I love Newcastle and its medical school and university. I was born in Rowlands Gill and later attended a school at Hobson Colliery where my father was head teacher, later still when we moved to Spennymoor the Alderman Wraith Grammar School, but I have always regarded Newcastle with affection.
I can justify this claim to be a Novocastrain because, in 1941, after a fruitless attempt to join the RAF because I was accepted as a medical student, I entered the Newcastle medical school, King’s College, Durham University, and graduated after a shortened wartime course in 1945. Many memories of those student days, including the many remarkable procedures which we students required to perform because of the shortage of qualified doctors in the Newcastle hospitals, are still fresh in my memory, as are the nights spent fire watching and days on parade with the senior Training Corps. After graduation I was House Officer first to Professor Nattrass, then to Professor James Spence, receiving the princely salary for the first of £50 per year and for the second £100 per year. I was then called into the Army in early 1947, serving first as Embarkation Medical Officer in Glasgow and later Southampton, before becoming Second-in-Command of the Hospital Ship Oxfordshire, in which we visited many Mediterranean ports and covered the final evacuation of Haifa Military Hospital and of British troops leaving Palestine in 1948. As a Major, then married (in 1946) with a child, I was being paid about £1000 per annum, so that my appointment in early 1949 as a Medical Registrar in the RVI on £400 per annum (the salaries proposed in the new National Health Service had not yet been implemented) was a blow, but we managed.
I have recounted in detail in my autobiography ‘The Spice of Life’, published by Heinemann/RSM in 1933, my life as a Medical Registrar, then as a Research Fellow working on neuromuscular disease, and ultimately as a Consultant Neurologist, travelling across the region, through primarily based at the Newcastle General Hospital but also at the RVI. My unexpected appointment as Dean of Medicine in 1971, involved much teaching and administrative work, with involvement in various hospital management committees and the Medical Research Council, the BMA and the General Medical Council, while still leading a major neuromuscular research programme and teaching undergraduate and post graduate students.
I first became a supporter of Newcastle United in the 1930’s and well remember the cup winning team on 1932 and their successive wins in the FA cup in the 1950’s. I shared that interest with Cardinal Hume, son of Sir William Hume, the former Newcastle Professor of Medicine, even though he and I disagreed violently about the ethics of embryo research when many years later I entered the House of Lords and spoke on that topic. But I recall with pleasure and pride the day in 1980 then the City of Newcastle created nine Honorary Freeman, five of whom had previously been Lord Mayor; the other four were Cardinal Hume, Colonel George Brown, Jackie Milburn, the former England and Newcastle centre forward and I. In his speech of acceptance, Cardinal Hume said it was the greatest day of his life; all his life he’d wanted to meet Jackie Milburn. Ever since, I am proud to wear the tie of the City, even though in 1983 I left Newcastle to become a Warden of Green College Oxford, my heart remained in the Northeast. It was with much pleasure that my dear late wife and I moved back to our beloved Northumberland in 2002, where I now believe that I have really come home.