Highland Doctor – the Hebrides and Goebbels (part 2)

Click on the picture to view the film

Click on the picture to view the film

Stand by for a treat – if you haven’t already seen it, Kay Mander’s  Highland Doctor from the Scottish Screen Archive is an absolute delight. Click on the image to watch….

It tells in around 20 minutes the story of the Highlands and Islands Medical Service (HIMS) which next month celebrates its centenary.

Mander’s film was made thirty years later, shortly after Jack Cardiff’s technicolor documentary, the The Western Isles which the Government wanted to ban because of potential propaganda value to Goebbels.  

Kay Mander

Kay Mander – courtesy of Panamint Cinema

Bizarrely, Mander got her own break in films thanks to Goebbels.

She had been living in Berlin in 1935 where many of her pals were Nazi sympathisers and landed a job as  a receptionist  for the international  film congress organised by the Nazi propaganda minister.

She was then invited to work for London Films, initially as a translator then in publicity where she interviewed Robert Donat. There she honed her film craft evolving into one of the most talented documentary makers and her politics, becoming a Communist.

Hull-born Mander  did almost everything on Highland Doctor – writing, directing and an acting cameo as a cycling nurse. There are a few professional actors but most of the characters are locals drafted in.

You can tell it is a propaganda film just  from the rousing music under Muir Mathieson’s enthusiastic baton. It was commissioned by the Department of Health who were immensely proud of HIMS and was made despite wartime restrictions on filming locations.  But, by and large, it is a very accurate portrayal of the service.

The Maggie

Alex Mackenzie (right) not as GP but skipper of the Maggie

The GP in the  natty Harris Tweed jacket is Clydebank schoolteacher Alex  Mackenzie making his professional acting debut at the age of 56. He later featured in the Ealing comedies The Maggie and Rockets Galore.

Mander was a vibrant member of the early British documentary movement spearheaded by John Grierson.  The real life GP in Highland Doctor on whom the character was based reputedly lost an eye playing shinty as student with Grierson.

Her life and work is brilliantly chronicled in a two-DVD retrospective box set  produced by Russell Crowe of Panamint Cinema.

In later years her career was stymied by blacklisting because of her politics but she remained involved in the film industry – looking after continuity on films like From Russia with Love, Where Eagles Dare and Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451.

Mander died in December 2013, aged 98. This is  Brian Pendreigh’s obituary from the Scotsman. The BFI has a good profile and interviews with her. A very talented  and prolific film maker and a lovely film.

Update: Thanks to the efforts of Professor Roger Watson and friends, Mander was finally honoured in her native Hull during its year of City of Culture. A plaque now stands on the house in Malborough Avenue.Kay-Mander-plaque


Categories: digital history, gems from the archive, history on the web, medical and nursing

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4 replies


  1. Health, the Highlands and Tony Benn’s dad | The History Company
  2. Dustbin of history – a brief Hogmanay rant | The History Company
  3. Call the Midwife Christmas Special (2) | The History Company
  4. The Hebrides and Goebbels – The History Company

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