News about a forthcoming TV series based on the life of the 18th century surgeon John Hunter:
The star of David Cronenberg’s upcoming television series “Knifeman” will be the British actor Tim Roth, Deadline reported yesterday. Roth will play the self-taught 18th-century surgeon and scientist John Tattersall, who frequently used resurrectionists to get his hands on cadavers for his extensive experiments.
As originally announced in March, Cronenberg will direct the pilot and co-executive produce the series, which will be offered to networks as an entire entity. It is being adapted by Rolin Jones from a story by Jones and Ron Fitzgerald that is based on “The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery,” Wendy Moore’s biography of John Hunter.
Born in Scotland in 1729, Hunter started out as a cabinet-maker but became a dissection assistant to his brother Robert, a teacher of anatomy, in London around 1750. The allegations that the brothers were involved in the murders of pregnant women to provide corpses for a famous obstetrician have largely been discounted.
After medical training, Hunter became a surgeon and served with the British army in Belle Île near Brittany and in Portugal. Entering private practice with a dentist, he conducted relatively successful tooth transplants. In 1764, he set up his own anatomy school.
“In an age when operations were crude, extremely painful and often fatal, Hunter rejected medieval traditions based on ancient Greek orthodoxy to forge a revolution in surgery founded on pioneering scientific experiment,” Moore writes. “Using the knowledge gained from countless human dissections, Hunter worked to improve medical care for both the poorest and the best-known characters of the time, including the prime minister William Pitt, the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds and the young Lord Byron.”
Among his other patients were Benjamin Franklin, Adam Smith, and the artist Thomas Gainsborough. In 1791, he offered to remove a nasal polyp from the nasally afflicted Austrian composer Joseph Haydn, but the offer was declined. Hunter’s poetess wife Anne wrote lyrics for Haydn and may or may not have become involved with him after Hunter died from a heart attack in 1793.
A naturalist and proto-Darwinist, Hunter dissected some of the animals imported to England by Captain James Cook, and was the first man to cut up a kangaroo and giraffe. In the grounds of his Earls Court house, Hunter set up a menagerie, conducting experiments on the animals’ carcasses. (It is said that his animals lived harmoniously and that Hunter was one inspiration for Hugh Lofting’s character Dr. Dolittle.)
Like many 18th century doctors, Hunter carried out experiments on himself. In 1767, he contracted gonorrhea and syphilis from a self-administered injection of what he wrongly believed to be a dose of gonorrhea only. Claiming they were the same basic disease, he set back research into venereal diseases by five decades. It’s the kind of gruesome detail to make the Cronenberg of “Rabid” and “Dead Ringers” salivate. Body horror lives!
I would watch this!
I posted about Hunter’s operation on Pitt here.