I remember this series well from when it first went to air back in 1986. For a long time only the first season was available but here is the complete thing: both series and the rather less interesting spin off set in Poland following the fall of communism.
It is set in a red brick provincial university, perhaps inspired by writer Andrew Davie's own time as a lecturer at the University of Warwick. Academics and students alike are all played to comedic effect by a superb ensemble cast all of whom take to their parts with relish. The second series is somewhat darker and more political than the first but none the less funny for that. All the cast are first rate but Graham Crowden's portrayal of the eccentric and slightly scary Jock McCannon, head of the university medical practice, and Barbara Flynn's man (and woman) eating Dr Rose Marie stand out from the rest.
The series had its origins in Andrew Davies discovering that he owed the BBC £17,000. This was due to him being commissioned and paid to write a BBC TV series that he did not ultimately complete. Season two introduces a character named Ron Rust, a writer who, owes the BBC £17,000 and who is trying to write a comedy set in a university in order to pay it off.
This series also reminds us just how life used to be in universities back in those days when students still had grants and academics were content to have a job for life. Happy days.
I recommend anyone who wants to relive those long lost days or just wishes to enjoy a very funny series that pokes fun at both the introduction of Thatcherism to academia and the fascism of Political Correctness. Oh yes, and don't forget Barbara Flynn, she is worth the price of this box set alone!
Do youyrself a favour and buy this DVD.
on 24 October 2011
This show is an unusual one that isn't like anything else, being an occasionally surreal political, black comedy-drama. Unlike most shows that were made in the 1980s and which were about life in the 1980s, it hasn't dated as it concentrates on its memorable characters. The story of its creation is a good one and I hope it's true. The writer Andrew Davies opened his post one morning and found he owed the BBC £17,000. Apparently he'd been paid an advance to write a TV adaptation, but the show had been cancelled and they wanted their money back.
Unfortunately he'd spent the money. So his only hope was to pitch them another idea and, as he worked in a depressing inner-city university, he pitched the idea of a series based in a depressing inner-city university. Surprisingly, it was commissioned. The end result was what sounds like an unpromising format for riveting drama of: life in a doctors' surgery as a metaphor for the state of Britain. Thankfully, it's more entertaining than that sounds. The hero is Doctor Daker, a new recruit to the university's medical staff. He's a painfully shy, naïve idealist who's out of touch with real life because he has this strange notion that doctors are supposed to make sick people better. He arrives without any ambition other than to do a good job, to care for his patients, and to get through the day without embarrassing himself too often. I don't think Peter Davison has ever been better and, to this day, I reckon he's the only actor I've ever seen who has the ability to go bright red with embarrassment.
The show relates how his idealist ways are tested by his fellow doctors, who all have no interest in wasting their time with sick people. The boss of the surgery is the decrepit Old Jock, played gloriously by Graham Crowden, who spends the whole series seemingly at death's door. As a doctor, these days he'd be a walking lawsuit. He's the sort of doctor who'd prescribe a lie down to a patient who's just died and most episodes feature him missing obvious ailments like broken legs and appendicitis. Instead, Jock spends his time plotting against the vice-chancellor Ernest Hemingway, who he's convinced is plotting against him, although in reality the vice-chancellor is a corrupt money-grabber who is more interested in fleecing foreign students. And when he's not ignoring patients and drinking himself to death, he dictates his magnum opus, the sick university, a rambling and incoherent treatise on everything that's wrong in society.
What he should be spending his time on is stopping his subordinates stabbing him in the back. The first of which is Doctor Rose Marie, played by Barbara Flynn. Again I reckon this is her best role. Rose Marie is a radical feminist lesbian who has no interest in doctoring, but who has worked out what's wrong with the world, and that's men. No matter what illness her female patients have, it's the fault of men, and her vulnerable patients are ripe for being converted to her world view.
She's a saint when compared to the final, and best, character in the show, the force of nature that is Bob Buzzard. Played by David Troughton, Bob is a man without a single redeeming factor. He became a doctor for the money and the social standing, and he'd never soil his hands by actually looking at a patient. Instead, Bob spends his time wrestling with his rinky-dinky computer, playing golf, glad-handing pharmaceutical reps and taking backhanders. He's a character whose every line is crass, arrogant and ridiculous and he's one of my favourite characters in anything.
There are several running joke characters, including a fourth wall breaking writer who wakes up one morning to find he owes the BBC £17,000 and who can predict every twist in the story as he's writing a drama series about life in a university surgery. And there's two nuns who are always rooting around in bins, joy-riding and getting drunk. The only weak elements are that the show apparently gave Hugh Grant his first acting role, and Daker's girlfriend in the first series, who is supposed to be arch and witty, but who comes over as annoying. Thankfully she gets replaced in the more surreal series 2 by a more interesting Polish girlfriend.
