via email from Betty Barbara:
My Friend the Professor by Lucilla Andrews c 1960
171 pages of tiny type.
Yes, that’s the copy I read, published 1967 . (Betty Debbie here - sorry, I couldn't open the picture she sent - I'm visiting Betty Keira this week and don't have my 'tech support' here...he had to stay home - I substituted this less than awesome picture from Amazon.com).
Before we begin:
How to tell you are not reading a book by Betty Neels:
The book is told in first person, from the point of Frances Dorland, our nominal heroine.
There are almost no clothing descriptions.
There is no food. Wait, that’s not quite true. There are no glowing descriptions of food. I vaguely remember sandwiches being mentioned.
There is no Veronica.
There is no socking great Bentley.
There are no critters: no dogs, no cats
There are no Jollys
On to the story:
Our tale opens with the introduction of Frances Dorland, 19, on her way to start her nurse’s training at Martha’s Hospital. Well, actually at the training school that’s attached to the Hospital’s country annexe. Our Frances is no raving beauty, but fairly attractive and has great legs. We learn that Frances is no contender for the Gold Medal(like dear Rose Comely). She can be a bit dense, but she has a good heart.
Several other young ladies are also introduced:
Hannah More, who has her children’s qualification, but wants more. She exists(plot wise) as a way to introduce her personable medical student cousin Bart More.
Estelle Dexter, also 19, who is a newbie like Frances. Estelle is blonde, chic, the granddaughter (and sole heir) of Sir Hamilton Dexter. She has her own car and wears Dior when she‘s not wearing a uniform. As we go along we learn that she’s shy and smart. We like Estelle.
Preliminary Training School
P.T.S. is really Boot Camp. There’s the Sister in charge, who looks like an old battleaxe and her #2, Staff Nurse Nayler, who is always smiling. The girls quickly learn that Nayler’s smiles meant “only that she was showing her very good teeth”. Nurse Nayler is the villain of the PTS episode.
At PTS, the girls learn to make beds(the Martha’s way), wrap bandages, give injections, cook egg custard and make linseed poultices. They also learn basic anatomy-names and locations of bones, muscles and so on.
Late one Saturday afternoon Frances heads up the hill behind the campus. It starts with the thunder and lightening show and our Frances(who, very Neels like, hates storms) barely makes it to the top of the hill and the small shelter before it becomes really nasty.
And Lo and Behold the shelter is already occupied by the man we come to know as The Professor. Frances describes him as tall(check), thin(what?), of her parents’ generation(oh no!). While waiting out the storm they do the idle chit-chat thing, without exchanging names. He (and his binoculars) reveal that he’s a birdwatcher. She reveals that her father is a Turkey Farmer(!!!), gets hints on how not to curdle her egg custard. As often happens in these kind of conversations, she tells him more than she thinks she does.
While Frances is on the hillside meeting The Prof, Hannah and Estelle are in the village closest to the PTS, meeting Bart. Bart is a medical student at Martha’s, currently assigned to the country annexe. He’s about 25 and cute. Could Estelle be smitten?
Confidences are exchanged that evening. The girls speculate like crazy about who The Professor could be.
Estelle: “Are you positive he wasn’t one of our men?”
Frances: “If I thought I had unburdened myself to a senior member of Martha’s I’d walk our here and now.” And besides, she adds, “he’s not my type.”
Okay--it is obvious that what we have here is the first big hint and the first ‘famous last words’.
She gets a letter from him (big surprise--how did he know her name?), with an exclusive London Club as a return address and a signature that says he’s J.S.Slane. Very impersonal letter--here’s some bird pictures. Frances answers with an equally impersonal-do you know anything about linseed poultices. And thus a correspondence begins. He writes one week, she answers the next and so on. Frances stars looking forward to the letters and daydreaming about the Prof (though she invests him with a Mrs. Prof and a number of little Profs.). Somewhere over this time he goes from being a lot older to “not very much” older. In other words, our Frances is building castles in the sand. The daydreaming gets Frances in trouble with Sister Tutor. Her neck is saved by info from her ‘homework hotline’ aka The Prof. who gets the answer for her with some help from a pathologist he knows(Hint, hint)
The Waters Are Muddied
Bart comes up to the school to visit Hannah, Estelle and meets Frances. Hannah thinks that Bart and Frances should get together, but Bart seems more interested in Estelle (who is doing her best to ignore him).
London Here We Come
Our intrepid trio has successfully graduated from PTS and are now assigned to Martha’s in London. It appears to be situated on the river. It is an old hospital with a new wing under construction. It has NO air conditioning.
Frances and Estelle’s first assignment is Josephine Ward, or Women’s Medical. As student nurses, they catch all the grunt work, like cleaning bed pans and arranging flowers (what?). Frances develops a nice relationship with several of the long-term patients, especially young Lily Ellis. Bart starts spending a lot of time in Josephine Ward. Frances treats him like a brother, Estelle keeps giving him the cold shoulder.
The Fateful Trip to the Path Lab, part one
The Path Lab is the domain of the reclusive Dr Sir Marcus Eversley. He’s smart, he’s really rich, he’s a Baronet, he comes just this side of walking on water, he’s a bachelor, and appears to be married to the job. He does not show up in the gossip columns. He is not to be bothered by mere student nurses.
One fine day Frances is sent off to the Path lab to deliver a blood sample, stat! Of course our Frances gets lost on the way but finally makes it and delivers it into the hands of the man in the director’s office. He’s bald, plump, absentmindedly friendly. Frances believes she has met the elusive Sir Marcus. But the clever Bettys among us have our doubts, don’t we ladies?
