A doctor dissects a dream medical career in Film and TV in an entertaining manner…
Dr John Gayner writes about his medical career where he gave advice on film sets and was a medical consultant to those film and TV Stars.
‘You’ve Got A Friend’ | Fundraising For National Bereavement Partnership, National Bereavement Partnership
As a one time UK health professional – and without breaking client confidentiality – I can tell you I had two near TV and film famous encounters in the course of my then work. These non-events happened to me once as a student nurse and once as a mental health staff nurse, but never as an occupational therapist.
Just reading the description of this book, A Doctor For All Seasons written by Dr John Gayner, I was keen to read more about his dream job in films. He explains in his career;
“I worked for film insurers, production companies and actors, where I observed accidents that do not occur in everyday life, but are caused by directors’ desires for particular shots and the action misfiring.”
Gayner and my star-struck stories – like this book – reinforce that just because you are a famous film or TV star yourself, it doesn’t make you exempt from mental health problems, physical illness and injury. And, as I’ve discovered in my career in health, surprisingly not a lot of people know this.
Gayner stresses in his book that all those famous names mentioned in the book and their illnesses, injuries and treatment can be found in the public domain. So don’t expect an unofficial juicy expose of the stars, as this doctor is the consummate professional and he keeps confidentiality at all times.
Gayner is a genial, non-judgmental and down to earth writer, with no signs of a pompous or a show-off name dropping attitude as he tells about his amazing starry clients. This book is an eclectic mix of autobiography, starry consultations, riveting remembrances and always delightful anecdotes.
Gayner writes as just a man who got a unique lucky break in a showbiz themed career. His writing is comparable to another fortunate man with a dream film career, Leonard Maltin. In Gayner’s prologue, he tells of a time when he treated a then young actress, Angelina Jolie with a knee problem. He saw this client as she filmed a Tomb Raider movie. He adds naturally and candidly that at the time he thought “she must be well known” and that “she was certainly rather striking”. This perfectly shows his unpretentious writing.
Gayner recounts his British medical career in a linear approach from 1970 onwards. The first two chapters are titled The Medical Houseman and The Surgical Houseman. These chapters are more from an autobiographical manner as he tells a little about his career during this time. There are warm and affectionate tales about a consultant he worked with at this time, who reminded him of Sir Lancelot Spratt in the Doctor in the House (1955) movies.
In these chapters, I was reminded of the Richard Gordon Doctor book series, – on which these films were based – as I warmed easily to this medical-themed memoir. Gayner’s antics on the wards that he writes about during this time are fun, engaging and warmly remembered. These beautifully set the tone for this book. Gayner helpfully explains relevant medical terms as appropriate and abbreviations in a comprehensive and non-patronising way, that anyone can understand.
Gayner is a natural storyteller and he then tells of his enviable career as a doctor for treating those stars from the movies, TV and theatre. He tells how he wanted to be a doctor from the age of 11. After working in Canada, he worked in London. Gayner shares the first of his star-studded tales. He tells how after he gave an injection to the ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, in June 1973;
“he did a magnificent jump and a pirouette before putting his pyjama bottoms back on.”
Gayner’s career in showbusiness however has a surprising beginning. In 1966, while he was a medical student, he worked as a film extra in A Man for all Seasons (1966). He writes vividly about the making of this film and gives some fascinating insights. These included a near-miss medical remembrance of this time as he tells how the leading man, Paul Schofield – as Sir Thomas More – nearly lost his head literally on the execution block.
He shares how this dream job came to be after he treated actor Doug McClure. McClure had invited him to treat him on the set of The Land that Time Forgot (1975). This then led to a job offer from the film insurers to give medicals to both the cast and directors in the movies which Gayner accepted.
Then you’ll be even more starry-eyed as Gayner tells his marvellous memories of his career in those remaining chapters which cover his career from the 1970s to 2019. There are big film, director and acting names either fleetingly mentioned or embellished. However, all are read about in awe and wonder as Gayner tells how he worked on film sets from London to Ukraine. There are so many familiar names in this book, from then-child actors Christian Bale, Daniel Radcliffe and Catherine Zeta Jones to the late Patrick Swayze, Sir John Mills and Roger Moore.
Gayner’s life stories included a story about my favourite actor, Jack Nicholson. Gayner was called on to “see, examine and report on” Nicholson who had an intensive day’s filming as this actor made The Shining (1980). In this decade, Gayner also remembers flying to Budapest to treat another well-known client, Lesley Anne Down on the set of Sphinx (1981) and travelling to the Alps in Switzerland for a Sean Connery film, Five Days One Summer (1982). Gayner writes lovingly of his time on location for this latter film, with amazing off-screen tales including movie nights where director Fred Zinnemann explained how he filmed his movies.
