My best teacher

Harvey McGavin

D A R Young, whom we called Darry, was my first-form master at St Paul's school and he was an English scholar, an eccentric and a great stimulator of love for English literature.

He was an extraordinary figure. He would often stop teaching and read to us, usually Dickens, most often The Pickwick Papers, for which he had an extraordinary love. The volume he had was extremely battered; it might have been a first edition it was so old. It was loose-leaf because it had been opened and closed so often that the binding and the pages had come apart. He would start reading and if he thought someone was being inattentive he would shut the book and throw it in the direction of the boy concerned. There would be a shower of paper and the boy would have to put the pages together in the right order.

He had some curious mannerisms. He didn't like boys picking their nose, and when he noticed someone doing it, rather than draw attention to them he would draw a pick and shovel on the board. He didn't really interface in other ways with the boys and he was rather frightening, but also compassionate. His bark was worse than his bite.

I think he understood the disorientation for these small boys coming into a large school such as St Paul's which was an academic hot-house. He only taught me for a year, when I was 13 - he died the following year.

Several people at medical school had a huge influence on me. One of my favourites was Donald Hunter, one of Britain's leading diagnostic physicians. He was best known for inventing industrial medicine, and he drew attention to the concerns of people working in unhealthy environments, such as lung disease in coal miners.

He was the most extraordinary teacher. We would be waiting on the ward for him and he would turn up late and appear to jump through the swing doors like a huge ape, and land on all fours. He would get the first quivering student and say: "Present this patient's history!" On one occasion, a patient had come in complaining of pain in the abdomen. Dr Hunter looked at the clinical notes at the bottom of the bed and said:

"Where's the picture?" because the student hadn't delineated by diagram where the pain was. He said, "One picture is worth a thousand words." Then he asked, "Sister, where's the body stamp?" He took the inkpad and body stamp and in front of the ward, patients and students, proceeded to stamp this poor student's white coat all over, then inked his forehead for good measure. The coat became a prized possession.

Another time, we were in outpatients and someone remarked that we had never seen anyone have an epileptic fit. About half an hour afterwards, Dr Hunter, who suffered from an ulcer and kept a bottle of milk in his desk to soothe the pain, took a drink of his milk and collapsed. He started foaming at the mouth and jerking, then lay on the floor motionless. We were terrified, we thought he had died. We were wondering what to do when in walks the sister and says: "Oh, Dr Hunter, stop teasing these poor students, sit up and drink your milk nicely."

I've never forgotten what an epileptic fit looked like. He was brilliant, a wonderful, delightful man and a great teacher. I don't think they make them like that any more.

Fertility pioneer and television presenter Lord Robert Winston was talking to Harvey McGavin


1940 Born in London

1953 St Paul's school, London

1958 London Hospital Medical College, University of London

1974 Conducts first successful tubal and ovarian transplant

1978 First TVseries, Your Life in Their Hands. Others include Making Babies

(1996), The Human Body (1998) and The Secret Life of Twins (1999)

1981 Sets up first NHS in vitro fertilisation programme

1987 onwards Professor of fertility studies, University of London

1995 Made life peer

2001 A Child of Our Time, BBC1 series following the development of 25

children from birth to adulthood (concludes tonight)

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Harvey McGavin

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