Pamela Theophilus Gardner - MSc Health Education & Health Promotion, 1989

As part of our commemorations of the 50 years since the institution was created, we caught up with Pamela to learn about her life and career from working in health promotion in the NHS to becoming a three-time published author.


Biomedical Sciences Laboratories

Pamela Theophilus Gardner graduated from Leeds Polytechnic in 1989. As part of our commemorations of the 50 years since the institution was created we caught up with her to learn about her life and career from working in health promotion in the NHS to becoming a three-time published author.

Pamela explains: “It is a time of anniversaries in education: 50 years since Leeds Polytechnic was founded; 80 years since Percy Jackson Grammar School came into being (ceased to be a grammar school long ago and the actual building is now no more).

“The official opening of this grammar school in a Yorkshire mining village had to wait until after the Second World War, but it was opened to pupils in 1939. My first year was 1958.

“My first year as a BSc dietetics student at Leeds Polytechnic was 1981 - apparent that I was as a mature student, and this has a bearing on my reasons for choosing dietetics and for choosing Leeds Polytechnic.

“By this time, I had children and like most parents was keen to do the best by them, which always includes providing a healthy diet. Information and advice on the subject were abundant but not consistent and I needed to be able to make my own judgements. The mention – in Magnus Pyke’s book ‘Teach Yourself Nutrition – of dietetics as a profession was a revelation to me and the trigger for further study. I became more determined once I discovered that not only was there a suitable place within travelling distance, but that the teaching of the dietetic course had a particularly good reputation at Leeds Polytechnic.

“Getting a place was not easy: science A levels, including chemistry, were a must. I had none, not even science O levels. At grammar school we had to choose between separate sciences and languages. I chose languages. With my eye on Leeds Polytechnic, I studied O levels via a correspondence course. This was not possible for A levels because of laboratory work, but the headmaster and science teachers at Hemsworth High School, then local to me, were extremely generous in allowing me, aged 32, to join the sixth form. Luckily, I passed first time and so could leave before my eldest child became a pupil there. Taking that route has made me very appreciative of all opportunities for study.

“What I learned at Leeds firstly in dietetics, then my postgraduate study in health education and health promotion serves me well to this day.

“In particular, I remember an early lecture in biochemistry by Dr Beddoes: he cleverly put together several pieces of valid research, and used statements from each to suggest health dangers from wearing bri-nylon shirts. Very entertaining, but there was a serious point; if studies of relatively simple behaviours can be misconstrued, consider the dangers when analysing complex lifestyle behaviours, of which diet ranks amongst the highest in multiple complexities, even before individual variability of physiological chemistry is factored in.

“Imagine the difficulties of devising a public food/health policy that takes proper account of all the relevant disciplines; advises appropriately for the general public - not individual groups; with simple, clear messages; and without undue political, economic or commercial influences.

“A critical approach to evidence and an enjoyment of discovery has also fuelled my interest in antique ceramics. Not the analyses of clays, rather more about the people involved, and the social and economic history, sometimes political history. So, not quite so disparate interests as might at first appear. I write articles, and books, recording the pieces of research that have excited me the most.

“My final work within the NHS was based at St. James’s University Hospital, Leeds. As part of that work I produced a bi-monthly Health Bulletin, distributed across employees for whom we were contracted to provide a health promotion service – and that included Department of Health staff at Quarry House, Leeds.

“To state the obvious, eating is a universal and life-long activity. Food and health policies will always be with us and will not get any less complex. The lessons from Dr Beddoes remain pertinent. I think also of one of my heroes, the physicist Richard Feynman, who shortly before his death spoke on the subject of Artificial Intelligence. He reminded us that unless the question being asked is the right one for the problem, and the data processing algorithms being applied are the right ones to provide the answer to the question, then no amount of Big Data will progress our knowledge.

“It is pleasant to sometimes indulge in the freedom of writing fiction. My latest book Writings for a Car Boot Sale includes some fictional stories, some non-fiction ceramic mysteries, and concludes with two essays related to my continuing interest in diet and health: a dissertation written in 1985, my final year as an undergraduate in dietetics; and an essay written in January 2018, which looks at the implementation of a current food policy.

