Instant Sunshine are David Barlow [left in
photo], me [right], and Alan Maryon Davis
[centre]. We're all doctors who trained at St
I was a paediatrician, retired now. I worked
for the Medical Research Council, then at Great Ormond Street, and
at Kingston; and I've also been a GP. David became a consultant in
genito-urinary medicine at St Thomas's; and Alan became a
public-health consultant, then president of the Faculty of Public
Health. He is also quite a star on radio and telly, promoting
health in various ways.
In 1966-67, I was doing a post-graduate course at the
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I had a
small grant from ILEA. When that ran out, I went for an interview
at Tiddy Dols Eating House in Mayfair to sing there for £3 a night
and a free meal; so I did that more or less every night for the
rest of the year.
Alan and David used to pop in and join me, and
eventually they came on a regular basis on Thursday and Friday
nights. One night, Phil Coulter and Bill Martin came in. They'd
just written "Puppet on a String" that year for the Eurovision Song
Contest, and asked us to make a record with them.
Instant Sunshine was the first cabaret we did for the
New Year's Eve ball at St Thomas's. They always had a
Christmas show every year, and it was taken quite seriously - and
then we'd do turns on the wards. It's all lost in the mists of time
now, but I think it was 1967 when the cabaret cried off, and the
person organising it asked us to put something together. I think
instant coffee was just coming in, and I suppose that's how we got
I got married the following October, and went
to Tanzania to work for three years. When I came back, the other
two had qualified, but were still in London so we went back to
Tiddy Dols on Fridays when we weren't on call. Kept that up for
another 18 years. Very useful, like choir practice, really. And we
were doing odd parties and little theatres, and started doing
In the early '70s, we thought it would be fun to have a
bass player. David been in Oxford with Miles Kington; so
we invited him to join us. He was working for Punch at the
time, and Bill Davies, the editor, invited us to do a little
cabaret where Punch was presenting prizes for humour in
advertising; so we wrote a little song.
Then in '75 we went up to the Edinburgh Fringe.
Bill had been invited to stand in for Robert Robinson for a couple
of weeks on Radio 4's Stop the Week; so he asked us to do
the show. We had to go across to Glasgow to a special studio to
record it. Then Michael Ember, the producer, invited us to do some
more. So we did Stop the Week on and off till it went off
the air - about 18 years.
I write the words and music. I got a lot of
help from the others. They'd go in the studio having never seen the
material before, and they never complained. Davies had a very good
knack with harmonies.
I always record the songs myself on tape,
because it's quicker than writing them out. I write the words
first, with a rhythm and concept of what the tune is going to be,
and hopefully, get it together.
The songs recorded with EMI are available on
iTunes. We made three LPs at Abbey Road, available as CDs,
and have two other CDs, and we're hoping to make another. Our
programmes are still coming out on Radio 4 Extra; there was one on
yesterday. But we don't do much radio at the moment. It's a
Some songs have been sung by the King's Singers and
others. We sang with Donald Swann, but we never met
Michael Flanders, because he'd already died. Swann kindly agreed to
sing with us a song of theirs, one they had never performed
At the same time, we were invited to do a
chat-show on Thames telly called Take-Two, a live
chat-show with a song in the middle of it. They knew we might be on
call, but somehow the producers fitted around us.
We get on very well - have done for more than
45 years. If we didn't get on, we wouldn't be together. We've been
round the world together: Oslo, Rome, France, and so on. And one
year, at the Edinburgh Fringe, we met the Light Opera of New York,
who invited us over to Greenwich Village for a week.
Then we were invited to do the Bermuda festival one
year, and went back four times in all. We sang at the
International Law conference in Christchurch, New Zealand. Miles
didn't come, and didn't do Tiddy Dols on a Friday night so we're
very used to singing in a trio. Sometimes we have Tom Barlow,
David's son, who's a very good bass player.
Quite early on, we asked each other why were we doing
this. We decided it was because it was fun. It didn't
matter that it wasn't paying the mortgage. That was a rather
sensible decision, really: it was just a hobby.
Or therapy. In medicine, you see the most
ghastly things, and part of it is managing yourself, and helping
others to manage it.
I found the best way to see my young patients was at
home, and that way you usually met dad as well. Then you
realise these families, who are just like you and me, suddenly turn
into saintly people who cope with really huge difficulties in an
amazing way. They have this incredible strength, which makes you
feel small, and slightly inadequate.
People don't understand what it's like to care for ill
or disabled or autistic children. Parents know most about
their children, not me; so we used to try to create an environment
where parents help each other because they are dealing with same
problems. I can bring out my other stuff, but that's a very, very
small part of the whole thing.
I was a choirboy at St George's Headstone,
Harrow, and that's where it was all at. I was born in
Pinner, and my father was a very good tenor. My whole childhood
revolved round church, cricket, and tennis: choir practice on
Tuesdays and Fridays, weddings on Saturdays, two services on
Sundays, and the children's activities, theatre group, and tennis
and cricket. And my mother and her sister ran the children's clinic
there. When my father came back from the war, the first thing he
did was get back to the cricket pitch. I also learnt the guitar and
trumpet, and played in the St Thomas's jazz band.
We've sung in many churches of all
denominations. We were singing in one last weekend to
raise money for the heating. It was quite chilly.
I have three sons, all musical. Two work in the
musical world, and one in medicine. My eldest did composition at
the Royal Academy, and is now a freelance writer and producer doing
pop, classical, films. . . The middle son is a GP; and the youngest
read English at Durham and works for Warner Chappell music
As I child, I wanted to be a fireman, and then
I'd like to be remembered for bringing joy.
We like to go to the Quantocks and the Lake
District, to the Wordsworth Winter School, and the
Coleridge weekend. Edinburgh, of course, every other year, and the
North Yorkshire Dales. My wife, Judith, was born and brought up in
Mumbai; so we went to visit her brother there, and South Africa
where he lives now.
It's wonderful to be retired, because you can
get through more books. On the whole, I read fewer novels, but I've
just read a Dickens, having read Claire Tomalin's biography of him.
I'm reading Simon Sebag-Montefiore's history of Jerusalem at the
There's so much stuff in the Bible - always
something new you come across - though I quite enjoy some of the
familiar bits of the Old Testament, and the unfamiliar bits.
Genesis is terrific: reminds me of Haydn's Creation, which
I used to sing as choirboy.
We all get angry, I suppose, but in retrospect
it's over quite silly things. I can get boring and angry with
things I was involved with at work: children with chronic problems
and disability. Or, as a GP, I'd go round houses, and behind the
lace curtains find terrible poverty and unhappiness. Used to get on
my high horse about that.
Someone said to me, years and years ago, why
don't you write anything significant? But I'm happier writing what,
hopefully, makes people laugh. I suppose laughter is a really good
I pray for peace.
Locked in a church? Dear, oh dear, I'd be
working out how to get out. I'm happiest with my family and
friends. You're always slightly disappointed when you meet a really
famous person because you find out they're just exactly like you:
two lips, two eyes. . .
Dr Peter Christie was talking to Terence Handley