Wilson House the St Mary’s Hall of Residence followed by Chris and then myself.

    The clinical work was not onerous and there wasn’t the pressure of 2nd MB which is the major hurdle in medical school. I was playing a lot of water polo including our summer tours to the west country in 1964 and 1965. I also played for United Hospitals, but was stopping playing for Richmond as I was living in London. I also went on a tennis club tour to the West Country and was playing tennis for the Mary’s team, although I was one of their weaker players. Girl friends did feature in particular a nurse I met when I was doing my paediatric attachment in Exeter under Dr Brimblecombe in the spring of 1965. She came to Twickenham for my 21st birthday party (Mum was not impressed, she never took to my girlfriends) and John Hunt (Hunt “The Cunt” from Ston), gatecrashed , took off with her, married her, I think they had children, and then dumped her. Round about this time I decided (foolishly) that I would like to do a stint with VSO (voluntary service overseas), and in November duly flew to Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania and took the bus to Liuli, near Songea in south western Tanzania to a British Mission Hospital which was a collection of mudhuts on Lake Malawi (formerly Nyasa) not far north of the Mozambique border.
    In my diary for Wed 17 November 1965 I have written:

    "EXODUS!! Robert leaves for Africa.
    [I] got offer from Plessey, Poole, [Dorset] @ £1,450 pA"

    I left Twickenham for Dorset, and guessed Robert was
    leaving his home too.
    On the way I drank some unboiled water and had a severe case of NVD which went on for some time so it was a bad start and didn’t get much better. There was a lady British Mission doctor who was allowed to operate and was incompetent. It was also somewhat holier than thou and not my scene at all. Another Mary’s medical student Roger Atkins, who I was replacing, overlapped with me for a while. He had been a great success which showed me up in an even poorer light. I was at first allowed to drive a landrover, but after I got it stuck they wouldn’t even allow me to do that. After a while at Liuli I went to a German Mission Hospital, Peramiho, which was a couple of hours drive away. It was a fairly extensive brick building with far superior facilities than Liuli. There was a German doctor there who was multiskilled and a competent surgeon who could do C. Sections, eye ops, incarcerated hernias, abdominal surgery, you name it. He impressed me greatly. His wife, who was not medical, gave the anaesthetics (he had taught her). However she was not happy there so after a time back to Germany they went and so they had nobody.

    So back to Liuli I went. There was a Portugese gunboat on the lake shelling the no mans land just south of the border in Mozambique (it was still a Portugese colony and the “frelimo” were fighting the Portugese for independence). We got refugees in Liuli and they were completely uneducated (a Portugese policy). I also visited the local leper colonies. Endemic diseases were malaria, schistosomiasis, ancylostomiasis, tuberculosis, tropical ulcers, trachoma, bronchopneumonia secondary to measles in children, obstructed labour and so on. There were the UK equivalent of paramedics who were locals with a rudimentary knowledge of medicine, and nurses.

    Mum posted me a spear gun but predictably it never arrived. Quite rightly she had always been anti the whole thing.
    43z Murder plot 1966.

    After seven months there I just wanted out and so off I went. It was summer of 1966 and the world cup soccer was underway in England. I don’t think they were too sorry to see me go and they didn’t kick up a fuss. I didn’t tell VSO. Getting back to UK was not straightforward as I had decided to hitchhike. It was OK to Tanga, north of Dar Es Salaam and not far south of the Kenyan border. Then I had an uncomfortable experience which is chronicled in 43z, an article in the Richmond and Twickenham Times. Anyway I got to Mombasa and then to Nairobi. There I was stymied as I was not allowed in the Northern Frontier District of Kenya where Somali bandits were operating, so I was forced to fly to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. From there I hitched a lift to Asmara the capital of Eritrea. En route the driver of the petrol tanker I had hitched a lift with made off with my rucksack in the cabin of the vehicle. I managed to hitch another lift and caught up with him and got my rucksack back. My money and documents I always kept in a little bag round my neck which Mum had knitted. From Asmara I rode on the roof of a train to Kassala in the Sudan, then on to Khartoum, a Nile boat to Cairo and hitched to Alexandria. I hitchiked across Egypt and Libya to Tunis from where I got a boat to Marseille and hitched to Calais, across to Dover and arrived filthy dirty at Aunt Gert’s in Margate. [She answered the knock on her door with "Good God, come on in" - John]

    Subsequently I summoned up the courage and went to the VSO office in London to get my resettlement bounty. As expected I got a right real rollicking but came away with half of my bounty which was better than nothing.


