Troubled doctors still young at heart

BY HELEN TULLY

At 7.30 pm on 8 November 1976, the Reg Grundy Production of The Young Doctors made its debut on TCN 9 (Nine Network). The series was conceived by Reg Grundy. Alan Coleman, creator and director, said that Grundy knew the time was right for a medical series that featured behind-the-scenes stories of the doctors and nurses.

The series about the lives and loves of the staff at the Albert Memorial Hospital eventually ran for six years and four months, but it had a rocky start. The Crawfords' series The Sullivans, which had also just commenced on TCN 9, was rating more highly. After a 13-week run, TCN 9 made the decision to drop The Young Doctors.

Its imminent demise attracted a big response from fans of the series. The network’s executives relented and granted a last-minute reprieve. The good news about the extension of the series was announced to the cast and crew at the series' wake!

In this excerpt from Alan Coleman’s oral history recording with the NFSA, he talks about the the challenges in producing the series and the cast and crew he worked with.

In keeping with Grundy’s vision, the series focused less on medical procedures and more on the personal lives of the hospital staff. A fictitious local club called Bunnys provided a venue for the staff to mingle and for storylines to be developed.

The opening sequence from episode one, above, gives a sense of the mix of hospital drama and socialising among the characters. The sequence features Delvene Delaney as Nurse Jo Jo Adams with theme music performed by the Australian pop music band The Executives.

The series featured the work of some of Australia’s best known scriptwriters, including: Tony Morphett, Denny Lawrence, Ron McLean, Hugh Stuckey, Peter Pinnie and Betty Quinn; and directors Reg Watson, Max Varnel, Michael Pattinson and Denny Lawrence.

Despite holding the distinction of having never won any sort of television award, The Young Doctors was responsible for launching and developing the careers of many Australian actors, including: Gwen Plumb, Delvene Delaney, Mark Holden, Peta Toppano, Paula Duncan, Lynda Stoner, Rebecca Gilling and Michael Gow.

The Young Doctors ended on 30 March 1983 after 1396 episodes. At the time it was Australia’s longest-running commercial television drama serial, a record previously held by Number 96. This was later surpassed by A Country Practice and then Neighbours, which is currently the longest-running Australian drama serial.

In the final episode, the show’s longest serving actors - Gwen Plumb and Tim Page - gave a touching farewell to the closure of the Albert Memorial Hospital and the end of the series.

The series was subsequently screened in the UK as well as Canada, France, Angola, Barbados and Trinidad and has one of the world’s largest fan bases.

Video and stills courtesy FremantleMedia Australia and Alan Coleman