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Nurturing my fledgling interest in science


The importance of passing on family history
Harold Lambert Physician
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I come from an immigrant family. I was born in Hackney and both halves at different times come from Poland; my mother's family in the 1890s and my father arrived by way of Germany and, thank goodness, only staying there for a year in about 1919. And my father had left school at 14 and my mother, I suppose because... a poor family in Britain would also leave school at 14 or maybe 15 in those days... the same. And when he'd... they were very, very poor initially and we lived in a flat above a shop in Commercial Road, now demolished because I once tried to look for it, it's in a roundabout or something or a traffic thing and then when they rather classical immigrant fashion they'd... he'd made enough money to go slightly more upmarket, we moved then to Willesden, Brondesbury, Cricklewood, until the war when the children were evacuated and all broke up in various directions and bombing and this sort of stuff.

And my father was a very... well, one thing, he was an extraordinarily hardworking chap and although he had no education he was a terribly searching chap. When he had more time he was an avid reader, mostly history and politics and he was, you know, as I realised later, perhaps a bit too late, an interesting bloke to talk to but as I got older we talked more together. And, you know, he was, I now realise, a quite... a one-off, you know. He was an unusual chap and he had this burning interest. He felt... he wasn't the least bit vain and the question of university degrees he couldn't have cared less about, they were absolutely irrelevant to him. But he felt the lack of an educational structure on which his interest would hang. I mean, he didn't need it actually but he felt it and, and as he got older, of course, you know, the old age things are history and gardening. I don't think he did much gardening but history is the great old age activity and he got into that in a big way.

[Q] People seem, often seem to be, to use a word 'proud' about their parents or about their parents for children. Did you feel he admired your work or he understood your work, or...?

Oh yes. Oh yes, they were very, very proud and I think one was, as a young, brash person, not exactly dismissive but you didn't focus enough on these old people's lives and that's why my wife, Joan, is very, very keen on people of my age writing down or recording their experience because you know you love and know your grandchildren, then you die off and then the grandchild, then an adult, says, yeah, I remember that funny old boy, what, what did he do with himself, what life did he lead? And I don't know, I know something but not all that much about the previous... I know my father's and mother's life, of course, and my mother came from a big family and seven children. Her father died very young and she was the middle of them. Yeah, I do think older people should relate to what they have experienced, especially people who have either lived through or been part of the wars and the great things. I mean, you know, Tolstoy is quite wrong. All families are interesting, not just the unhappy ones.

British doctor Harold Lambert (1926-2017) spent his career tackling infectious diseases, helping in the development of pyrazinamide as an effective treatment for tuberculosis. He also published work on the rational use of antibiotics and was a trustee and medical advisor for the Meningitis Research Foundation.

Listeners: Roger Higgs

Roger Higgs was an inner city GP for 30 years in south London, UK, and is Emeritus Professor of General Practice at Kings College London, where he set up the department.

He gained scholarships in classics at Cambridge but changed to medicine after a period of voluntary work in Kenya in 1962. He was Harold Lambert's registrar for 18 months in the early 1970s, the most influential and exciting episode in his hospital training. He set up his own practice in 1975. He helped to establish medical ethics as a practical and academic subject through teaching, writing and broadcasting, and jointly set up the 'Journal of Medical Ethics' in 1975.

His other work included studies in whole person assessment and narrative in general practice and development work in primary medical care: innovations here included intermediate care centres, primary care assessment in accident and emergency departments, teaching internal medicine in general practice and establishing counselling services in medicine.

He was made MBE in 1987 for this development work and now combines bioethics governance, teaching and writing with an arts based retirement.

Tags: Poland, Willesden, Brondesbury, Cricklewood, Joan Lambert

Duration: 3 minutes, 30 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008