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Tom Conti's quadriplegic in Whose Life is it Anyway?


Judi Dench's portrayal in A Kind of Alaska
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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A Kind of Alaska opened in London in 1982, and I went to the opening performance where Judi Dench plays the patient. I was immensely moved, and moved to tears by the performance, and also often to laughter, as it's a wonderful play. And I went up to Judi Dench to meet her and to convey my compliments, and I asked her if she had in fact seen any such patients or... or read the book or seen the documentary, and she said, 'No, Harold wouldn't allow that'. She said, 'Harold wants us to create a character entirely from his words'. So I thought that was very interesting. I also went to the final performance with Judi Dench, and I didn't like it as much. I didn't say that to her, but she told me spontaneously that she had now seen some of the patients and that she had seen the documentary of Awakenings, and I think that perhaps this had had an adverse affect on her, although I've seen the opposite in... with other people, with other actors.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: A Kind of Alaska, Awakenings, Harold Pinter, Judi Dench

Duration: 1 minute, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012