1950 – 1956 Manchester and Leeds Universities


The university training for both medicine and dentistry in the Fifties was 6 years. In September 1950 I started at Manchester University where the first 3 years for medical and dental students were identical. For a number of reasons (including a modest performance in A levels!) I was registered as a dental student. However, at the time, I was not sure what I wanted to do, and my modest A level results in chemistry and biology had been disappointing. The opportunity to go to Manchester arose and the alternative was to go straight into the army as a private to do 2 years National Service. So understandably I took this opportunity to take up university training rather than immediately enter the army.

I had ‘dropped’ physics at Giggleswick in the sixth form as I seemed to be totally incompatible with the physics teacher. This was strange as in my first year there I had been top of the year in the physics exam; also after the first year I had been moved into the A stream for science and maths. I suppose, on looking back, I was an odd mixture of academic abilities. First, although described by Mr Woodhams, the headmaster of Moorlands my preparatory school, as – “A boy of happy, cheerful and attractive disposition whom we shall much miss. His work has been done steadily and conscientiously and he has reached a good standard”, I never shone at school work as so many children seem to do nowadays.

  Malcom Gladwell

There were a number of reasons for my modest performance, other than not being particularly bright, the first being I was always the youngest boy in the class having my birthday on August 29th resulting in my being almost a year younger than some other members of the same class. A Canadian psychologist Roger Barnsley first drew attention to the phenomenon of relative age after his wife drew his attention to the fact that succesful hockey players in the school team were more likely to have been born in January, February or March – fact the Barnsley confirmed in other groups of sports people.  In recent years this has been recognised as a definite disadvantage in both academic work and sports. A year in a child’s life at this age is very significant in terms of mental and physical development. In his excellent book “Outliers:The Story of Success” (2008) Malcolm Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success for some individuals. To support his thesis, he examines why the majority of successful Canadian ice hockey players are born in the first few months of the calendar year.

Claire Crawford

I seemed to be born at the extremely wrong end of the year! There is now considerable amount of academic research on this subject for example Claire Crawford et al. IFS Working paper W10/06 –

“We find that the month in which you are born matters for test scores at ages 7, 11, 14 and 16, with younger children performing significantly worse, on average, than their older peers. Furthermore, almost all of this difference is due to the fact that younger children sit exams up to one year earlier than older cohort members. The difference in test scores at age 16 potentially affects the number of pupils who stay on beyond compulsory schooling, with predictable labour market consequences. Indeed, we find that the impact of month of birth persists into higher education (college) decisions, with age 19/20 participation declining monotonically with month of birth”.

Perhaps another reason for my modest academic achievements at boarding school was lack of ongoing parental encouragement, as our parents were not there to give help and encouragement as seems to occur in many homes nowadays. Our only contact with home was one letter each week and two parental weekend visits each three month term. The involvement and help from parents is so obvious in many families today, particularly in middle class families. Undoubtedly, in the Forties, achievement at sports was more highly regarded than academic ability at a schools such as Giggleswick where sport was all. The birthday factor is also apparent in sporting achievement as already noted by the birthday dates of successful junior ice hockey players in Canada.

Finally, some of the teachers ay Giggleswick during the war were not of the best as some of the more able had joined the armed forces – although, in all fairness, some were excellent such as our housemaster Mr Dutton who taught classics. Pupils in his class, although enduring considerable fear and mental stress, were virtually guaranteed a Latin credit in School Certificate (as occurred in my case).

So, still quite undecided as my school years drew to a close in 1950, but thinking in terms of something in the scientific/medical/ dental/ pharmacy area I gratefully accepted a place on the combined medical/dental course at Manchester University. This was the start of three very happy and interesting years in Manchester, although at the start I was very apprehensive as to my ability to manage a university degree course. However, fortunately I decided to “give it a go”!

Autumn 1950 – Start at Manchester University
By this time my parents had moved from Hollycroft in Leeds to No 2 The Beach in Filey on the East Coast.  We still had the 1937 Buick, which had been on blocks all through the war. I had by that time persuaded my father to buy me a 500cc Sunbeam motorbike. It was quite a long journey from Manchester to Filey as the M62 was not built until the Seventies. Even today with the new motorways and city by-passes it is 115 miles. The 220px-M62_J22_from_Pennine_Way-1M62 is a 107-mile-long west–east trans-Pennine motorway in Northern England, connecting Liverpool and Hull via Manchester and Leeds; 7 miles of the route is shared with the M60 orbital motorway around Manchester.
In the Fifties the journey from Manchester to Filey was very  tedious necessitating travelling through the busy centres of both Leeds, York and Malton as the bypasses for these cities had not yet been constructed. The journey usually took well over 3 hours even on a very fast motor bike in good weather. I recall trying to make the journey in the winter in snow on my motorbike. I fell off 3 times before reaching Oldham and eventually settled for the train!  I fell off the Sunbeam three times, always due to ice or snow but fortunately never sustained serious injury.