Gayner outlines the medical advice he gave to directors. These included the filming of those flying scenes in the Superman films where he gave advice to prevent medical problems (see the main photograph). Gayner also has treated non-medical problems with his clients. In a heartwarming story, he shares how he gave Marlon Brando the confidence to perform through some more magical means. And when writing of magical moments, Gayner also fondly remembers treating Uri Geller, and proudly adds he was given an exclusive showing of Geller’s bent spoon trick.
When Gayner writes about the more controversial and high profile names in his book – especially in the chapter Film Career Mishaps – he does so in a matter of fact and non-judgmental way of those consultations. These more controversial moments are however balanced with much more poignant tales.
This doctor tells how he assisted Peter Sellers to get admitted to a hospital, and this was the day before Sellers passed away. He also recalls while he helped Shelley Duvall, on the set of The Shining. She appeared to be having a difficult time due to the demands on set. This story however ends on a happier note as Gayner suggested she take a wee break as this actress was not needed on set for a few days. This actress took a plane to visit her then off-screen lover.
He has also provided medical advice for providing support for actors. Gayner describes how he advised Steven Spielberg on how to film scenes with Harrison Ford after the actor had had surgery for a slipped disc.
Gayner has also given advice on how to portray medical conditions more authentically. More uniquely, he advised the actress, Sandra Bullock on the set of Gravity (2013) on how she would look and feel physically in those space-related scenes. This is also one of the more out of this world (pun intended) stories from this genial doctor who has treated Caleb Deschanel for a stonefish sting and Christopher Eccleston for a tiger (cub) bite.
Gayner has also advised scriptwriters on medical storylines. The comedian, John Cleese asked Gayner about the onset of rigor mortis. as he wrote a Fawlty Towers (1975 and 1979) episode, The Kipper and the Corpse. Gayner also tells a fun story about his friendship with Billy Connolly and his wife Pamela Anderson which developed after he met Connolly on the set of Water (1985). These two examples perfectly show that Gayner has both a respected and friendly manner, and he has made some great friendships, often through more adverse times.
The book is also embellished with just some of this doctor’s photographs with a collection of signed photos from the stars including Peter Ustinov, Ronnie Corbett and director Michael Winner Gayner also adds a photograph of a cardboard cut out of a gun. This “gun” has a touching story, as Gayner had this replica gun made to see how using a gun in a Bond film would affect Pierce Brosnan’s then hand injury. As this gun pressed upon his hand injury, a lighter replica model of this gun was made and used in the film and thus preventing further injury (see photographs next to book cover).
In his epilogue, he tells how “he hung up the stethoscope” for the last time in December 2019. Since then Gayner has had important roles during these Covid times. These include the formation of the National Bereavement Partnership and for this project, many of Gayner’s celebrity friends and clients recorded the song You’ve Got a Friend. Gayner ends the book on a warm-hearted and humorous note in a speech directed to those he loves. He further tributes his family and friends in a short acknowledgements section.
In the 15 chapters and 228 pages of this memoir, Dr Gayner took me on a star-studded journey throughout his career. This book I read over two mornings, and as the cliche goes I couldn’t put it down. By the end of the book, I was totally in awe at this star-studded life (so far).
It appears that I’m not the only one, as this quote from Uri Geller’s website HERE proves those stars are just as enthralled by Gayner’s client list.
“…. when I walked into his consulting room I realised how many stars must have been through those doors. The walls were crowded with signed photographs, including giants such as Sir Larry Olivier, Dustin Hoffman and Frank Sinatra, as well as sports heroes such as Roger Federer.”
I for one want to read more books from this doctor, as I had a lump in my throat – albeit of the idiom kind – after coming to the end of this one. And, I was lucky to interview this author HERE. But despite this exclusive interview, I am sure that there are so many stories he could tell, and I respect and applaud him for keeping those confidential. Still, I’m sure there are many more of his interesting stories that can be told, and so I’m hoping this doctor treats us to a follow-up book with more tales of his very unique practice.
A disclaimer and personal thank you to NetGalley and Cameron Publicity & Marketing Ltd for allowing me to review this book. Financial compensation was not received, however, I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions expressed here are my own. I would also like to add that Dr Gayner kindly personally agreed to me using these pictures from his book in my blog and all copyright is his. If you would like your book to be featured or promoted here, please drop a line to me via my Contact Me Page.