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  1. Gerald Stern
  1. Correspondence to Dr G Stern, Emeritus Clinical Neurologist, University College Hospitals, 10 Cottesmore Court, Stanford Road, London W8 5QL, UK; geraldstern{at}

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When my revered teacher, Professor Henry Miller, presented a paper at the Royal Society of Medicine on ‘Three great neurologists’ with characteristic wit and panache he began: “Neurologists are of course, great ancestor worshipers never happier than when they are insisting on the superiority of the 1892/3 edition of Sir William Gowers's Diseases of the Nervous System to any puny contemporary successors, visiting tombs, or ceremonially unveiling plaques in honour of their distinguished predecessors on Yorkshire farmhouses or in obscure villages in the Midi.”

This sinophilic ancestor worship still prevails. Whenever neurologists convene, they still enjoy exchanging anecdotes of doubtful veracity, sometimes enhanced with patchy confabulation and with contents varying from revealing vignettes to improbable apocryphy.

Dr Henry Miller

I am not immune, and will begin in 1950 with my first day as a clinical student. In those remote days, a ‘firm’ lasted 6 months and consisted of five or six students. Our first ‘chief’ was Donald Hunter who had a reputation for memorable teaching conducted with passionate energy. He would begin a lecture on iron deficiency anaemia by staggering into the theatre with a heavy bag of iron sulphate and dramatically throwing the contents onto the floor, declaring, “That's how much iron a woman requires to stay well during her life!” We waited with increasing apprehension for our first teaching round (you could never enter a ward while patients were resting without specific invitation from him or his ward sister). Dr Hunter eventually arrived and we obediently followed him. He suddenly turned, grabbed my ankle, huffed and puffed until I was thrown onto my back, while he retained an iron grip. He then declaimed sotto voce that seemed to echo though the hospital, surely waking the whole ward, “Look, this stupid boy wants to be a doctor”—interjected by a …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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