1966 to 1968


    Before I went on VSO I had joined the St Mary’s mountaineering club. When I got back from Tanzania to St Mary’s in the late summer of 1966 I found I had been appointed treasurer of the club in absentia. We used to go up to the medical school hut near Rhydd Ddu on a Friday afternoon and return Sunday afternoon. The drive was not much fun to put it mildly but once up there it was good fun with its moments of sheer terror. The fellow students who had introduced me to climbing were Mike Freeman and John Turner who were both in the year above me. Mike had been at Charterhouse and John at Worksop College. The secretary was Andrew McMichael, now a peer of the realm, who I also became friendly with. Andrew had a girl friend called Kate, and she in turn had a girl friend also called Cate with a C who I became friendly with. I remember Andrew and I asking Sir Roger Bannister, who was a Consultant neurologist at St Mary’s if he would be president of the club, but of course he was too busy. Mum, quite rightly as it had its dangerous moments, did not approve, but of course I went ahead anyway.

    Meanwhile I was getting better at water polo. Newer students at St Mary’s in the club who I became friendly with were Ken MacLeod and Geoff Talbot. A photograph of the St Mary’s water polo contingent is below (actually taken 27 years later).
    St Mary's water polo team taken in 1994. Back L to R:
    Rex Stanbridge, RJP, John Fox, John Sirs, George Tait, Denis Warnford Davies;
    Front L to R: Ken MacLeod, Phil Watts, Geoff Talbot, John Benjafield.
    I also joined Otter swimming club and started playing for their first team. Later I began playing for London University.

    In late 1966 I sat my mock pathology exam with the new year that I was unfortunately now in. I think I came dead last or close to it. That really shook me up and I worked flat out for several months and when I took the actual exam in the spring of 1967 I came top and had an honours viva which I failed (just as in 2nd MB). After that I regressed into bad ways again.

    There was an opportunity to do my surgical clerkship in Pittsburgh. Mum went to the Masonians who agreed to pay my fare there and back, but told her not to come back again for a handout. I went with Doug Leaming who was a chain smoker and played the piano. Sadly he later died of cancer. We travelled over by Polish tramp steamer on the cheap but flew back. The US medical students were terrified of being called up to go to Vietnam and some planned to avoid the draft by going to Canada. At the end of the clerkship Doug and I toured the US by greyhound, staying at one point with Angela and Euan MacLachlan near Vancouver.

    When I got back I resumed regular trips to the climbing hut in Snowdonia and playing more water polo than ever. By this time I was captain of the St Mary’s swimming and water polo clubs, and a reasonable back stroke swimmer. I was in the London University first team (see photo below). I think the high point of my water polo career was a tour to Aachen in Germany in January 1968 for a knockout tournament which we won, beating the West German club champions Dusseldorf in the process. We went on to easily win the BUSEF championship in the spring of 1968 and our first seven were chosen en bloc for the British Universities team. Our star player was Jim Shekhdar, who later rowed solo across The Pacific Ocean. He was the the best player in Britain at the time.
    23x Cups and Blazer for Water Polo

    For my water polo exploits (I was voted the top defender in the BUSF championships), I received the Bannister Trophy from Sir Roger (see photo SB23, one of the cups is the Bannister trophy, also the British Universities blazer). Also photo SB16 selection for British Universities. I was awarded my London University purple (see photo SB15).

