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By Janet Cresswell


ISBN: 978-1-904697-30-5
Published: 2005
Pages: 122
Key Themes: anti-psychiatry, mental health services, schizophrenia, sectioning, diary


“Those swept into the mental health empire frequently have no understanding of what besets them and I have been no different. Although I kept a diary, all I have now relates to a few months at the end of 1990 into 1991 from which this book evolves with flashes both forward and backwards. I spent a quarter of a century at Broadmoor and for those, like I was once – unaware of what the place is about – I include this glimpse at its history and the beginnings of the empire of which Broadmoor is a small part.” – Janet Cresswell


Playwrite and mental health detainee Janet Cresswell tells all in this amazingly revealing and often violently disturbing autobiography. Janet describes her life at the infamous Broadmoor Hospital and her humiliation and dehumanisation at the hands of psychiatric oppressors. Janet writes with great honesty, integrity and bravery. The circumstances in which Janet has found herself are completely unfair. This book reveals the true injustices behind the UK’s mental health services. Janet was a victim; this book should help others to avoid the pain and suffering that she has endured.

About the Author

Janet Cresswell was born in 1931 in Bushey, Hertfordshire, she is the only child of a research chemist father and schoolteacher mother. She was educated at Watford Grammar School, became a secretary and married and divorced an architect by whom she had a daughter. She was erroneously committed to a mental hospital; the treatment and psychological horror of the event made her both physically and mentally ill and she emerged psychologically traumatised by the experience but determined to obtain an explanation for her committal.

After her experience at the hands of the mental health services she withdrew from society, emerging only to work to earn a living, her shattered confidence was partially restored by employers treating her well but she was puzzled that psychiatrists labelled her paranoid schizophrenic and wanted her medicated for life. After treatment she experienced some precognitive voices but found no explanation for these paranormal experiences in books by Freud and Jung. Janet stabbed a psychiatrist with a vegetable knife to get him to Court to explain why she had been committed to him. As a result Janet was sent to Broadmoor, where she stayed for twenty-seven years.

In 1987 The Sunday Times printed her article in their ‘Day in the Life’ series. This article was then re-published, in abridged form, in 2003 with a hundred of the best pieces over the past twenty five years. Her Play, ‘The One-Sided Wall’ (1988), directed by Nikki Johnson, was performed at the Bush Theatre and elsewhere published by Methuin in their series ‘Plays by Women 8’. Janet was transferred to an RSU (Regional Secure Unit) in 2003 where she remains.

Book Extract

The wait to make a telephone call was interrupted by a piercing oscillating wail. Fire alarm. Down the corridor we struggled in a straggly line, the penetrating noise from the bell making us stuff our fingers in our ears. Two nurses stood at the top of the stairs into the garden, one with a clipboard ticking off our names as we trundled past, the other “counting”. “It’s Lizzy”, says Sheila as we reach the stairwell, away from staff, “they wouldn’t let her have a couple of Panadol”; the fire engine is obliged to respond to all calls and costs £1500 a visit. “Nobody knew where the alarm bell was when I came here and we didn’t even have fire practice for three years”, I mutter back. What was it staff said when I enquired about fire drill, “The staff know what to do”. They might but with thirty-eight women who did not, what could the outcome be?

Into the garden’s chill air we trailed, it had rained a lot during the day. I took old Margaret’s arm as she stood dazed and two staff carried her friend Lily – the News of the World had featured them both as ‘Fiends of Broadmoor’; at the time I was sitting between the two old ladies in the Sewing Room but doubted I was considered the rose amongst the thorns. “Oh it’s terrible”, Margaret cries, “I don’t know what day it is”.
“Not surprising”, I say, “one day’s much like another, it’s Wednesday 30 October 1990”, I say and she repeats it adding, “You took an overdose once. What can I do? I can’t take any more”.

“I don’t know” I say somewhat surprised at the turn of topic, “but I don’t thank ‘em for keeping me alive.”
“Me neither”, she says as she clutches my arm harder and lowers herself onto a garden bench. She is old for her seventy three years, her diabetes a problem, she is often dizzy and relies on her even older friend, Lily, to provide her with the sweets to which she is denied – these make her dizzier than ever. The newer, better treatment for diabetes enabling sufferers to eat sweets and cakes had not yet been discovered. For Margaret the diet was limited in the extreme, a special dish being sent from the kitchen marked, “Diabetic”. For us there was a choice but for Margaret it was take it or leave it although there were occasions we would envy her the chicken leg while we had macaroni or indeterminate stew. She told me once that her first husband died in a Japanese POW camp and this explained in some way the kindness of the then Superintendent, when an extra fiver would be included in the expenses of her relatives when they visited her. That would not happen today. The infirm ones sit huddled on a bench seat with blankets round them. Jeannette is in a wheel chair. This time someone has remembered blankets; things must be improving.

