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Wellcome Film of the Month: Family doctor, 1946

18 Feb, 2011

This film was commissioned by the British Medical Association and directed by Richard Massingham (1898-1953). He was known as the “British surrealist” for his off-beat and humorous public information films for the British Government. Interestingly, he had a career in medicine before he became a filmmaker, which explains the sympathetic (bordering on sentimentalised) view he shows of the profession. Family doctor was made at a crossroads in health policy. Many GPs were fiercely opposed to the establishment of the National Health Service (NHS). Behind the scenes, the relationship between the BMA and government was very strained.

The dramatised story in Family doctor centres around the relationship of a father and son who are both doctors. It illustrates some of the pressures and sacrifices in being a family doctor (night call outs, rushed lunches…). The message is that the relationship between the doctor and patient is the foundation of medical treatment. The paternalistic, humane and more ‘holistic’ approach of the experienced and older GP is underlined, thereby subtly undermining the attitude of the highly trained medically (but newly qualified) younger doctor.

Highlights of the film are the elder GP dispensing marriage guidance advice, offering cigarettes during the consultation and smoking a pipe (part 2).



The film print held by the Wellcome Library is very worn from decades of use in a projector and the quality of the viewing experience (digitised warts and all) may be disappointing. Due to the subject’s historical relevance today especially in light of the BMA’s objections to the speed of reform of the NHS currently being debated in parliament, it’s hoped that a new copy can be made from the original negative.

Other Wellcome Library titles made by Richard Massingham:

Handkerchief drill, 1949

Don’t spread germs, 1948

and about the early days of the NHS:

Here’s health, 1948

Charley your very good health, 1948

Hospitals for all, 1948

Wellcome Film

You can learn about the Wellcome Film project here. If you would like to make use of this archive footage in your own projects, please visit the Wellcome Library catalogue to download the original file, which is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales licence.

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