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Vets in Practice (1997-2002)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Vets in Practice (1997-2002)
BBC1, 26/7/1997-31/12/2002
84x30 mins in 8 series, plus 2 specials, colour
Production CompanyBBC Bristol
Series ProducersJulian Mercer
 Rachel Bell
 Amanda Reilly
 Miranda Steed

Cast: Christopher Timothy (Narrator); Trude Mostue, Steve Leonard, Emma Milne, Joe Inglis, Mike Sandiford, Julie Richards, Fiona Green, Alison Lee

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The students of Vets' School gain their first experience as fully qualified veterinarians.

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Whether or not Britain really is 'a nation of animal-lovers', the TV schedules of the late 1990s and early 2000s suggest that the broadcasters certainly see us that way. Rolf Harris's Animal Hospital Live (BBC, 1994) was the first of a raft of series, including several more under the Animal Hospital banner and the RSPCA-centred Pet Rescue (Channel 4, 1997-2003), which put the spotlight on animal carers.

At the dawn of the 'docusoap' boom, the six-part Vet's School (BBC, 1996) accompanied seven would-be vets through the final stages of their training. The successor, Vets in Practice, saw the newly graduated vets gain their first experience of work. Whereas Animal Hospital trained its cameras for the most part on the animals, in Vets in Practice, though the animals were undoubtedly part of the draw - particularly for younger viewers - the real focus was on the young men and women in the white coats. Following the now well-established conventions of the docusoap, the series combined fly-on-the-wall observation of the vets as they carried out their professional duties with detailed coverage of their private lives, with a particular interest in their emotional ups and downs.

Each episode linked three or more storylines to bring both thematic variety and dramatic pace. The attractive young participants - particularly the Norwegian Trude Mostue, who won audiences' hearts when she cried after failing her exams at the first attempt in Vet's School, and the 'eligible batchelor' Steve Leonard, who, to the frustration of legions of female viewers, was too devoted to his vocation to consider a relationship - quickly attracted tabloid interest. The vets were typically displayed as carers and healers of small animals (especially kittens, puppies and lambs; larger farm animals were less common), and their evident dedication to their work only added to their appeal.

While some attempts were made to raise public awareness of issues relating to animal welfare and veterinary practice (later series touched on issues arising from the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis), more commonly the spotlight fell on the more tragic, humorous or sentimental aspects of the animal-centred stories, a formula that won the series audiences of over 10 million at its peak.

In an implicit acknowledgement of its drama heritage, the series, like Vet's School before it, was narrated by Christopher Timothy, who played the young James Herriot in the enormously popular All Creatures Great and Small (BBC, 1978-80; 1988-90).

Anamaria Boschi

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Video Clips
1. Starting the practice (3:07)
2. On call (2:10)
3. Relationships (2:34)
Complete programme (28:43)
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