Tele­vi­sion Roger Lewis

The Oldie - - NEWS - ROGER LEWIS

If you’re out of pain, you’re win­ning. Do we need any greater wis­dom than that?

Un­for­tu­nately, many peo­ple known to me are not win­ning. My mother-in-law has had a left il­iac by­pass, af­ter her leg went black. My mother has started hav­ing the tran­sient is­chemic strokes, the vol­cano that’s al­ways been in­side her head fir­ing off more sparks than usual. My best pal Steve Masty suc­cumbed to glioblas­toma mul­ti­forme. My wife has had gall­blad­der ‘is­sues’.

Where once talk was of ba­bies and schools, now ev­ery­one around me talks ex­clu­sively about hos­pi­tal ap­point­ments, pre-paid fu­neral schemes and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

Tele­vi­sion ex­ac­er­bates the trend and fills a need – Holby City, Ca­su­alty, Doc­tors, 24 Hours in A&E; dozens of them, go­ing back to Dr Kil­dare and Emer­gency – Ward 10.

The new­est is Am­bu­lance, where cam­eras watch cases in the West Mid­lands as they evolve – chest pains, falls in the shed, dog bites, seizures, a popped kneecap. Dur­ing an av­er­age shift there’ll be three thou­sand calls (‘Do you know what you were stabbed with, Don?’), mostly from the over-seven­ties.

One old shag called for an am­bu­lance be­cause he’d cut him­self on a toi­let-roll holder and wanted a free ride to the surgery. Af­ter mid­night, the emer­gency calls come from the drunks – par­a­lytic teenagers and af­fect­less young men and women who have been con­sum­ing cans of cheap cider all day long.

It is a bril­liant, award-wor­thy se­ries – the edit­ing, the mu­sic, the sub­dued por­traits of th­ese ded­i­cated, hard­pressed paramedics. I par­tic­u­larly adore the plump, jolly, blonde, mid­dle-aged

twins who an­swer the phones, who keep calm and talk ter­ri­fied mem­bers of the pub­lic through re­sus­ci­ta­tion pro­ce­dures.

‘We’ve got a ROSC !’ said one of the twins, weep­ing with joy into a Kleenex.

That’s ‘Re­turn Of Spon­ta­neous Cir­cu­la­tion’ in lay­man’s lan­guage.

Su­ranne Jones in Doc­tor Foster is not a good ad­ver­tise­ment for the pro­fes­sion. She whizzes away from the surgery to snoop around her ex-hus­band’s new house, ig­nores her pa­tients, sel­dom does any work. She’s clearly bark­ing mad, her neck ten­dons fully stretched like um­brella struts. The per­ma­nent in­dig­na­tion put me in mind of Maria Cal­las, rather than a provin­cial GP.

It was a mis­take, I think, to bring it back for a sec­ond sea­son – as the im­plau­si­bil­ity is ir­ri­tat­ing. Would Ber­tie Carvell, as the sleaze­ball hus­band, re­ally have re­turned to the neigh­bour­hood? Would Su­ranne’s char­ac­ter re­ally still be seething, all th­ese years later?

I found my­self ig­nor­ing the dra­mat­ics about a wronged wife and mother and looked in­stead at the ev­i­dence ev­ery­where of hor­ri­ble con­tem­po­rary life – ev­ery­one frown­ing over their text mes­sages whilst hold­ing big gob­lets of Sau­vi­gnon Blanc; the houses with nei­ther books nor pic­tures in ev­i­dence; the meals where even mid­dle-class per­sons no longer hold their cut­lery prop­erly.

Martin Clunes’s grouch in Doc Martin has grown nas­tier with each se­ries, which most peo­ple watch only for the Cor­nish scenery, but which I ogle for bliss­ful Selina Cadell as Mrs Tishell, the chemist who has delu­sions of grandeur.

For jokes about tor­pid liv­ers, but­tock in­flam­ma­tions, syphilitic noses, ar­senic, bleach pow­der, and ‘graft­ing the skin of a pig on to a child’s face’, Quacks was what the doc­tor or­dered. Rory Kin­n­ear was the bonkers Vic­to­rian sur­geon

win­ning rounds of ap­plause (‘I like to smoke dur­ing op­er­a­tions’) for his speedy am­pu­ta­tion of man­gled limbs. He dis­dained anaes­thet­ics as ‘When the pa­tients are scream­ing, I know they’re alive.’ Ru­pert Everett, as the head of the hos­pi­tal, re­fused on prin­ci­ple to ex­am­ine pa­tients. Told about a swelling, he flinched with dis­dain and sug­gested ‘a baked potato is placed on the af­fected area’. When pa­tients died, as they mostly did, the corpses were turned into can­dles.

Yet an­other doc­tor is in Liar, the rape al­le­ga­tion drama with her off Down­ton, Joanne Frog­gatt, and Ioan Gruf­fudd. Ioan is a hand­some car­di­ol­o­gist. No­body be­lieves Joanne when she says she was drugged and abused – she is a hys­ter­i­cal liar, and the doc­tor so re­spectable.

Ioan is Welsh, of course. The pro­gramme re­minded me of a story my grand­fa­ther used to tell, about his un­cle, Wil­liam Havard, bishop of St David’s in Pem­brokeshire. De­liv­er­ing a ser­mon in Welsh, the word ‘truth’ was heard in English. Ap­par­ently it has ‘no ex­act equiv­a­lent’ in Welsh. In­ter­est­ing.

Op opera: Heart-throb Richard Chamberlain in an episode of ‘Dr Kil­dare’, circa 1962

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