    My finals had taken somewhat of a back seat to water polo. I sat conjoint early in 1968 and passed thus becoming a doctor of medicine. I took my MB BS finals a little later and passed also, though I was borderline for surgery but they decided not to defer me, though I think it was a close decision. Thus my medical school days were over.

    The next step was applying for a house job.I put myself down for Carl Young’s medical house job at St Mary’s Hospital, Harrow Road (formerly Paddington General Hospital). Carl Young had been president of the swimming club and also was an Otter member which gave me an inside track, and indeed I got the job. Thus we move on to the next stage of my autobiography.
    London University Team 1967 to 1968.
    L to R back: John Littleton goalkeeper, RJP, Clive Rogers, ?, Graham Jupp, Dave Chapman.
    L to R front: ?, ?, Roger Marwood captain, ?.
    The first seven were John Littleton in goal, Graham Jupp and RJP defence,
    Roger Marwood and Dave Chapman midbath, Jack Gauldie and Jim Shekhdar forwards.
    Jim Shekhdar
    Jack Gauldie
    Swimming and medical revision regime


1968 to 1970


    I started as a house physician to Dr C A Young at St Mary’s Hospital, Harrow Road in May 1968. It was a baptism of fire up to a point and for the first few weeks I had no registrar and had to contact the registrar from Daddy Green’s firm or heaven help Carl Young himself. Fairly soon though Bob Simpson started as registrar. One of the first things he said was “I won’t come in after hours but you can phone me any time” which I did and frequently. He was good to work with and decisive and once I got the hang of the job I think we worked well together.

    There were two notable events during the six months. The first was when I was selected to go to Rosyth to play water polo for British Universities against a Scottish Select team. Unfortunately it was scheduled for my weekend on (I did every other night and every other weekend on call which is over 100 hours a week, for an annual salary of £720 as I remember). I was determined to play but I did not dare ask Carl Young in case he said no. I talked to Bob Simpson and he suggested I got a senior medical student to cover me which was allowed. I asked Thelma Thomas and she agreed. She relieved me at lunchtime on the Saturday and I was back by 9am Monday morning I think. We won the match easily and I played. On the Saturday morning before I left I saw a rugby player in his late 20’s in Casualty who was very unwell with terrible tonsillitis, pneumonia, haematuria, and only a 2 week history of increasing tiredness. I sent bloods off and the technician rang me back to say it was acute leukaemia for which there was no treatment in 1968. I handed him over to Thelma Thomas. When I got back on Monday morning she told me he had died on the Saturday night. I told Carl Young on his Monday ward round and he said it was OK as I had made the diagnosis. He never did realise I had taken off.

    The second was a one night stand I had with one of the nurses from the Republic, who of course was a staunch Catholic. Some weeks later a note had been slipped under my door from the young lady to say she was overdue. She wanted to get married but I said that was not possible. Termination of pregnancy had only just been legalised in the UK on 27th April 1968, a few weeks before. Being a Catholic she would not countenance a termination, but up against my stonewalling started to waver. I took a urine sample from her to Dr John Benjafield who was in the Mary’s swimming club and was a Harley Street pathologist. The test was positive. I asked him for help and he initially refused but as I was leaving he saw my distress and relented and phoned a friend of his who was a gynaecologist. I was mortified and terrified to tell anyone. She had a termination. I paid the gynaecologist his fee which was a princely sum to me at the time, but to my disgrace I never paid the anaesthetist despite more than one request. It put me right off girl friends for quite some time.

    After I finished my pre registration house job in medicine I went to King Edward V11th Hospital Windsor for my pre registration house surgeons job. The consultant I worked for was Mr David Bain. I took over from Ken MacLeod who stayed on at Windsor to do his medical job. It wasn’t nearly as busy a job as the medical job. David Bain did his ward round on a Saturday morning. The registrar was a Spaniard Senor Cabre. On one occasion a surgeon did a bowel resection and closed the abdomen without doing the anastomosis as he had been chatting with the anaesthetist. Mr Cabre who was assisting tried to interrupt but it wasn’t until the skin stitches were going in that he was listened to and of course the abdomen had to be reopened, and the anastomosis performed.

