Palmers Green born author of Joy of Sex Dr Alex Comfort was the subject of a Radio 3’s Sunday Feature in December.
Presented by author Matthew Sweet, Stop Calling Me Dr Sex tells the story of Comfort’s remarkable career, and his ultimate sorrow that his rich range of work – including poetry, broadcasting, political activism and pioneering work in the study of old age – were forever overshadowed by a book he had dashed off in just a few days. Published in 1972, The Joy of Sex had sold 12 million copies worldwide by the time of his death.
At the beginning of the documentary, Comfort’s son Nicholas tells the story of a formative event in Comfort’s childhood, when young Alex lost the use of all but the thumb of his left hand following a schoolboy experiment in his back garden in Palmers Green.
It happened in the spring of 1935, he told presenter Matthew Sweet….
It was the weekend of King George V’s Silver Jubilee and my grandmother had grounded [Comfort] from going to the cinema. He and a school friend stayed home and started making fireworks in the greenhouse that was attached to the back of the house…..
Their first effort produced a large crater in the lawn and my grandmother then sent his friend home. Dad, being a persevering type, kept going and he was working on getting everything into the tube when there was a stray spark and the whole lot went up, including the greenhouse.
The explosion basically destroyed his left hand. He was obviously in a lot of pain and while they were waiting for an ambulance he actually rang his friend to say ‘please dont do this experiment, because the same thing might happen to you’.
Fortunately they got him into hospital and found an extremely accomplished surgeon, a man called Twistington Higgins, who managed to reconstruct enough of his left hand that he still had a workable thumb.
A film clip of Nicholas Comfort telling the story in the back garden of Comfort’s childhood home in Palmers Green and the full radio documentary are available on BBC iplayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01pd3nb. See also Improbably famous in Palmers Green: Dr Alex Comfort.