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Skidmore's Island: Vet Debt

Ian Skidmore does not share the national perception created by romanticised TV porgrammes that all Vets are Good Eggs and probably Scottish Porridge eating philanthropists to a man.

Historically lawyers and members of parliament have a richly deserved unsavoury reputation which the parliamentarians have shown themselves anxious to retain.

It is interesting that the most venal trade of all, the veterinary surgeon has escaped opprobrium.

I think I know the reason.

In my view only the atom bomb has been a greater threat to civilisation than TV. Thanks to that devilish invention violence has become endemic. Our feral young have been encouraged to slaughter each other and aspiration has been replaced by insistence. If we see it we must have it.

Some years ago a Yorkshire vet published a series of moderately successful anecdotes. Anxious to bring out a collected edition his London publisher hunted round for a title and eventually settled on “ All Creatures Great and Small” It proved a gold mine. The publishing industry to a man, or more correctly a woman, scratched its hennaed head for biblical titles. I ws writing my book on Ken Williams the policeman naturalist and I was solemnly assured that it would a beat seller if I could establish a biblical connection.

I couldn’t and it wasn’t. However an ecstatic review in the Police Gazette was read by a Yorkshire policeman who ws encouraged to publish his own memoir. That became the TV series “Heartbeat” and I believe he is now a millionaire. It ws par for the course in our family. My wife’s book “ Prisoners of Santo Tomas was the acknowledged inspiration for the TV series “Tenko”, though in admitting it the TV company declined to pay a royalty on the grounds it ws “in the public domain”

The Vets’ stories were also made into a TV series that depicted Vets as loveable, eccentrics who spent their lives with their arms up a cow’s uterus with never a thought about money. It is not sour grapes to say that Herriot had an enviable command of the cliché. The aristocratic eccentric, the wayward charmer, the try harder do gooder and the lovable servant. Surround them with a cast of thousands of well meaning rebel peasants all speaking impenetrable treacle toffee. Place them in an enviable landscape of empty roads, free of caravans, EC lorries and mechanical diggers. Follow that with interminable series about earnest and often beautiful young people learning how to castrate a newt. The result?

A national perception that all Vets are Good Eggs and probably Scottish
Porridge eating philanthropists to a man.

How quickly the perception fades. The writer Max Hastings published an article about vets costs and there was a storm of comment.

We have just paid a number of vets a sum of money I once took a year to earn. I remember being charged £40 to discover the cause of death of a five shilling goldfish.A pensioner neighbour found a stray cat which was obviously ill, took it to the Vet and was charged £218. It goes without saying that we coughed up our king’s ransom without a murmur. As did all the people who commented on Hastings article.

“Ah” you will say “ Vets were kinder in my day.”

Rubbish. I have a friend, a vet of the old school who died last week,, An admirable man who would give you his right arm and did in fact give me a C C de France split cane game rod. Often sought my advice on books to read and matters of literary style. Yet if I asked him the most innocent question about dog behaviour an iron shutter came down.



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