    I was forever driving up to London for water polo matches. I went out with a sister, Olive from Morecambe, who lived in the nurses home, but water polo took precedence.

    Towards the end of the job I went to Epsom for an interview for an SHO job in OB GYN. Ken MacLeod was on the platform at Windsor station waiting for the same train. He got the job and they said I could have a job when Ken finished his 6 months.

    When I finished at Windsor I went back to Court Way to live. I was doing a bit of blood transfusion work but didn’t know what to do for the next 6 months so looked in the BMJ and saw a casualty job at Kingston advertised. I phoned up in the morning and got the administrator. He asked me where I lived so I said Twickenham. He said could I come over to Kingston at 2.30pm that afternoon which I did. After talking with him he said could I start at 9am the next morning. I was a bit thunderstruck but said ok. I never met any doctor let alone a Consultant.

    It was a responsible job. I got no teaching except from fellow SHO’s and the nurses. I never saw a Consultant. After seeing a patient I would often excuse myself, go next door and look it up in a textbook! I did 24 hours on and 24 hours off. I often slept at Court Way when I was off. I met a nurse who’s father was an RSM in the army. She was a bit of a nymphomaniac but a nice girl. I regret to say that after several months I stood her up and she phoned Mum. Mum called me a “rake”.

      Some of my most memorable clinical cases were at Kingston.
    • A little boy was BID (brought in dead) after a RTA. The parents didn’t know. The sister put the parents into a side room and I had to tell them.
    • An elderly lady came in in ventricular tachycardia after a myocardial infarct. I gave her 1mg per kilogram of intravenous lignocaine (the textbook dose) and she fitted, could not be resuscitated and died. That shook me up somewhat.
    • I treated Veronica Lake a former Holywood sex goddess whose current husband was British. She had a severe drink problem.
    • A young couple who were not wearing seat belts were in a RTA. The 20yo girl in the passenger seat was catapulted forwards and struck her neck on the dashboard. She along with her boyfriend incredibly were able to “hitch a lift” to Casualty. On arrival she was moribund from a fractured larynx which obstructed her airway and could not be resuscitated. At this stage in my career I lacked airway skills. I often wonder if I had immediately attempted a cricothyroid or tracheotomy airway if the outcome could have been different, probably not.
    • A fellow SHO taught me how to give valium and pethidine iv and reduce Colle’s fractures of the wrist which was quicker than waiting for an anaesthetist!
    • A patient came in just before Christmas saying she had swallowed a large safety pin. The casualty sisters poo poohed it saying she just wanted to be in hospital over Christmas. I did a precautionary X ray and there in her oesophagus was an enormous open safety pin. She had to go to surgery and they nearly lost her trying to extricate it.
    • A young lady came in with an acute abdomen. I admitted her under the general surgeons. Of course it was a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. I couldn’t understand how I could have got it wrong as it had been drilled into us at medical school that any ill young woman was pregnant unless proved otherwise. The trouble was it was some time since I had done obs and gynae.
    Meanwhile I was playing as much water polo as ever for Richmond, Otter, St May’s even etc.

    Looking back I sometimes wonder if together with my SHO OB GYN job if these weren’t the most responsible jobs I have done as a doctor, and I still marvel at the lack of senior supervision.


1970 to 1973


    Towards the end of my six months in Kingston I decided not to take the Epsom OB GYN job, but rather to do anaesthetics. I was influenced by the fact that two of my friends (Geoff Talbot and Chris Hutter) were either doing or going to do anaesthetics. Back then it was a bit of a Cinderella specialty, but it was easier to get on in as a result and I was not keen on the very difficult exams and the competition were I to choose a surgical specialty. Also I felt that I was better suited to a procedural specialty rather than a predominantly cognitive one. Also the lack of continuity of care was an attraction rather than the opposite. Hence I applied for and got an SHO anaesthetic position as a novice trainee at the Westminster Hospital. There were 3 positions and only 3 applicants (the other 2 were Aussies) so we were all appointed.

