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A career in pharmacology.

  • Allen, David.
  • Film

About this work


A young man visits a Professor of Pharmacology to talk about his new career as a Research assistant. The Professor is out, so the secretary shows him into his office and gives him a booklet to read called a "Career in Pharmacology" by Milton Herzog PhD, published by the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. This book aimed to encourage school-leavers to take up a career in pharmacology. It is set out in the form of a series of questions or provocative comments followed by answers. Two examples are: Do you have what it takes to be a successful pharmacologist? and As a pharmacologist you may work alone or with some other specialist. In the book, each of these is followed by an appropriate answer. In the film, which is a plagerized version of the booklet, the question or comment is illustrated with a short humorous, often satirical, scene. After reading the booklet the research assistant falls asleep and has a dream that is a humorous impression of what a career in pharmacology might be. The film was made using equipment that belonged to members of staff or borrowed from friends. The camera used was a 16mm Bolex (silent) and the film was a gift of out of warranty stock from Independent Television News (ITN) made available through the kindness of Bill Hodgson, then Manager of ITN. The sound was initially recorded on a domestic reel to reel tape recorder, then later re-recorded using post-sync dubbing carried out in the recording studios of ITN under the direction of Norman Hooper, chief sound engineer and also Eddie Wilson, Film Editor, at ITN. At its première the film was very well received and has become something of a legend. It has been screened officially and unofficially all over the world.


London : Royal College of Surgeons, 1961.

Physical description

1 film reel (17 min.) (picture neg.) : sound, black and white 16 mm
1 film reel (17 min.) (sound neg.) : sound, black and white 16 mm
1 film reel (17 min.) (optical print; going acetic - in fridge) : sound, black and white 16 mm
1 film reel (17 min.) (optical print; new polyester print - on shelf) : sound, black and white 16 mm


Filmed by members of staff of the Department of Pharmacology in 1961 at The Royal College of Surgeons of England (then based at Examination Hall, Queen Square, London). This film was created primarily to show as an after dinner entertainment to a meeting of the British Pharmacological Society held at the Royal College of Surgeons. The Department of Pharmacology was set up by Professor William Paton (later Sir William Paton). At the time the film was made, Professor Gustav Born was the head of department and he takes part in the film.
The background and text relating to this title have kindly been supplied by John Thompson.

Creator/production credits

SCRIPT: many of the participants contributed to the writing of the script; CAMERA WORK: David Allen, John Vane, John Thompson; SOUND RECORDING (original sound): John Gardiner; POST-SYNC DUBBING: Norman Hooper, Chief Sound Engineer, Independent Television News (ITN), London; FILM EDITOR (final version): Eddie Wilson, Film editor, ITN; FILM: Out of warranty 16mm monochrome film provided as a gift by ITN; STILL PHOTOGRAPHY: John Gardiner; COMMENTATORS: John Vane, John Thompson, Yvette Galvin, Kurt Hellmann, Gustav Born; MUSIC BACKGROUND: Excerpts from non-copyright records; MAIN LOCATION: Department of Pharmacology, Royal College of Surgeons of England and also other parts of Examination Hall, Queen Square, London; GENERAL SUPPORT: Mr Bill Hodgson, Manager, ITN, London and many other friends and colleagues to whom we give our grateful thanks; EQUIPMENT: 16mm Bolex cine camera loaned by a colleague. Other equipment loaned by members of the Department of Pharmacology and their colleagues and friends.


