My First Job: Graeme Garden, radio and TV humorist and ex-Goodie, trained seriously as a doctor

'I experience a better form of hypochondria'
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The Independent Online

Graeme Garden went to the bad long before the Goodies: "I fell in with the wrong crowd: Tim Brooke-Taylor, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Bill Oddie..." It had begun so well. "My father was a surgeon. Most of the adults I knew were doctors or teachers - and doctors seemed a better role model. At school I was quite good at science and did A-levels in chemistry, physics and biology."

Then, instead of taking the fast track of pre-clinical study at medical school, he took the slow-track university route: three years of the Cambridge Natural Sciences course on anatomy, physiology and biochemistry. "It was just studying the sciences, dissecting genuine animals and doing lots of experiments. There was not much in the way of actual people, apart from watching lab technicians taking each other's blood pressure - and ourselves being used as guinea-pigs, breathing air depleted of oxygen: you pass out."

Health and safety regulations were rather more lax in the Sixties. The same is true of Seventies television series: "We wouldn't be allowed today to do some of the Goodies stunts." There was even a risk assessment carried out for Bromwell High, the cartoon series launched last year on Channel 4, in which Graeme just had to speak into a microphone. Even so, one can't be too careful: "You might trip over a cable.")

When not passing out in labs, he went along to the Cambridge Footlights club and was auditioned by its president, a young Tim Brooke-Taylor, and fellow Goodie. After graduating, Graeme began his clinical training at King's College Hospital in London. It was during this period that he began moonlighting on a radio series with Brooke-Taylor and Cleese.

Finding the time for this was difficult when he was doing his obstetrics course in Plymouth, sewing up new mothers: "The aircraft-carrier Ark Royal had been in Plymouth nine months before, so we were very busy."

It was only after his three years of training was over that he came to "the fork in the road". Offered a part in a television comedy series, he accepted on the grounds that this might not happen again, while medical jobs came up all the time. "I took the road less travelled."

He also took himself off the official medical register. "My medical knowledge is a blessing - or a curse. I experience a slightly better form of hypochondria, with a wider variety of conditions to choose from, for me and others. I did actually buy a medical textbook the other day. It's a fascinating subject."

'The Pocket Orchestra: The Unlikely Lives of the Great Composers', by Graeme Garden and Callum McLeod, opens at Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall, London SW1 on Monday. The next Radio 4 series of 'I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue' starts on 22 May

jonty@jonathansale.com

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