    Anaesthetics was quite different from the other medical jobs I had done and took a bit of getting used to. I remember about two weeks after I had started I had an afternoon ENT list with a consultant anaesthetist who shall remain nameless, but suffice it to say he was president of the faculty of anaesthetists on a A plus merit award. It was an afternoon list with an ENT Consultant surgeon and the first case was a trans nasal hypophsectomy. My consultant anaesthetist excused himself before the list had started saying he had an important engagement (private case maybe?). I really hadn’t even learned to intubate. The lady ODP virtually did the case. Such was the state of play 45 years ago.

    I did alternate nights on call but was generally not badly supervised apart from occasional glaring examples like the above.

    Of course I was still playing water polo with Otter at every opportunity.

    Not long after starting I met Hilary at a party. We went out for quite some time. She once said to me “there is something missing in you, but I don’t mind”. I think she wanted to get married but I wouldn’t take the plunge and she went to the antipodes for a year, though before she went said I could stop her going.

    After some months at Westminster I went to the hospital in Roehampton. While I was there Mum had a gynae operation for a prolapse and the surgeon was Mr DeVere. Her anaesthetist “Freddie” Mills told me off for not getting her flowers.

    There was a summer water polo tour to Malta (either August 1969 or August 1970, probably the former). Water polo was very popular in Malta and we got more local newspaper coverage than Manchester United football team who were there at the same time.
    Malta Tour 1969.
    Back row L to R:
    Phil Brayford (Poly), Dave Last, RJP, Roger Looker (Otter), John Towers (Otter), ?.
    Front row L to R:
    Terry King (Penguin), ?,?,Barry Turner (Poly)
    It was an Otter tour but not all Otter first team, those from Otter first team who didn’t go were Bob Burn, Tony Milton and Peter Stevens.

    Towards the end of my year at The Westminster I sat and passed first time the primary anaesthetic fellowship exam.

    In the late spring of 1971 I applied for a registrar position in anaesthetics at Brighton, as I was fed up with London. At the interview I was asked if I would consider a job at Guy’s. This was totally unexpected and feeling somewhat intimidated and overawed I stupidly said yes. I duly started the job in late summer of 1971, and I did not enjoy it. It wasn’t helped by a near miss in the radiology suite, a remote setting, with no ODP, and the patient an older lady who I had intubated and ventilated and there was a problem with the anaesthetic machine and nobody to help me. I had to blow down the tube. Anyway not long after I resigned. The chairman of the department was flabbergasted and it was a potentially career ending move.

    I applied for an SHO OB GYN position in Chichester, and this time I was successful. I was thinking at this time of going into General Practice. My consultant was Mr Lynn Evans, a small Welshman. The only time I saw him in the maternity unit was when he had a private patient. He would do hysterectomies through a small abdominal incision using a corkscrew like pulling a cork out of a bottle. He took me to King Edward V11th Midhurst occasionally to assist with a private patient. One day I was called into the administrators office at St Richard’s and asked why I had absented myself from NHS duties and moreover claimed travel expenses to Midhurst. I replied I had to comply with my Consultant’s instructions and why were you raising the issue with me and not Mr Lynn Evans. I heard no more on the matter.

    The maternity unit was at St Richard’s and theatres were at both St Richard’s and The Royal West Sussex in Broyle Road. The anaesthetists were Ozzie, Cyril Prideaux, John Bennett and Eileen White and Judy Wilson were staff grades. The other Consultant obstetrician was John Gibson and I had an experienced registrar from abroad, who I did receive some instruction from, as well as from the midwives and the textbooks. I learnt how to do vacuum extractions and there happened the worst case of my medical career.