First Part
(Scene 1) Commentary: This is Queen Square, London, home of the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, the Royal Homoeopathic and the Italian Hospitals. It is also the home of Examination Hall where future doctors sit for their qualifying examinations. Less well known on the fifth floor of Exam Hall is the Department of Pharmacology of the Royal College of Surgeons. And here is a young man about to start work in that department. Visuals: An introduction to Queen Square, London, showing the location of Examination Hall. A young man (John Haynes) is shown making his way to the department where he hopes to meet the Professor of Pharmacology to discuss his new career as a Research Assistant.
(Scene 2) Commentary: Most of the research is carried out in the main laboratory through which you have to walk to reach the secretary's office. He ascends in the lift, walks through the corridor and then enters and walks through the main laboratory… Visuals: He meets the secretary who tells him that the Professor is out, so she shows him into his office and gives him a booklet to read called a "Career in Pharmacology". A considerable amount of time passes, as shown by the rotating hands of the clock on the wall. Having read the booklet, the young man falls asleep and has a humorous dream of what a career in pharmacology might be like. The clock spins.
Second Part (Dream Sequence)
(Scene 3) Commentary: Pharmacology is a many sided science. There is a place for almost every talent in pharmacology. Visuals: A series of characters enter into the main laboratory of the Department of Pharmacology as follows: a footballer (Dennis Green), a cleaning lady carrying a mop and bucket ("Scotty" Mills-Fenn), a ruffian (Danny Rogers) being taken into custody by a police constable (David Allen), a clergyman (John Thompson), a hippy carrying a guitar (Margaret Day), a businessman with brief case and umbrella (Kurt Hellmann), an academic wearing a gown and mortar board (Iris Sheene), a waiter carrying a tumbler on a tray ("Ziggy" Sabikowski), an artist (John Vane), a butcher (John Gardiner), a strolling violinist (Ted Marley), a French onion seller riding a bicycle (Gustav Born) and a secretary (Yvette Galvin). The camera follows the secretary into her office where she encounters an irritable research worker (John Thompson).
(Scene 5) Commentary: Pharmacology is the basis for modern therapy in medicine. Pharmacology is vital to a physician. Visuals: A general medical practitioner (Kurt Hellmann) is seated at the desk of his consulting room reading a copy of the large, classic and heavy text book "The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics" (Goodman and Gilman). A patient (Margaret Day) knocks on the door and then enters to have her blood pressure measured. On each of two occasions that the cuff of the sphygmomanometer is inflated, the patient's arm bends at the elbow. In desperation, the GP picks up the copy of the heavy tome and uses it to weigh down her arm so as to keep it flat on the desk, commenting that he always thought that pharmacology would come in useful somewhere. This scene reflects a then current attitude of many doctors that pharmacology was a difficult and tedious subject that had to be studied, but had little use in everyday medical practice.
(Scene 4) Commentary: What is pharmacology? Almost anything that a man or an animal does can be influenced by drugs. Drugs can even affect how man thinks! Visuals: She offers him a tablet from a box labelled "Prelewdin" (this name is a mischievous play on the proprietary name of a drug called Preludin, official name phenmetrazine, a sympathomimetic agent used at the time to reduce appetite in the treatment of obesity). The implication is that "Prelewdin" will have an aphrodisiac effect, and the subsequent scene suggests that it does!
(Scene 7) Commentary: Pharmacology is not pharmacy. This is a department of pharmacology. Visuals: A delivery man carrying a sack (Danny Rogers) climbs up a ladder on to the roof of the Department of Pharmacology, Royal College of Surgeons, where he delivers his sack to a technician (Derek Nichol) leaning out of a window.
(Scene 6) Commentary: The growing importance of pharmacology is indicated in several ways. This is how it used to be…..with the enlargement of laboratory space there has been an increase in the size of staff……automation too plays its part in pharmacology. Visuals: This sequence of three brief scenes is a satirical comment on the increasing use of technical assistants and technology in pharmacological research. The consequence is that the research worker (Ted Marley) becomes less and less involved in performing the actual experiment as larger numbers of technical staff participate (Derek Nichol, Danny Rogers, Dennis Green, Margaret Day, Iris Sheene, David Allen).
(Scene 8) Commentary: …and this is a school of Pharmacy. Visuals: There follows a photograph of the School of Pharmacy in London. This sequence compares the difference between the relatively humble premises of a Pharmacology Department with those of a wealthy School of Pharmacy. At the time, pharmacology departments were underfunded whereas Pharmacy departments were able to attract large sums of money, probably because the demand for pharmacists in retail and hospital practice was high, whereas posts for pharmacologists were few and far between.
