Dr Phil Hammond, GP and atheist presenter of BBC1’s Heaven and Earth Show

You might think we spend all day sipping Blue Nun in Dr Hilary's Swedish jet bath, but in truth we have to spend all our free time leathering our hides so that we can survive the critics.

Doctors – more than anyone else – hate criticism, but I've grown to revel in it over the years.

As John Cleese said: "Some people deserve to be offended." I seem to have stumbled across some deserving cases since I first went public at the Edinburgh fringe in 1990 with Struck Off and Die.

Our first ever review remains our best:

"These two smug self-satisfied medical tossers deserve every disease they joke about. They do for the health service what Imelda Marcos did for the Philippines."

Shortly afterwards, I started writing in the medical press and made plenty of friends among fellow GPs:

"He gives a perfect impression of a white, male, patronising, middle-class wanker" (Dr Tim Whitehead), and "Such people should be either Struck Off or Dead" (Dr Finton Coyle).

As medical comedians, we offended The Archers' audience on Radio 4 and one listener in particular:

"As someone who has suffered a cardiac arrest, I can assure you it is no laughing matter."

Surely it depends which side of the defibrillator you're on?

But comedy is a young man's game and you soon grow out of being shocking. So I started to write more seriously as Private Eye's medical correspondent MD.

Of all the complaints, my favourite is from a consultant urologist:

"So, once again we private-crazed consultants get a routine bashing from MD is he a dago perchance?"

Then finally, in 1996, the big break. Presenting Trust Me, I'm a Doctor, an evidence-based and faintly iconoclastic programme for BBC2. I thought it was rather good. TV's Victor Lewis-Smith didn't:

"With his Reg Holdsworth glasses and his comic leer, he's depressingly eager to provide frivolous introductions to supposedly serious reports, but the consequences are predictably disastrous."

Telegraph critic Cristina Odone was even more direct:

"Trust him? I don't even want to watch him."

The medical press ignored the first four series, but the BMA News Review finally caught up with me:

"What we need now is a show with doctors who know absolutely everything and swan around solving the world's problems with a smug grin. What we need now is a new series of Trust Me, I'm a *****r, swiftly followed by the BMJ's 'I find his "tilt head slightly to the right, obviously listening in caring GP-ish manner" difficult to watch without resorting to a bucket'."

OK, there were some good reviews too and even the odd award, but nothing to match the sheer delightful bitchiness of other doctors.

Alas, Trust Me I'm a Doctor became a victim of its own premise. If you present a programme advocating the death of medical paternalism, why have a medical presenter to tell you what you should know?

In fact, it's a pretty lean time for anyone wanting a career in media medicine. Sure, you can get a seat on the settee on cable TV talking to an audience of four about sweaty armpits, but the mainstream channels have ditched the idea of expert presenters.

Even dishy Dr Mark Porter has gone from Health Watchdog to be replaced – ironically – by a younger ex-doctor who has dropped his professional title.

Being a TV doctor is no longer cool. Dr Mark's moved into antiques and I'm scratching a living in religion.

Now do you feel sorry for us?

  • Dr Phil is now the first openly atheist presenter of a BBC religious broadcast programme, Heaven and Earth (Sundays, 10am, BBC1).

Guidelines in Practice, July 2001, Volume 4(7)
© 2001 MGP Ltd
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