A Very Peculiar Practice

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A Very Peculiar Practice
Verypeculiarpractice.jpg
This is the main title caption that was seen throughout the series.
Created by Andrew Davies
Starring Peter Davison
Graham Crowden
David Troughton
Barbara Flynn
John Bird
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of episodes 15
Production
Running time 50 minutes
Release
Original network BBC2
Original release 1986 – 1992

A Very Peculiar Practice is a BBC comedy-drama series, which ran for two series in 1986 and 1988. The series was a surreal black comedy, set in the health centre of a British university. The two series were followed by a 90-minute made-for-television film following some of the characters to a new setting in Poland.

It was written by Andrew Davies, and was inspired by his experiences as a lecturer at the University of Warwick.

In 2010, The Guardian ranked the serial at number 5 in their list of "The Top 50 TV Dramas of All Time".[1]

Storyline[edit]

The series is a black comedy with surreal elements. It concerned an idealistic young doctor, Stephen Daker (Peter Davison), taking up a post as a member of a university medical centre. The centre is staffed by a group of misfits including the bisexual Rose Marie (Barbara Flynn), self-absorbed Bob Buzzard (David Troughton), and decrepit Scot, Jock McCannon (Graham Crowden) who heads the team in the first series. One of the themes of the series is the increasing commercialisation of higher education in Britain following the government cuts of the early 1980s, with the Vice-Chancellor Ernest Hemmingway (John Bird) trying to woo Japanese investors in the face of resistance from the academic old guard. Hugh Grant made one of his first television appearances as an evangelical preacher; Kathy Burke also had a bit part. In the second series an American Vice-Chancellor Jack Daniels (Michael J. Shannon) took over from Hemingway, continuing the running joke of naming the VC after a famous American (although the whiskey distiller's name was Jack Daniel).

In the first series, Daker had a romance with a post-graduate policewoman, Lyn Turtle (Amanda Hillwood), who rescued him from drowning in the university's swimming pool. In the second series broadcast in 1988, Daker is now head of the centre and has a new love interest in Polish academic Grete Grotowska (Joanna Kanska). Rose Marie is romantically interested in both Grotowska and Daniels, but only has an affair with the latter,

In the sequel television film, A Very Polish Practice (1992), the couple are now living in Poland, where he struggles with the former Communist country's antiquated health service. Grete encounters an ex lover (Tadeusz Melnik played by Alfred Molina), who facilitated her getting out of Poland and to whom she had promised herself, should she ever return and should he ever ask. She battles to decide whether to stay with Stephen and their child or to go with Melnik (with or without the child), confessing that she still loves him as well as Stephen.

Production[edit]

Lowlands University (the fictional institution at which the series was set) was based on the University of East Anglia campus near Norwich. The BBC wanted to feature the UEA campus in the programme's credits but the University refused permission. The locations for the series' pre-filmed sequences were the universities of Keele and Birmingham.[2] Also used for exterior filming was the BT engineer training school in Staffordshire. The selection of UEA by the producers was not unintentional as it was the base for Malcolm Bradbury, to whose development of the British campus novel the series is much indebted. Most of the interiors were shot at BBC Pebble Mill (first series) and in London (second), in the then common combined film/video format.

The series had its genesis in writer Andrew Davies discovering that he owed the BBC approximately £17,000. This was due to him being commissioned and paid to write a TV project that he did not deliver. Davies decided that the best means of paying the debt was to write a new series, which became A Very Peculiar Practice. In a deliberate case of art imitating life, the final episode of the first series introduces a character named Ron Rust (Joe Melia), a writer who - for reasons that he doesn't quite understand - owes the BBC £17,000, so is trying to write a black comedy about a university in order to pay the debt off. The Ron Rust character also appeared in Davies's A Few Short Journeys of the Heart (an adaptation of his short story collection Dirty Faxes), first shown in the Stages series on BBC2 on 10 August 1994.

The theme tune, "We Love You" was written by Dave Greenslade and performed by UK singer, Elkie Brooks.[3]

The first series was released on DVD (Region 2) in the UK in 2004. A DVD set of the first and second series, along with A Very Polish Practice, was released in the UK during October 2011. Davies novelised both series in two books: A Very Peculiar Practice (1986, Coronet) and A Very Peculiar Practice: The New Frontier (1988, Methuen).

Cast[edit]

Episodes[edit]

Series 1[edit]

No. Title Original air date
1 "A Very Long Way from Anywhere" May 21, 1986
A fresh-faced young GP joins the medical practice at Lowlands University. He is soon disillusioned by his new colleagues, but is fortunate to be rescued from drowning by a nice research student.
2 "We Love You: That's Why We're Here" May 21, 1986

Stephen gives a disastrous speech at the welcome for new students, and soon has to start dealing with their sex lives.

Featuring Hugh Grant and Peter Blake
3 "Wives of Great Men" June 4, 1986
Professor Furie (Timothy West) demands Stephen give him dexedrine so he can work harder.
4 "Black Bob's Hamburger Suit" June 11, 1986
Bob Buzzard tries to persuade his colleagues to start prescribing an experimental drug.
5 "Contact Tracer" June 18, 1986
Nongonococcal urethritis breaks out at Lowlands, which leads to some embarrassing conversations.
6 "The Hit List" June 25, 1986
The Vice-Chancellor wants to close a women's residence so it can be used by Japanese investors. But first he needs to discredit the warden (Jean Heywood).
7 "Catastrophe Theory" July 2, 1986

A trio of civil servants are sent to audit the university.

Featuring Kathy Burke.

Series 2[edit]

No. Title Original air date
1 "The New Frontier" February 24, 1988
Stephen is now head of the practice, there is a new medical centre, a new American Vice-Chancellor, but no girlfriend. He is accused of inappropriately touching a female academic during an examination.
2 "Art And Illusion" March 2, 1988

The Vice-Chancellor's wife wants an Art Gallery.

Featuring Clive Swift, André Maranne, Tim Wylton and Simon Russell Beale.
3 "May the Force Be With You" March 9, 1988

Bob tries to turn the clinic into a massage parlour, Grete's boyfriend wants to kill her, Rose Marie starts an male sexuality group and the campus is invaded by animal rightists.

Featuring Tim Preece and Chris Jury.
4 "Bad Vibrations" March 16, 1988

Students in the department of electro-acoustics are coming down with strange maladies.

Featuring David Bamber.
5 "Values of The Family" March 23, 1988
Professor Bunn is opposing the Vice-Chancellor's policies. Bob Buzzard makes friends with a famous athlete.
6 "The Big Squeeze" March 30, 1988

Students are suffering from malnutrition owing to high rents. Professor Bunn is accused of exposing himself to two students.

Featuring Robert Lang and Mark Addy
7 "Death of A University" April 6, 1988
Rioting breaks out on campus, which brings an old friend back into Stephen's life.

Screen One drama : A Very Polish Practice[edit]

(6 September 1992)

References[edit]

External links[edit]