(Scene 9) Commentary: As a pharmacologist you may work alone or with some other specialist. Visuals: A research worker (John Gardiner) is seen examining the results of an experiment traced on a smoked drum (Palmer large smoked drum recording equipment). He is not satisfied with the result he has obtained and so calls in an artist (John Vane) to paint out the unwanted record and in its place to paint in the result he would like to have obtained!
(Scene 10) Commentary: The most modern equipment serves the pharmacologist. Visuals: A space rocket (Cape Canaveral) is seen to take off during which a voice (Kurt Hellman) announces that this is the latest invention in pharmacology, "…a self-inserting suppository!" This is no more than simple and ridiculous humour by juxtaposition.
(Scene 12) Commentary: Do you like to read about science and scientists? Visuals: A research worker (John Vane) sits at a desk reading a scientific journal and is brought a cup of tea by a caretaker (Iris Sheene). He then picks up a newspaper where he finds an article about a scientist who has become involved in a scandal with a callgirl. He gets up and walks across to….
(Scene 11) Commentary: Do you have what it takes to be a successful pharmacologist? See if you can answer 'yes' to most of these questions? Do you like to be a trail blazer? Would you like to apply your inclinations for science in the field of helping your fellow men? Visuals: A research worker (John Gardiner) lights a large paper torch from a domestic gas ring heating a kettle attended by a caretaker (Iris Sheene). He takes the lighted torch into his laboratory and with it sets light to the contents of a glass chamber. As he does this, the picture changes to that of an atomic bomb exploding - satire on the misuse of atomic energy and the potential dangers of irresponsible scientists.
(Scene 14) Commentary: Do you refuse to quit easily? VIsuals: A clinical research worker (Kurt Hellman) is seen using a magnifying glass to make a close and prolonged examination of the record of an experiment that has been made on a smoked drum. Evidence of the length of time he has spent examining the tracing is provided by the comments he receives from his assistant (Margaret Day) when she brings him a cup of tea. The humour of this situation is that even though the record shows no significant effects (the trace is mostly a flat line), the experimentalist makes comments indicating that he has persuaded himself that the record does show effects. Furthermore, he goes on to say that, in his opinion, the results justify setting up a clinical trial! On a more serious note, it illustrates the pitfalls of uncritical analysis of experimental results that can lead one to persuade oneself that an effect exists when it does not.
(Scene 13) Commentary: Do you like figuring out what makes things tick? Visuals: Another research worker (Ted Marley) whose twitching head has been attached via a cord to a marker recording on a smoked drum. John Vane shows the newspaper photograph to Ted who attributes the scandalous behaviour to study leave taken at the Folies Bergères. This is a piece of humour that reminds us that scientists are also vulnerable to scandal. The recording of a twitching head reflects the fact that Ted Marley was a Psychiatrist who joined the Department of Pharmacology to study research methods following which he became a distinguished medical scientist in the field of psychopharmacology.
(Scene 15) Commentary: Do you like to see a problem through with independent thinking and intuition? Visuals: An experimentalist (Danny Rogers) is seen to concentrate on the beating of an isolated heart preparation. When a glamorous young lady (Yvette Galvin) arrives in the background, it is the isolated heart that responds to her by beating ever faster, but the experimentalist remains totally undisturbed.
(Scene 16) Commentary: Do you like to search for new things? Do you enjoy doing a job that always demands your best? Do you wonder about the whys in living things? Visuals: The scene is an overhead view of an experiment carried out by a research worker (John Gardiner) and his assistant (Derek Nichol). The experimental object is a toy dog which first receives a mock inhalation anaesthetic and is then restrained by means of a large chain. The back of the toy is opened with a cleaver following which a chain of letter Ys made out of cardboard are extracted. As this happens, the research worker comments " Ah! there…much wiser"! The more serious message behind this simple piece of humour with punning is that experiments on animals can provide a great deal of important information.
(Scene 18) Commentary: Pharmacologists are made, not born! Visuals: The label on a door named "Prof Born" changes to "Prof Burn". Professor Gustav Born was the head of the Department of Pharmacology at the Royal College of Surgeons. Professor J.H. Burn was head of the Department of Pharmacology at Oxford University. This is a simple pun on the word born.
