Top-notch comedy series whose memory was devalued by later spin-offs including an ill-advised revival (Doctor at the Top) in 1991. Mind you, with an original scriptwriting team that included John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden and Jonathan Lynn, (Chapman and Garden were both qualified doctors themselves) you would expect nothing less.
This sitcom was based on Richard Gordon's series of books and had previously been adapted for the cinema starting with a 1954 production starring Dirk Bogarde as medical student Simon Sparrow. Frank Muir, then head of comedy at the newly formed ITV franchise LWT commissioned the series, which starred Barry Evans (later to appear in Mind Your Language but now sadly deceased) as the lead character, now named Michael Upton.
To accompany him were an assortment of unlikely students including Geoffrey Davies as the posh and sometimes snooty -but always work-shy, Dick Stuart-Clark, Robin Nedwell as Duncan Waring (the character took centre stage after Evans left the series in 1972) and George Layton as Paul Collier. Opposition came in the form of Richard O'Sullivan as the whimpish and slimy Laurence Bingham who was always buttering up to his superiors, not least of all Professor Geoffrey Loftus (Ernest Clark) who was the TV equivalent to James Robinson-Justice's Sir Lancelot Spratt in the cinema. The action took place within the fictitious walls and wards of St Swithin's whilst exterior scenes were shot outside true-life Wanstead Hospital (long since converted into residential apartments).
Guest stars in the series included David Jason, James Beck and Susan George, whilst Martin Shaw appeared as a regular character in season one and Jonathan Lynn (who went on to co-write the superb Yes, Minister) did the same in season two. However, and perhaps more significantly, in series three (re-titled Doctor at Large), John Cleese included in one of his scripts a rather rude hotel keeper. One of the writers on that series, Bernard McKenna remembers: "I was at a dress rehearsals at LWT sitting with H.Barclay and J. Cleese for (the) episode about a bonkers hotel manager that Upton (Barry Evans) was having problems with when the producer Humphrey Barclay said to John 'There's a series in that hotel owner'...I remember John being sceptical! The rest is history..."
Published on December 7th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.