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Nation's Health, The (1983)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of Nation's Health, The (1983)
Euston Films for Channel 4, tx. 6-27/10/1983, 4 x 85 min episodes, colour
DirectorLes Blair
Production CompanyEuston Films
ProducerIrving Teitelbaum
ScriptG.F. Newman

Cast: Vivienne Ritchie (Dr Jessie Marvill), Trevor Bowen (Mr Marcus Thompson), Tony Calvin (Ray Taylor), Eileen O'Brien (Brenda Taylor), Ian McDiarmid (Mr Vernon Davis), Julian Fox (Mr Philip Montagu), Kathy Burke (Brenda Andrews)

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Dr Jessie Marvill joins the surgical staff of St Clair's, a large teaching hospital, just as it faces major financial cutbacks. She comes into conflict with a colleague over the treatment of a cancer patient.

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Channel 4 launched in 1982 with a promise that it would provide TV audiences with something new and exciting. Although much of its programming was far less dramatic than the frenzied press coverage that dogged its radicalism, the channel rightly earned a reputation for challenging drama. Among the productions that helped fuel the early debates on Channel 4's approach to drama was The Nation's Health (Channel 4, 1983), a four-part series which aimed to highlight the run-down state of the National Health Service.

The programme's author, G.F. Newman, was no stranger to controversy. He had previously been rejected by the production team of the police drama Z Cars (BBC, 1962-78) for suggesting that one of the programme's main characters would accept a bribe. He responded by creating a four-part series about the criminal justice system, Law and Order (BBC, 1978), featuring the brutal Detective Inspector Pyall (Derek Martin). Complaints were received from both the police and the Prison Officers Association about the show's negative depiction of their professions. With this in mind, Channel 4 followed each episode of The Nation's Health with a studio discussion the following night.

Asked about his approach to writing Newman later said, "Drama is about stretching cosy assumptions to breaking point and finding something worthwhile with which to replace them." Whether The Nation's Health achieved this is debatable - the four episodes largely reinforced a widely-held view of the time that the NHS was on the brink of collapse, and Newman clearly fails to suggest anything 'worthwhile' as a solution to this despondency.

The quasi-documentary style of presentation, reinforced by the lack of music in both the opening and closing credits, helps create the feeling that the viewer has opened a window on to an unremitting litany of inoperable cancers and botched child births. Unfortunately, the rejection of conventional dramatic techniques of character development and clearly defined narrative structure reduces the cast of doctors and nurses to a battalion of two-dimensional ciphers who seem unable to muster any emotion beyond tired resignation, a feeling that might also afflict even the most robust viewer.

Anthony Clark

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Video Clips
1. The interview (3:55)
2. Kitchen troubles (5:26)
3. Hospital politics (3:11)
Complete episode: 'Acute' (1:24:59)
Blair, Les (1941-)
Burke, Kathy (1964-)
Lambert, Verity (1935-2007)
Newman, G.F. (1946-)
Euston Films
Channel 4 Drama
Channel 4 at 25
Medical Drama