My Grandad and Me

Charles Robert Stanley

David Stanley talks about an inspiration from the past, as The Music Man Project prepares for a special Sunday Night at the London Palladium…


It’s funny how life twists and turns.

I often found myself gazing at my only picture of my late Grandfather – with his blonde hair, smart dinner jacket, wing collar and bow tie. I never met him; he died when my Father was just 11 years old. I had been told Grandad was a Charge Nurse at Claybury Mental Hospital before, during and after the war. Although he would later qualify as a State Registered Nurse, he soon returned to his calling at Claybury, treating all types of mental disorders and breakdowns.

His career in medicine would surely have little impact on me, a musician and teacher.

My own work has taken me from a Shared Leisure Befriender supporting a client with Down’s syndrome to taking 150 musicians with learning disabilities to perform my own music in a unique ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’. But it wasn’t until I began writing the story of Southend Mencap’s late President Joe Dorado in “From the Asylum to the Palladium” that I found myself re-visiting the life of Charles Robert Stanley.

As I explored these mental institutions from the past, and traced the journey from medicalisation of the learning disabled to today’s care in the community, I was shown a second picture of my Grandfather: this time his dinner jacket is replaced with a long white coat and he is administering insulin down the throat of a sedated patient. The very message I was trying to convey was staring me in the face. So often these “asylums”, “mental” or later “psychiatric hospitals” treated learning disabilities, homosexuality, poor behaviour and even single motherhood as a sickness that required treatment. This could mean electric shock therapy, lobotomy or a concoction of experimental drugs. My Grandfather would have been very familiar with straitjackets and padded cells.

Grandad would also bring some patients home to meet his family, an act of kindness which must have endeared him to them greatly.

Life is never black and white. Life twists and turns. We are on a long journey towards understanding differences, towards respecting and caring for all people and towards nurturing and celebrating all our talents. I love music, the arts and creativity. I want to encourage other people to believe anything is possible if you have faith in your own ability to teach and motivate others, regardless of your or their obstacles.

I am deeply proud of my medical Grandfather and hope he is also proud of his musical Grandson.