Olivers Mount motorcycle racing
Geoff Duke on a Norton racing motorcycle

I was fortunate not to injure myself for,  particularly in the winter when the coast road was quiet, I used to time myself from the outskirts of Filey to the outskirts of Scarborough. I wore leather boots, a leather coat and leather cap with ex-RAF goggles and would crouch along the tank imagining I was Geoff Duke – the motorcycle racing hero of the time. Also in those days there were annual motorcycle racing round the Oliver’s Mount track in Scarborough. On a quiet day I used to roar round the circuit on my Sunbeam. I was very fortunate to leave my motorbike days physically intact! I became more restrained after on one occasion the Filey Bank Manager rang my father and reported he was concerned he had been overtaken by me on the road to Scarborough and I must have been doing well over 80 mph.  I was duly reprimanded by my Dad!

My first “digs” in Manchester were with Miss Burrow in a large old house in the Moss Side district of Manchester which was only a short walk to the university. I didn’t fancy going into a University Hall of Residence as I had spent the past 6 years in an institution called Giggleswick!  There were also two other new students at Miss Burrows  – George Hambleton and his friend Bas. I have forgotten many of the fine details of these early days in Manchester but there are a few pertinent facts worth mentioning.

Miss Burrow was a kind, small, rather overweight lady with glasses. She was quite a forceful character who had been an auxiliary nurse in the war. I suspect, like so may women, her fiancé had been killed in the war and she now made a living taking in students. Although quite strict she was generally a pleasant person who was an excellent cook – I still remember her roast rabbit with pleasure!

I was fortunate to be in digs with George Hambleton who was studying physics. You may recall I did not have an A-level in physics. Fortunately, for me, first year chemistry, physics and biology (the same content as A levels) had to be taken by all medical and dental students even if they had obtained very high grades in these subjects in the Higher School Certificate. So I was given another chance at physics and at the end of the first year passed the 1st MB BDS exam in all three subjects.

Whitwiorth Hall Manchester University

 Undoubtedly it was the regular patient  tuition from my room mate George Hambleton that allowed me to succeed in the physics exam; I will always be grateful to him for his teaching ability and great patience! George was from a relatively modest home background in South Yorkshire but he was very intelligent and certainly more mature and knowledgeable about both the ways of the world and the opposite sex, as he had a permanent girl friend at home. I only remember one slight rather unfortunate incident when he became angry. When we returned home in the late afternoons we had to light the fire in our sitting room . I was not good at this and George usually took over and finished the job. “You must be thick not to be able to light a fire” he grumbled.  I replied that perhaps it wasn’t me who was thick as he always ended up lighting the fire!

At that stage I was only just 18 years old and had only recently left Giggleswick, a strict, tough all boys boarding school. Our room mate at Miss Burrow’s, Bas and I listened with great interest to George’s accounts of his “exploits”.  Work was interesting after the hurdle of first MB BDS had been passed and I was greatly relieved to have proceeded without any ‘retakes’ as these were already affecting some of our student colleagues.

I met some very good friends in Manchester amongst both the dental and medical students. We still keep on touch with Theo Lambros and his wife Doris. Theo was in the same year but was married and more mature eventually spending his life as a GP in Oldham. The social life for most of us centred around the Students’ Union where there were good Saturday Night Dances regularly attended by both students and local girls.

What else do I remember about Manchester? In those days few students kept a diary and there was not the same fascination with antiques and things historical as there is today. I will try to remember a little of the various aspects of life in Manchester between 1950 and 1952 when I moved to Leeds.

First, a little more about accommodation. My mother came over to meet Miss Burrow and approved of her. As I have mentioned, there were three of us lodging with Miss Burrow in a large Victorian house in Whalley Range on the edge of Moss side. Miss Burrow cooked our breakfast and evening meal, we had a room as a living room with a coal fire and we all shared a very large bedroom.

Meals were quite formal and Miss Burrow would tell us stories of her experiences as a nurse in the war. One which was particularly off-putting during meals was the weight of an amputated leg she was asked to carry from the theatre! However, the place was clean and the meals reasonable but after a year we needed a change and I moved out to live with a family in a semi-detached house nearby. I remained there for a few months and as it was rather crowded I considered an offer of accommodation at the landlady’s married daughter’s who lived nearby. My landlady asked me to deliver a parcel at the daughter’s and have a look at the place.   I soon discovered that her daughter was interested more in me than the possibility of receiving my rent! So I moved on to stay with a very pleasant couple, Mr and Mrs Filmer, where I stayed for the rest of my time in Manchester.

