There’s an iconic photo of Mary Berry when she was four years-old playing doctors with her mother. The image shows a cheerful little girl who would become one of Britain’s most loved food writers and star of the popular television series, The Great British Bake Off.
Eleven years later Mary would find herself in a similar situation, lying on a bed undergoing a medical check although at the age of 13 this was no longer a childhood role-play situation. Mary was isolated in a hospital ward, her parents only visible through a glass window. She was so sick Mary was unable to lift her head.
Berry was diagnosed with polio, a condition she rarely discusses but a topic she covers in a two-part mini-series which starts tomorrow evening on BBC2.
‘The Mary Berry Story’ takes the writer away from the kitchen and delves gently into her past dating back to her childhood spent in Bath during the Second World War and the first time she baked with her mother.
Her illness started with a cold, concerned their precious daughter needed rest they sent her to bed beside a lit Victorian fireplace, as she went to sleep her parents read her bedtime stories and played board games with her.
Days past and Mary’s health showed no signs of improvement, so her parents called for a doctor. After assessing young Mary she was referred to Bath Isolation Hospital, just one of the many medical centres across the country in 1948 treating thousands of children with Polio.
In her sub-conscious state the teenage Berry was aware of the doctors and nurses coming in and out of her room. Although her parents weren’t permitted access to their ill daughter for several days, when they were reunited for the following three months they were only allowed to visit Mary once a week.
Scared of finding out her illness Mary resisted asking doctors why she was so sick, three days into her stay in hospital a nurse told her she had poliomyelitis, which meant very little to her at the time. She was later moved to an open ward comprising of other children around her own age with polio or tuberculosis. All the children were confined to their hospital beds.
During her stay in hospital Mary witness a traumatic experience, the little girl next to her passed away and the other children, along with Berry were extremely weak.
Eight weeks later Mary started to show signs of recovery, although she still copes with a twisted spine and a weak left thin arm due to her illness as a child, although her disability refuses her to stand in the way of her successful career.
The Mary Berry Story is on BBC2, Tuesday 29 January at 8pm.
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