On Monday mornings in the 1950s, doctor’s surgeries across the country were filled with scores of people claiming to have the same illness.
It was thanks to The Doc Replies, The Sunday Post’s weekly medical advice column – the most popular section of the country’s biggest-selling newspaper.
A collection of the classic columns have been reprinted in a new book but does the advice dished out in The Doc Replies: Medical Wisdom From The 1950s stand up?
In the book, Dr Lynda Morton, a modern-day GP, has looked at some of the old Doc columns, based on real letters from bulging readers’ mail sacks, and examines how the doctor’s advice in the 1950s compares with modern medical knowledge.
Some guidance remains sound, although other pieces of advice – such as smoking 15 cigarettes a day – are now hopelessly outdated.
“Social attitudes, levels of equality and virtually all the world in all its various ways have changed since the 1950s,” explained the book’s editor, Steve Finan.
“Some of it might seem a little comical and old-fashioned, but there is common sense and genuine wisdom that remains as true today as when it was written.”
With the help of Dr Morton, we’ve given a modern diagnosis of some of the advice dished by our 1950s Doc in the book, published by DC Thomson Media.
On keeping warm
The Doc Replies: Athletes, commandos, and polar explorers swear by good woollens. For the menfolk, the best buy is the string vest. The body works best if it’s kept at even temperature. String vests or open-mesh material allow just that. All the family can wear them.
Dr Morton says: Recent studies show that lowering the temperature in the nose reduces the immune response and lends credence to advice about keeping warm to avoid catching a cold. Woolly garments will indeed trap more warm air but I’m not convinced about the value of string vests or clinging underwear.
On getting a man’s help
The Doc Replies: It’s the heavy jobs that wear out a woman. Daily jobs a wife should leave to her husband include carrying buckets of coal, beating rugs, even winding the clock. And if little Tommy requires a licking, then it’s his father’s job to do it.
Dr Morton says: Oh my goodness! This made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. There is absolutely no medical basis for any of this! Fortunately, buckets of coal and rug-beating are things of the past. If technology continues to advance then perhaps we’ll be able to do away with men altogether.
On good physique
The Doc Replies: If you get plenty of sleep, fresh air, exercise, good food, and especially plenty of milk, you’ll be a bigger man than your father. Lack of sunshine, fresh air, vegetables, food and milk, and wearing tight clothes – these are the things that lead to bandy legs, knock knees and pigeon chests.
Dr Morton says: The 1950s Doc was not too far out with the role of lack of sunshine, fresh air, fresh food and milk and cramped conditions. However, the “bandy” legs and knock knees are due to Vitamin D deficiency, and pigeon chests are genetic and not due to tight clothes!
The Doc Replies: Women take better care of their hair. A man brushes his hair with one purpose – to get a parting. A woman brushes to improve the sheen. She brushes it at night. How many men do? The result is women don’t lose their hair as men do. And nothing ages a man as much as baldness.
Dr Morton says: There are cultural reasons why women pay more attention to their appearance, though in today’s society boys are definitely catching up. Baldness is a genetic issue, so nothing to do with brushing!
On winter health
The Doc Replies: Your job has a lot to do with your health in winter. Bus drivers, policemen, postmen, labourers, joiners, plumbers do well, unlike office workers and shop assistants. You can help by taking plenty of baths or rubbing yourself briskly with a wet towel.
Dr Morton says: People working in enclosed areas will be more susceptible to catching colds than people who work as an individual or in the open air, hence the warning about working in offices, shops and factories. Lots of baths has little to do with it…and neither does rubbing yourself with a wet towel?
On avoiding heart problems
The Doc Replies: If your wife nags you into beating the carpet, and you go to it with an angry thought – the strain on the heart when you do it is doubled. A sudden dash for the bus is bad. A burst of temper on a heavy meal is a strain on the heart. Lose your rag before lunch if you must – but never immediately after.
Dr Morton says: There are “almost truths” but a few problems here. Suppressed emotion, temper, anger and short bursts of exercise, in the main, do not cause heart failure directly…but they can sometimes cause other problems, resulting in coronary issues.
On fatty food
The Doc Replies: The old-time mother used to insist on all the family eating the last scrap of fat. Now the distaste for fat is pandered to. Get the children into the fat habit. A good piece for the children is a plain piece of bread dipped in dripping. Our grannies knew it.
