Cyril and the NHS

When I left the NHS last December I wanted to do some different things. The biggest and most rewarding project to date has been editing, designing and now publishing Born at the wrong time: the biography of Cyril James by Dave Foxton. Cyril was an ordinary young man from Leeds who experienced and achieved extraordinary things in the chaos of World War 2. Now 94, his memories are still sharp and Dave has woven them into a compelling narrative, seasoned with acute observation, frank opinion and a dry Yorkshire humour.

You may think this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea.

But in the light of Mid-Staffs and the Francis Report it is a true story of real leadership which has valuable resonances for the NHS.

Cyril blossomed into a front-line infantry sergeant who learned to lead not just his own platoon, but also other NCOs and his officers. His passion to do the job properly, his sense of responsibility for himself and those in his charge, his courage in defying wrong-headed convention and blind hierarchy, and his willingness to trust in his own judgement – are all inspiring.

His story shows how, seventy years ago, the British Army was transformed from a defeated and dysfunctional organisation. Incompetent officers who relied on privilege and patronage were cleared out. A culture of common purpose and service among all ranks was consciously promoted. Good quality training in tested techniques, delivered by front-line practitioners, literally saved lives and won battles.

Lastly, Cyril’s story reminds us of what we take for granted from the NHS.  Pneumonia had nearly killed Cyril as a boy; his own first born son died of meningitis the year before the creation of the NHS. A free National Health Service was one of the most important things Cyril and his comrades were fighting for.

You can order copies of Born at the wrong time in these formats

  • E-book version: £3.99 from Kindle store
  • Paperback: £7.99 plus p&p from or £8.99 to order from all good booksellers (ISBN: 9781782990291).

We’ve opened a Facebook page so you can comment and see what others are saying:

I’ve really enjoyed working on this book with Dave and Cyril, and have been really pleased to be able to use my skills to bring Cyril’s story, and Dave’s writing to a wider audience.

I hope you enjoy the final product.


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