    The patient was an elderly primip (by the definition back then). I had learnt how to do vacuum extraction (Ventouse). I forget who taught me, maybe the registrar with input from the midwives, and certainly from the obstetric textbook. I had by this time performed quite a few by myself and had reached the overconfident stage probably. I do remember that back then it was viewed as a safe technique unlike mid cavity forceps. I also remember the textbook saying you could pull for up to 25 minutes. That certainly is not the case now, a few pulls and if no progress straight to LSCS. Anyway I pulled for about 15 to 20 minutes and then called the registrar. It was John Gibson’s registrar. She said she would come over but in the meantime to continue pulling. By the time she arrived I had been pulling for the 25 minutes. She sat down in the delivery suite and told me to continue pulling, so I did. After I think about 30 minutes the baby was born. It subsequently died from a cerebral bleed secondary to a tentorial tear. I had to talk to the mother after her precious baby had died.

    I was playing water polo for Southampton who were in division 2 of the National league. Although a defender I was their top goal scorer. I also was still playing a bit with Otter (before I came down to Chichester I had been Otter water polo secretary.

    I had been going out with Julie. We went to the climbing hut in Snowdonia in March 1972. When I got back I went to a mess party at St Richard’s on Saturday 18th March 1972. I hadn’t gone with Julie, who was a bit noisy for me, but didn’t meet anyone at the party. I was on call but as was the case back then had had a beer or two at the party. Around midnight I was beeped to the gynae ward by a battleaxe night sister. While in the ward I saw a very pretty student nurse and read her name badge (Valerie Nunn). When I got back to my room I tossed around for a while and then summoned up the courage to phone the ward, planning to hang up if it was the battle axe. A young female voice answered and I asked if she was Valerie. She said no but did she want me to get her. I said yes and after a while Valerie came on the phone. I explained who I was and she said yes she had seen me on the ward.
    42 RJP in the yellow MGB convertible in France
    61 Valerie Nunn's photo which was in all the buses
    in Chichester at the time as she was the poster
    girl for the hospital.
    I asked if she would like to come out and got a muted response. I said I had a yellow MGB convertible. She seemed a little more enthusiastic but I thought the chances of her turning up at my suggested time and place (6.25 pm Monday 20th March 1972 outside the then main hospital entrance by the roundabout) were 50% at best (without the MGB would have been considerably less). She did turn up and as we drove out of the hospital by sheer bad luck passed Julie. The rest as they say is history.

    In the summer of 1972 I finished the obstetric and gynaecology SHO job and started a six month SHO paediatrics post and chest medicine post at St Richard’s Chichester on 1st September 1972. The Consultant paediatrician (there was only one), was Dr Bud Robinson. Valerie and I had had a holiday together in Scotland (of which Mum, who I had introduced Valerie to, did not approve; "a flock of Baptists" she said, but there again she disapproved of all my girlfriends).

    The paediatrics job was not my metier, though it was less busy than the maty job. I remember having a newborn who needed an exchange transfusion in the middle of the night for erythroblastosis. I phoned Bud Robinson and he asked me if I had done one before, to which of course I replied no. He came in and we did it together. I also worked at Bognor Regis chest hospital, and that was part of the job.

    I had a heart to heart with Valerie’s father. It did not go particularly well. He was a Baptist missionary who had worked in Southern Sudan. In the end I said to him "I have no idea what you are talking about". We never repeated the topic of religion, though he did give a “sermon” at our wedding reception 2 years later.

    On 30th October 1972 I passed the DRCOG exam in London.

    In mid December Valerie went to Tennessee for over 7 weeks.

    I had decided to get back into anaesthetics. On 22nd January 1973 I had an interview at Poole for a registrar job in anaesthetics and was successful. Somewhat ill advisedly I bought a bungalow, 6 Springdale Avenue, Broadstone before the interview, but it worked out alright. I started work at Poole on Monday 26th February 1973. I was starting to play a lot of squash at The Arndale Centre and Meyrick Park.

    Valerie and I were living together in the Springdale Avenue bungalow.