Mr and Mrs Filmer were a very kind people who lived in a semi-detached house near the university (sorry I can’t remember the name of the street). I was their only lodger and they took a parental interest in me. Mr Filmer was a pleasant slightly overweight commercial traveller of some sort. He returned home each evening, sat by the fire and devoured numerous novels. He was also a Mason and attended regular lodge meetings. I must confess Mrs Filmer and I once had a peep into his special bag and inspected his apron and various masonic gadgets! Mrs Filmer was a very pleasant lady who chain-smoked and had a very bad cough.  But I was happy at the Filmers and could work without being pursued; I remained there until 1953 when I moved to Leeds.

When at Manchester during the University holidays I would travel home to Filey and later to Harrogate on my motorcycle. I accustomed to not having a permanent base although it was good to spend the summer holidays in Filey with easy access to Scarborough and the Saturday night dances at the Spa. Saturday was a popular night as the new holiday makers arrived on Saturdays.  My parents moved back to Harrogate sometime during my stay at Manchester, certainly before 1953,  as my mother could not stand the quiet boring winters there. I still remember the journey from Manchester to Filey on my motorbike which in those days was a real marathon.

Other aspects of Manchester University life included the work in lectures, the hundreds of hours in the anatomy department, trips to the Manchester central library to work, good friendships with many of the students, and rag days. I remember the main examinations were all held in the large Whitworth Hall. Towards the end of the preclinical years in Manchester my father’s health. I had done well in the preclinical exams and Manchester had provisionally arranged for me to transfer to the medical course. Fortunately, the universities agreed for me to transfer to Leeds Medical School for clinical studies, so I could live at home in Harrogate to support my mother during fathers last months. This was good for all concerned and I was even awarded a Senior City Scholarship on my Manchester exam results which helped financially. I transferred to Leeds in the autumn term of 1952 and my father died in Harrogate in May 1953.

Leeds University 1953-1956

So I started a new chapter in my life. I thoroughly enjoyed the three year clinical medicine course in Leeds and soon settled in. It was good to be living at home in Harrogate and then from later in 1953 in mother’s flat in Park View Crescent, Roundhay, Leeds for the first time since I was twelve years old!

John Clark, Barry Blackstone, Alaan Crewe, Ian Adams, Jim Littlewood, a French friend, John Winder

I made many friends in particular my old contemporary from way back at Moorlands School, Ian Adams; also two Welsh students Brian Davies (GP in Wales) and Owen Thomas (GP near London)  and a Londoner Ted Langworth (varied carrier died early).   During the clinical course we went on holiday to the South of France in John Clarke’s father’s estate car. This proved to be a very “adventurous” trip. (photo).

The Leeds clinical course was interesting and comprised lectures, clinical ward rounds and outpatient teaching. It was exciting to, at last, be spending more time in the General Infirmary.
Learning the basics of history-taking and physical examination were one of the major tasks and were considered to be more important then than they appear to be these days. In fact, one young doctor writing recently in the British Medical Journal suggested these skills were now superseded by modern investigative techniques. He ignored the fact that not everyone works in a large hospital with modern facilities. I have written more on this subject elsewhere in this website.

In addition to  the lectures on pathology, pharmacology, medicine and surgery, the many ward and outpatient teachings usually involved either a ward round with a more senior doctor, but not always a consultant, or attendance at a consultant’s outpatients. Most of the clinical consultants at the Leeds General Infirmary in the Fifties had in their earlier days been outstanding students who had obtained first class honours and usually many of the student prizes – such people only came along every few years. They were few in number compared to the numerous consultants of the present day when everyone seems to be either a consultant or a professor or both! There was only one student awarded first class honours in our year of 1956 – Roman Kocen a very quiet unassuming man who ended up as a consultant neurologist at Queens Square in London.

Unfortunately, some of the senior consultants delegated their ward teaching to the RMO (Resident Medical Officer) or their registrar; however, they were more likely to attend their outpatient clinics. Sitting at a desk they would see a patient in the front of the large consulting room. The students would sit in rows of chairs opposite to the consultant and patient.

Garland Hugh
Dr Hugh Garland

Some consultants put on an almost theatrical performance. For example Dr Hugh Garland (1903-1967). This consultant neurologist’s clinic was very popular as he had a routine method of history taking and examination which was good for students. Also, he was having an affair with the current very attractive lady Resident Medical Officer! Also he would only ask female students to come out to examine the patients in the clinic. This was all good fun but on the downside he would demonstrate physical signs on some unfortunate patients and treat them with little respect. For example, in patients referred to him as having possible hysterical symptoms after injuries complaining of loss of sensation he would use various tricks to show they were malingering. One I recall was to prick the hand in a circle and suggest where it was numb.

