‘Doctor in Love’ (1960) is one of quite a lengthy series of films, obviously trying to emulate the success of the Carry ons. The formula is similar – a slightly saucy romp through a series of medical jokes and puns featuring a host of familiar faces – often recognisable from the Carry ons too. Regulars included James Robertson Justice as the top brass doctor, his most famous and enduring role.
|JRJ by @aitchteee|
Dirk Bogarde often took the lead role as the newly qualified doctor, but in ‘Doctor in Love’ he is replaced by the lesser known Michael Craig. He is supported by Leslie Phillips, Liz Frazer and Joan Sims with a delightful cameo from Esma Cannon to up the Carry on stakes. Look out too for a very youthful Peter Sallis – yes he was young once!
The Doctor series are a lesson on how to piggy back on the success of another. ‘Doctor in Love’ meanwhile features a small lesson on the history of medical research in the UK. In order to buy themselves some time, Craig and Phillips’ characters (Burke and Hare) book themselves in at Foulness cold research centre. This is where they bump into Frazer and Sims – also buying time after having lost their jobs as strippers. The new intake is paired off and they are given strict instructions to stay isolated in their pairing while they are being exposed to cold viruses. This seems to be an odd way to spend your free time, but it certainly isn’t pure fantasy.
I was aware of the post-war common cold research establishment in Wiltshire. A look at papers on the Wellcome Library website
(http://blog.wellcomelibrary.org/2013/09/fighting-the-cold-war-david-tyrrell-and-the-common-cold/) and a Pathe newsreel from the 1950s (http://www.britishpathe.com/video/common-cold-research-unit-salisbury) confirmed that the Doctor storyline is surprisingly accurate for what could be viewed as a rather frivolous film. Because taking part in the research involved food and shelter for a fortnight, with a small amount of pay into the bargain, it seems that there was no shortage of takers, even an over-subscription. There was some marketing of the scheme as an unusual and cheap way to take a holiday and the Wellcome paper even refers to couples honeymooning there. It is easy to see how people might have used it to plug the gap between jobs. On arrival, people were split into pairs and were not allowed physical contact with anyone else for purposes of controlling the research. There are however tales of patients taking a liking to each other and communicating by telephone or shouting! Not quite as cheeky as Burke and Hare’s methods. The research establishment was housed in a former wartime Red Cross Hospital and the film also seems to have chosen a true to life location. Those semi circular corrugated huts so commonly used in wartime camps are shown in the background. So, full marks to ‘Doctor in Love’ for showing us this little bit of our medical history. One that seems to have failed in its task. Viewed from the present it does all seem to have been a tremendous waste of time and money – though obviously not for some of the individuals involved.
Another surprisingly good word for ‘Doctor in Love’ is its treatment of the lady doctor, played by Virginia Maskell. I have observed that in the earlier Carry on films, female medical staff are of two types: the doe-eyed siren with designs on a doctor, or the hatchet-faced harridan.* Here, Dr Barrington is none of these – she is intelligent, wise and stylish. Those who would see her as anything other than a competent doctor are portrayed as buffoons. An excellent piece of forward thinking for its time.
* In my essay Carry on NHS, available in my Kindle book ‘Matinee Musings’ - www.amazon.co.uk/Matinee-Musings-The-History-Usherette-ebook/dp/B00FJ4KY6C