Records of McKenzie Oral History of Glasgow Medical School

Scope and Content

45 video-recorded interviews with doctors, nurses, professors and others associated with medical and university life in Glasgow, 1930s-70s. Interviews conducted 1984-93. The reminiscences refer to the whole span of the twentieth century. Transcripts of some interviews are available.

Administrative / Biographical History

Peter McKenzie was born at Alexandria in the Vale of Leven (about 12 miles North West of Glasgow) on 14 July 1914. He described his father as a "manufacturer's agent".

At the age of 18 Peter began his medical studies at Glasgow University. At the outset financial support came entirely from his family but during his studies he obtained an annual grant from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. He clearly found his period as a student stimulating and fulfilling. He obtained a large number of class prizes but none of the major medals for outstanding students. He was unable to sit the final examinations with the rest of the 1932-37 cohort, owing to persistent poor health, and graduated M.B., Ch.B. with commendation in 1938.

Between 1938 and 1946 he had a varied career in the hospitals of Glasgow, beginning as a Resident at the Royal Infirmary, serving as casualty surgeon at Knightswood and ultimately as Hall Tutorial Fellow at the Western Infirmary. This experience provided the foundation on which his subsequent career flourished. Nonetheless, he sincerely regretted having been rejected (on health grounds) for wartime service as a ship's surgeon in the Merchant Navy.

In 1946 Dr McKenzie was appointed Deputy Physician Superintendent at Belvidere Infectious Diseases Hospital in the East End of Glasgow. He was to spend thirty three years there. In the late 1940s he was appointed Physician Superintendent.

The greatest achievement of Dr McKenzie's professional career took the form of pioneering work with poliomyelitis patients, during the 1950s epidemic. Following a visit to Denmark to study Dr Larsen's techniques, Peter McKenzie and Prof Alex Forrester set up an intensive care unit for polio patients suffering from respiratory paralysis. The Belvidere ITU became a model for the whole of Britain.

Peter McKenzie was a man of many talents and many enthusiasms: philately; music; travel (especially in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland); and film.

One of his uncles was a professional photographer. From him Peter learned the techniques and technicalities of photography at an early age. At 12 he had his own camera and was printing his own photographs. His clinical photographs show that he put this talent to good use for teaching and lecturing. In 1949 he bought his first cine camera, a 16mm camera purchased second hand from the Glasgow Cosmo Cinema for twenty pounds. This was used primarily to film family occasions and holidays. Gradually the holiday films grew more adventurous. Whilst holidaying at Hopeman on the Moray Firth, Peter persuaded the local fishermen to allow him to accompany them to sea. The resultant film provided their wives with the first opportunity they had ever had to see their men at work. In 1957 he switched to 35mm cine photography. Later he adopted video technology, using first Betamax and then Video 8 before settling on the standard VHS format.

Following his retirement in 1979, Peter McKenzie developed several major retirement projects. One was to write a comprehensive history of Belvidere Hospital. Another of his retirement projects was an oral history of the Glasgow medical school and of Glasgow medicine generally.

Peter's interviewing technique was an unusual one. The interviewees were mostly people he had known for many years. Some were close friends. So the interview formed part of a highly sociable day visit to the McKenzies' home. The interviewee would arrive for morning coffee, then the video camera would be switched on and the interview would commence. After an hour or so there would be a break for lunch, often accompanied by a good wine. Then a further hour or thereabouts would be spent in front of the camera before afternoon tea. Many of those interviewed sent thank you letters saying how much they had enjoyed the whole experience.

Whilst the great majority of the interviewees are associated with the Glasgow School of Medicine, a few are not. The latter include Steve Chalmers, an ex-patient and famous football player.

Peter McKenzie died on 5 December 1994.


Arranged by series.

Access Information

One interview has been embargoed. The others are not subject to any restrictions.

Acquisition Information

Dr Peter McKenzie and Dr Mary McKenzie.

Other Finding Aids

A paper based finding aid can be located in the searchroom.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

All interviews have been recorded onto a video format. Transcripts are available for some interviews.

Appraisal Information

Appraised in line with standard GB 812 procedures.


No further accruals expected.