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.’ I gather he was still working on academic papers up until his recent death at the age of 108.

Dr Frankland and I were both Liverymen of the Worshipful Company of Drapers, so found 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 was an endless source of interesting stories. 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 and gallantly agreed toHe became the historical adviser on my next book, ‘The Man Who Got Out of Japan’. 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 was amused by the fact that, as a child of twelve, I played the part of Titty in the 1974 feature film of ‘Swallows & Amazons’, 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.

Sophie Neville in the tent at night

Bill lost his wife to cancer some time ago but his family were ever around him. At the age of 102, he told me that his doctor insisted that he walked a mile a day but it was quite an experience to accompany him along the crowded London streets. On turning 99 he began to use a walking stick which was twirled in all directions.

Read more:

‘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):