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The Life of Sir Alexander Fleming
Chapter XV - The Nobel Prize


If it be true to say that a great life is a dream of youth realized later, then Fleming will be known to history as the happy man who realized his dream.

dr gratia

In September 1945 Fleming went to France as the guest of the French Government It was his first European visit since the war had ended. French doctors and research-workers were all agog to meet him. Penicillin had reached France during the war by way of Spain and Holland. When a French scientist went to Madrid in 1942, a Spanish colleague gave him a copy of the British Medical Journal containing an article on the extraordinary cures it had worked, and a culture. Another culture had come through Holland. With these the Army had done its best, but the output was too weak to make production on a large scale possible. In 1944, after the liberation, the English had provided better strains, and under the direction of three officers of the French Medical Service — Major Broch, Captain Koch and Captain Netchk — the Military Research Centre had started work.

The intention had been to give him an impressive welcome. He flew from London on September 3rd, and landed at Le Bourget at fifteen minutes after noon. Professors Pasteur Vallery-Radot and Jacques Trefouel (Director of the Pasteur Institute), as well as representatives of the Ministry of Public Health and of the Army, were waiting for him on the airfield.

When he left the aeroplane he saw about fifty journalists armed with cameras, and as was his custom, kept well behind the other passengers. Suddenly, one of the reporters approached him and asked a question. All he could understand was his name and nodded his head, thinking he was being asked whether he was he. At once, the photographers rushed forward and 'shot* a gentleman with an impressive beard who, wrote Fleming, looked a great deal more like a scientist than I did'. When the officials had identified the illustrious traveller the journalists were surprised and indignant, for the question which he had answered with an uncomprehending nod had been: Ts that man with the beard really Fleming?5Having recovered from their astonishment, however, they photographed the genuine Fleming and had a good laugh over the incident.

Fleming's diary, September 3rd: Left 10.30. Grossed French coast 11.30. Arrived 12.15. Enormous reception. Had to broadcast. Driven to Ritz. Lunch. Sacre-Coeur. Pantheon. Notre Dame ... made up speech.

Tuesday, September 4th: Finished speech. Breakfast (no coupons so no butter) ... Gobelins. Saw methods of weaving tapestry and carpets ... Presented with small piece of tapestry. Lunch with Kaminker (interpreter). Reception at Acadernie de Medecine. (All stood up.) President and Oldest Member made speeches. Then champagne and cakes (like wedding). When came away cheering crowd.

At the Academy of Medicine, he said that it gave him great pleasure to think that he was going to belong to that august body. T have been accused of having invented penicillin. No man could invent penicillin, for it has been produced from time immemorial by a certain mould. No, I did not invent the substance penicillin, but I drew people's attention to it, and gave it its name.'

Diary, Wednesday, September 5th: In France only 10,000 Roux bottles a day making penicillin. Great chance for England to organize at small cost a larger bottle plant or to help with advice. Send Raistrick and someone from Boots, Glaxo (who can talk French and who is quite familiar with actual bottle production) ... Interesting planting device, but growth does not cover surface quickly ... Presented with x00,000 units.

Was to have seen de Gaulle at 11.30 but postponed till 4.30. Went to Louvre ... received by Director who showed me round. Pictures, Sculptures, long gallery, etc.

1.30. Lunch at Foreign Office. Sat on right of Foreign Minister ... Very good lunch. Melon, Sole, Chicken, Salad, Cheese, Sweet and Coffee — Chablis, Claret, Champagne, Brandy. Speeches. Foreign Minister, Minister of Health, Pres. of Academy of Med. Then I had to reply. 1066 — hundreds of years of war-history. My life-time peace and Allies in 2 wars. Scars. Penicillin. Thanks.

4.30. Went to gen. de Gaulle at 14 Rue St Dominique. Trefouel, Vallery-Radot and about 12 others in antechamber. Introduced immediately. Conversation 10 min. Then others introduced and de Gaulle presented me with Commander of the L. of H. (Hung round neck and kissed both cheeks.) Said thank you and retired. 5 p.m. Went to Centre de la P&iicil-line de l'armee (near Invalides). On the way Kaminker went to shop in Palais Royal and bought Commander of L. of H. button ...

