Book Review / Doctor off the Boil
Parker, Peter, The Independent (London, England)
In the innocent days before hospital Trusts and Cardiac Arrest, people would chortle over Richard Gordon's saucy medical comedies: Doctor in the House, Doctor on the Boil, Doctor in the Nude and so on. The British film industry leapt upon these stories with delight and produced numerous movies featuring the young Dirk Bogarde and a succession of pert starlets in starched uniforms. Later films starred the more convincingly libidinous Leslie Phillips, and were followed by a television series; but after publishing 16 "Doctor" novels, Gordon moved on. He became a regular contributor to Punch and produced a large number of other books, mostly comic.
As one might expect, therefore, his new book belongs on those dispiriting shelves labelled "Humour". Epigraphs taken from Sir Thomas Browne, Plato, Tennyson, Bacon and Rabelais raise false hopes that Gordon's history will be scholarly as well as funny but the first chapter, a laborious "fable" about God in his "delightful riverside garden at Eden", instantly quells them.
The Alarming History of Sex is neither alarming, nor a history of sex. Cobbled together almost entirely from secondary and well-mined sources, it takes the form of a brisk stroll along the dusty corridors of the past, with occasional pauses to look at such subjects as the wives of Henry VIII, the numerous suitors of Elizabeth I, the mistresses of Napoleon and Wellington, Queen Victoria and John Brown, Jack theRipper, Hitler ("Sex Heil!") and - for some reason - Victorian sanitation.
A chapter entitled "The Myth of Feminism" outlines the history of women's suffrage - largely confined to the story of Emily Davison and the king's horse. Another, "Virgin Territory", contains some vaguely relevant remarks about chastity and chivalry, but ends with two sections devoted to "The Virgin Islands" (size, location, history, climate etc) and "The Virginals" ("a favourite domestic instrument of the 16th and early 17th centuries").
When not padding out his text with such digressions, Gordon simply rehashes old stories and subjects: W T Stead and "The Maiden Tribute of Babylon", Dr William Acton and his obsession with the evils of masturbation, Freud and the unconscious. The bibliography for …
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Publication information: Article title: Book Review / Doctor off the Boil. Contributors: Parker, Peter - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: June 8, 1996. Page number: 13. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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