Love, Romance, and the National Health Service

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Here's the abstract:

This chapter considers popular fiction inspired by the National Health Service (NHS) after World War II that was supportive and sympathetic of the emerging health care system. It explores the connection between the NHS and the new ‘Doctor-Nurse’ novels first published by Mills & Boon in the 1950s, and how romantic fiction reinforced a positive view of the NHS among middle- and working-class readers. In a departure from the past, Mills & Boon authors brought their own work experience as nurses to bear in crafting a more realistic, sometimes gritty background for their love stories. While the traditional elements of the Mills & Boon ‘formula’ are intact — escapism, the ‘Alpha-man’ hero, the desire for marriage and security, the happy-ever-after ending — the almost fanatical endorsement of the medical profession is striking. The message sent, and met with approval by adoring readers, was this: nurses are heroic and selfless; doctors are larger than life; the delivery system works; and hospitals are places of romance as well as healing.


What did women take away from reading Mills & Boon's Doctor-Nurse romances in the 1950s, besides a strong moral code and the sanctity of marriage? A close analysis of the novels shows that the firm, led by a new stable of authors, was determined to support the medical profession and the new NHS by allowing an unprecedented amount of opinion and endorsement in the light-hearted romance. Specifically, the novels sell nursing as a noble career choice [...]; salute the few women doctors out there in a burst of quasi-feminism in a male-dominated system; and even suggest patience with the emerging NHS as old hospitals and procedures struggled to change and adapt. (183)


Remembering that Mills & Boon novels were managed, with constant market research as to what the readers would tolerate and what would offend, it is significant in the 1950s Doctor-Nurse romances to find an independent spirit and outspokenness that borders on feminism and, in many cases, challenges the status quo. Here were nurses proud of their abilities and not afraid to speak their mind. Here, too, was the emergence of the female doctor, meeting her doctor-hero as an equal. Only 10 per cent of qualified doctors in Britain in the 1950s were female, but on the bookshelves they were taking over. One could dismiss this as part of the escapist fantasy, but the authors regarded this as an aspiration for their readers and wish-fulfilment. (186)