What’s the bleeding time?
The creator of Sir Lancelot Spratt, Richard Gordon, has died aged 95. Richard Gorden was the pen name for anaesthetist Dr Gordon Stanley Ostlere, who left medicine to write both fiction and nonfiction over a 50-year career.
Doctor in the House was his most famous book and subsequent film starring Dirk Bogarde, Donald Sinden, Kenneth More and Donald Houston.
Most of his novels drew upon his early medical career and his work portrayed a more carefree, less regulated and austere, NHS of old. Sir Lancelot was a domineering, arrogant surgeon, striking fear into the hapless medical students scurrying in his wake. The famous ‘bleeding time sketch’ is still popular on YouTube today (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m80ZQ2YCkDI).
After studying medicine at Cambridge University, Richard Gordon worked as a surgeon on a ship in the South Pacific – where he wrote Doctor in the House. The novel sold more than three million copies.
He worked for a short while as an assistant editor on the British Medical Journal and often joked that he learned to write convincing fiction while contributing to the journal’s obituaries section. In 1974, he gained notoriety when he walked off This is Your Life when Eamonn Andrews appeared with the red book. He later changed his mind and the show was transmitted a week later.
He edited the The Literary Companion to Medicine, an acclaimed 1993 anthology that offered descriptions of James Boswell’s 19 bouts of gonorrhoea and Charles Dickens’s bloody bowel movements.
Writing in the introduction he said: ‘Medicine means life and death, deliverance and despair, hope and fright, mystery and mechanics. It is a microscope trained upon life’s fundamentals, eagerly focused by novelists since the 1820s. Readership is guaranteed. There may be doubters about the soul, but no one can deny the existence of the body, and everyone wants to know the terrible things that can happen to it.’