Dr Morton says: That fussiness for fat has been a good thing in retrospect. Not all dietary fats are bad. The real baddies are saturated and trans fats, mainly found in meat, cheese and dairy – unfortunately, what the 1950s Doc advocated as good.
The Doc Replies: Take an interest in what’s going on around you. Keep your mind alive. Grow something new in the garden, change your furniture around.
Don’t agree with everything your husband says. Better to have an occasional argument than boredom. Speak about something not connected with housework or the children.
Dr Morton says: Take a leaf out of the 1950s Doc’s book here. Be passionate and curious about life. I’m pretty sure the answer to mild depression in many cases doesn’t come from tablets but with a listening ear, friendship and a push to get out there and live.
I love his last bit of advice – don’t agree with everything your partner says. Making up is fun!
The Doc Replies: And now for this panic about smoking. Get it right out of your head that you’re bound to develop cancer. Cigarette smokers should ration themselves to no more than one every hour. After each cigarette, take three deep breaths of fresh air.
Dr Morton says: The 1950s Doc was fooling himself if he thought smoking one an hour was safe, or taking gulps of fresh air would negate the risk.
Even in the 1920s cigarettes were recognised as a cause of lung cancer. By the 1950s it was well established. For those smoking and wishing to cut down the risk, the answer is plain – don’t do it at all.
The queries we didn’t (or couldn’t) print
I am at present 54 years old, and have been for the past two years.
Just around Christmas my mother, who is 76, had a bad bout of influence.
I talk like a girl. Can you get an operation to get stronger or treatment on the NHS?
I haven’t seen my wife unclothed for many years and she has run away to Yorkshire.
Can you please solve my problem? Occasionally, when I sneeze several times, my nose begins to bleed quite severely. I have seen a specialist, and was informed that it was just my imagination.
Every time me and my wife have intercourse she sneezes. What could be the cause of this?
We have recently rented a TV set, which is the first time, and have been wondering where to get the advertisements on it. And each of my ankles have swollen up a little bit.
My brother has one leg after the war. If he has children will their legs be both there? It was a landmine. He is 43.
When my son walks, his heels hardly touch the ground. My husband doesn’t like it so would it help if he carried an Army knapsack? It is a large one and we have filled it with sand but not all the way up. It isn’t really from the Army.
Is it against the law to grow your hair long if you live in Scotland?
I would like to wash one of my son’s schoolfriends. Would this get him or me in trouble?
My doctor’s woman is very rude and tells everyone out loud what is wrong with people. I’m not going back until I die and neither is my wife.
Thank you very much for solving the problem of my organ. The organ was uplifted on Saturday afternoon.
Is having hives anything to do with being stung by a bee?
How to add five years to the prime of your life
We must remember that when we reach the middle of our prime of life – say, about 40 – we’ve reached the peak of our abilities.
The nearer we get to 50 the more we should change our ideas as to work, sport, income and social position. By all means hold your position. But it’s wiser not to attempt to improve it, if that demands constant intensive effort.
Be content with your abilities at 50 and you’re likely to have them at 55 – and later. That goes for your golf handicap as well as your pace of work.
More than half the secret of a long prime is the mental attitude. Never for one moment get it into your head that the world has passed you by. Never say: “I’m getting on, you know.”
Keep up with the news. Have friends of all ages. Be tolerant of younger opinion and especially new ideas. I find that a great tendency in the mid-40s is to narrow our circle of friends. That’s bad.
Never lose pride in your appearance. Be as particular about teeth, haircuts, polished shoes, as you were in your courting days.
Now here’s a most important point. Be as smart as you can in your walk. Keep the shoulders back. Don’t allow the stride to shorten. If you give way, your abdomen muscles get flabby. The stomach becomes less efficient in extracting the good from food. And the quality of your blood falls.
These are the real signs of a departing prime of life.
Grey hairs, baldness and wrinkles don’t matter a hoot.
And worry? It’s just a habit – and it can be broken. If it isn’t, the heart is apt to suffer. And one thing that’s absolutely essential to a long prime of life is a strong heart.
Buy the book at dcthomsonshop.co.uk
The Doc is still replying. See our health pages in P.S. Magazine every week