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Interview with Kenneth Clarke


It was Kenneth (qualified Liverpool 1978) who nominated his father to make this recording for Veterinary Lives in Practice.

Sue Bradley asked him why:

My father has lived through a time of great change for the profession. He was born just at the end of the first world war, and his veterinary education was interrupted by the second world war, during which he had some interesting – and life-threatening – experiences. He then joined the veterinary profession at a time when agriculture was on its knees and food was rationed. He was involved in the post-war development of agriculture, and projects for the control and eradication of major animal diseases such as bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis.

He began his career at a time when horses were important draught animals for industry and agriculture and, as I’m sure he’s told you, he was involved with pit ponies, which were used heavily in the coal mines of North East England. He saw changes in agriculture when there was a big push to increase food production, with new farming practices, developments in animal husbandry and the introduction of modern medicines such as antimicrobials, anthelmintics and vaccines. Later in his career he witnessed the great boom in small animal work and the changes this brought to the profession. The everyday life of veterinary practice altered dramatically, probably more than once, during his career. So I suspect there’s a lot in his recording, not just for people with an interest in the veterinary profession, but also for those interested in food, agriculture, and wider social issues.

We talked about family life [in your father’s recording]. How does that relate to the veterinary story?

My father’s job had a huge impact on our family life when my brothers and I were young. One thing that strikes me is how much time he spent on work – not just during the day, but on call at night and at weekends. As kids we didn’t always see a huge amount of him, because he was working incredibly long hours. And it’s astonishing to think of it now, but one of the conditions of his job was that my mother answered the telephone for the practice out of hours – she couldn’t go out; she had to answer the phone. Looking back, it was a considerable sacrifice on her part. I know she resented it in later years, but I don’t think she voiced her concerns at the time, or not very loudly. She was supporting my father in his work. My parents both came from relatively modest backgrounds so I think my father was determined to make a good living in order to look after his family. But he enjoyed what he did very much, and I believe that also had a big influence on his commitment to his work.

Is the history [of the veterinary profession] important for you?

Yes, it is. The profession has evolved in response to changes in society and attitudes towards animals. Vets played a crucial role in improving livestock and food production in the last century, and made an important contribution to animal and public health, and to the country’s economy. The history of the profession holds important reminders of what we have done – and what we can do. 

How do you see your father’s recording in relation to that?

My father’s account is a personal one and, I suspect, all the more powerful for that. And while we – his family – have heard his stories over the years and become rather familiar with them, the fact of him making this recording has brought his life into relief, and reminded us how interesting it is. This project has provided an opportunity to put his experiences and reflections on the record, and I am sure that they will be of value to vets and historians in the future. And of course, my father’s account is only one piece of the picture – I hope his recording will be followed by many more.