    There follows details of my most memorable case whilst at Poole.
    July 1973. Anaesthetic Registrar, Poole. 8pm Saturday evening.
    Emergency bleep to Casualty for 2yo little boy who had inhaled top of pen.
    Rushed to theatre where completely obstructed, unconcious, deeply cyanotic, periarrest.
    Alan Bracewell appears in pyjamas....
    Below is a letter from Alan Bracewell the ENT Consultant.
    "Your letter arrived this morning. Thank you for showing me the account of our joint adventures with the pen top. My wife read it and said that she knew the problem was desperate as Peter our laid back Australian registrar was very capable and if he said it was desperate it really was. She says I was still dripping water as I left the house. I suppose with the excitement and the running up the stairs I had more or less dried off by the time I reached theatre. The technical problems of getting the pen top out were partly due to inadequate equipment. The pen top would not come up the scope as it was too narrow and the forceps were not strong enough to get hold of the edge of the pen top and allow it to be pulled through the cords and extract it. Eventually with a small pair of adult laryngeal forceps I was able to get a good grip of the pen top and pull it up against the end of the scope and 'railroad ' the scope and the top through the larynx and out into the upper airway. I was afraid that this traumatic procedure might cause laryngeal oedema - hence the tracheotomy but he was OK when we scoped him under a GA 48hours later and we closed the tracheotomy. Two good things came out of it. His mother gave me £100 which I donated to the children's ward fund and I bullied the administration into letting me get a decent set of paediatric scopes and forceps. I went to a conference in Venice a few months later and Stortz had just produced a new range which we bought. As far as I am aware they are still in use. Please do not feel that you have to alter your account in any way. I do not want that to happen. I just thought that some of the details might be helpful in embellishing the story when you tell it to your friends. Recently I had to write a sort of obituary about my old colleague Peter Adlington who died about a year ago. After collecting as much information as I could from family and colleagues I wrote it and had it published before showing it to anyone else. I knew that if I sent it around for approval every one would want their say and it would become a committee rather than a personal view - so keep you piece 'personal'.
    With best wishes
    AB "


1973 to 1976


    In September 1973 Valerie and I had a holiday in France (the yellow MGB broke down unfortunately). Subsequently Valerie went to Bristol to do her midder nursing training. I moved into the penthouse accommodation at Poole General and started swatting for my final fellowship. The exam was in January 1974. Typically before I knew the result I applied for a senior registrar job rotating between Winchester and Southampton. I passed the exam (just), and the interview for the job was just 16 days later and their first question was had I passed. When I said yes they gave me the job, such was the competition or lack of it back then.

    Isle of Purbeck, Summer 1974

    Brother John writes:
    I moved into 29 in January 1968, sharing with a friend from Plessey. A year later he decided to get married and left. I found someone else to share the rent. He was a strange guy and left. Repeated with another guy, who was also strange and he left. About 1973 the bungalow owner, an Italian, arrived and announced he wanted to sell the bungalow. Being comfy after 5 years, I offered and bought the bungalow for £5,000 furnished. Half of this came from Robert, who supplied £2,500 cash. I continued living at 29, with occasional visits from the co-owner (Robert). Around 1974, Robert announced he wanted to withdraw his share in 29, I think to help him buy another bungalow nearby, number 6. 29 was valued at £8,000, so I paid Robert £4,000, for which I got a mortgage on 29. From Robert's viewpoint he had made a profit of 60% in 2 years or less. Soon after, my Aunt Win died and I inherited a business property and cash. Mum said, don't buy a swank car, pay off your mortgage, so I did. Best advice I've ever had, I'm still living in the bungalow after 49 years, and it may fetch £250,000 today. Robert's £2,500 half share would today be worth £125,000 if he'd left it in, an average increase of 100% per year.

    At the end of February 1974 Aunt Lucy died and Valerie and I went to her house at 16 Star Street in Ryde to arrange moving some of her effects (including the cabinet and nice antique chairs). Mum had asked John but he had a squash game, hence the attached comment in her diary “bloody squash”.

