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Open Features: The Amazing Mrs West

...Of all the people I have met I suppose none of them can compare with a tiny Yorkshire housewife who might easily have been burned as a witch had she been born two hundred years earlier...

Freelance journalist Stan Solomons tells how he almost had a world exclusive story on a possible cure for cancer.

Trawling back through the make belief land of drop intros, curvacious brunettes and talking dogs, I fondly remember some of those wonderfully talented artists who contributed to my pension fund and made indelible footprints on my fading memory.

Will I ever forget the soft, velvet tones of film star James Mason who on his visits to his home town, Huddersfield, shunned the attentions of Fleet Street and instead took a shine to us and kindly telephoned our agency to invite us round to do story and pix for which we found a ready market in the Daily Express Hickey and other pseudo-Society columns. The pic of me with Mason snapped by the late Brian Worsnop is among my prized possessions (sad maybe) but when I show it to visitors enables me to crack the old gag, “Whose that with Stan.”

And in my mind’s eye I can still see world famous concert pianist Artur Rubinstein in 1975, towards the end of his career, desperately massaging and stretching his claw-like fingers ravaged by arthritis as we spoke shortly before he performed a Beethoven and Chopin recital at the Huddersfield Town Hall.

Suave, dapper conductor Malcolm Sergeant, a charming gentleman right down to the fingertips which held his baton also made a deep impression when I interviewed him many years ago. And actress Julie Christie’s warm smile as we shook hands during a visit she made to the North of England stayed with me for a long time.

I was also full of admiration for Charlie Chester, at one time Britain’s highest paid comic, when he played the lead in a panto in Halifax back in the 1950’s with his arm in plaster after breaking it in an accident. When I spoke to him in his “digs” I couldn’t pluck up the courage to tell him how a few years earlier I had pinched nearly all his gags he had told in his West End show and passed them off as my own at a school concert.

But of all the people I have met I suppose none of them can compare with a tiny Yorkshire housewife who might easily have been burned as a witch had she been born two hundred years earlier. It’s not often that a freelance gets the chance to breaking a story of earth shattering importance, but I came agonisingly close.

It looked at one stage that she had proved that the juice from the humble orange could not only grow hair but more importantly cure cancer. I was on the brink of revealing all when……. but more of that later. First let me take you back to the time, more than fifty years ago,when I first met the amazing Mrs Kathleen West, this short, dumpy little woman with a round face, a warm smile and with centre- parted hair tied in a bun at the back, a modern day Mother Shipton.

She had walked into the Huddersfield office of the Bradford Telegraph and Argus and told a reporter she could tell a pregnant woman the sex of her unborn child provided the mother to be told her where she felt the baby kicking during the quickening period which if I remember rightly was around four and a half months. Bet most of you didn’t know that.

If the baby kicked on the left hand side it was a boy and on the right hand side a girl. Or it may have been the other way round.

They were the days long before scans which would reveal the sex of the baby. And when the reporter checked with her G.P. he confirmed that so far she had been right in all nine cases she had forecast.

After the story appeared we followed it up for the nationals with her attempt to make it ten out of ten. When the baby was born she’d got it wrong but claimed that the mother who she thought was a friend had deliberately given her the wrong info on where the baby was kicking. Anyway, that was the end of that story.

Fast forward a few years to the 1970s.when Mrs West, who it turned out had been studying biology for years, got in touch with me again. She and her friend Mrs Hazel Johnson had been carrying out experiments for some years on finding a cure for male baldness using members of Mrs West’s family and friends as guinea pigs. It involved rubbing a solution into the skin, but none of them knew the nature of the active ingredient.

That included me when I agreed to have the treatment in the hope of regaining the curly locks I had lost many years ago. Having a hair-raising experience took on a whole new meaning as once a week, despite the jibes and mickey-taking of my colleagues in the agency, I allowed Mrs West to rub a colourless solution she poured from a bottle into my scalp.

It was not until some time later when the two women revealed their secret to the world that Mrs West told me that she should have rubbed the solution into my back where there was a large expanse of exposed skin, but used the scalp because that was what I would expect her to do. I never suspected that the solution was in fact orange juice, the smell of which she had somehow disguised with some harmless additive.

