A top doctor who is also a member of Britain's House of Lords has admitted to a prank 34 years ago, inventing an oddball medical condition called "cello scrotum."
In May 1974, Elaine Murphy, now Baroness Murphy, joined with John Murphy in submitting a hoax letter to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), which often publishes correspondence from doctors about unusual cases.
Their letter was in response to a doctor's missive about a condition called "guitar nipple."
It described a painful irritation among three young classical-guitar players, which happened when the edge of the guitar was pressed against the breast and eventually inflamed a nipple.
"We thought it highly likely to be a spoof, and decided to go one further by submitting a similar phenomenon in cellists," Murphy and Murphy admit in the latest issue of the BMJ.
"Anyone who has ever watched a cello being played would realise the physical impossibility of our claim. Somewhat to our astonishment, the letter was published."
Baroness Murphy is a former professor at Guy's and St. Thomas's hospital in London and is a member of an oversight board of Britain's National Health Service (NHS). She was made a life peer in 2004, and is active on mental health and ageing issues in the House of Lords.
The 1974 letter was intentionally signed only by John Murphy, her husband at the time, as he was not a doctor and so would not get into trouble with medical watchdogs.
He is now chairman of a brewery in the eastern English county of Suffolk.
The two admitted they had been dining out on the hoax for years, but decided it was time to confess when "cello scrotum" was cited as a reference in a paper about music-related disorders last month, a sign that an impossible condition was being taken seriously.
The affair has been light-heartedly dubbed "Scrotumgate" by the BMJ.
The original letter said: "Sir, Though I have not come across 'guitar nipple' as reported by Dr. P. Curtis, I did once come across a case of 'cello scrotum' caused by irritation from the body of the cello. The patient in question was a professional musician and played in rehearsal, practice, or concert for several hours each day. I am, etc., J.M. Murphy."