The Healthy Barmaid


216 pages
Contains Illustrations, Index
ISBN 1-55022-243-0
DDC 610





Reviewed by Moira Harris

Moira Harris is a graduate student in animal behavior at the University
of Saskatchewan.


Readers familiar with The Wealthy Barber will feel at home with this
book. Its hero is an 85-year-old London pub owner, Ida, who is both
healthy and extremely knowledgable about medicine. The narrator
(Gifford-Jones, a Toronto gynecologist and prolific medical writer, in
the guise of a businessman) and his children, both medical students,
visit The Red Lion during their London vacation. Intrigued by Ida, they
return every night to discuss with several top medical specialists such
subjects as cholesterol, vitamins, hormone replacement therapy (for both
men and women), sporting injuries, sexual health, and the benefits of
moderate alcohol intake.

Although informative and thought-provoking in places, this book is
problematical for a number of reasons. First, the medical “experts”
it introduces in the book are a mix of real and fictitious, with no
attempt made to distinguish between the two. Second, opinion is
frequently presented as unassailable fact. (The absence of a list of
references makes it impossible for interested readers to confirm or
extend their knowledge of the medical issues discussed.) Third, some
opinions are potentially dangerous. For example, a chapter entitled
“The Wonder Pill” simple-mindedly trumpets the benefits of the
contraceptive pill while dismissing the risks (“there is no proof, by
the way, that the Pill causes breast cancer”). Fourth, there are
repeated endorsements of drug products made by Burroughs Wellcome,
Parke-Davis, and Ciba-Geigy (some passages read like the advertising
sections of a magazine). Finally, the humor often falls flat and the
writing is at times sexist and patronizing. Although The Healthy Barmaid
is certainly accessible and easy to read, its few good point are more
than outweighed by its many inadequacies.


Gifford-Jones, W., “The Healthy Barmaid,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 20, 2024,