This question was put to Professor William Blair-Bell by an anonymous correspondent sometime in 1926 or 1927, and serves as quite a good summary of the variety of letters received by him during his time spent on research work during the late-1920s. Newspapers throughout the country ran a story on the work on cancer treatments being carried out both in Liverpool and at other medical centres, and from the size of the files within this series of records, it seems that Blair-Bell was deluged with responses, ranging from professional medical enquiries and comments, to testimonials of miracle cures, and angry letters denouncing the medical profession for its inadequacy in treating loved ones!
One curious item found is in the form of a letter in French from a Monsieur C H Durocher, a French citizen of Martinique origin who described himself in an accompanying leaflet, as a teacher of physical education and boxing. He claimed in his letter to have had success in treating cancer with lead, in association with the ethos of a healthy and active life, and offered to come to England to show Blair-Bell his methods. It is difficult to tell whether Blair-Bell’s blunt reply to the negative was influenced by the fact that Durocher had been refused entrance into New York, or by the Frenchman’s enthusiasm and snapshots of himself semi-naked at work! (See image below)
These particular files of papers which I have been cataloguing are interesting for the way in which they reveal the scope of investigations and research into battling the increase in cancer cases, while at the same time showing general ignorance about the disease and about the capabilities of medics. Professor Blair-Bell was very much to the fore of these investigations, and much of his correspondence from private individuals, desperate to find a cure for relatives, is indicative of the pre-NHS era, when private approaches to medics were more common and, as we see from Blair-Bell’s papers, a huge part of his workload.
Another important feature of this collection is found in a file full of receipts for donations to the Lancashire, Cheshire and North Wales Council of the British Empire Cancer Research Campaign. These receipts show names and addresses of donors, and the form in which payments were made, as well as the amount of donation, and this could be a useful source on following funding for charitable organisations before the Second World War. This thick wad of receipts includes donations of over £1,000 from bequests, including from the estate of the later treasurer of the Liverpool Medical Research Organisation, Rex Cohen, with a donation of £10,000.
If only the recipe for the magical cure had been as simple as the one suggested by the correspondent at the start of this post: ‘A good warm suit, good food (not fruit or tinned stuff), rum at night, kept the army right – Try it.’
Penny Hutchins, RCOG Archivist