“I have written numerous articles relating to ceramics, published in Antiques Magazine but mostly in the Northern Ceramic Society Newsletter; and articles about healthy eating, food policies and general health promotion, published via the linked-in website. The writing of those many articles is pertinent, to some extent, to the books now described, in order of publication.”

Billingsley, Brampton and Beyond In search of The Weston Connection.

“A note accompanied a 200 years old porcelain tea and coffee service when it was sold at auction in 2005. It read ‘China given to me by Mrs Staveley… Mrs Staveley said this China was made to order for her father Mr. Weston…’

“I found those words fascinating and spent around five years researching. Initially, travelling to local and national archives and trawling through letters, wills, estate papers, the proceedings of Chancery and other such documents. And always reading as many books on ceramics of that period as I could find. Later, the Internet came in useful – used with caution and checking facts elsewhere when appropriate.

“It was exciting to discover not only the identity of Mr. Weston, who commissioned the service, but also his incredibly wide connections and interconnections.

“The book proved to be of relevance to several museums and universities, both in Great Britain and in America. As a consequence, a supplement to the book, comprising largely an index, was produced in 2015 to be of further help to students or researchers.”

Corkscrewed (written under P. Theophilus)

“The overt story is of Mack, who begins a collection of corkscrews as a child, and decides to sell them when a young adult.

“It was my stated purpose to tell the story objectively – as an observer – and not impose my perceptions on the reader. Is that possible? To quote from the preamble in the book:

“If only we could write a perfect life and the writing of it create the reality. But that is a ridiculous notion, we are not in a fairy story. Life, both personal and organisational, is lived along a continuum of human interaction; observation at one end, stretching through influence and manipulation to control at the other. We know it and yet it traps us: we cannot manage the diversity of personalities, the complex set of forces and circumstances inhabiting and invading the continuum, in an attempt to achieve the perfect balance for ourselves, without effecting and affecting others.

“With that in mind, I offer you Corkscrewed.

“Within the book – chapter 25 – is the launch of a new alcohol policy. There are differences in context, but I used the actual wording from the civil service launch document of the government’s 1995 sensible drinking strategy, to give some authenticity.”

Writings for a Car Boot Sale

“A nightmare of a book to categorize! An eclectic mix of both fiction and non-fiction.

“The first section is of short fictional stories and sketches, in a variety of forms, and ends with Billingsley Roses, based on a true, historical story – the same eponymous Billingsley of my first book.

“This story leads into the second section: a collection of non-fiction ceramic mysteries. Distinct from the earlier book, other than one mystery has a connection to Jane Austen – as does the Weston family. Two of the three mysteries come from an amalgamation of research carried out for articles in the Northern Ceramic Society Newsletter.

“The third and final section is also non-fiction. It comprises two, more challenging essays.

“The first is a dissertation submitted towards BSc in dietetics, April 1985, Leeds Polytechnic, on the subject of colour E124, ponceau 4R: included in the book almost as an after-thought after reading Mauve by Simon Garfield and recognizing how some points resonated.

“A limited number of copies of the second essay were first published as a booklet in January 2018. It was written after I had failed to get any satisfactory response from politicians and other relevant bodies and organisations, to my questioning of a government policy “to promote diet drinks”, quoted as a key component of the UK Child Obesity Strategy. The essay does not detail the poor interpretation and narrow perspective of evidence put forward in support of the policy. Instead of repeating such arguments it uses the process as an example of how it is possible to implement a public health policy that is clearly wrong.

“Here too were points that resonated, particularly with the essay of 1985: a legal point; ponceau 4R could be used without being specifically named on the food label; similarly, it is sometimes allowed for neotame (a concentrated derivative of the sweetener aspartame), or advantame (a mixture of aspartame and vanillin) to be used without declaration.

“Slotted in or around these main sections are a couple of short, indefinable pieces.

“Having such a mixture of genres within one book is not what is recommended for writers wanting to be published! But we are also advised to be true to ourselves, and to write of what we know…”

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