COMPANION

Dr Andrew Murdoch

Dr Andrew Murdoch (1862?–1943), Scottish doctor and pupil and supporter of F. M. Alexander.

Life

Dr Andrew Murdoch gained his MD in Glasgow in 1884 but settled soon afterwards in Bexhill-on-Sea where he remained in private practice until his retirement. In 1936 his practice was one of the first in the area to build group premises, and it became a flourishing partnership. He was an active member of the BMA for many years, serving both as chairman and president to local divisions. A colleague contributing to the obituary in the BMJ describes Murdoch as humble, yet enthusiastic and untiring in learning about advancements contributing to people’s health and welfare, in particular the Alexander Technique.[1] [2]

Connection with F. M. Alexander

Dr Murdoch first started having lessons with Alexander in 1923, and wrote several letters to the BMJ in support of the Technique. Murdoch attributed the fact that he was still in practice in his 78th year and leading ‘an active life’ to Alexander’s technique. He read much on the subject of the medical importance of posture in all its aspects.

Dr Andrew Murdoch was co-signaturer to the 1937 letter in the British Medical Journal, signed by 19 doctors, calling for Alexander’s technique to be investigated.[3] At the time of this letter he shared practice with four of the other signaturers: Dick, Kerr, Graham and Winchester.

Writings and lectures

  • ‘Function and posture’ (1928) by Dr A. Murdoch was the fourth letter of four letters on the Alexander Technique written on ‘Function and Posture’ in the British Medical Journal. It endorses what others have written on the Technique in letters (letters by Peter Macdonald, Dr R. G. McGowan, Dr Macleod Yearsley), and argues that Alexander has gone further than Professor Wm. Colin Mackenzie’s researches on the connection between functioning and posture.[4]
  • ‘The use of the self’ (1932) by Dr A. Murdoch, is a letter in the British Medical Journal. It is a reply to a review of Alexander’s The Use of the Self, and addresses one objection to Alexander’s technique, that of making people aware of their use.[5]
  • The Function of the Sub-Occipital Muscles (1937) by Dr A. Murdoch was issued  –probably by the author – as a 20-page booklet. It was based on a paper he gave 5 May 1936 as Chairman of the Hastings Division of the BMA. He proposed that the purpose of the suboccipital muscles is to delicately balance the head on the spine, and suggested anatomical reasons for the primary control.[6] Alexander quoted from this article in UCL, appendix B.[7]
  • ‘Posture and painful feet’ by Dr A. Murdoch is a letter in response to a discussion in the BMJ on painful feet. He suggests that there are alternatives to a ‘chiropodist with his pads’ and ‘operations by the orthopaedic surgeon’. He argues that painful feet is a result of ‘bad use and functioning of the whole body, including the feet’.[8]
  • ‘Control of Functioning’ (1939) by Dr A. Murdoch, was the third letter of three letters on Coghill and the Alexander Technique in the British Medical Journal. Murdoch writes that Alexander’s discovery of a ‘primary control is comparable in every respect to that which Coghill has discovered in the Amblystoma and described as the mechanism which maintains the integrity of ‘the total pattern of behaviour’.’[9]
  • ‘Sir James Mackenzie’s Heart’ (1939) by Dr A. Murdoch is a letter in British Medical Journal on Sir James Mackenzie (a Scottish cardiologist who was a pioneer in the study of cardiac arrhythmias and who died of angina and myocardial infarction in 1925). Dr Murdoch writes:

. . . the last time I saw my friend [Sir James Mackenzie], which was just a few months before his death, we had an argument about the way he was ‘using’ himself – that is, controlling his functioning in relation to his anginal pain. I was a fellow sufferer, as he and others had diagnosed that the incapacity from which I suffered was anginal; he had ordered me a long rest and to live within my limitations. At that time I had broken away from all orthodox treatment and was receiving re-education lessons in the use of myself by conscious control from F. Matthias Alexander. Sir James Mackenzie was very scornful about this, and to my remark that he was ‘using’ himself very badly in the way he was sitting he replied: ‘And why can’t I sit like this?’ The point of this letter is to draw attention to the fact that now when I am entering my 78th year and after sixteen years of ‘using’ myself according to the principles laid down by Alexander, I have kept free from angina, am still in practice, and am able to lead an active life with, of course, some of the limitations due to my age. I would like to add that whereas Alexander’s theory and technique were based on empirical ideas at first, they are now known to be based on definite anatomical and physiological principles.[10]

  • A newspaper reporting titled ‘Physical culture talks’ of a lecture by a ‘Bexhill doctor’ (1941?) is attributed to Murdoch. It discusses ‘head forward and up’ as opposed to ‘backwards and downwards’.

