Pleasance Bett: West Norfolk author sold her family’s dog and cat remedy worldwide after 15-year fight with Whitehall

Pleasance Bett

Pleasance Bett - Credit: Archant

A long-established canker cure for cats and dogs was sold around the world after a west Norfolk woman, Pleasance Bett, who has died peacefully aged 98, took on Whitehall bureaucrats.

She won her 15-year battle to sell her Thornit remedy for weeping canker when she was refused a product licence and officials from the ministry of agriculture ordered her to stop making it.

In 1975, she rediscovered a family recipe and gave it to a friend to treat her dog, which had been examined by seven different veterinary surgeons. In just five days, it worked.

She then formally applied to register Thornit as a treatment but it was not given final clearance until January 1991 following the intervention of North-West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham.

He had persuaded the ministry, which took a further five months to assess the evidence, to allow its sale.

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Soon, she was selling more than 400 bottles a month of the preparation, which dates from a family recipe developed in 1907, to treat dogs and cats suffering from canker, which affected animals' ears.

Pleasance Margaret Archdale Bett, who was 'dared' by two friends to write her 60,000-word autobiography, 'Mouse to a Tiger,' describes her lengthy battle with officialdom in the final chapter, 'The Tiger Emerges.'

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When she published the book, which had been printed by Fakenham's Iceni Press, the then 68-year-old said she had really only written it for the last chapter.

'I never dreamt I would write a book so I feel it is a terrific achievement. I write as I talk so it is very readable. I have some strong opinions and I put them down,' she told the EDP in 1984.

It also included some history about Thornham, where her family has lived for more than 300 years, and also described her extensive travels including visits to India during the war and also to Russia.

'Travelling got into my blood fairly early. I was always getting into the car and going somewhere – although women didn't usually do things like that in those days,' she recalled.

During the Second World War, she had joined the Secret Service, and was posted to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) as a code breaker. A major part of the work involved analysis of signal traffic as Britain and later the Americans were fighting the Japanese.

Her nephew, Stephen Bett, who is Norfolk's police commissioner, said: 'She was a complete wonderful eccentric. She was just a tremendous character and did everything at full speed and didn't worry what people thought. She was going to do it and that was the end of it.'

'She had found a powder recipe from 1907 which had been passed down by the family. She used to make up to begin with in a flour bowl and tried it. She loved her dogs and it was so successful that it went around the world,' he added.

Although she had been quite quiet, shy and retiring when she was young, later she turned into a 'striped feline' who refused to take any nonsense and especially from bureaucrats,' Mr Bett added.

She was involved with the church, fete, and also with the local Conservative Association as well as all local activities.

A magnificent aunt, she is survived by nieces and nephews, great-nieces and nephews and a great-great nice and nephew.

A funeral service will be held at Mintlyn Crematorium, on Monday, November 25 at 11.30am.

Michael Pollitt

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