History of Plastic Surgery: Pathé News went under the knife

Envisage: Was this the future that Dr. McIndoe had in mind?

We were surprised to find this archived newsreel of a plastic surgery pioneer in 1947, Dr Archibald McIndoe, and his harem of men that went under his largely experimental knife.

Known as ‘The Guinea Pigs’ club, these guys were a band of ex-RAF men who had been severely burnt or damaged in service, and so came together in East Grinstead, West Sussex, to have their faces rebuilt by Dr McIndoe in his special ward.

In these early days for plastic surgery, patients were sometimes never expected to reintegrate into society again fully, and so the Guinea Pigs lived in McIndoe’s hospital, where they were allowed to drink beer and wear casual clothes instead of ‘convalescent blues’.

Although the prospect of a ward inhabited by men with plastic faces sounds a bit unsettling, the video depicts these patients as being full of energy and joy. East Grinstead became known as “the village that doesn’t’ stare” and many nearby families would entertain the guinea pigs for dinner.

It wasn’t long after McIndoe’s pioneering scheme that plastic surgery became a more learned and advanced procedure, and vanity-related operations were introduced.

This video from November 1950 shows a lady in Hampstead undergoing a nose job! The narrator announces “even the burden of an outsized inheritance need be suffered no longer, now that the healing hand of plastic surgery can bring relief”.

Plastic Surgery in 1950: http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=47059

The surgeon Charles Willi is Swiss and described as “famous”, having already made 15,000 similar operations. We discovered there is even a boof on him called Charles Willi, Life of a Beauty Surgeon. We particularly like the British Pathé flourish –  “an inch off Cleopatra’s nose may have changed the face of history”

Today plastic surgery has a negative image in the public’s mind; it refers to the perilous facial reconstruction undergone by vulgar celebrities, never failing to make a good magazine spread with sensational photos and horror stories, cosmetic surgery has come to be seen as a celebrity illness, a fatal anti-ageing ailment for millionaires.

Pictured above: Contemporary American socialite Jocelyn Wildenstein

Watch over 90,000 archive newsreels on British Pathé.


Author: British Pathé

British Pathé holds the world's finest newsreel collection. We also represent the Reuters historical collection. All 220K films are viewable on our website.

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