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Bridget Wilkins and her father Jim Nicholls


"I am a design historian and during the early 1970s, I was involved in documenting design history material, since there were very few books on the subject. Then I realised there were a number of designers around and they all had interesting histories to tell, so I went off and interviewed them. I did not know this was oral history then.

I started the first MA course in Design History at Middlesex University and oral history was taught on that course. I have also carried out various community oral history projects, including one about a working mill which was restored by the community and works as a great community centre, milling flour today.


My Father (pictured, right, with me and my mother in 1952), was an intelligent and bright person all the way to the end. He was in a nursing home because his mobility was limited, and he had curvature of the spine and bad arthritis. This also meant he had difficulty getting his own food ready on time. He hated cooking, but loved fresh vegetables which he had always grown himself.

He was a passionate gardener and I still have his notebooks telling what he planted when, and the time of the year slugs ate things etc. From his nursing home in Lewes he used to go out on his electric buggy into town. A keen photographer, he took photos of unusual pieces of architecture. These were regularly printed in the local community newspaper as a quiz asking people to guess, 'what and where is this?'


But after a while he was looking for something more stimulating and worthwhile to do. He wanted to help teach young people to read or write essays. Father (pictured, left, with me in the middle, and his second wife, Gladys, taken in the early 1990s), had been a geography teacher for most of his adult life, but he was not allowed to have students in the nursing home.

I visited Father most weekends and I’d take him out to the South Downs or to the sea which he loved. I noticed how bored he was becoming, so I decided to find something to occupy his mind during the week. I gave him a Walkman and a list of questions, one of which was 'Tell me about the time when you were diagnosed with diabetes and how you were treated.'

Being a meticulous person he wrote it all out himself beforehand; then when he was happy with it, he spoke into the Walkman. It took several weeks for Father to complete the recordings.

Three years after the recordings were finished, Father died at the age of 90. He held the strong belief that you can live a full and active life with diabetes, and he wanted to give hope to young people especially. This, above all, is why I am sharing his story."

Listen to ‘Bridget talks about her father, Jim’ on Audioboo.

The next instalment of this series will feature Jim's experience of a six-week starvation diet and being put under the care of Dr RD Lawrence. In the following three parts Bridget tells us about her own diabetes throughout childhood, during motherhood; and how her father’s legacy still influences her today.

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