A spoonful of sugar…

Upon reading the title, how many of you managed to resist the temptation to start trilling (Julie Andrews style) the iconic song from Walt Disney’s ‘Mary Poppins’?

Dating back to 1964 (and composed by Robert B Sherman and Richard M Sherman) the song’s purpose was to illustrate how a mundane or daunting task could be made more enjoyable by introducing something pleasant into the equation. I suspect that we can all agree that Walt Disney’s demand for a ‘catchy number’ was unequivocally met, since the song continues to captivate audiences all these years later.

As with so many exponents of the creative arts though, success was by no means immediate. The Sherman brothers had originally written a song entitled ‘Through the Eyes of Love’ but Julie Andrews (who had already been cast as Mary Poppins) hadn’t warmed to the song and so it had been rejected. Struggling to find the inspiration for its replacement, it was Robert Sherman’s son (Jeffrey) who inadvertently came to the rescue whilst innocently recounting the events of his school day.

He casually mentioned that he had received his Polio vaccination – much to the surprise of his father who, knowing that his son was frightened of needles, would have expected such an event to have caused something of a ruckus. When he explained that no needles had been used because the vaccine had simply been put on a sugar cube for him to eat, his father rushed to make a phone call to his brother and ‘A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down’ (quite literally, in his son’s case of course) was born.

Having received the polio vaccination by this method myself, I still remember being thoroughly surprised that my dad (a GP) was offering me a sugar cube at a quarter to eight in the morning! Sugary cereals were very much frowned upon in our household and so this seemed to be a particularly bizarre (but nonetheless welcome!) turn of events. Considering the large numbers of children who seem to (rather systematically) consume unhealthy amounts of sugar nowadays though, I was curious to know the thinking behind it – and subsequent reasons for reform.

I discovered that the oral vaccine was made commercially available in 1961 – as a replacement for the earlier injectable version which had led to some cases of paralysis. Having eradicated Polio completely from the UK by the mid-eighties though (and courtesy of further medical advancement) it was discontinued in 2000 and offered by injection instead as part of the NHS’s routine childhood vaccination programme, as part of a 6-in-1 vaccine.

With the release of Disney’s ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ in 2018, this magical nanny has been given the opportunity to live on in the imaginations of children across the globe for a good deal longer and, overall, I consider this to be a very good thing indeed. However, I’m not sure that the ‘Change4Life’ programme would welcome the mention of all that sugar nowadays – even if it was only intended as a metaphor!

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