Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Working Lives

‘The Lamp Still Burns’ (1943) is a wartime nursing drama, based on a book by Monica Dickens. It stars Rosamund John and Stewart Granger – although I particularly enjoyed seeing John Laurie and Joyce Grenfell in smaller roles.

The whole point of the film is to show how the nursing profession was in need of an overhaul at that point in time. Back then, becoming a nurse was a lifetime commitment – almost akin to becoming a nun. Discipline and order were demanded and there was no time for life outside the hospital. Marriage and children were seen as impossible for a working nurse. Hospitals therefore struggled to recruit and retain nursing staff. As we now know, change did eventually take place.  Some might argue that we have gone too far the other way and we should re-introduce matrons and their disciplinarian ways. The matron in this film (Cathleen Nesbitt) was shown in rather a good light – I wouldn’t argue with her (or Hattie Jacques’ matron!) being in charge of a hospital. So perhaps there is something in this argument, but not being a medical professional I cannot comment further.

The other location in ‘The Lamp Still Burns’ is a factory, which is being run by Stewart Granger’s character. Our heroine trainee nurse (John) starts the film as an architect, who argues with Granger about the need for a larger medical room at the workplace. The factory is indeed the site of first one accident (which John attends at the beginning of her studies) then later on an explosion, when Granger is severely injured. This chimes in with something that I recently learned from talking to someone who was employed at the railway works in Derby during the 1950s and 1960s. He told me that it was such a dangerous place to work that there were doctors and nurses permanently on site – and a works ambulance. Granger’s medical room also got a lot of use. This film didn’t comment on that aspect – where employers fully expected workers to get injured or sick at work and quite often because of it.

We still have much to complain about – but at least we now have health and safety at work legislation to protect us from being killed or maimed at our jobs. For now, anyway...

Coming soon! The History Usherette Presents ‘The Beginner’s Guide to British Cinema’…watch this space…

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