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Back in the 1970's afternoon TV was awful. Although during school
holidays the networks did made an effort to put on suitable shows for
the kids, but if you were off school due to sickness or there was a
teachers strike all you had was the dreary Crown Court, or the mundane
Emerdale farm followed by an old movie with either Jack Warner or
Richard Greene in it. But General hospital was a soap opera which was
bearable. Ironically This soap did not flounder as badly as say Albion
Market or Eldorado but neither did it last as long as say Brookeside.
It was a hospital soap with all of the usual goings on that you would imagine in a hospital, it was not a heavy drama although it had it's moments but although not a comedy it did have it's lighter moments. too. I think the hospital was based in the Midlands although I can't be sure.
Stand out characters were the patriarchal head surgeon Dr Armstrong, the gruff and no nonsense Dr Parker Brown of the old school and the smooth housewife's choice Dr Bywaters (who after hanging up his stethoscope moved into the motel business became the scheming Adam Chance on Crossroads). Lastly the campy devious orderly "Caper" who was never far from the main plot lines of the day.
The staff remained virtually the same during the period 1975-76 when I saw it but what made it interesting was the rotation of the patients through out that run. Typical national heath they got you in and out, no hanging about!
General Hospital by the mid 70's was broadcast at about 4 p.m. and came on just before children's television and built up a following as consequence. In fact it was a 30 min episode each day but in 1976 the series was canceled on the existing format but returned to the screens months later for just one hour per week with very few of the original cast in it. It's a shame that it happened because clearly their was a market for hospital or medical soaps as the a few years later afternoon TV was full of Australian shows such as the young doctors , the country practice and the flying doctors.
When the UK broadcasting rules were relaxed in 1972, ITV commissioned
programmes from each of its regions to fill the new afternoon
schedules, aimed at stay-at-home mums and students etc.
ATV's contribution to these schedules was GENERAL HOSPITAL a twice-weekly medical 'soap' of 25 minutes and was set in the fictional Midland General Hospital. It first aired on Thursday 19th October, 1972 at 2pm (and also on Fridays) and continued in this format till March 1975. Later in 1975 it was revamped for prime time TV in an hourly format with self contained stories.
The daytime run was very popular, particularly after a repeat run from about a third of the way through on weekdays at approximately 4pm., bridging the gap between the end of the daytime serial and the start of the new prime time format.
Favourite characters included Senior Consultant Surgeon Mr William Parker-Brown, world-weary Senior Medical Consultant and Hospital Administrator Dr Matthew Armstrong, Dr Martin Baxter, Nurse Hilda Price, Porter Arnold Capper, Sister Edwards and Sister Frances Washington...and later Dr Neville Bywaters. Many famous faces from the 1970's appeared as patients including Joanna Lumley, Windsor Davies, Alun Armstrong, Patsy Rowlands, and Michael Culver.
The series finally ended in January 1979.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ah, '70's daytime television! Let me see now. 'Rainbow' for the kids (
along with 'Hickory House', 'Pipkins', 'Mr.Trimble', and 'Sing To The
Animals' ). 'News Report' with Robert Kee. 'Crown Court' for the
adults, 'Lunch Time With Wogan' ( every one of which has been wiped
apparently ), 'Quick On The Draw' hosted by Bob Monkhouse, Rolf Harris
and Michael Bentine ( though not at the same time ), 'There Goes That
Song Again', a musical quiz hosted by Steve Race, and 'Looks Familiar'
in which Denis Norden reminisced about the past with invited guests. If
that lot has not triggered any memories, nothing will.
There were also films ( the best ones always seemed to be on when I was at school ), and repeats of classic adventure shows such 'The Saint' and 'Danger Man', along with more recent ones like 'A Family At War' and 'Sam'. None of your 'Loose Women' rubbish around then.
There were also soaps - or 'afternoon serials' as they were then called ( the word 'soaps' was regarded as an insult in those days ). 'Castle Haven' was bragged up at the time as epitomising the '70's. How true this is we shall never know - like 'Lunch Time With Wogan' not a single edition survives. 'Emmerdale Farm' fared better; it is still running.
A.T.V.'s 'General Hospital' was kind of successor to the well-remembered 'Emergency Ward 10'. It too focused on the day-to-day routine in a city ( Midland General ) hospital. The doctors were handsome and the nurses ( among them Lynda Bellingham, Carmen Munroe and Barbara Kellermann ) pretty, and some of the patients were not bad looking either. The only ugly character as I recall was 'Capper' the porter ( later replaced by 'Ernie Penrose', played by future 'Coronation Street' killer Brian Capron ).
In terms of story lines, 'General Hospital' frequently resembled 'Doctor In Charge' starring Robin Nedwell. One week, Dr.Neville Bywaters ( Tony Adams, later to play 'Adam Chance' in 'Crossroads' ) fell in love with patient Janey Hart ( Jill Gascoigne ). Alas poor Janey died, and Dr.Bywater's heart was truly broken. But wait! A week later who should move into the hospital ( and ward ) but Janey's twin sister! In fairness, Liz Gebhardt ( 'Maureen Bullock' of 'Please Sir!' and 'The Fenn Street Gang' ) gave a moving performance in another episode as an anorexic.
In common with 'Emmerdale Farm'. the show was upgraded to hour-long episodes and shown on ( Friday ) evenings, where it concentrated more on the internal politics of the hospital. The late Eric Lander was brought in to play 'Richard Kirby', a 'man you love to hate' figure. Johnny 'Sleepy Shores' Pearson provided a new, strident theme tune, replacing Derek Scott's mellower version.
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