Breaking the Mould

Show Navigation

By | From the Collections




As part of their War Beneath the Skin season, BBC4 last night broadcast Breaking the Mould: The Story of Penicillin.


Whilst it is widely recognised that Alexander Fleming was the man who discovered penicillin, the truth is a bit more complicated than that and the extraordinary story of Professor Florey is hardly known.

Set against the background of the early years of the Second World War, this factually-based drama shows how it was Professor Florey and his team who persevered against incredible odds to make penicillin an applicable medicine, whilst refusing to patent it for commercial gain.

A revealing, poignant and witty character-driven account of a miraculous scientific breakthrough, Breaking The Mould tells the little known story of Professor Florey and the team of unsung heroes from the prestigious Dunn School of Pathology at Oxford University who were behind the discovery of penicillin, that changed the world of medicine forever.

A number of the Wellcome Library’s archive collections have a direct link to the story of penicillin’s development. These include the papers of Norman Heatley, including his laboratory notebooks and correspondence with Florey; Ernst Chain, who shared the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physiology applied to Medicine with Fleming and Florey; and Sir Edward Mellanby, Secretary of the Medical Research Council during the period, and an important figure in connecting the disparate research communities working in this field.

That the mass production of penicillin in this country was achieved during the Second World War was due in no small part to the creation in 1941 of the Therapeutic Research Corporation (TRC), a consortium of five leading UK drug companies. One of the members was the Wellcome Foundation Ltd, and the papers relating to the involvement of the company in the TRC are part of the Wellcome Foundation Archive.

Breaking the Mould is available to watch through the BBC’s iPlayer.

Ross Macfarlane

Ross Macfarlane is the Research Engagement Officer at the Wellcome Library.

See more posts by this author

Comments are closed.

Related Blog Posts