To mark the ‘Aye Write’ festival celebrating Scottish literature, we are publishing two blogs on the Glasgow student, doctor and playwright, Osborne Henry Mavor (James Bridie). Following a description of his student years yesterday, today, the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archives will examine Mavor’s medical career.
Mavor graduated MB ChB in 1913, and before WW1 worked briefly in the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Following his service in the medical corps during the war, Mavor started work in the Victoria Infirmary as an Assisting Visiting Physician. He stayed in this post until retirement in 1938. Between 1928 and 1930, Mavor also served as Professor of Medicine at Anderson College. He notes in his autobiography ‘One Way of Living’ that he ‘‘was not a great success as a professor’’… but regardless, he did enjoy giving the lectures. Concerning his medical career, Mavor chooses to comment on patient care very little in his autobiography. He states that although other doctors’ memoirs are crammed full of patient anecdotes, he felt that this betrayed a fundamental trust formed between doctor and patient. He comments that if anyone dared to do this to him, ‘‘he would get a stick and give him a good beating… [then] report him to the General Medical Council. ’’
At the NHS GGC Archives, we hold Mavor’s case books for his time at the Victoria. Although these records are now in the public domain and thus can be accessed by the public, cautiously paying heed to his medical ethics discussed above, they will not be discussed here. Instead, and of no lesser interest, we hold a collection of his cartoons caricaturing some key figures of the 20th century Glasgow medical world. I have selected two of these as examples for discussion.
Dr John Brownlee explaining the play, Hamlet, to Dr Chalmers
Dr John Brownlee served as Physician Superintendent at Belvidere and Ruchill Fever Hospitals. He later travelled to London to be part of the Medical Research Council.
Dr Chambers is perhaps Archibald Kerr Chalmers, Minister of Health for Glasgow.
Mavor was a great admirer of Dr Brownlee, calling him ”adept in the art of living”. Shortly before WW1, Mavor left his job at the Royal in the hope that he might have the opportunity to work alongside Brownlee. In a recent cataloguing project, I transcribed an interview between Dr Peter McKenzie – another subsequent superintendent at Belvidere – and Miss Margaret Brownlee, daughter of Dr Brownlee. Margaret talked at length of her father’s character and his love of cultural pursuits, an aspect perhaps referred to here by Mavor. They recall that his hospital mess for his resident doctors was considered a ‘‘liberal education’’ with no ‘’shop’’ spoken at the table, only proper conversation. This love of conversation also permeated Brownlee’s personal life. Margaret recalls that he used to test her dialectic skills at the end of a arduous day by taking one side of an argument on a particular topic. He would then take the opposing side several weeks later once she had had time to forget all the arguments he had made.
Sir William Macewen remembering Dr Macintosh’s name but failing completely to recollect his face
Sir William Macewen, Professor of Surgery and surgeon to Glasgow Royal Infirmary and the Western Infirmary. His papers are held by Glasgow University Archive Services but his case notes for his hospital care are held at the NHS GGC Archives.
Dr Donald MacIntosh, Medical Superintendent of Western Infirmary.
Mavor recalls that he got a form of ”spiritual delight” from watching and being taught by Macewen. In another interview by McKenzie, Professor David Fyfe Anderson, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, describes being taught by Macewen. He recalls that Macewen had a great many rivalries with fellow doctors, something Mavor is evidently alluding to in this cartoon. These rivalries could be so extreme that if students even mentioned his name and his medical practices to certain examiners in oral exams, they would be given a row. Anderson recalls that students would learn and guard against such antipathies during their exams.
Once retiring from medicine, Mavor took on his most celebrated role, that of a playwright. Writing under the pseudonym of James Bridie, he wrote very many successful plays and was a founding member of both the Citizens Theatre and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. His papers, scripts and correspondence can be found in Glasgow University Special Collections. O.H. Mavor therefore – in his varying guises – ought to be remembered and celebrated both by the university and also by Glasgow for his creative and professional output and success.
*NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archives (NHS GGC Archives) holds the records of NHS hospitals, principally from the Glasgow and Renfrewshire area. The Archive is core funded by the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Board and is under the care of Glasgow University Archive Services (GUAS). There is a well-established relationship between health care professionals and the University, with many working in local hospitals and clinics whilst completing their studies at the University. As a result, there are many links between the collections held at GUAS and NHS GGC Archives and we hope to share with you in future blog posts.
To contact the NHS GGC Archive team, please use our mail enquiry form by clicking here or via telephone on 0141 287 2883 (Wednesday-Friday). We are in the process of uploading our finding aids to the Archives Hub. You can browse through the collections that have been uploaded here.