Whether or not it was wishful thinking I have no doubt that I achieved some hair growth over a period of several months. The two women claimed that it was the ascorbic acid in Vitamin C in the orange juice which produced hair growth when applied directly to the skin and into the blood stream.

Eventually – I can’t remember the time span – the two women decided to go public when they realised they were not going to make a fortune by marketing their product. After eight local balding men had taken part in a six month test with varying results, the two women arranged a public meeting in Dewsbury Town Hall to explain their methods. Later, as a result of the publicity, the Outspan organisation contacted the women and organised controlled experiments with six volunteers over a period of 26 weeks in London.

I attended some of those sessions and I can tell you that the results in some of the cases were quite astonishing. I remember David Morgan, a currency dealer in London’s Foreign Exchange telling me, “Six months previously when we started the test I was thinning quite a lot on top and I also had a bald spot on the side.

“I didn’t suddenly have shoulder length hair overnight, but the growth has been remarkable.”

And Ian Hunt, an accountant, was equally delighted. “I not only got a lot more hair on my head but a lot more on my shoulders and the small of my back, but I’m not worried about that”, he said.

I saw before and after pictures and the new growth of hair was astonishing.

It all seemed very simple. As Mrs Johnson explained ascorbic acid is not readily available in chemist shops because it does not have a very long shelf life. “So we looked around for the easiest, safest and cheapest method for growing hair”, she told me. “The one most readily available to the man in the street was, of course, oranges.”

Mrs Johnson, who claimed that her husband had started losing his hair fifteen years earlier and used orange juice and now had a healthy mane, explained, “Squeeze the juice from half an orange twice a week, filter it through muslin or a coffee filter paper. Warm the skin on your back to open the pores and then rub the solution into the back between the area of the neck and waist. After half an hour remove the sticky substance left on the skin.”

I tried to get newspapers interested without much success and Outspan who were delighted with the results of their six month tests issued a press release which also did not raise too many eye-brows. I remember a piece in the Guardian in which they quoted one sceptic who asked, “If this works,why aren’t oranges hairy?”

And Outspan’s rivals Jaffa jumped in with, “Jaffa oranges are for eating and enjoying – whatever Outspan ones might be for.”

I’m afraid the two women became rather disillusioned and the story died a death.

For some years Mrs West had insisted to me that if you can cure baldness you can cure or prevent cancer because the ascorbic acid applied directly into the skin in the form of orange juice enhanced both the body’s inner and outer defences. Both these were stimulated in the presence of ascorbic acid.

In 1983 Hazel issued a pamphlet explaining the theory and at the same time attacking the medical profession for their “hide-bound” attitude to cancer, often unnecessarily subjecting cancer sufferers to prolonged, debilitating and often painful treatments, coupled with loss of hair, in the hope of a cure.

In the pamphlet Mrs. Johnson claimed she and Mrs West had cured Hazel’s father of cancer. He had been sent home from hospital five years earlier after being told there was no hope of a cure and the family had treated him two or three times a week with small amounts of orange juice and he was now as alert and well as the average 74 year-old.

But I told Mrs. Johnson that we needed actual proof, someone with cancer who was being treated with orange juice. Soon afterwards the chance came. Her husband who helped her run a confectionery shop in Dewsbury developed cancer in his shoulder.

Bravely he decided to let his wife treat him with orange juice while we monitored his progress.

At different stages X-rays I was shown were taken of his shoulder which showed the cancer was gradually reducing. The stage had almost arrived when we would be ready to reveal all to the world.

But then Mr Johnson died. Not from cancer but from diabetes. Don’t ask me why but no-one knew he was a diabetic and unknown to his wife he had been eating large amounts of sweets and chocolates. It seems incredible but it happened – and with his death went the end of what would have been a great story. Plus of course recognition for the amazing Mrs West, who died some years ago and her friend Mrs. Johnson who later emigrated to Australia.

Several times since then I have known friends and relatives who have suffered and died from cancer and have been tempted to recommend the orange juice treatment, but never had the courage to do so.

And often I have asked myself the 64,000 dollar question: If I had cancer and had been told there was no hope of a cure would I ask my wife to rub orange juice into my back?. I think the answer is Yes. After all what would I have to lose?

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