‘The Doctor Says’ . . . don’t eat fruit skins, pinch yourself, and show off your unattractive knobbly limbs

In 1957, the venerable medic pulled no punches in his advice to Irish Times readers


In the year Sputnik orbited in space, Asian Flu spread across the globe, and the Little Rock Civil Rights crisis erupted in the US, readers of The Irish Times followed world and national events in both the daily paper and the weekly Irish Pictorial.

At home, 1957 saw the introduction of a vaccination for polio, which had killed or crippled hundreds of children. And, in October, a voluntary health insurance scheme was launched: “Men who are excluded from the free State medical services because their income is too high – or men who prefer to pay their own way than to depend on a State handout – can insure themselves and their families under the new scheme, at a reasonable cost.” That cost ranged between 10 guineas and £18 15 shillings for a couple with two children.

The pictorial paper was a popular choice for health-related advertisements, some marketing drugs to treat flu symptoms, including aspirin, or the more narcotic-laden chlorodyne – a mixture of chloroform, morphine, cannabis and laudanum. Lucozade promoted its energy-giving attributes for invalids rather than athletes, while many of the copious digestive remedies being touted are still familiar today: Andrews, Rennies, and Milk of Magnesia.

Irish Pictorial – Saturday, November 9th, 1957
Irish Pictorial – Saturday, November 9th, 1957

“The Doctor Says”, a column penned by a medic, was just one regular feature, alongside photo essays, fashion, comic strips and crosswords. It covered topics as diverse as varicose veins, air travel, peptic ulcers, memory, ear wax, and dangerous toys.

So what did “The Doctor” have to say in 1957?

Don’t eat fruit skins

“We should be grateful that we can peel off the germs. When one thinks of all the grubby hands which have fondled, say, a pound of tomatoes before we carry them away from the greengrocer’s counter, we ought to be mighty thankful that we can strip the filthy outer covering before we eat the tomato pulp. The number and variety of germs per square inch on the skin of a pound of tomatoes or plums is quite fantastic.”

Mind your eyes!

“For some odd reason or other, people expect their eyes to go on working at full power indefinitely. Yet, those same old dears of 50 years or more don’t mind admitting that they can no longer plant potatoes, run for a bus or play three consecutive sets of tennis. There’s nothing you can do to prevent these changes in the muscle and lens of the eye. They’re merely a sign that you’re not quite so young . . . Having acknowledged this fact, have your eyes tested as a 45th birthday present to yourself.

“One other important point. NEVER do fine or close work, or reading in a poor light. The difference in annual cost between reading your evening paper by the light of an old 60-watt bulb and a new 150 isn’t the price of three mutton chops. The saving in eyeache is tremendous.”

No drugs for the driver

“Nowadays, we can travel faster than ever before, but the joys of travelling are probably not much greater. I have never heard of such a thing as ‘cab sickness’ or ‘trap sickness’ but car sickness is a very real modern problem.

“Daddy has a major undertaking on his hands today when he tries to get his family to the seaside. With crowded roads, hot stuffy cars with no sliding roofs, fast cornering and going like the wind when the old man gets the bit between his teeth, the back garden is beginning to seem an attractive place not only to the grown-ups but even to many children.”

Pinch yourself to check weight

“Quite a sizeable proportion of the women who fill a doctor’s waiting-room do so because they want to get their weight down. I think the basic reason for this is that the fatter you are the fewer are the clothes you can buy that will fit you: apparently some fashion designers seem to think women ought to be invisible when viewed sideways.

“The question arises, when is one overweight? Is there any reliable way of assessing what constitutes too much fat? One simple way is to pinch up a fold of flesh on the wall of the tummy in front. Choose a bit in the middle line and about halfway between the umbillicus and the groin, and gather it up between your finger and thumb. In a man this “nipped up” bit should be about as thick as his little finger and in a woman no thicker than her thumb. Be a bit more generous in your measuring when you’re over 40.”

Save yourself some spots

“A hundred years ago, nearly all the rashes and spots on the human skin are due to some disease or disorder. Nowadays, just as many are caused by the drugs used in the treatment of various conditions. How do you know if your rash is caused by a drug? The trick is to lock the stuff away in a cupboard and see if the rash goes away.

‘The Doctor Says’, from the weekly Irish Pictorial paper from the Irish Times.
‘The Doctor Says’, from the weekly Irish Pictorial paper from the Irish Times.

“But if your face begins to look like a badly painted shop-front after your doctor gives you an injection, it’s advisable to let him know. If you tell your doctor . . . that you’re the sort of person who’s liable to get a rash . . . you can save him palpitations.”

Throw it away

“The advantages of letting a baby have a soothing dummy teat to suck are pretty obvious. It very often keeps the child quiet – a job his mother can’t always be on hand to do.

“My advice is: don’t start a child off with a dummy if it’s the placid, cheerful type. If it isn’t, it’s justifiable to use a very carefully cleaned comforter a few times a day. But even then, as the baby at six or seven months gets around to eating a little solid food, it should be thrown away.”

Beating the heat

“A word about clothes. If you’re hot just put on enough to prevent getting yourself getting arrested, but if you’re fair-complexioned or if you normally wear a hat, don’t start going without one for hours on end in the hot sun . . .

“I think far too few open-necked shirts are worn by men over 40. You won’t get cold through letting the air get to your Adam’s apple though you may not look very dressy. Men, too, could wear shorts more often than they do. If we all did it, women would eventually get used to our unattractive knobbly limbs.”

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