Physical training in the British Army to be based on Alexander’s principles?

‘Physical Training’ (1940) by Dr A. Murdoch is a response to a leading article in the British Medical Journal on a proposed national scheme for the physical training of all young people between 14 and 18 years old to be based on Army training. Dr Murdoch advocates an investigation into all the known systems of physical culture (referring to a previous leader in the BMJ which had urged such an investigation following the Physical Education Committee Report of 1936). In his letter, Murdoch singled out Army training in particular, stating that ‘Army training can be proved to be fundamentally wrong’. The letter does not mention Alexander or the Technique.[11]

‘Physical Training’ (1940) by Dr A. Murdoch is a second letter in the British Medical Journal, responding to a reply by Colonel Wand-Tetley. Because Murdoch’s criticism (in his first letter) was reported in a newspaper under the heading ‘Gross caricatures: Doctor says army men are wrongly trained’, Wand-Tetley responded, inviting Dr Murdoch and representatives of the Press to visit Army establishments to prove that the Army does not produce, in Murdoch’s words, ‘gross caricatures of the human body’. Murdoch’s response draws attention to the importance of the sub-occipital muscle and explaining why it is detrimental for the head to be pulled back and down as shown in the photos in the Manual of Physical Training. Murdoch listed Alexander’s books and added that ‘since writing the above I have been in communication with Colonel Wand-Tetley and he informs me that since July the Army physical training methods are being based on the principles described above.’[12]

This letter was the source of Aldous Huxley’s article, ‘A new technique for new soldiers’, published in Alexander’s UCL. In this article Huxley writes that Army physical training methods are to be based on the principle which Alexander was the first to formulate.

In 1947 Wand-Tetley testified in the South African Libel Case that no directive concerning the head-neck-back relationship was ever issued as a result of Murdoch’s visit or their correspondence and that the Army’s training method did not change.[13] This has been disputed. (For details of the Murdoch–Wand-Tetley episode, see UCL.[14])

Dr Andrew Murdoch *1862? – †1943.

References

[1] Obituary of Andrew Murdoch in the British Medical Journal, 24 April 1943, p. 524.
[2] The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), endnote 41, pp. 249–50.
[3] ‘Constructive conscious control’ by Bruce Bruce Porter et al. in the British Medical Journal, 29 May 1937, vol. 1, p. 1137, published in The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), pp. 13–14.
[4] ‘Function and Posture’ (1928) by Dr A. Murdoch in the British Medical Journal, 17 November 1928. Also in A Means To An End – Articles and Letters on the Alexander Technique 1909–1955 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2015), pp. 248–49.
[5] ‘The Use of the Self’ by Dr A. Murdoch, Letter in the British Medical Journal, 28 May 1932. Also in A Means To An End – Articles and Letters on the Alexander Technique 1909–1955 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2015), pp. 250–51.
[6] The Function of the Sub-Occipital Muscles by Dr A. Murdoch in A Means To An End – Articles and Letters on the Alexander Technique 1909–1955 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2015), pp. 251–64.
[7] The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), pp. 192–97.
[8] ‘Posture and painful feet’ by Dr A. Murdoch, Letter in the British Medical Journal, 23 April 1938. Also in A Means To An End – Articles and Letters on the Alexander Technique 1909–1955 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2015), pp. 265–66.
[9] ‘Control of Functioning’ by Dr A. Murdoch, letter in the British Medical Journal, 15 July 1939. Also in A Means To An End – Articles and Letters on the Alexander Technique 1909–1955 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2015), pp. 266–67.
[10] ‘Sir James Mackenzie’s Heart’ by Dr A. Murdoch, letter in the British Medical Journal, 19 August 1939. Also in A Means To An End – Articles and Letters on the Alexander Technique 1909–1955 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2015), pp. 267–68.
[11] ‘Physical Training’ by  Dr A. Murdoch is letter in the British Medical Journal 5 October 1940. Also in A Means To An End – Articles and Letters on the Alexander Technique 1909–1955 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2015), pp. 268–69.
[12] ‘Physical Training’ by Dr A. Murdoch, letter in the British Medical Journal, 16 November 1940. Also in A Means To An End – Articles and Letters on the Alexander Technique 1909–1955 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2015), pp. 270–71.
[13] ‘The deposition of Brigadier Thomas Harrison Wand-Tetley’ in South African Libel Case 1948 Vol. 2 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2016), pp. 1289–1312.
[14] The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), endnote 85, pp. 84–86.