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Al Capps' wooden leg


Al Capp's political life
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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I saw quite a lot of Al, who was a... a strange figure in the 1960s, in the middle and late 1960s when I met him. All of the brothers had been communists or fellow travellers, that was the thing for an intellectual person to be in the 1930s, and then of course with the purges, and this and that, many people were disillusioned, but because Al had become famous and because he had a communist or fellow travelling past, HUAC – the House Committee for Anti-American Activities... have I got that right? – wanted... wanted him.

I... as far as I understand, one of his brothers took the heat. I don’t know the details, but however, Al did something which I think is sometimes called identification with the aggressor – he himself, from having been ardently liberal and strongly left, became ardently conservative and strongly right. And it was a reversal, although he could never quite become the darling of the right, because his... his sense of satire and mockery and wit were such that one never knew when he was being serious or not, and... and things he said could be very damaging if one... if the tone was misunderstood. So... so there was this extraordinary sort of position he was in.

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: House Committee for Anti-American Activities, Al Capp

Duration: 2 minutes, 9 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012