from Pantperthog to Knockando

Monday, May 29, 2017

The "smoking gun" on that Aneurin Bevan 'quote' I investigated almost six years ago

Way back at the end of 2011 I wrote a post about the provenance of quotes, with three examples of quotes and stories that I felt were not authentic. A couple of months later I proved one of the stories - about the violinist Itzhak Perlman - was totally untrue, because I emailed his agent and got a reply debunking the myth.

One of the quotes was attributed to Aneurin Bevan. I could not find a source for it and the people who quoted it couldn't give me a source either. Then back in January 2015 I had the bizarre experience when I asked a Tweeter if they knew the source of the quote and they linked me back to my blog post questioning whether the quote was genuine. When I pointed that out they didn't bother to reply.

On and off I've noticed the quote still appearing on Twitter, often in this format:

And so to a few days ago when I got a mention on Twitter from a chap called Alex Marklew.  I had not heard of Alex before but he had written a piece on about the same quote. In his tweet he acknowledged my "initial digging" around the quote and he linked to the original blog post and quoted from it.

Alex definitely went further than I did, fruitlessly scouring the biographies that I'd been pointed towards but hadn't had time to read. He also seems to have gone deeper into Hansard than I ever did. And, most excitingly, he has found the quote, except it was not said by Aneurin Bevan. It was a summary of Bevan's position by a British sociologist called Thomas Humphrey Marshall, who wrote 'Social Policy in the Twentieth Century' (published in 1967). Alex has the exact quote in its context in his article. Then in 1978, Marshall's line was quoted in a paper called 'Medicine, Health, and Justice: The Problem of Priorities', with the quote attributed to Bevan. Alex refers to this paper as 'Patient Zero' - the source of the quote as a false 'Bevanism'.

I think Alex Marklew has solved this mystery, which I never thought would be, and I'm grateful. It was one thing on my list of things to get round to one day and now I can cross it off without having to lift a finger.

The question now is, does it matter who said it? I mean, yes, in one sense it does because misattributed quotes are basically lies given false authority based on who allegedly uttered them. But the question is do we still agree with the message, regardless who says it? I do. I think this quote from Thomas Humphrey Marshall captures the essence of why healthcare should be freely available to everyone. I'm not too bothered that it was said by someone writing about Bevan and the NHS and not by the "Father" of the NHS himself (as seen in the meme photo above). But I'm glad I now know who we should credit with saying it.

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