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Cardiac Arrest (1994-96)

Courtesy of the BBC

Main image of Cardiac Arrest (1994-96)
Island World Productions/World Productions for BBC1, tx. 21/4/1994-21/6/1996
27x 30 minute episodes in 3 series, colour
Executive ProducerTony Garnett
ProducersPaddy Higson
 Margaret Matheson
Written byJohn MacUre

Cast: Andrew Lancel (Dr Andrew Collin); Helen Baxendale (Dr Claire Maitland); Peter Biddle (CN Patrick Garden); Ahsen Bhatti (Dr Rajesh Rajah); Selina Cadell (Dr Sarah Hudson)

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The often traumatic lives of NHS junior doctors.

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Independent production company Island World had originally intended to make a medical comedy series, but the plan was scrapped after a chance meeting with Jed Mercurio, a junior house officer at Drumchapel Hospital on the outskirts of Glasgow.

"There was an advert in the British Medical Journal saying an independant production company wanted to write a TV programme about medicine," said Mercurio. "When I went down, they said they were thinking along the lines of a sitcom but I just started talking about my job. I just got the impression that they were surprised that the reality had never been portrayed on television before. It just went from there really."

The result of the meeting was Cardiac Arrest (BBC, 1994-96), a darkly funny and often very cruel portrait of the NHS, which Mercurio says was deeply rooted in his own personal experiences. Writing under the alias John MacUre, he created a highly contentious picture of the life of junior doctors, which attracted praise from the junior ranks of the medical professional for its accuracy.

Over three seasons, Mercurio described a world of lazy nurses, rule-bending consultants and constantly stressed junior doctors, who often have to cope with situations beyond their experience. A second season episode, featuring a haemophiliac spectacularly bleeding to death through his nose, prompted the BBC to preface the following week's episode with a reassurance that nose bleeds are rarely fatal. It really was that grusome.

The cast included Helen Baxendale, who played the feisty but tormented Doctor Claire Maitland. Wary of becoming typecast, the actress turned down a fourth season, which resulted in the premature death of the series. Despite healthy ratings the tragicomic classic was cancelled.

Baxendale later found greater fame in the US sitcom Friends and, back in England, in Cold Feet (ITV, 1997-).

Anthony Clark

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