Sadly, the show's perfection is tarnished by the weak spin-off film set in Poland and featuring Daker's continued adventures riding the European gravy train, but that aside, the 14 episodes of Peculiar Practice are a quirky and original tv series. And for good measure it had a great original theme song sung by Elkie Brooks.
on 23 November 2010
At last the BBC has seen sense and, by popular demand, both series 1 and 2 will now become available. It's a brilliant programme and never seems to have received the plaudits it deserves. Until now, those of us who wanted series 2 have had to view pirated versions - this will no doubt be of the quality one would expect. I urge everyone who never saw the original programme live in the 1980's to splash out and buy the DVD - it's worth every penny and for satirical power, relevance and wit, puts much of TV's current output to shame.
on 28 July 2012
I've always had an endearing appeal to this black comedy series thanks to fine performances from the series leads and guest cast with enjoyable stories and memorable scenes. A good example of this is Bob talking with his wife in the Buzzard house in the second season `Art and Illusion' episode. Also you have a mild flavour of eighties pop occasionally wafting in. I noticed Simple Minds (Alive and Kicking, All The Things She Said), Pet Shop Boys (Love Comes Quickly, What Have I Done To Deserve This) and Big Country (Walk Away) cropping up. Delighted to nab a copy of this this new `fully complete' slim box release offering up the fourteen episodes plus A Very Polish Practice with its clean cut slim box packaging design with the cover capturing major aspects of the series alongside photos of the University Practice staff. Menus are fairly routine standard static fare however it is interesting to note that A Very Polish Practice (occupying the fifth disc) offers a scene selection option. For extras we've only got the 2003 commentaries on episodes three (Wives of Great Men) and five (Contact Tracer) from the first season but the trio of Peter Davison, writer Andrew Davies and director David Tucker are enjoyable enough. However I for one will keep hold of my original season one 2 disc set as it offers up the now totally unique 19 mins of Pebble Mill at One (Peter Davison) and Breakfast television (John Bird) which obviously due to the licencing having now expired explains their omission from the new five disc release. This omission aside I am, as I indicated before, thrilled to add this to my DVD collection and would certainly recommend it to other customers.
See all the reviews, including mine, praising the DVD of series 1.
Many rate series 2 as even better than series 1. It is much darker and emphasises even more the impact of a market economy approach upon higher education. (This review written during the week of the London demonstrations about student grants!) The set also includes the sequel A Very Polish Practice, which is watchable but not up to the standard of Series 1 and 2.
For all those like me who bought series 1 - grrr. At present the only way to get Series 2 will be to buy this release, thus paying for Series 1 which I already have.
Five stars for quality of content, but four stars from the marketing viewpoint for the deliberate failure to release Series 2 on its own.
on 18 December 2011
A brilliant black comedy with standout performances from a range of top notch (mainly british)actors. While the main underlying theme is the destruction of the humanist university culture in favour of a user pays right wing one that typified thacher's britain,there are many engaging self contained stories and engrossing romantic arcs, especially in second season.has not lost any of it's bite since first aired 25yrs ago. The spin off A Very Polish Practice not as good and more serious in tone, but worth a look just to see fate of those characters depicted--namely Stephen,Grete and Bob Buzzard.
on 2 June 2011
Amazing! I was thinking about series 2 the other day when I watched Drop the Dead Donkey and I wondered if they could ever issue the second series. I know there were all sorts of contract problems. This is such good news - anyone who has a smidgeon of interest in how we got where we are in education, health, politics etc just look at this. Yes it's funny but it is brilliant dark satire of a very high order. Do not be out off by the inferior (but populist) stuff that Andrew Davies went on to make - this is the real deal. The first series was good but this second one has everything the 80's had and more - Bob Blizzards depression and gay interlude (honest)as for Rose Marie... Barbara Flynn such a gem. - I had to get a pirated video to see this a second time and I am so pleased to see it out there now.
Last word - buy it and realise why satire is so poor these days!
on 31 July 2012
It's brilliant: funny, sharp, human, and oh sadly still so topical. It's funny to watch as a series of brilliant grotesques - the perceptive but decaying and alcoholic Jock, the naive, vulnerable, but well meaning Stephen, the quintessential 1980s bastard (with all his inner insecurities) Bob Buzzard, and the ever manipulative uber feminist Rose Marie. It has some amazing actors in the first stages of their career (Simon Russell Beale, Kathy Burke, Hugh Grant), and some classic actors (James Grout, John Bird, Frances White). But what makes it great is that as well as being oh so funny, it still has a biting message about the worth of universities, and why we should value them beyond their cash value. Watch, laugh, and be oh so entertained. But remember the message too: if you don't uphold the institution in your society where most thinking is done, you cease to think altogether. Watch and learn....