Andrew Rosenheim

A far cry from Dr Finlay

If he is remembered at all, A.J. Cronin is known now for Dr Finlay’s Casebook, which ran for many years on both BBC television and radio, and today resonates with the glow of a gentler past — when a GP happily made house calls, delivered babies, and served as shaman, shrink and confessor to his rural community.

If he is remembered at all, A.J. Cronin is known now for Dr Finlay’s Casebook, which ran for many years on both BBC television and radio, and today resonates with the glow of a gentler past — when a GP happily made house calls, delivered babies, and served as shaman, shrink and confessor to his rural community.

If he is remembered at all, A.J. Cronin is known now for Dr Finlay’s Casebook, which ran for many years on both BBC television and radio, and today resonates with the glow of a gentler past — when a GP happily made house calls, delivered babies, and served as shaman, shrink and confessor to his rural community.

Cronin’s association with these programmes was actually relatively loose. They were based on an early collection of stories, and most of the broadcasts were original commissioned scripts. His own best-selling novels had made him a household name, but they were moral melodramas, not the gentler stuff of Dr Finlay, and lay in a tradition of English middlebrow fiction exemplified by Arnold Bennett.

There was also ample drama in Cronin’s own life, though it was well disguised from public eyes. He was born the mixed product of a Presbyterian-Catholic marriage which was happy but short-lived: his father died when Cronin was eight years old. He grew up in resultingly straitened circumstances, but had the solace of his Catholic mother’s full (and almost suffocating) attention. This helped instill a relentless self-confidence in her son, who excelled at sport and school, and rapidly qualified as a doctor. Soon after, he married May Gibson, a rash decision made after her declaration of a non-existent pregnancy. Despite protestations of devotion, Cronin clearly never loved her, and soon grew close to a young woman named Mary.

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