8.15. Dinner with Duhamel at Cafe at end of Boulevard St Michel. About 40 people, doctors, literary, political, head of trade-unions. Good dinner ... Then had to reply (all translated by interpreter wonderfully). Got home early midnight.

At this dinner, at which Georges Duhamel presided, many doctors were present, as well as Julien Benda, Paul filuard, Claude Morgan, Albert Bayet, Le Corbusier. Duhamel relates that when in the course of his speech he said to Fleming: cYou, sir, have gone a step farther than Pasteur/ the British scientist exclaimed: 'But for Pasteur I should be nothing!'

Diary, September 6th: 10, Reception Pasteur Institute ... 12.15 lunch Vallery-Radot opposite Duff-Cooper, Billoux and about 40 (sat next Mme Trefouel). Speech by Vallery-Radot (English), Billoux and another. Replied (1) Eulogy of Pasteur. (2) Eulogy of Wright. (3) Penicillin. Rules for use. Production. Fastness. Thanks. Presented Pasteur Medal. 2.30. Visited Pasteur Hospital. Dr Martin ... Has nice wife, speaks English ... Saw local treatment of carbuncle — very painful. Then to Garches. Ramon there but apparently only researching — not directing. Bearded man does micro-cinema only. Saw good one of phagocytosis. Tea at Golf-Club at St Cloud.

Friday, September 7th: g a.m. Hospital for Sick Children. Met by Prof. Debre. He gives address and I reply. See n° of pen. cases. Meningitis good. Pneumo one of 4 died. Osteomyelitis good. If abscess opens and evacuates then sewn up with needle left in, through which pen. given ... 11. Claude Bernard. Dr Laporte (Lemierre away). Lung abscesses treated by injection locally ... Endocarditis few ... 5.30. Reception Hotel de Ville ... Pres. of Academy of Science said going to be a member. Speeches and Reply.

Saturday, September 8th: ... Delay at aerodrome. Debre there to meet me with inhalation apparatus and book on painting ... Off at 2 p.m. Home.

It is interesting to know the impression made by this visit on a French doctor, Professor Debre. 'What struck me in Fleming was an extreme intellectual caution. It would not be exactly true to say that he was modest. He was fully aware of his fame, and enjoyed it. But, more than anything else, he feared going too far in his conclusions. He limited the extent of phenomena to what he had seen. When we showed him the results obtained in France, thanks to penicillin, he paid more, attention to the failures than to the miracles. "Tell me some more," he said, "about that osteomyelitis which you didn't succeed in curing." He wanted to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground.'

To Mrs Davis, who had been one of the friends of his youth and was now living in France, he wrote: 'My week in Paris was indeed extraordinary ... What a difference from the innocent youth you helped to educate — and yet I do not believe there is any difference. I now meet all sorts of high-ups, but it is not really more interesting than meeting ordinary people — they are just ordinary folk, except that some of them are a bit conceited.'

The formal reception he had had in Paris was repeated, with variations, in Italy, Denmark and Sweden. He became an itinerant ambassador of British science.

To Roger Lee: I am sorry that I can't get used to all this fuss, but I suppose I have to put up with it. It is very nice to look back on when it is all finished, but at the time I cannot get rid of the scared rabbit feeling.

If he was scared, he managed to conceal the fact, and took this deluge of honours with tranquil dignity. It pleased him to think that he was passing, not unsuccessfully, the last and stiffest test of all — the test of fame. It seemed a far step from the Scottish farm and the little lab. to the academic and royal platforms which he must now ascend. But all this noise, a bit wearisome though it might bd, he looked on as part of the day's work. He knew that he had given of his best, that all his life long he had laboured hard and conscientiously. It seemed to him but natural that the reward should have come at last, and he adapted himself to the new routine conscientiously, contentedly, resignedly.

