Gordon Stanley Benton or Richard Gordon, best known for his comic novels around the medical profession, or the ‘Doctor’ books was born on 15 September 1921, and thus turns 100 today. Gordon was a surgeon and anaesthetist and worked at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, and also as a ship’s surgeon, and assistant editor of the British Medical Journal. While the early ‘doctor’ books were witty and based on his own experiences, the later ones are said to be characterised by farce and innuendo. Here are a few interesting facts about the author:

  • Gordon was a practicing doctor until 1952 after which he left medicine and turned to writing full time. But he mentions he wanted to give up medicine as soon as he qualified and described ‘giving it up‘ as his ‘contribution to the welfare of humanity‘.
  • As assistant editor of the British Medical Journal where he was tasked with writing the obituaries column, he claimed, he learnt to write ‘convincing fiction‘.
  • The first books Doctor in the House (1952) is set around the antics of four medical students in the fictional St Swithin’s Hospital.
  • The early doctor books have himself, Richard Gordon, as the main character. After 4 or 5 books, the character was renamed Simon Sparrow, the name also used in the films.
  • In 1954, two years after the publication of Doctor in the House, a film version starring Dirk Bogarde as Simon Sparrow and James Robertson Justice as Sir Lancelot Spratt. Gordon himself had an uncredited role as an anaesthetist.
  • Richard Gordon also wrote various technical books on anaesthetics in his own name including Anaesthetics for Medical Students (1949).
  • Gordon wrote not only novels, but also screenplays for movies and television, as well as popular history accounts, besides medicine. He also wrote on gardening and cricket, and contributed articles to Punch.
  • Among his writings is The Private Life of Jack the Ripper (1980) in which he suggests that Jack the Ripper was a doctor, in fact an anaesthetist.
  • Author Henry Cecil who wrote comic novels around the law, mentions in his autobiography Just Within the Law (1975) how Richard Gordon’s books inspired him to do something similar for the law.

Have you read any of Gordon’s ‘doctor’ books or watched the film or TV versions? Which ones and how did you like them? Looking forward to your thoughts!

8 thoughts on “Interesting Facts: Richard Gordon: Author of the ‘Doctor’ Books

  1. I remember catching a bit of one of the Doctor films when my mother had the TV on. I couldn’t make head or tail of it but was impressed with the bombastic James Robertson Justice. I remember much of Dirk Bogarde except that his character seemed a bit lightweight…

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    1. I remember seeing I think the first one in bits and pieces too; that was mostly their internship days and involved stealing a football mascot–I think they were pretty light-hearted. Like you I remember noticing James Robertson Justice as Sir Lancelot.

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    1. 🙂 I think the earlier ones were quite a bit of fun. I’ve read only one though, Doctor at Sea and all I remember of it is his plans to read War and Peace since ship doctors have nothing to do; the book comes back unopened of course.

      I also remember watching bits and pieces of the first film with the ‘patient’ helping the students out during the exam–telling them the correct diagnosis and such.

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