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Trial of Dr Fancy, The (1964)


Main image of Trial of Dr Fancy, The (1964)
For Armchair Theatre, ITV, tx. 13/9/1964, 60 min, black & white
DirectorTed Kotcheff
Production CompanyABC Television
ProducerSydney Newman
ScriptClive Exton

Cast: Kynaston Reeves (The Judge); Barry Jones (Sir Percy Brack); Nigel Stock (Mr. Blessington); Ronald Hines (Dr. Harmon); Dandy Nichols (Mrs. Sprat); Peter Sallis (Mr Pender); Walter Hudd (Dr. Pilbeam)

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A Harley Street doctor is charged for the death of a patient, bringing to light a series of bizarre operations.

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Clive Exton's dark but often hilarious satire was broadcast on 13 September 1964 - some two years after its intended transmission. Despite the approval of the regulator, the Independent Television Authority, the broadcaster, ABC, feared that the play would cause offence, in particular a scene in which one witness's pronounced stammer is cruelly mocked by the defence barrister.

Like Alun Owen's 'The Rose Affair' (ITV, tx. 8/10/1961), 'The Trial of Dr Fancy' is evidence that many writers were losing patience with the social realism that had come to dominate British film, theatre and television drama since the tail end of the 1950s. "I became very dissatisfied with realism," Exton said later, "I didn't think my realistic plays had captured what I wanted to say".

Exton and director Ted Kotcheff take a bizarre scenario and play it straight, following it to its logical conclusion. The eponymous doctor (John Lee) is charged with unlawful killing after an apparently unnecessary double leg amputation results in the death of the patient. It emerges that the doctor has performed hundreds of such operations to deal with the 'Cyclops syndrome' - a psychological condition supposedly suffered by tall people who are embarrassed by their height. Fancy's radical solution is to amputate both legs below the knee; he is supported in this approach by gentlemen's outfitter Pender (Peter Sallis), who has dedicated his business to producing trousers for the shorter customer. A number of expert witnesses testify to the doctor's astuteness and integrity, and ultimately the doctor is acquitted. When the members of the jury rush to congratulate him, it becomes obvious that they are all satisfied former patients.

Exton's theme is conformity, and Society's hostility to and ridicule of those who differ from its ideas of normality. The play shares its tone with the contemporary Theatre of the Absurd associated with dramatists like Eugene Ionesco, Edward Albee and Samuel Beckett, and indeed Exton's play has been compared with Ionesco's Rhinoceros, another work dealing with the herd mentality.

In a strange case of life imitating art, just as 'The Trial of Dr Fancy' was being recorded, reports emerged of Swedish doctors performing surgery for 'psychological reasons' on patients worried about their 'excessive' height.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Dr Harmon's testimony (1:43)
2. 'Long in the leg' (2:37)
3. A satisfied patient (3:30)
4. Mr Pender's testimony (3:28)
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Nichols, Dandy (1907-1986)
Armchair Theatre (1956-74)
The Television Play