Among the endless letters which piled in upon him at this time none gave him greater pleasure than that written by the mistress of his 'wee school'. It came from Durban, Natal, was signed Marion Stirling, and began with these words:

Dear little Alex,

Please forgive me — but you were about 8 or 9 years of age at most when I knew you, a dear little boy with dreamy blue eyes ... This little letter is just to congratulate my dear little friend of many moons ago and to tell him that I have been following his career and rejoicing in all his wonderful successes. I just have been reading the marvellous story of Penicillin — and almost feel proprietor. By the way, your wonderful injections cured a very delicate little grand-niece of mine — by name Hazel Stirling.

Kindest regards to you and just go on as you are doing. I see that you were honoured by France — a really fine people I found them ...

In Belgium (November 1945), he beat his own record: three honorary degrees in two days, at Brussels, Louvain and LiŁge. At Louvain he delivered a charming speech. The University had conferred, after the war, degrees on three British subjects — Churchill, Montgomery and Fleming. T did hope that we could all three come together. Then I should have been able to listen to a politician and a general, both orators, both leaders of men, both the idols of their country — and deservedly so — give addresses, and you would have expected little of me, a simple laboratory worker who sits at a bench in a white coat playing with test-tubes and microbes.

'But it was not to be. Winston Churchill has come and gone. Montgomery has yet to come and I am here alone ... My occupation is a simple one. I play with microbes. There are, of course, many rules in this play, and a certain amount of knowledge is required before you can fully enjoy the game, but, when you have acquired knowledge and experience, it is very pleasant to break the rules and to be able to find something that nobody had thought of...'

To John Cameron [his guide in the United States]: I had better tell you about my adventures ... At the end of November I went to Belgium — apparently as a guest of the Belgian Government for the [sic] paid my fare and put me up. The evening I arrived I dined with our ambassador. The next day I lunched with the Prince Regent and then went on to the University to receive an Honorary M.D. This was a solo performance. There was a crowded auditorium. Then a solitary chair in front where Queen Elisabeth sat. Then, on one side there was a throne with two seats where the ambassador and myself had to sit. You can imagine me in that predicament.

On October 25th a telegram from Stockholm announced that the Nobel Prize for Medicine had been awarded to him, together with Chain and Florey. The Nobel Scientific Committee had at first suggested that one half should go to Fleming, the remaining half to be divided between Sir Howard Florey and Chain. But the General Committee decided that a division into three equal parts would be fairer.

On December 6th he flew to Stockholm.

To John Cameron. Isle of Arran: Arrived 10.30 p.m. ... Bed. Off at 8 a.m. to Upsala, and back after dark ... Then official engagements with a small break for shopping. (You could buy as many Parker 51s as you like in Stockholm and Nylon stockings.) Then we had dinner with the British Ambassador (I am getting used to that now). Next day the prizegiving. Full evening dress with decorations. (I had great difficulty in tying the Legion of Honour round my neck but it got there and it was the only one.) This was at 4.30 p.m. Then with fanfares of trumpets we were ushered on to a platform and sitting before us were the whole of the Royal Family and thousands of audience. Then trumpets, orchestra, singing, speeches and receiving our awards from the King. After the reward a banquet of about 700 where I sat beside the Crown Princess. We all had to say a few words (I talked about Fortune), then after the banquet we adjourned to a students' sing-song and dance. Home at 3 a.m. ... Next day the official lecture and then dinner with the King in the Palace. Early to bed it should have been, but when we got back to our hotel we adjourned to the bar and drank Swedish beer for a long time. Among us there was an Argentine woman poet who got a Nobel Prize but could not stand up to the drink.

