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Authors: Richard Gordon

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Doctor In The Swim

Copyright & Information

Doctor In The Swim


First published in 1962

© Richard Gordon; House of Stratus 1962-2012


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.


The right of Richard Gordon to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.


This edition published in 2012 by House of Stratus, an imprint of

Stratus Books Ltd., Lisandra House, Fore Street, Looe,

Cornwall, PL13 1AD, UK.


Typeset by House of Stratus.


A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and the Library of Congress.




This is a fictional work and all characters are drawn from the author’s imagination.

Any resemblance or similarities to persons either living or dead are entirely coincidental.

About the Author


Richard Gordon
, real name Dr. Gordon Stanley Ostlere, was born in England on 15 September 1921. He is best-known for his hilarious ‘Doctor’ books. Himself a qualified doctor, he worked as an anaesthetist at the famous St. Bartholomew’s Hospital (where he was also a medical student) and later as a ship’s surgeon, before leaving medical practice in 1952 to take up writing full time. Many of his books are based on his own true experiences in the medical profession and are all told with the wry wit and candid humour that have become his hallmark.

In all, there are eighteen titles in the
Series, with further comic writings in another seven volumes, including
‘Great Medical Disasters’
‘Great Medical Mysteries’
, plus more serious works concerning the lives of medical practitioners.

He has also published several technical books under his own name, mainly concerned with anaesthetics for both students and patients. Additionally, he has written on gardening, fishing and cricket and was also a regular contributor to
magazine. His
‘Private Lives’
series, taking in
Dr. Crippen, Jack the Ripper
Florence Nightingale
, has been widely acclaimed.

The enormous success of
Doctor in the House
, first published in the 1950’s, startled its author. It was written whilst he was a surgeon aboard a cargo ship, prior to a spell as an academic anaesthetist at Oxford. His only previous literary experience had been confined to work as an assistant editor of the
British Medical Journal
. There was, perhaps, a foretaste of things to come whilst working on the
as the then editor, finding Gordon somewhat jokey, put him in charge of the obituaries!

The film of
Doctor in the House
uniquely recovered its production costs whilst still showing at the cinema in London’s West End where it had been premiered. This endeared him to the powerful Rank Organisation who made eight films altogether of his works, which were followed by a then record-breaking TV series, and further stage productions.

Richard Gordon’s books have been translated into twenty languages.

He married a doctor and they had four children, two of whom became house surgeons. He now lives in London.


‘To my mind, flying in an aeroplane is just like being ill in a hospital,’ I expanded towards the beautiful girl in the next seat.

‘In hospital! Rather a gruesome comparison, isn’t it?’

‘Not a bit.’ I was becoming rather witty after the third free martini. ‘In both you’re firmly immobilized by the authorities, you have to balance your dinner on your knees, there’s nothing whatever to do except read magazines and snooze, and you’re attended by a bunch of highly trained young females who always turn out about half as pretty as you hoped.’

The girl laughed.

‘Furthermore,’ I ended, ‘I bet everyone goes into an aeroplane or a hospital half-wondering if they’ll ever get out of either again alive. Another martini?’

‘What, another? Oh, dear me, no. I never have more than one before dinner.’

‘But our dinner’s a good five hundred miles ahead,’ I pointed out.

‘Well…’ The girl hesitated. ‘Perhaps if I pretended it was only my first…’

‘Pretend it’s your birthday instead.’

I pressed the little plastic knob over my head. We were forty thousand feet above the Atlantic, and it was becoming very cosy.

I hadn’t noticed the girl while I was scrambling aboard the plane in New York. It’s impossible to notice anything at all while you’re scrambling aboard a plane, what with the people gargling at you through the loudspeakers, the bossy girls in uniform who seem to imagine you’re lost from an outing for handicapped children, and the effort of remembering where you’ve stuffed all those vital little hits of paper you collect at airports like bookies’ tickets on Derby Day. I’d simply jostled up the gangway steps thinking darkly I’d like a word with the cunning fellows who draw the airline advertisements – you know the ones, depicting the customers lolling about inside, all handsome chaps making light conversation to pretty girls, with a dear old couple beaming in the background to show the whole business is no more unnerving than a trip on the Inner Circle.

