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Cancer specialist shares stories of Romford childhood and work at Harold Hill bubblegum factory in memoir

PUBLISHED: 15:00 05 June 2019

David, John, Alice, Graham, George and Dick Standen - family of Graham Standen as seen in his medical memoir about his Romford childhood.

David, John, Alice, Graham, George and Dick Standen - family of Graham Standen as seen in his medical memoir about his Romford childhood.

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A cancer specialist has shared the story of his family's 15-year battle to correct a serious medical miscarriage of justice and his early childhood in Romford in his memoir.

Graham Standen's memoir Medicine, Justice and the Bubblegum Factory, tells the story of his childhood in Romford.Graham Standen's memoir Medicine, Justice and the Bubblegum Factory, tells the story of his childhood in Romford.

Dr Graham Standen's memoir, Medicine, Justice and the Bubblegum Factory, describes his path from a student at Pettits Lane Secondary School in the 1960s to becoming a teaching hospital consultant and leukaemia specialist in Bristol.

He told the Recorder: "I hope the book will bring back many nostalgic memories of 'old Romford' and schooldays in the 50s and 60s.

"We've moved around quite a bit, to Nottingham, back to London and then to Kent, to Cardiff and finally ending up in Bristol.

"I've still got brothers and sisters in Romford and school friends in Elm Park.

Graham Standen's legal battle to correct a miscarriage of justice involving his late father was reported in the Romford Recorder, March 4, 1994.Graham Standen's legal battle to correct a miscarriage of justice involving his late father was reported in the Romford Recorder, March 4, 1994.

"I have special gratitude for the local authority in Romford in 1974 when they awarded me a second full maintenance grant for five years to study medicine in Nottingham to make my journey possible."

Graham often returns to Romford and believes that it has mostly changed in terms of its structure.

He said: "Some of the places I mention in the book no longer exist. We used to live just past the gas works which I think are closed.

"Because I go back to the memories of the previous generation and the time during the war, I think it reminds this generation what that generation went through.

Graham Standen's memoir Medicine, Justice and the Bubblegum Factory tells the story of his early childhood in Romford.Graham Standen's memoir Medicine, Justice and the Bubblegum Factory tells the story of his early childhood in Romford.

"It was a pleasure to go back."

Graham's medical memoir also focuses on his family's legal battle to achieve justice and closure after his father died from industrial asbestos exposure.

The Recorder reported on the result of the Standens' 15-year legal battle in 1994, when Graham's mum, Elizabeth, received £85,000 in compensation.

Elizabeth had been told when her husband died in 1979, aged 58, that he had died of lung cancer.

Betty Daltrey - Graham Standen's mother received £85,000 following a long legal battle to correct a medical miscarriage of justice. Picture: Graham StandenBetty Daltrey - Graham Standen's mother received £85,000 following a long legal battle to correct a medical miscarriage of justice. Picture: Graham Standen

However, Graham always had "nagging doubts".

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Two of Graham's uncles who had worked alongside his father as boiler coverers before the war suffered a similar fate but were correctly diagnosed with asbestosis and induced tumours and their families received appropriate compensation.

"It was well recorded at the time as it was quite a notable event at a pivotal time when problems with asbestos were arising," said the 70-year-old writer.

George Standen - family of Graham Standen as seen in his medical memoir about his Romford childhood.George Standen - family of Graham Standen as seen in his medical memoir about his Romford childhood.

"I communicated often with Jon Cruddas [now the Dagenham and Rainham MP] who was very much involved with supporting the workers from the Cape Asbestos Factory in Barking."

After working at the local Co-op bakery, Graham worked at the A&BC bubblegum factory in Spilsby Road, Harold Hill, until 1974 when two teenagers started a fire at the factory.

The cancer specialist explained that he sees the burning down of the factory as an "allegorical moment" that signalled the end of his time working in a manual role.

"In a way it was a phase of moving from a working class background to a social background.

"The book is about how we all make certain choices and those difficult moments when you reach crossroads in your life."

Two teenagers aged 14 and 15 eventually admitted starting the fire that caused £100,000 worth of damage.

Around a year later, the company folded and the factory closed for good.

The memoir is Graham's first novel and he describes the experience of writing it as "very enjoyable".

"I wrote one sentence and that grew to a paragraph and it just continued from there," said Graham.

"It all sort of flowed out. I'm not sure I could write another book in the same way.

"It's probably been stirring around in my conscious for a while.

"From the point of view of a non-fiction writer I've written plenty of scientific articles but this is my first book."

Graham now lives in Flax Burton, Bristol and in 2013 he retired from his post as a consultant haematologist at Bristol Royal Infirmary.

Medicine, Justice and the Bubblegum Factory is available to buy on Amazon and from bookguild.co.uk.

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