I remember the first time I walked round this garden, a couple of weeks after I arrived in 1976, the year of the long hot summer when the girls in Holloway broke all the windows in their old building to let in fresh air. The women in prison, allowed out in the daytime sun, had looked a lot healthier with brown tans, than the pallid psychiatrically cared for women of Broadmoor, allowed fresh air in the weekdays in the evenings only, after tea, when the sun was weaker, lunch-times were taken with staff handovers when there was no movement of patients. In those days “airing court” was called regularly and everybody had to go into the garden for sometimes several hours, a few walked round, and many complained at weekends at being made to go outside when they were on largactil which reacts to sunlight and causes severe distress; there was little shade, the buildings and three-tiered terraced garden face south to take advantage of the views and sunshine and the shade from the elm trees reflected backwards, onto the house. I walked round with Nan who had been in Broadmoor a few months without striking up a conversation with anybody. I was her first venture into regaining her memory. She had tried to commit suicide but it was her mother who died of an asthmatic attack trying to save her daughter in the course of which fat from a frying pan had been spilt and Nan taken to hospital to be treated for burns. There she threw herself out of a top floor window fracturing both legs and skull. Her trial had been held without her knowledge; she had been committed as “Unfit to plead”. When brought to Broadmoor she had not understood where she was and a nurse had told her: “You murdered your mother didn’t you”. That alone had been a trauma. “I loved my mother”, she said to me, “I couldn’t have murdered her”. Whenever “airing court” was called and we were counted out most women would sit and chat on the grass or benches but she and I would stroll round together on the path on the middle terrace. She was having group therapy with Dr Murray Cox who had told her that 70% of the women in Broadmoor were in for murder. Whether he had told her this to console her and make her feel more at home with her companions or not was uncertain but the figure certainly preyed on her mind and on that basis at least five in the eight-bed dormitory I was occupying were murderesses. The topic became so macabre – Nan being almost obsessed with it she could not believe she was considered to be what was up to a few years previously hangable material – that we sat down and drew up a list to confirm the figures. We did not know what everybody was in for and made allowances for ignorance and marked them “M” for murder. One woman, Nan maintained, had cut off her husband’s willy after having four children in three and a half years “Murder” we ticked; another had been here ten years, “She murdered her four children. Her children were by her father”. “I wonder what became of daddy.” I wondered, too, how Nan had acquired so much information in her semi-mute state. I wonder what became of Nan. She left years ago after being told by a social worker from Holloway who came to visit her: “You’re not here for murdering your mother, you know, but for your suicide attempt”. We both wondered if her records had showed this change of view. She communicated with nobody here after she left.

I met the ward psychiatrist for the first time a fortnight after being admitted, Dr Boyce Lecouteur, an Australian, was on holiday when I arrived. After the ones I had seen in Holloway Prison I was adamant that I wanted no more psychiatrists and I had to be pushed into the office and forcibly sat down in a chair to meet this one. My first impression was of a hound, big brown eyes and sunken cheeks resembling a Basset and Spaniel crossbreed, a sallow complexion gave him a dirty countenance. I felt him appraising me in a masculine, not medical, manner and I endeavoured not to respond. He was a severe diabetic, requiring two injections a day, on more than one occasion he had collapsed in a coma at work. I was told later by a male nurse that “He’s the best of the bunch” and by a female patient, “My parents had to write to DHS to tell him to stop asking dirty questions”. A male patient claimed Lecouteur had worked his passage as ship’s doctor on the same vessel as he had served and had complained to the shipping company about the stitching of his hand. They had instantly recognised each other when the patient had been admitted to Broadmoor. “You!” each had cried in horror. Dr Lecouteur was responsible for the entire female wing of one hundred and twenty women and a ward on Kent House of around fifty men. One of the conclusions I had reached in Horton with McNeil was that if one psychiatrist was responsible for just one patient no more would be achieved than if the consultant had large case loads but the size of this one did seem excessive. His interviews with me could not be described as in depth. “I didn’t want you to come to Broadmoor”, he said. I didn’t either. He nominated a trainee doctor with a strong Leeds accent to “go over your childhood ailments”; by the second interview we got as far as what my father did in the First World War and then the young man left Broadmoor to continue his career somewhere else.