    I started my senior registrar job at Winchester on Monday 1st April 1974, and was resident in the mess at Holdaways. The Consultant anaesthetists were Dr Boddington (soon to retire and be replaced by Bob Buckland), Noel Thorpe who took early retirement on grounds of ill health and was replaced by Roger Cloonie, Ken Harrison who was head of department, John Bowen and Kate Packer.

    I was playing water polo for Southampton and playing a lot of squash at Winchester squash club. I was captain of their second team. John Bowen once asked me if my work was interfering with my squash.

    In August 1974 I went to Vaenersborg and Trolhatten in Sweden to do a 3 week locum. I was a little uncomfortable not being able to speak the language although most of the Swedish people at the hospital spoke good English.

    I had also joined the Territorial Army (I joined while I was at Poole in 1973) and was Medical Officer for the 2nd Wessex TA unit based at Brock Barracks in Reading.

    In mid October 1974 I stayed with Valerie in Bristol where she was doing her nurses training, and that is when and where Susannah was conceived. In mid November Valerie and I set a wedding date (I suppose you could say it was a shotgun marriage, though it was probably just the push I needed). Valerie’s mother thought a date in 1974 was best so we settled on Saturday 14th December at Broadstone parish church. In the attached wedding photo left to right are Aunt Gert, Mum (looking non too pleased, she said later I had been entrapped), Roger who was best man, myself and Valerie, Mattie Nunn, JCP, Norman Nunn, Barbara Nunn.
    64 Broadstone parish church, 14dec1974
    Aunt Gert, Mum, Roger Pearce, RJP, Valerie, Mattie, JCP, Norman, Barbara
    At the wedding reception Roger’s girlfriend Linda dropped a bombshell, she told Mum that Valerie was expecting!

    We did not have a honeymoon because there was a prior arrangement for me to go to RAF Sharjah to do a locum as a general duties medical officer in the TA.

    After my year in Winchester (during which I lived in the mess) I moved to Southampton General Hospital for my second year as an anaesthetic senior registrar. Valerie moved down and we lived in hospital married accommodation in Laundry Road at the back of the hospital. During my year there I earned extra money by doing GP night and weekend shifts. I remember on one occasion being called to a house where a somewhat overweight late teenage girl was experiencing severe abdominal pain. The family were all downstairs in the living room. I was having difficulty making a diagnosis until I realised the pain had an episodic character, and indeed soon after she delivered a healthy baby to everyone’s incredulity in particular her own as she had no idea she was pregnant.

    In anaesthetics we rotated round neuro, paeds, and cardiac at The Western Hospital, which was not my favourite.

    On 16th July 1975 Susannah was born by LSCS at Southampton General Hospital. It was Category 1 and Andy Dewar was bought out of the bar to supervise the GA. The surgeon was the senior lecturer.

    Round about this time I sat my ECFMG as I had decided I wanted to go abroad and the USA was a possibility. I passed.

    In October I did a TA camp at Knook.

    I was still doing a lot of GP deputising.

    Susannah’s christening was on Sunday 11th January 1976 in Southampton. Sam and Des Henley, John and Charles and Frances Holme came and they can all be seen in the attached photo in Laundry Road.
    104 Susannah's christening, Southampton 11jan1976
    In March 1976 Valerie, Susannah and I went to the continent including a visit to East Berlin, followed by a trip to the Mary’s hut.

    Also around this time Tom Mcaughey from Montreal General Hospital came to Southampton to see me and lined me up for a one year clinical fellowship there starting on 1st April 1976.

Other documents

42z Uncle Wilf dies 1944.
44z Gold Award 1962
45z "Bloody Squash" 1974
85 1958 School Report return
86 1959 School Report return
15 Award of Purple from University ofLondon Union return
16 Selection for British Universities return

Conceived, written and copyright © 2014, Robert PALMER, All Rights Reserved.

Compiled, formatted, hyperlinked, and hand-coded 2014 by John PALMER, .