Another honour which delighted him was being given the Freedom of Darvel, the small Scottish town where he had been at school. Nothing is more pleasant or more rare than to be acclaimed as a prophet in one's own country. Fleming had travelled by rail from London to Glasgow with his wife, his son Robert, his brother Bob, and his sister-in-law. He had invented a new card-game to while away the time. Flags were out in the streets of Darvel. The Provost and the Councillors were waiting at the town gate, with reporters and camera-men. 'Prayers. Speeches. Numerous autographs. A great number of people said they had been at school with me ...' He could not resist the temptation to have a sly dig at his fellow citizens, and said that the mayor of Darvel would never have heard of him if he had not happened to go to Cairo. 'Your Provost had visited Cairo and he had found there that I had achieved a certain amount of notoriety, so when he came back he proposed to the Burgh Council that they send me a letter of congratulation. This gave me very great pleasure, and it was the first time I knew that I had been noticed since I left Darvel ...'

All the enthusiasm with which he had been greeted in the course of his far-flung travels, all this universal glory, though it had failed to change his character, had made his manner not so much more affable (he had always been naturally polite), as less brusque.

The necessity of speaking often in public had given him a greater ease of manner. His friend Sir Zachary Cope, after hearing him deliver a short but witty speech, said to him on the way out: 'That was quite a brilliant effort.' 'Yes,' replied Fleming, T know it was.'

He spoke very well, too, on the day when Lord Webb-Johnson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, presented him with the College's Gold Medal, a high and rare distinction which had been conferred only twenty times in one hundred and forty-four years. The ceremony took place at a dinner attended by members of the Royal Family, the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor. When the speeches were over, his old colleague, Dr Breen, offered him his congratulations. 'To my surprise,' writes Breen, 'he brushed them aside: "Come on, for heaven's sake! Let's go and have a game of snooker."

' "What? Have they got a table here?" I asked.

' "No, no," said Fleming, "I meant let's go to the Club."

'There was only one club, so far as he was concerned, the Chelsea Arts, and, accordingly, we set off in our cars to Old Church Street. This was shortly after the war, when formality in evening wear had not generally returned. The irruption of Fleming in full rig, with the ribbon of the Legion of Honour round his neck, and a multitude of decorations flapping from his coat, into the club had the effect of a bombshell. That, however, did not prevent us from having our game, and it was the small hours of the morning before we left.'

He was still devoted to this club, with its great room painted in light green, the two billiard-tables, the bar, and the free and easy manners of the painters and sculptors. He went there every evening about six, looked happily round the familiar scene, and played snooker, as he played all games, inventing all sorts of extraordinary strokes. Sometimes, to oblige one of the painters, he agreed to 'sit', but never said a word in praise of the portrait. To have done so would have run counter to the unwritten code of all 'Low-landers'. The club members had been staggered when their silent fellow-member had become a great man. When honours came to him, several of them offered their congratulations.

'Oh, that's nothing,' he said, and changed the subject.

At St Mary's, where for some years the question of Wright's successor had been a live issue, Fleming's Nobel Prize settled the

question once and for all. In 1946 Wright retired and Fleming, unopposed, became Principal of the Institute (this title had superseded that of Director). But during one of his absences, Wright took the opportunity to announce the various heads of the services, as chosen by him, with the result that Fleming never had his team, and found himself in an awkward position. He felt this deeply, but did not complain. All he said was: 'That's the way the world is made.'

He had always loved the communal life of a laboratory. Collective work had made it possible for him at any moment to draw one of his neighbours' attention to the odd appearance of some culture or other, and say: 'Have a look at this: I'll tell you the line your research ought to take.' Only with great difficulty was he persuaded that, as head man, he must, from now on, live in a room apart where he could conduct important and confidential conversations. 'Now that you're the Principal, Sir Alexander,' Craxton told him, 'you must have a lab. to yourself.' He gave in, but stubbornly set his face against the room ever being allowed to look like an office. 'No!' he said. Tt shall be a laboratory, and nothing but a laboratory.'

