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My debt of gratitude to Dylan Thomas

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Colour-coding patients
Desmond Morris Writer
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I eventually ended up in the medical corps. And I thought, well, this should be all right and I'll learn something about medicine... I had no idea how awful this was going to be.

I never forget the first lecture I went to in the medical corps. A sergeant came in and he said, 'Right, sit down'. And so we all sat down. He said, 'Now then', he said, 'what do you look for?' And we don't know what he's talking about.  'What do you look for when a patient comes in? A body's brought in – what do you look for?' And we said, 'Don't know, sergeant. What...?' 'Symptoms', he said, 'got to look for symptoms'. Oh. 'What sort of symptoms are you going to look for?' This is the kind of lecture we were having. So we said, 'We don't know, sergeant'. He said, 'Colour. You've got to look at the colour of your patient. Now then', he said, 'if he's blue – he's cold, if he's red – he's bleeding, if he's white – he's dead, and if he's green... if he's green – he's gorn orff'. I immediately applied for another transfer. That was too much for me.

Born in Wiltshire, UK in 1928, Desmond Morris had a strong interest in natural history from his boyhood. Later, as an undergraduate, he studied zoology, and after obtaining a First Class Honours Degree from the University of Birmingham, he moved to the Oxford University Zoology Department where he began his research into animal behaviour for his doctorate thesis. In 1957, having moved to London, Morris famously organised an exhibition at the ICA of art work created by Congo the chimpanzee. Morris's engagement with the visual arts remains strong and he has often exhibited many of his own paintings since 1950 when his paintings went on show alongside those of the surrealist painter, Jean MirĂ³. 1950 was also the year when Morris began his career in TV creating and presenting Zootime and Life in the Animal World. Soon after this, he began work on a book that has proved a huge best-seller, The Naked Ape. Focusing on human behaviour, it was the first in a series of books in which the author observes humans primarily as a species of animal. Today, Desmond Morris has lost none of his inquisitiveness and continues to observe and write about what he sees in the world around him.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: medical corps, lecture, sergeant, patient

Duration: 1 minute, 13 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2014

Date story went live: 06 November 2014