Frances is definitely developing a one-track mind where the Prof his concerned, spending way too much time daydreaming about him and mooning over his letters. And then she gets The Phone Call of Shock. It’s the Prof, calling to tell her he’s met her parents, had a nice chat about bird watching with her father. He makes meeting them sound so natural and logical. She finally gets up enough nerve to ask him what he does and he vaguely replies that he’s “one of the many variant types of Civil Servants” and then complains about the paperwork.
Frances goes home on one of her days off, to consult with Mum. Alas, her timing is bad and her parents are busy de-beaking the turkeys. (No, I didn’t look it up. I didn’t want to know). So no help from Mum.
Back in Josephine Ward, young Mrs Lily Ellis dies, late one night, with Frances at her side. Frances is shook up(her first patient death), and goes seeking some fresh air and a place to cry in private. And runs into the Prof on an outside staircase (a short cut from the car park). He whisks her away for a drive. (No we don’t learn what kind of car he drives). He feeds her sandwiches (found in a pocket of his mac), chocolate and whisky. Gotta love a man who keeps chocolate bars and a flask of whisky in his glove compartment. Frances sobs (but not on his shoulder) and mops up with one of his hankies. He returns her to the Nurses’ Home All seems well.
The Waters Are Further Muddied
Bart and Frances run into each other on an afternoon off and spend some time sitting on a park bench, feeding the ducks (or is it pigeons or squirrels--never mind). The air is cleared. Frances says she can see he’s interested in Estelle, so why isn’t he pushing it? Bart does the whole “woe is me, I’m poor. What do I have to offer the granddaughter of the richest man in England?” and so on and so forth. As they’re sitting there, heads together, Bart notices Sir Marcus walking by, but Frances doesn’t seen him.
It’s time to switch assignments:
Frances is now in Out Patients and encounters the hostility of one Nurse Vickers. What is up with that?
Frances has an afternoon off and heads out to sit on the terrace. When who should appear but the Prof!! Where did he spring from? He offers another packet of sandwiches. They should have been his lunch, but he forgot to eat. Frances reads him the riot act over living on coffee and tobacco. Mrs. Prof should take better care of him. Hmmmm, there is no Mrs Prof. During the chat Frances mentions that she had met Sir Marcus. Did the Prof perhaps know him? Funny, the Prof spends a lot of time fiddling with his pipe and not looking at Frances. Frances then asks his advice (now he’s Dear Abby) on how to help Bart and Estelle, but she fails to mention Estelle’s name. At the end of that conversation, the Prof says “good-bye” and makes it sound final, puzzling Frances no end.
And then, no more letters, no more phone calls.
Two months pass in one sentence
(Picture pages being torn from a daily calendar and floating off like blown leaves).
Scarlet fever outbreak among the nurses and Estelle falls seriously ill. She might not make it. She’s moved from Martha’s to another hospital that specializes in fever cases.
In the midst of this crisis there’s a phone call from the Prof. He’s just making sure she’s okay. Frances can’t really worry about the Prof right now, she’s too busy kicking Bart out of his despair by telling him that Estelle loves him! And he needs to let Estelle (sick though she is)know how much he loves her. Write her a letter, you dolt!
Ahhh, Estelle survives (did we doubt it?), thanks to modern miracle drugs.
The Fateful Trip to the Path Lab, part two
Frances, now working nights in Men’s Surgical, is sent up to the Path lab with a blood sample for Sir Marcus. She is to give it to him and come right back. She knows where is office is, knocks on his door, walks in and sees (drum roll) The Prof!! Surprise, surprise. She has no time to stick around for explanations.
Frances has a good deal of time to try and figure out why he hid his identity from her. All those snide “teacher’s pet” sort of comments now make sense. He doesn’t try to see her, merely writes her a nice letter of apology.
Back to the Beginning
Frances is loaned to the country annexe. And on her day off climbs the hill to the shelter where the Prof is waiting for her. The Great Misunderstanding about Bart is finally cleared up. The Great Deception is discussed. The air is cleared. She declares that he’s not too old (42); he decides that she’s not too young(19). “I love you”s are exchanged.
Big kisses. The end.
Thoughts from Betty Barbara:
I never really bought the romance between Sir Marcus and Frances. He is obviously smitten by the fresh, young woman he meets on the hill. He goes to a lot of trouble to learn her name, engineer a meeting with her family and so on. And (or is it ‘But’), he never lets his interest show . His letters are always impersonal as are his phone calls.
So this brings us to Frances. She builds this vast romance in her head from the flimsiest of evidence. When the letters and phone calls stop she isn’t really surprised--she always figured he would lose interest in her someday. Her feelings always struck me as more schoolgirl crush than true love.
They have only a handful of face to face meetings in the whole book, and an equally small number of phone calls. We never get a glimpse of what was said in the letters. but we are given to understand that the contents are innocuous.
I was never given enough evidence to let me believe that grand finale.
All of the emotional oomph of the book goes to Bart and Estelle. They have the believable romance and get the happy ending that they deserve. Thank goodness for Bart and Estelle.
This book shows its age much more than the Betty’s do. The medical practices and day to day hospital life are detailed more than in the Neels books. We get pages of how awful it is in the non-air-conditioned wards, for example. And all that detail ties the story to the date it was written.
I’d give this a Treacle Tart or maybe, Mince Pies.
For my fellow Bettys:
If, after all this, you are interested in reading this book I will gladly mail you my copy, no charge.
Warning: This copy is yellow and brittle with age. The cover is held on with strapping tape, The glue is failing and the last pages have come loose. Thus the rubber band to make sure that no pages get lost.