The first ever test tube baby in the world was born in 1978, in Oldham, Lancashire. A first for Great Britain, thanks to the pioneering work of Dr Albert Steptoe and his son Harold. When Albert had first suggested the idea that couples unable to have children could be helped by a procedure which would involve the husband spilling his seed into a test tube of raw eggs, Harold’s initial response was to call him a “dirty old man.” But after a few refinements, he accepted that his father was on to something, and the two eventually became famous for pioneering the procedure which has helped countless people to start families the world over.
Of course, it wasn’t all plain sailing. And in the early days there were lots of ethical issues raised about the whole thing.
Many people were worried that some unscrupulous doctor might have stored some of the seed of Adolf Hitler and used it in the procedure without telling the unsuspecting parents to be, thus allowing for the possibility that the Third Reich would rise again and World War Three would break out. However, it was pointed out that even if such an unscrupulous doctor existed, and he had kept the seed in the fridge since 1945, it would have almost certainly have gone mouldy in the intervening 33 years.
Others said that spilling your seed was an abomination which was expressly forbidden in the Holy Bible. But they were appeased by the argument that if you catch it in a test tube, you can’t have actually spilled it, can you. In order to ensure that no seed was actually spilt, prospective fathers were handed a funnel along with their test tube and copy of Health and Efficiency Magazine before being ushered into a private cubicle to do the deed.
There have been cases where the so called “genetic soup” produced by the father at the beginning of the process has got mixed up with something produced by somebody else. My sister Pearl’s grandson Darren told me that when he was working in a hospital in Leeds on the Youth Opportunities Programme in the early 1980s, he knocked over a tray containing samples from around a dozen different men. He was too scared to tell anyone, so he took the labels off, and stuck them on fresh test tubes which he filled with some Yakult, which he bought from a shop just outside the grounds. He said that as far as he knew, no one ever found out, but that at least seven of the women got pregnant anyway, because of the friendly bacteria. The cheeky so and so also told me that a month later his friend at the hospital deliberately emptied three test tubes and filled them up himself. By hand! Mind you. I don’t normally believe anything that Darren says, because he also told me that some unscrupulous surgeons removed kidneys from their patients unnecessarily, and sold them on the black market to Uruquay where they were used in the manufacture of Fray Bentos pies.
Auntie Doris’s Top Pick of the Pop Toppers of 1978: “MacArthur Park” By Donna Summer. I know how she felt. I baked a cake one time, and my Raymond left it out in the rain. And to cap it all, he threw the recipe out and the bin men took it away before I realised it was missing. I’ll never find that recipe again.