For all who were actively engaged in research, he was an admirable chief. No matter what the work he was doing, a colleague had only to knock at his door, which always stood wide open, for him to say at once: 'Yes, come along in!' — and to give his full attention to the tale of difficulties or discovery. One of his most precious qualities was this ability to detach his mind in a split second from what had been occupying it, and to go straight to the heart of the new problem submitted to him. In three words or so he would sort out the tangle and indicate the line to be taken, after which he would return to his microscope. A few minutes later there would be another knock at the door and another young man would immediately receive the same attention. Sometimes he would follow it Up with: 'Now you've told me about your headache, tell me, what d'you think of this?' and he would point to something that had aroused his interest. He never made his colleagues, whether seniors or juniors, feel that they were working under him: they were doing a job with him, guided by his experience. Dr Ogilvie relates how one day Sir Alexander took him into his brother Robert's factory to vaccinate two hundred workmen who had been laid low with influenza. 'Though I was only a very young assistant,' says Ogilvie, 'he insisted on doing exactly half of the work himself, sterilizing his own syringes and giving the inoculations.'

He rarely praised a piece of work. His greatest compliment was something like: 'I suppose it's not bad.' His approval more often took the form of help and support. He would lend a colleague a hand in writing up a paper, or would arrange that at a meeting of the Pathological Society — or some other learned body — some piece of apparatus invented by one of his young men should be demonstrated. When he thought an idea good, he became its champion, prepared to fight for it through thick and thin. If he thought it bad, he demolished it with one word: 'Rotten!' — and that was the last anyone heard of it.

Many found conversation with him more than difficult. His interlocutor would wait for an answer to his question, often only to get 'Hmm!' or a groan, or complete silence. 'There you stood with your mouth open, with the conversation suspended between heaven and earth, not knowing whether you ought to say something more or make yourself scarce. At other times he could be charming, and always in the most unexpected fashion.' He was invariably more friendly in his dealings with simple folk than with the 'big-wigs'. To a young nurse, who had gone by mistake into his office and been terrified by suddenly finding herself face to face with the Great Chief, the showed the most exquisite kindness, went back with her into the corridor, chatting all the while, showed her the way to the laboratory she wanted, and left her in a state of adoration. These courtesies were never premeditated, but were wholly spontaneous.

He loved brevity and precision. 'I was always very enthusiastic over donations to our research funds', writes Craxton (the secretary of the Institute). 'I once reported the receipt of one particular gift, and showed him a copy of my proposed acknowledgment, which amounted to about 100 words. He glanced at it and with a quiet smile, remarked: "That's a nice effort, Craxton, but the gist of it is that we are very grateful for his thoughtful donation." "Yes," said I, feeling rather pleased. "Then why not keep it at that," he said, "and save yourself labour?" '

He had a very special admiration for neat-handed technicians. 'Bacteriologists nowadays/ he said, 'are becoming incapable of doing the simplest technical jobs for themselves.5 All his life long he had done them better even than the experts and for this reason had gained their respect. He came down like a ton of bricks on any research-worker who was too full of his own importance to undertake an occasional bit of manual labour.

Much of the research-work done at the Institute was inspired or directed by him. He was extraordinarily generous in his attitude towards it and refused to put his name to papers which, but for him, would have lost the greater part of their value. On occasions when he did consent to add his signature, he said: 'Put my name last, then they'll have to mention all of you. If you put it first, they'll say, "Fleming and others," and I don't need that.' Having succeeded beyond all his expectations, he made a point of leaving the limelight to his colleagues.

Both as scientist and master he was admired by those who worked with him. As an administrator he came in for a certain amount of criticism. There were some who said that he had a horror of wrangling and always chose the fine of least resistance. Craxton, however, who as secretary of the Institute knew what went on behind the scenes, did not share this view. 'I remember one occasion when, to satisfy the majority, he took a decision which was contrary to his own personal feelings. This worried him very considerably, and he was an unhappy man for weeks. He was not himself again until, at last, he decided to act according to the dictates of his own conscience, and reversed the original decision.'