Mr Digby Chamberlain

Some consultants taught in a kindly rather aloof manner – Mr Digby Chamberlain (1896-1962) after army service eventually qualified in 1921 with first class honours. He had been Lord Moynihan’s private assistant for a time and subsequently had a distinguished local and national career. He gave a rather detached but good teaching on each patient and was superb to watch in theatre. In the RCS “Lives of Fellows”, Digby Chamberlain is described “as having a commanding presence and great natural dignity, without the slightest trace of pomposity. He was a dexterous and unruffled surgeon with superb technique as befitted the last of the Leeds school to have been trained personally by Lord Moynihan”. That describes him perfectly.
On the first day of our three months on Mr Chamberlain’s surgical firm he regarded us students and observed “You’ve been a very good group and I wish you all the best”. We replied that it was our first day with him! Quite unperturbed and with a slight smile he replied “Well I’m sure you’re going to be a very good group”. My only other contact with him was when I developed acute appendicitis when aged 17 years at Giggleswick School, I was rushed to the Leeds and Mr Chamberlain removed my appendix.

Some consultants were definitely less pleasant to both students and other members of staff. One in particular was Mr Henry Shucksmith (1910-1993), a general surgeon. Shucksmith had a brilliant student career qualifying with first class honours in 1934 and many other student prizes. After war service he returned to Leeds and was eventually appointed as consultant surgeon at Leeds General Infirmary and many other hospitals in the area where he practised for around 30 years.   He was quite terrible in theatre and not averse to cursing everyone and throwing instruments about if not the exact one he required. An all round unpleasant chap but undoubtedly brilliant.
Particular memories of his outpatient clinics were when I gave an incorrect answer to a question he had asked. He parted the group of students between us and asked me “When are you taking finals?”. I replied next month. “What a waste!” he muttered.  On another occasion a student called Whitehouse addressed him as Mr Shoesmith. “Shucky,” as he was known, said to this student “With a name like yours Whitehouse you should be very careful with names”.
On the subject of names, when a very pleasant young surgeon, John Shoesmith, with whom I had worked when a house surgeon on the Thoracic firm in 1956, was appointed consultant surgeon at the Infirmary, Mr Shucksmith insisted John be referred to in all matters, labels on notes and beds and other notices at the LGI as Mr John Harrop Shoesmith – to ensure that John received no patient referrals meant of Henry by mistake!

It’s strange that the more “difficult” consultants come to mind when recalling the clinical medicine course. One in particular was Mr Barry Payne, a senior orthopaedic surgeon and a food gourmet. He was just generally rude and unpleasant. I had some difficulty with him relating to my doing a two week locum for the paediatric house officer when I was a medical student, at the time on his orthopaedic firm. He was unhappy about my missing two weeks orthopaedics and said “It’s to be hoped you don’t get any orthopaedics in the finals exams”. Fortunately I didn’t!

Leeds Medical School 1956
                         Leeds University Medical Students Year of 1956 – a very pleasant group!

Most of our year qualified in 1956. All our little group passed all our exams without incident. Brian Davies was an obsessional note-taker and we all found Brian’s “nortes” a great help when revising. All disputes and clinical queries would be settled by consulting Brian’s notes.

I must mention one incident during my student years which ultimately resulted, many years later, in my eventual return to paediatrics as a career.  One morning about a year after I had started clinical studies, around late 1953, I was in the LGI walking down the corridor outside the children’s paediatric ward (ward 8) when a young man in a white coat stopped me and asked if I’d like to do a paediatric locum as the house officer had been taken ill. After he had explained what paediatrics was and I had explained I was very inexperienced, he assured me that the paediatric registrar would be at my side whenever needed and all I needed do was essentially write up the patients notes, do the everyday tasks such as taking bloods and admit and discharge the patients. He said it would be fixed with the student firm I was on at the time. So I agreed.

So I did a two week student locum in in Paediatrics with Professor Stuart Craig and Dr Eric Allibone on Ward 8 and Princess Mary Ward for infants at the Leeds General Infirmary. I really enjoyed the work and I seemed to fit in to the unit to the extent that when the next house officer went on leave I was asked to do the locum again. I have described this in more detail later. However, briefly my experience with the paedaitric firm eventually resulted in my being diverted from a career in surgery when a casualty officer at the LGI, having returned from the army in 1960/61.