Monday, March 23, 2015

Eric Clapton, D-Day, Penicillin 'brewing' Churchill's defeat

In very early June 1944, just before he left for D-Day, a Canadian soldier named Eddie Fryer and a local Ripley Surrey lass named Patty Clapton made a little history of their own : Eric 'Slowhands' Clapton.

Yes, that Eric Clapton.

As this particular Boomer child is about to celebrate his 70th birthday this week, I thought I might inject a fascinating bit of medical and political trivia about his earliest days, to contrast with to all the media stories focusing on his later musical career.

Patty, together with her parents Rose and Jack, in the course of Patty's pregnancy and after baby Eric was born, had frequent cause to visit the community's best known pharmacist (chemist) Ken White.

White was at that time much in the news for his defiant production of his own home-brewed penicillin, which he then supplied to local GPs and their patients.

Word of all the massive supplies of penicillin now available to American civilian patients had caused much anguish among British voters, even among young potential Conservative voters, irate at their Churchill government for not supplying them likewise.

'After all, was it not we British who first discovered the stuff ?'

Trouble was - literally - 'brewing' for Winston Churchill in Surrey's stockbroker belt

Now Ripley and Surrey generally were prime Conservative voter territory.

For a tired government about to face the voters for the first time in ten years, the wide newspaper support given to Ken White's protesting actions down in Surrey should have been - in retrospect- an ominous warning sign to Conservative Central Office officials.

Now the most remarkable thing about the 1945 General Election was not really the huge size of the Tory defeat and Labour win but rather that neither side, as well as no commentators, saw it coming.

There was little contemporary pre-ballot polling data to accounted for this unexpected sea change in british politics.

However, the general consensus among political scientists today is that voter concern about postwar unfairness in allocating scarce resources , particularly lifesaving medical resources, was what triggered the shift to the relatively uninspiring Labour Party campaign.

I believe that the most visible signs of unfairness in allocating lifesaving medical resources in the year before the June 1945 vote were over inadequate civilian penicillin supplies, of which stories about Ken White and others' alternative efforts were but one symbol.

It might all come down to a question of musical taste versus interest in politics, but I am inclined to think that the event in Ripley circa 1945 that is most worth celebrating seventy years later was not young Eric, but rather Ken White's election-changing home brewed penicillin ...

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