Says Dr Brooks: If he held views different from your own, he could be a formidable opponent. He never budged once he felt quite sure that his course of action was the right one.' When he was up against too strong an opposition, he reserved judgment. Tf you leave a problem alone for long enough,' he said, 'it will solve itself.'

He was never in a hurry. He kept a tight rein on his impulsiveness and refused to let himself be influenced by the impulsiveness of others. He was careful not to become involved in the quarrels and meannesses which inevitably arise when a lot of men are working together. 'You know', says his secretary, Helen Buckley, 'how jealous and quarrelsome men of the same profession can be when they are all herded under the same roof. But I never saw the faintest trace of jealousy in Professor Fleming. It prowled all round the place, but never had the slightest effect on him. He was by nature noble and by temperament bigger and better than the greater part of mankind. Mediocrity in all its forms, all pettiness and all the small dishonesties of thought and conduct, had no place in him.'

She gives us a glimpse of how he dealt with administrative matters. 'Someone with a grievance would come in and sit down beside him. With a cigarette in one corner of his mouth, he would grunt out: "Go on." The visitor would say what he had to say. The Professor would listen with the greatest attention, all the while going on with his own work. Then somebody else would sit down on his other side, and put his case. He could do two or three things at the same time, and do them well. When the two men had had their say, he would sit for a while turning over in his mind what he had heard, and then give a reasoned reply to each.'

'He was a man', writes Dr Bob May, 'with whom one could discuss personal problems without the slightest hesitation. One knew that he would listen sympathetically, and do his level best to help.' He once insisted that a scientist who had recently been suffering from nervous depression should be put on a certain committee. 'It'll do a lot to get him on his feet again. He will see that people still have confidence in him.' But he concealed this kind of helpfulness as though it were something to be ashamed of, and from sheer shyness made more than ever a show of being dour, reticent and abrupt.

One reason why he was so little known by those who did not work with him was the queer pleasure he took in deliberately allowing a distorted picture of himself to be put forward. His 'legend' amused him. Every piece of baseless information about him published in the newspapers was as carefully pasted up and filed as though it were strictly true. His secretary and Dr Hughes kept up to date, at his orders, a whole dossier entitled 'The Fleming Myth'. He repeated these various imaginary stories more frequently than anybody else, and saw to it that they did not go out of circulation.

At the Institute he never ceased to insist on the fruitfulness of free research- 'The research-worker must be at liberty to follow wherever a new discovery may lead him ... Every research-worker should have a certain amount of time to himself, so as to be able to work out his own ideas without having to give an account of them (unless he wants to) to anybody. Momentous things may happen in a man's free time.' He had an ironical little story, which he loved telling, about a small firm of chemical manufacturers the directors of which had taken the momentous step of adding a genuine research-worker to the staff. A laboratory was arranged for him, divided by a glass partition from the boardroom. For a whole morning the directors watched, with the utmost curiosity, the white-coated newcomer at work. Round about midday they could contain themselves no longer, but went into the laboratory and asked: ''Well, have you discovered anything?'

'This thirst for immediate results', said Fleming, 'is by no means uncommon, but it is extremely harmful. Really valuable research is a long-term affair. It may well be that nothing of practical utility will emerge from a laboratory for years on end. Then, all of a sudden, something will turn up — very different, perhaps, from what was being looked for — which will cover the costs of the laboratory for a hundred years.' He quoted the example of Pasteur: 'People said, why all this fuss about a little dissymmetry of crystals? — to which one might have answered, like Franklin, what does a new-born child amount to?'

He went back to France in November 1946 for the fiftieth anniversary of Pasteur's death. All the invited scientists were taken by special train to Dole. 'In the train', writes Dr van Heyningen, 'we were joined by a company of young students who had been sent, they said, to act as guides and interpreters. They kneeled — literally kneeled — at Fleming's feet, and spoke of him as one of the greatest scientists of all time. Heavens! — I thought: how terribly embarrassing this must be for poor Flem! — an ordeal if ever there was one — let's see how he comes through it! ... Well, he came through it with flying colours, and the way in which he did so gives, I think, the measure of the man. He was not in the least pompous, but just his usual self, and spoke in the truculent manner which he sometimes assumed.' He described to the students the research-work on which he was then engaged and in which he was a great deal more interested than he was in his previous discoveries. He enjoyed their attitude of veneration, but without the least hint of pride. He collected decorations as a schoolboy collects stamps, delighted whenever an especially rare specimen came his way.

