By Hugh Williams FRCS FRCOphth, Honorary Consultant Surgeon, Moorfields Eye Hospital, London.

Little did the New York dentist realise, when he cleaned his patient’s teeth with ultrasound, that it would change forever the world’s most commonly performed operation. The patient was Dr Charles Kelman. The operation was that of cataract removal. The rest is medical history.

Medical history – even ophthalmic – can be time consuming to locate and to read. To do this, there is little enough time for undergraduates, let alone busy clinicians. There are now three ophthalmic medical documentaries to dip into on to Royal College of Ophthalmologists website

Casanova and the Spitfire Pilots is a unique account of the invention and development of the intraocular lens and cataract surgery. Many young ophthalmologists today will open a box and insert the appropriate lens without ever knowing of the tens of thousands of patients whose eyesight was damaged during the early years of implant development.  Casanova’s observations of intraocular lenses could be linked to their use about 200 years before Harold Ridley and the link between ocular wounds sustained in aerial warfare by Battle of Britain pilots is well known.

The second film The Olympian Ophthalmologist is a biopic of Henry Stallard. The Olympian part of the title refers to his 1924 Olympic medal. This was, surprisingly, portrayed in the epic film Chariots of Fire. The ophthalmologist part understates, enormously, his dedicated achievements as a scientist, writer, teacher, artist, decorated WWII medical officer and his recognition as a world renowned authority on retinoblastoma. Seen, with affectionate good humour, is the extant footage of Stallard at his Moorfields retirement dinner.

Turning a Blind Eye is a story about strabismus. There is no didactic surgery. Rather we encounter a plethora of strabismic links with a lighthouse, medieval churches, Kings and Presidents and charlatans, a Lancaster bomber, Bach and Handel, film stars and poisons. A Victorian drawing room toy leads us to the evolution of a whole new ophthalmic profession – orthoptics. The film explores the basic visual pathways involved in stereopsis, starting with the ophthalmotrope (pictured), and the sequelae of their disturbance – namely the ocular deviation of the sufferer and its social unacceptability in the eye of the beholder. I hope the viewer will find these documentaries surprising in content and not only educational but also entertaining.