Christmas advice from Frank Rowntree

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Francis St. D. Rowntree 1928-1996, aka Frank Rowntree, received an OBE in 1986 for his services to public health. During the 1970s, he was the Health Education Officer for Sheffield and in this capacity he was invited into the Walk Right in Studio at BBC Radio Sheffield for a regular weekly health spot where he gave his measured and pithy advice (usually in around 3 minutes) on many of the health issues of the time. Some of the advice may only resonate with the over 40s -such as the clacker craze which resulted in a new kind of illness described as ‘clacker wrist‘. Also tackled was the mystery of women’s menstrual cycles relating to mood swings and especially driving. He exhorts men to be more sympathetic and think themselves lucky that they do not have this cyclic phenomenon.

All the 106 broadcasts were donated by Rowntree’s family, originate on ¼” audio reels, have been digitised and made available online via the library’s Wellcome Film resource with permission from BBC Radio Sheffield. The audio recordings appear to have been made by Rowntree himself as a record of his broadcast activity with the majority of the recordings dating from 1972 and 1973.

There are a number of festive topics to which Frank Rowntree regularly returned. The first is a health and safety message to parents in the selection of appropriate toys for their children, which Rowntree talks about with campaigning zeal. There are three broadcasts on this topic. Suitability is key, he warns against highly inflammable toys and asks parents after Christmas to dispose of toys if broken or damaged.

Another seasonal topic discussed on air is keeping warm. Rowntree talks about the susceptibility of new babies to the cold. In 1973 Rowntree broadcasts about keeping warm in the light of the prevailing power cuts. He talks about appropriate clothing in winter such as “snuggies” (described as warm winter drawers or knickers). He recommends that a good breakfast is key to keeping you going through the day. Perhaps it is just as well that the practice of using hot bricks to warm up beds has fallen into dis-use…

Lastly, as it is the season of Christmas excess, Rowntree does not want to be a ‘dismal Jimmy’ and enjoys a drink and all the Christmas fare. In typical fashion, he asks for common sense and moderation.

The Moving Image & Sound Collection sends seasonal wishes to all (in moderation).

Author: Angela Saward

Image: 1970s Christmas, © This image is copyright djwhelan’s photostream and is licensed under this Creative Commons licence.

Phoebe Harkins

Phoebe Harkins is Library Communications Co-ordinator at the Wellcome Library.

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