My friend Dr Bill Frankland

Dr Bill Frankland and Sophie Neville

Dr Bill Frankland with Sophie Neville at Drapers’ Hall

Once Alexander Fleming’s clinical assistant, Dr Bill Frankland was still working as an allergist at the age of 103, ‘I have my first patient at 9.00am tomorrow morning.’ His recent MBE is apparently a good sign that he has many good works still to perform. You may have seen him on television today.

Dr Frankland and I are both Liverymen of the Worshipful Company of Drapers, so find ourselves seated together in all sorts of places from St Paul’s Cathedral to a bus heading for Romford. Always chatty and full of enthusiasm, Bill is a source of endless interesting stories and has become the historical adviser on my next book, ‘Makorongo’s War’. He gave me detailed insights on WWII, when he served as a medical officer in the Far East, becoming a PoW to the Japanese after Singapore fell. To my astonishment I found myself noting down the actual dialogue used in PoW camps. He could remember the exact words used by the Japanese. I was not be surprised to see he’d been invited to the premiere of The Railway Man’, the movie of Eric Lomax’s wartime experience starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. He also attended the 70th Anniversary VJ Day memorial at Horse Guards Parade with other British and Commonwealth veterans.

Bill grew up in the Lake District with his identical twin brother, who sadly died some time ago. He was a good friend of Roger Altounyan and knew his sister Titty. Along with their other three siblings, Taqui , Susie and Brigit, they had been models for the Walker family in Arthur Ransome’s book Swallows and Amazons’. After he began working as an allergist, Bill became a colleague of Roger who developed the Intal spin-inhaler to relieve asthmatic symptoms.

Sophie Suzanna and Sten

Bill is still amused by the fact that I played the part of Titty in the 1974 feature film of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ as a child of twelve, delighted that I was able to introduce him to Nick Barton, the producer of the 2016 movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons’, now on DVD and released in the US by Samuel Goldwyn Meyer in July 2017.

Sophie Neville in the tent at night

Bill lives in central London. He lost his wife to cancer some time ago but has his family ever around him. He told me that his doctor insists that he walks a mile a day but it is quite an experience to accompany him along the crowded London streets as on turning 99 he began to use a walking stick which is twirled in all directions.

Update – I am looking forward to seeing Bill in December 2018 for the launch of his biography ‘From Hell Island to Hay Fever, The Life of Dr Bill Frankland’, by Paul Watkins.

Click here for a to listen to Bill give an account of his life on Desert Island Discs

Here is a clip of Dr Frankland appearing on ‘The One Show’ a few years ago (he’s on after Andrew Lloyd Weber):


Filed under Biography, Christian, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, Titty in Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

9 responses to “My friend Dr Bill Frankland

  1. Nigel West

    You must tell me how you came to be a liveryman of the Drapers Company. I studied at Queen Mary College, University of London, from 1950-53 where I was a Drapers Scholar. The Drapers offered scholarships in Engineering at the University of London for which one could sit a competative Examination to appy for this maintenance grant valued at £50 a year. If you won the grant then the Government made the sum up to the full £240/year State Scholarship maintenance grant, which was sufficient to live on as a student – tuition fees were also paid by the Government once you were accepted by a University. I also stayed on a further 3 years to do research for a PhD in Electrical Engineering.
    I also attended a magnificent Luncheon in the Drapers Hall once which was held to mark the completion of a new building at QMC, the chief guest was the Government Minister Duncan Sands, Minister of Supply if I remember correctly.
    Nigel West

    • How wonderful to hear your story. My publisher also won a Draper’s scholarship.

      I am a Draper through patrimony, my family having been members of the Company since before records began in 1327. I became Free of The City and a Freeman in 1982 and a Liveryman in about 2001. My father was the 8th Master of the Drapers’ Company which still supports Queen Mary College and a number of schools, almshouses and charities. I’ll ask Simon if he would like to come one day.

  2. I have only just this morning listened to Dr Bill’s desert island discs, amazing to think he is 103.

  3. The experiences they revisit remind us that we must never take for granted the peace this generation secured for all of us and the debt we owe for the freedoms we enjoy and value today. London Second World War veteran Bill Frankland, a renowned allergist and registrar to Sir Alexander Fleming in the development of penicillin was studying medicine at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School when war broke out.

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