Personally, I find with modern high-speed flying you first spend half a day sitting on a little plastic airport chair wondering if that was really your suitcase you saw disappearing towards Bangkok. Then when they finally manage to get all the engines working at once, you discover yourself rubbing elbows aboard with some fat chap who speaks no known language and insists on lighting shocking cigars, or in the middle of a bunch of kids being sick all over you, like the day excursion to Margate. So you can understand how I blessed my luck when the prettiest girl I had seen in my life simply murmured, ‘Is this seat occupied?’ and moved in beside me for the next eight hours.

Being an Englishman, one would naturally not immediately strike up a conversation, even if one found oneself sitting next to Cleopatra all togged up for the Nile. But I’ll say this for aeroplanes – next to a ship’s lifeboat there’s nothing like them for getting to know your next-door passenger. All that tangling up of the safety belts, and pressing the seat knob which throws you flat on your back, and adjusting the nozzle which shoots the jet of ice-cold air down your neck, makes powerfully for what the Americans call ‘Togetherness’. And that isn’t to mention the free martinis.

‘What do you think of New York?’ I asked, before the girl had time to read through the gay little pamphlet they issue telling you what to do when the plane crashes. ‘The magnificent skyline, and all that?’

She glanced through the window, where Manhattan was poking its fingers at us through the clouds.

‘A freak,’ she said.

‘But a magnificent freak.’

The girl nodded. ‘I suppose you could call it the Venice of the twentieth century.’

We ran into one of the clouds, and nothing being so uninteresting to look at as clouds from the inside, she turned and remarked New York was all very well but it was nice to be going home to London, and I agreed it was nice to be going home to London, too. Then she said she’d been staying with relatives in Poughkeepsie, and I gave a little laugh and said I always thought that was a preposterous name, and she gave a little laugh, too, and said well, they were preposterous relatives. We were soon enjoying a jet-propelled chumminess, particularly when the hostess responded to the little plastic knob to bring my fourth martini, with that air of the Vicar’s daughter handing round the tea which somehow never escapes the girls on British airlines.

It was then I suddenly had a rummy feeling. I’d met my beautiful travelling companion somewhere before.

I edged a better look while the aircraft’s Captain, who seemed to be enjoying a mouthful of humbugs, came on the intercom to wish us good evening, reassure us he knew where he was going, and mention it was pouring with rain in London. She was a little dark girl in a little dark dress with a diamond sparkling here and there, and the way she smelt alone must have cost a packet. I was about to oil the hinges of my memory by remarking surely we’d met somewhere before, but quickly decided against it. The girl might have been some famous film star travelling on the quiet. She might have been one of those models you get to know pretty well going up and down the escalators on the Underground. And, I reflected with a cautious sigh, this imperfect world is alive with girls, bookies, beaks, and bank managers one never wants to meet again.

‘Have you been over to the States on pleasure or business?’ asked the girl, as the Captain clicked off.

I twiddled the stem of my martini glass.

‘Actually, I’ve been attending a rather important medical congress in New York.’

‘Really?’ She switched on her lovely eyes. ‘Then you’re a doctor?’

I gave a professional little nod.

She sighed. ‘Yours must be an absolutely fascinating life.’

‘Well, it has its moments.’

‘What is it you specialize in?’


‘I mean, you must really be a terribly important specialist, going for conferences all the way to New York.’

‘I’m afraid I’m a non-starter in the specialist stakes myself,’ I admitted. ‘But I was accompanying a rather important professional pundit. A London surgeon, name of Sir Lancelot Spratt.’

‘Oh, I’ve heard of him,’ said the girl at once. ‘Isn’t he always in the papers, treating dukes and cabinet ministers and film stars?’

‘That’s the one,’ I nodded.

I’d often suspected that after attending particularly distinguished households Sir Lancelot pretended his car wouldn’t start until someone had taken his photograph.

‘Yes, he wanted to operate on my father once. He was terribly persuasive about it.’

I’d also suspected Sir Lancelot believed nothing did anyone quite so much good as a really decent operation.

‘But Daddy wouldn’t let him. I remember there was quite a scene.’

We sat for a moment listening to the woosh of the jets, my memory being violently elbowed by my subconscious. I supposed the girl might have been one of my patients. But she didn’t seem one I was likely to forget, particularly if she’d had anything wrong below the clavicles. Perhaps I’d once passed her the canapés at some party. Perhaps I’d once told her the way to Marble Arch. Or perhaps, I reflected, noticing my martini eyeing me severely with its olive, I’d simply got to the stage when all girls were starting to look the same.

