Television 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