Dr Lecouteur then asked if I would allow myself to be interviewed at an international conference of psychiatrists to be held at Broadmoor. I agreed. I had nothing to lose but when the day arrived Dr Lecouteur was away on holiday and it was Dr Cyril Levin, the ward MO, who briefed me on the protocol. “You must not mention the name of the hospital or the name of the doctor; merely say ‘the hospital’ and ‘the doctor”. All that happened was that about fifteen psychiatrists of various nationalities, mainly American, took over the ward’s non-smoking day room (and smoked) and I sat and recited my case history, Dr Kyp Loucus, RMO on the male side, was Chair. Dr Loucus was the subject of a disparaging Cutting Edge programme in 1992. I could not believe any of them would be pleased to hear that a patient had received unnecessary treatment which had caused voices in the head never previously experienced and necessitated three gynaecological operations to counteract the hormone disorders caused by the drugs; what builder is delighted when he hears his buildings have collapsed, but when I had finished and before any of them had a chance to ask any questions Dr Loucus looked at his watch and said, “If we’re to catch tea we must go now” and out they all swept.

“What are you doing in OT?” (Occupational Therapy) Boyce Lecouteur would drawl knocking his pipe on the edge of the desk. He was in fact interested in handiwork, did macramé at home and was later delighted with lace making. At regular intervals he whizzed round the various OT sections, which was his form of staff, control, rallying the troops; I imagine he had a diary note to tour the empire once every three months.

Not long after I arrived, Dr Lecouteur embarked on what I was to learn was one of these tours. I was in the OT (which had previously been a large men’s dormitory) where all female new admittances started and, if they were not suitable for the other work areas – kitchen, dining room, sewing room and industrial therapy then the only other female work areas – stayed there for the next fifteen or so years. As Lecouteur reached my desk I did not look up from my crochet but I noted he paused slightly before walking on without comment. When we came to pack up, a pair of scissors identical to the one’s I had been using was missing. I was a new girl to searching and did not appreciate the seriousness of a pair of missing scissors. Ward staff hurtled in to help the search and Sister Jane reprimanded me for not joining in. She was accompanied by the Knicker Picker, a nurse who doubled her duty of searching for unspecified dangerous forbidden objects in our rooms with checking our underwear to see if it required washing. She was so macabre it was said that she dirtied underpants herself merely to assert herself. She regarded me as prime target for bed making and I would be collected out of the OT each morning she was on duty to find my bedclothes littered across the corridor. She maintained I did not make my bed properly. I feared both these members of staff; I could not call them nurses. “Can you search round my desk and clear me”, I said calmly, “I was using a similar pair of scissors and I think Dr Lecouteur took the pair that’s missing”. I was surprised they did not reprimand me for bad thoughts but complied as daylight dawned across the face of Sister Jane. The scissors were found ultimately in a waste bin that would have been difficult for a patient to reach. It was my first understanding that situations can be created to instigate rules that cannot be qualified by normal circumstances. The rules that were instigated following this incident necessitated signing for tools both in and out. The capable, motherly woman in charge, May Wear, had resisted the idea as unnecessary. She was shortly transferred to the female block OT in Lancs House (the Intensive Care Unit), where security was such that even the pins needed to be counted in and out and she had no lovely view but a blank wall to look out on. It was she who had told me that she had been unable to obtain a pay rise of 15p a week for me for good behaviour and that mention of my name at the weekly clinical team meeting was difficult. May Wear’s place was taken by a kindly, affable man, Bill Cerri, who kept a copy of the Nursing Times permanently open on his desk at the Situations Vacant column. That such a nice man, with pleasant wife who worked on the ward, could have such a harridan of a mother-in-law (who told Nan she’d murdered her mother and whose husband worked in the Industrial OT, his issue coat fitted with poachers’ pockets to remove over two hundred boxes of Christmas cards being packed for the Spastic Society for him to sell privately in a market and anything else that took his fancy) I do not know.



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