In June of 1973, spurred on by the recent discovery of a dying bird in his garden, 9-year-old Anthony Hollander wrote to the presenters of the BBC’s much-loved children’s television show, Blue Peter, and asked for assistance in his quest to “make people or animals alive.” Below is his letter, and the encouraging response written by the programme’s editor, Biddy Baxter.
35 years later, in 2008, the very same Anthony Hollander (pictured above), now Professor of Rheumatology and Tissue Engineering at the University of Bristol, played a key role in a record-breaking feat of surgery: the successful implantation of an artificially-grown windpipe into a 30-year-old Colombian woman named Claudia Castillo. He has since said of the letter and response:
If [Biddy Baxter’s] letter had shown any hint of ridicule or disbelief I might perhaps never have trained to become a medical scientist or been driven to achieve the impossible dream, and really make a difference to a human being’s life. I remember being thrilled at the time to have been taken seriously. Actually, even nowadays I am thrilled when people take my ideas seriously.
Full transcripts of both letters follow.
(These letters, and many other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, More Letters of Note.)
Dear Val, Jhon, Peter and Lesslie,
This may seem very strange, but I think I no how to make people or animals alive. Why Im teling you is because I cant get the things I need.
A list of what I need.
1. Diagram of how evreything works. [inside youre body.]
2. Model of a heart split in half. [both halvs.]
3. The sort of sering they yous for cleaning ears. [Tsering must be very very clean.]
4. Tools for cutting people open.
5. Tools for stiches.
6. Fiberglass box, 8 foot tall, 3 foot width.
7. Picture of a man showing all the arteries.
Sorry but in number 6 in the list the box needs lid. If you do get them on 1st March I can pay £10, £11, £12, £13 or £14.
Send your answer to me,
Love from Anthony,
Thank you very much for your letter. It was nice to hear from you again after such a long time and we are sorry we have been delayed replying.
We are receiving over 4,000 letters every week and are having difficulty answering them as quickly as we would like.
We were interested to hear that you think you know how to make living people – and your list of necessary items intrigued us!
We are sorry we can’t help you at all, but we wondered if you had thought of talking to your family doctor – he might be glad to help you with some diagrams and other information.
We are sending you a photograph of the “Blue Peter” team – it has been signed specially for you.
With best wishes from Valerie, John, Peter, Lesley and all of us on the programme.
B (Biddy Baxter)