(Scene 17) Commentary: Do you like to work with animals? Visuals: This brief scene of Tick Tack men at a race course is shown as a humorous example of people who like to work with animals!
(Scene 20) Commentary: During your graduate training you will begin research first under the supervision of a faculty member. Visuals: Here are two scenes that illustrate humorously certain aspects of laboratory work. The first shows a research worker (Margaret Day) carrying out an experiment when her supervisor (Gustav Born) makes an injection that kills the preparation. To her annoyance, she is commanded to put up another preparation even though the time has reached 5pm!
(Scene 19) Commentary: Plan early. If you begin now to plan and study toward a career in pharmacology, you'll be just that much ahead. Visuals: A charming little girl is seen sitting in front of a Palmer organ bath in which an isolated organ preparation has been set up. She blows in a dose of a drug to the isolated preparation. Attached to the outside of the bath is a notice with the words "Plan Ahead". However, the letters of these two words have been badly sized and spaced so that the last two letters of the word "ahead" have had to be made smaller in order to force these into the space that remains. The double meaning here relates both to the very young pharmacologist and the need to plan ahead when carrying out experimental work.
(Scene 21) Commentary: You will work in an atmosphere of constant stimulation. Visuals: This scene involves the same actors but on this occasion the research worker is being commanded by the supervisor to make repeated injections, emphasised by the flashing light. These scenes reflect the dedication and determination expected of research workers by their supervisors and are, in fact, parodies of the well known practices of a certain distinguished Professor of Pharmacology!
(Scene 22) Commentary: There is now an acute shortage of pharmacologists. There are more jobs than there are pharmacologists to fill them. Visuals: An anaesthetist (Jimmy Payne) is seen to administer an anaesthetic to a pharmacologist patient (John Vane) in a very casual fashion. A nurse (Margaret Day) is heard to ask "how is he doctor?" The patient dies suddenly following which the anaesthetist comments that he supposes that another Chair (of Pharmacology) will be vacant now!
(Scene 23) Commentary: Picture yourself in a large hospital…Picture yourself in industry….Picture yourself in a government laboratory…..Picture yourself in a university... Visuals: The life of a pharmacologist (Dennis Green) is compared in a hospital, in industry, in a government laboratory and in a university laboratory. The comparison is made by way of contrasting the appearance of the office and the dress code of the pharmacologist in these four situations.
(Scene 24) Commentary: It pays to be a pharmacologist! Visuals: The film of a horse "laughing" accompanied by the sound of human laughter follow the commentator's statement that it pays to be a pharmacologist. In fact, salaries were always poor, with the exception of those in the pharmaceutical industry! The horse with its owner was found after scouring the streets in the vicinity of Queen Square. The horse was rewarded with sugar cubes and the owner with a £5 note.
(Scene 26) Commentary: In addition, it serves as a springboard to many different opportunities. Visuals: The fully fledged pharmacologist (Derek Nichol) is seen to be invigilating for a written examination in pharmacology. However, he is corrupt and expects each of the five candidates (Yvette Galvin, John Haynes, John Gardiner, David Allen and "Scotty" Mills-Fenn) to pay a bribe so as to ensure their success in the examination!
(Scene 27) Commentary: Less publicised than cancer, less a main disease than polio, mental disorders nevertheless incapacitate more people than the other two combined. Visuals: The commentator speaks over a photograph of members of the British Pharmacological Society (taken some time prior to 1961) implying that these people have mental problems! The photo then begins to spin, changing into a spinning copy of "A Career in Pharmacology" that has fallen into the lap of the young research assistant (John Haynes). This heralds that he is beginning to wake up from his sleep disturbed by…..
Third Part
(Scene 28) Commentary/Visuals: The return of the Professor (Ziggy Sabikowski) to his office. As the Professor sits down and apologizes for his lateness, he comments that he notices that the young man has been reading that interesting book on a career in pharmacology. The film ends.
(Scene 25) Commentary: For your investment in a PhD degree, you receive an extra compensation of at least £800 a year for the rest of your life. Visuals: A University degree award ceremony in which the Chancellor (Ziggy Sabikowski) is seen wearing the University chain of office and attended by the Dean of the Faculty of Science (Dennis Green) and another University official (Danny Rogers). The Chancellor presents a PhD degree to the successful candidate (Derek Nichol).

Copyright note

Wellcome Trust



  • English


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