At that moment the Vicar’s daughter reappeared with the dinner. Conversation is, of course, impossible while you’re trying to sort out all that caviar, fruit tart, roast duck, peppermint fudge, Stilton cheese, and orchids mixed up on the same little plastic tray. I was still busy prising open the packets of salt and pepper and getting at my knife and fork wrapped in sterilized cellophane like a pair of surgical instruments, when the girl remarked,

‘I think Daddy was feeling rather peeved with doctors at the time. You see, my brother wanted to be a doctor, but somehow he never managed to get into one of the medical schools. The poor lamb’s so terribly shy at interviews, he always gets torpedoed by the first question with a psychological warhead.’

‘Your brother – !’

I stared at her. The penny dropped, with the noise of the tinkling of little silver bells.

‘Good lord,’ I smiled. ‘Where are the pigtails?’

The girl looked startled. ‘I beg your pardon?’

‘The pigtails. The ones I used to pull.’ I decided it best not to mention her spots. ‘That summer at Whortleton-on-Sea.’

She turned up the eyes to full candlepower.

‘You couldn’t possibly be Gaston Grimsdyke – ?’

‘I could.’

‘And you became a doctor – ?’

‘In the fullness of time, yes.’

She gave a little gasp.

‘Well, fancy that!’

‘And you couldn’t be Lucy Squiffington?’

‘But of course I am.’

‘Well, fancy

We both burst out laughing. I pressed the little plastic knob again.

My affair with Lucy, like some of the world’s great passions, had blossomed delicately on a patch of prickly dislike. I happened to pinch her bucket, so she hit me over the ear with her spade. Then she kidnapped the special crab I was keeping to put in her brother’s bed, so I slid an ice-cream down her neck. The tiff went on for ages – quite three whole sunlit days – until the afternoon I first discovered that a chap can go too far, when I jumped on her sandcastle with the real battlements and launched poor Lucy into a sea of tears. Luckily, I shortly afterwards had a chance to display my finer qualities by removing a bee from her neck, even though I did happen to know myself it was one of the sort which didn’t sting. After that, I showed her my collection of dead men’s fingers and she gave me a jellyfish, and there was no holding us.

‘What on earth is brother George up to now?’ I asked, after we’d had a bit of a giggle while the Vicar’s daughter hustled up with the buckshee champagne.

‘George? Oh, he’s doing terribly well. He’s one of those atomic scientists you keep reading about in the papers. He’s engaged in frightfully secret research for the Government somewhere in the middle of the country.’

‘What, old George?’ I exclaimed.

I was surprised. These atomic chaps have to pack heavyweight brains, and when we were at school together young Squiffy was what they called a late starter, though I myself fancied he was an early finisher as well. We were on marble-sharing terms, which accounted for his invitation to Whortleton, and in fact we sailed up the academic stream together until he became shipwrecked on Boyle’s Law and was told by the beaks that his only chance of getting into a hospital was being run over by a bus.

‘I think you’d find George a changed person now,’ observed Lucy, a little sternly.

‘I’m sure he’s got just the touch for the Government’s atoms,’ I added quickly. I supposed that Boyle’s Law was now as outdated as a forge and bellows, anyway. ‘I only meant that I hope he keeps the secrets well locked up.’

I remembered I’d once confided in the chap that I slept in my socks, and it was all round the school before break,

‘George never says a single word about his work to anyone. Not even to me, and we’ve shared secrets all our lives. But it must be frightfully important, because the poor lamb’s becoming quite nervy and edgy under the strain. I worry over him awfully, sometimes. But what about you, Gaston?’ She laid a little hand on my arm. ‘All sorts of exciting things must have happened since you bought me that stick of rock on the departure platform at Whortleton, That was terribly nice of you, by the way.’

‘Not a bit. Hope you enjoyed it?’

‘I suppose you’ve got some tremendously important practice in London?’

‘My practice, I’m afraid, is even more unexacting than Dr Watson’s,’ I told her, not wishing to go into it too deeply at the time.

Lucy looked puzzled. ‘But if you attended this important meeting in New York as a doctor–’

‘In New York I wasn’t a doctor. I was a ruddy nursemaid.’ I sighed. ‘And what I attended was less a medical meeting than the breeziest Anglo-American rumpus since the Boston Tea Party.’

‘But Gaston, this all sounds terribly intriguing.’

‘I’ll tell you about it,’ I declared. ‘Once I feel strong enough.’

I reached for the little plastic knob again.

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