In the course of the press conference, he reminded his listeners how Pasteur, in 1876, had observed that a mould from one of his cultures destroyed the anthrax bacillus and had intuitively foreseen that a substance of the penicillin type might one day be used in the treatment of infectious diseases. T have been in France for a week,' he said, 'making a pilgrimage to all the places where the spirit of Louis Pasteur still reigns: Dole, where he was born; Arbois, where he spent his youth; Paris, where he is buried. His body lies in the Pasteur Institute, but his spirit is everywhere throughout the world where serious work is being done in that field of microbiology in which he was one of the earliest pioneers.

'He laid the foundations, and laid them so well that they now, in the short space of the fifty years since he died, support a superstructure more vast and glorious than even the wonderful genius of Pasteur could have foreseen.5

And yet, while all the peoples of the earth were inviting him and showering honours on his head, he knew no truer pleasure than living with his family in his Suffolk garden. He had the love of family in the highest degree. 'He was never in better form than when they were all together, which happened often5, says Mrs MacMillan. He adored his son, a doctor to be. His wife, now Lady Fleming, was the same simple person she had always been — faithful to her old friends and not in the least intoxicated by success. She knew him so well that his silences, surprising though they might sometimes be, no longer worried her. 'I remember5, writes Professo* Cruickshank, 'a story told about his return home after one of his triumphal progresses: how he entered the house, put down his suitcase on the floor, and said ... nothing at all! His wife announced dinner. He sat down and ate in silence. There was no conversation. No doubt he wanted to talk about his trip, but a curious feeling of reserve made it impossible for him to do so.'

Sareen was still running the two houses with almost no help, though they were usually overflowing with friends. Life at The Dhoon was never lacking in those picturesque and unforeseen incidents which were so dear to Fleming's heart. One Monday morning, when he was taking his guests to the station in his car after a week-end, he realized that they were late and that his friends had missed their train. 'It'll be all right!' he shouted and began a mad race with the locomotive to the next station on the line. His wretched passengers, flung from side to side, clinging to their seats, but fully entering into the fun, urged him forward: 'Go on, Flem! Go on!' The car pulled up with a shriek of tyres and a scream of brakes in the yard of the next station just as the train was running into it. All joined in a cry of 'Well done, Flem! Well done!' and made a dash for the nearest carriage.

These old friendships and these country pleasures were his only happiness. He wanted nothing else. When a friend said to him: 'It's a crying scandal that the nation has not recognized what penicillin has done for humanity by making you some tangible recognition, a hundred thousand pounds, for instance, as was done at the end of the war to the victorious generals,' he replied: 'What should I do with a hundred thousand pounds? I've got everything I want.'

Never was a man so little spoiled by success. 'I have often been struck', writes Dr Stewart, 'by the fact that Flem was the living incarnation of what, in our day, is a very rare thing — a thoroughbred human-being. There was nothing in him of the mongrel, nor of the artificial. Until the very end, in spite of so much travelling, in spite of so many solemn receptions, in spite of everything, he remained in every way the same young man who, long ago, came to London from his native Scotland.

'One day, I made the acquaintance of a French lady who was very knowledgeable in the breeding of dogs. When she heard that I was a Scot, she told me that she had a great friend who was a Scot, too — Alexander Fleming. She had met him several years earlier, and had liked him, as a man, long before she had known that he was an eminent scientist. My reply to this, stupid perhaps, but spontaneous, was: "That's because you are fond of thoroughbred dogs." She looked startled for a moment or two and then said: "Do you know, you are perfectly right." '


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