Reviews TV

Losing It

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 14 September 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:607
  1. Des Spence, general practitioner (destwo{at}
  1. Glasgow

    Actor Martin Clunes is Phil Mac-Naughtan, an advertising executive who discovers he has testicular cancer, and we're supposed to see the funny side? Well, yes. The essence of Britishness is the stiff upper lip—Churchill, Dunkirk, and the rest. There is deep humour in adversity, even with cancer. Humour sidesteps sentimentality to address difficult issues, especially with emotionally dim men types.

    After discovering a lump Clunes visits his general practitioner, who spends most of the time gazing at his computer screen—no doubt looking up his QOF points (quality and outcomes framework points) and wondering whether it would be inappropriate to check Clunes's blood pressure and cholesterol. Clunes's urologist is as functional as a kitchen chair and just as wooden. The oncologist has the charisma of said kitchen chair and has clearly decided that if he cannot carry a scythe at work he will at least dress Grim Reaper style in grey polyester. For a moment I was convinced that this was a fly on the wall production.

    Clunes, in Monty Pythonesque madness, decides to go straight back to work. He has important business, as he is leading a bid to win a large contract to sell power tools, and so he has radiotherapy first thing every morning before work. The utter insensitivity of his boss and the vacuous consumerist nature of advertising is the backdrop to Clunes's life threatening illness.

    His family struggles on. Clunes, consumed by his own illness and his work, is blind to the impact of his cancer on the rest of his family. His wife cries quietly, his young son becomes goggled eyed through video therapy, and his mute teenage daughter hides away at friends' houses. His widowed stepfather, an emotional Neanderthal, merely lurks ineffectually in the corner of rooms.

    In the end, it is the teenage daughter who gives Clunes the doubled barrelled emotional blast straight to the chest—the cancer is affecting the whole family, not just him. Tears all round—they nearly even got me. Clunes wins the advertising contact but gets sacked none the less. But that's no matter, as he now appreciates what is important—his wife and children.

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    The funny side of testicular cancer?


    Will Losing It raise the profile of testicular cancer and screening? I doubt it, and anyway men's attitude to health care has spared us the intrusive screening that afflicts the lives of women. But Losing It is funny and moving—or, as my daughter might say, it's the bollocks.


    ITV1, 13 September at 9 pm

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