The Guy with the Van

An Interview with Guy Tweedy about his campaign van

Guy Tweedy with his campaign van

Guy was born in Darlington in June 1962; lived in Newcastle from 1963-1970 and then moved to Harrogate in North Yorkshire where he has been ever since. Guy is a familiar face in the thalidomide community as he is the longest serving member of the NAC (since 2003) and he joined the Board of Trustees of the Thalidomide Society in 2018. Alongside Nick Dobrik, he is a strong campaigner for fairer compensation for all and works tirelessly for his fellow thalidomiders. What people outside Yorkshire may not be aware of is that Guy has customised a Vauxhall Combi Van to further publicise the campaign against Chemie Grünenthal.

Where did your idea to have a campaign van come from?

Being in the advertising business, Guy said it seemed straightforward to use one of his fleet of vans to communicate his outrage with Grünenthal’s intransigence five years into the campaign against them. Guy’s intention is to ‘publicise the disgraceful behaviour of the German government protecting a despicable pharmaceutical company called Chemie Grünenthal. The van will remain until we get satisfaction from both.’ Guy’s ideal outcome would be for financial reparation and admission of responsibility. He is incensed by Grünenthal’s inhumanity and failure to ‘do the right thing’.

Guy Tweedy's van

Have you had any interesting conversations or difficult encounters because of the van’s direct and powerful message?

Guy took a tiny sheet of paper from his wallet. “This was left under the windscreen wiper once about three years back.” In tiny, neat writing in pencil the note reads:

Thalidomide was a drug clearly given inappropriately to pregnant women. Today it is a useful drug used in the treatment of some cancers and tropical diseases i.e. leprosy. I think you should reflect on this before going out with lurid vehicle logos.

Guy said there were no contact details for him to talk to this ‘misinformed’ person. I commented that there is nothing on the van to suggest that Guy himself is a thalidomide survivor – as beneficiaries, of course we all ‘reflect’ and feel the physical impact every day of our lives; but this person was not to know that. Grünenthal distributed the drug in Franco’s Spain after it was withdrawn from the market elsewhere; needlessly causing many more affected babies to be born and this is one of the facts that absolutely infuriates Guy. The Spanish survivors battle on over fifty years later. Was the note written by a medical professional perhaps, or a German, or someone with a share in pharmaceuticals? We will never know their reasoning and it is a shame that we cannot establish it. What is perhaps more surprising is that no-one has ever written a message of support.

The wording on the van is strong, particularly with the reference to the Holocaust. Guy talked to me about Otto Ambrose, the pharmacologist with links to the Nazis and SARIN. Many of us are aware of these connections through the film Attacking the Devil and Martin Johnson’s recent book, The Thalidomide Catastrophe.

On a positive note, the van has made at least one person aware that they were affected by the drug and were entitled to compensation. Guy wishes that more people would stop and talk to him. His van is very well-known in the Harrogate area and used to be frequently parked on The Stray, although it is now kept on his drive. 

It is also worth mentioning at this point that Guy personally funded a tree to commemorate the ‘50thAnniversary of the Thalidomide Disaster, 2012’ which is on the edge of The Stray for all to see. There was a small tree-planting ceremony with many thalidomiders present six years ago. Tragically, an unknown bereaved mother once left a bouquet by the tree – her thalidomide affected baby had died at birth. She continued to mourn her lost child every day, over fifty years later. In my opinion, we all owe Guy a massive debt of gratitude for his ongoing efforts on our behalf. Guy says he is as passionate about campaigning as running his businesses. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Guy’s hero is Sir Winston Churchill and Guy definitely has the same determination; commitment to a cause and passionate sense of justice. “We shall never surrender.”

Cas Bulmer, December 2018