I was born in 1946, and grew up near Kirkstall in Leeds. My childhood was tough: my father was a welder and a bare-knuckle boxer, and my mother was an alcoholic who would sometimes lock me in the coalhouse overnight. I was a bit of a tearaway and would get into fights with other kids.
When I was 10, another lad and I ended up in court after messing about on a museum roof. My mother said she couldn’t look after me any more, and I was sent to Kneesworth Hall Approved School, a residential institution for boys who had committed offences or were beyond parental control, but were considered “highly intelligent”. I was later kicked out for misbehaving, after joyriding a tractor on to RAF land. I continued getting into scraps and ended up in Borstal at one point.
I met my first wife, a nurse, after a motorcycle accident. We married in 1967, and had three children. But when I was 27, I had a bad night of headaches and went to see my doctor. The next thing I knew, I was being driven to the local psychiatric hospital, High Royds. I was handed over but, as far as I was concerned, there was nothing mentally wrong with me. I was there for a month, given psychotropic drugs and eight sessions of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). It felt like standing with your head against a wall and having a wrecking ball hit you.
Dr John Todd, the psychiatrist, told me there was a small operation they could do that would bring my aggression down quite considerably. He asked me: “How would you like to think that you could harm one of your children?” and bells started ringing in my head. It would turn out to be a lobotomy. I felt powerless to prevent it. I was unconscious for the first stage of the operation, which involved pulling back the skin on my forehead and having two small holes drilled into my skull, before having a nylon ball inserted into each.
After seeing what they’d done, my then wife wouldn’t give permission for the second stage, which would involve inserting electrodes into my hypothalamus and coagulating it. The neurosurgeon, Mr Arthur Wall, visited my mother late at night to ask her permission, which made me cross as she was always drunk; she wouldn’t have known what she was agreeing to.
During the eight-and-a-half-hour surgery, I was awake, strapped down. I had to keep my eyes open so they could watch my pupils dilating. They wanted to see how I would react as they shot volts through the electrodes into my brain. I was screaming out; I thought they were going to kill me. Wall leaned over me and said: “And I thought you were a tough guy.”
Nine days after the surgery, I was able to go home; I still had the plastic balls protruding halfway out of my forehead. I went back two years later to get them removed and saw Dr Todd again. I hated him and every time I saw him I wanted to punch his face.
I’ll never know why they chose me for the procedure. Wall was trying to cure violence, and I think I was chosen because I was a boxer and because of my previous history. Years later, I sent for my medical records and found a letter from Todd to Wall where he writes that I would be suitable for an operation on my hypothalamus because I had “no gross psychiatric abnormality”. Both doctors have since died.
I was extremely unfortunate: the procedure was carried out only a handful of times in the UK. I’ve written to my local health authority, and my MP has contacted the Department for Health on my behalf. I’ve never been offered a penny in compensation. I still can’t make a whole out of my experience.
At one point, I would get flashbacks of the operation up to 12 times a day. It took a long time for me to be diagnosed with PTSD. It’s still something that affects me. I can’t walk far; I’m jumpy, nervous and have an irregular sleeping pattern.
I met my current wife in a pub and we’ve been together for 38 years. I don’t know what I’d do without her. Even now, we have a date night every Saturday with a nice meal at home. We have seven children between us and a great-great-grandchild on the way. I love spending time with them and I’ve kept all the toys for them to play with. I’ve still got my sense of humour, because, well, what else is there?