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18 June 2014
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Classic TV | A Very Peculiar Practice
Interview - writer Andrew Davies

A Very Peculiar Practice: Click for More Pictures

How did you get the commission to write A Very Peculiar Practice?

I had previously got a commission to write a serial about three mature women students, and it had run into the ground after three scripts. I owed the BBC £17,000, and they asked me if I'd like to pay them back or write my way out of trouble. I opted for the latter.

What inspired you to write the series?

I had always wanted to take the piss out of the medical profession and the world of academe, and a medical practice set in a University could do both at the same time.

Stephen Daker, Bob Buzzard, Rose Marie and Jock, can you run us through the creation of these memorable characters?

I already had the character of Stephen Daker - he appeared (or a version of him) in a single play I wrote called Heartattack Hotel. Doctors always seem so cocksure and the idea of a doctor, who was shy, prone to self-doubt, etc, seemed attractive. In Heartattack Hotel he goes to this strange hotel with his girlfriend and the guests keep dying.

As for the other characters: Jock was a version of all those crusty old doctors from heart-warming series of the past, Dr Gillespie et al. The difference with Jock was that he was dangerously incompetent, alcoholic, and slightly deranged, though capable on occasion of extraordinary insights.

Rose Marie was based on an amalgam of a lot of women who had frightened me in the early eighties. A hard-line feminist who used sex like a Mata Hari.

Bob Buzzard was originally going to be a sort of hippie, but Jonathan Powell (executive producer) suggested that that felt a bit seventies, and couldn't our fourth character be more firmly in Thatcher's world. Great suggestion. I loved writing Bob - and sadly, his character, together with Ernest Hemmingway's, was the truest to what was happening in the universities, and most other places.

Did you have any say in the casting?

As usual, my suggestions were considered but not always adopted. I think I had more say in this show than most. Graham Crowden was my suggestion for Jock. I wanted to have him in something of mine ever since seeing him in "If".

Why the nuns?

There are always nuns, and they always go in pairs, and if you watch them closely you will see them do bad things. Ken Riddington, who produced the show, said we couldn't afford the nuns, but then agreed if they didn't speak. Much cheaper, they could be paid at extras rates.

What reaction did the character of Rose Marie get from women?

I can't remember women's reaction to Rose Marie. She got a hell of a lot of reaction from men, a lot of whom were obsessed with her. I think it might have been the way her nipples stood out in that crisp white uniform.

Did leaving Warwick give you more freedom to be more damning about the University system in series two?

Yes I did feel freer - once I'd got over the block - to be more harsh and sweeping about Universities, once I'd left Warwick.

You've gone on record as saying you got writer's block when it came round to writing series two, what eventually inspired you?

I owe an awful lot to David Tucker, who directed both series. He asked me down to stay with him, and we just [talked] about it for three or four days and made some harsh decisions. Ernest Hemmingway would have to go as Vice-Chancellor. We loved him, but he wasn't really a big enough character for really major crimes. We wanted the University run by ruthless Americans, a sort of cross between market capitalism and the CIA.

Was writing out Lyn for the majority of the series a conscious decision, or because the actor was unavailable?

Similarly, Stephen had been through a lot with Lyn and that relationship was beginning to look a bit cosy. He need a new one with more conflict in it - hence Greta Grotowska.

Is the character of Ron Rust based on you?

Ron Rust is a less successful seedier version of me. It wasn't till the end of the first series that I realised Ron Rust had been writing it. Those interested in these questions should get hold of the novelisations, where Ron figures much more fully.

Where there any plans to make a third series?

There were never any plans to make a third series, but I always fancied the idea of a one-off in Poland. So we made a research trip to Warsaw and Krakow with Joanna Kanska as our guide, met some interesting people, and cobbled together a story which has a lot of truth in it.

With the subject of student fees very much a hot topic, would you consider writing more A Very Peculiar Practice?

I don't see myself writing any more AVPP.

Video Run VT  A Very Peculiar Practice titles.
Video I'm a Doctor  Jock gets confused.
Video We love you  That's why we're here.
Video Feel the Furie  A medical examination.
Video No one calls me Robert  Beer and Buzzard.
Video New insight is born  Nuns on the run.
Video Standing accused  Daker's dream.
Video Art imitates life  Meet Mr Rust.
Video Everbody is valuable.  A new direction.
Video Could have been OK  The end?
Video A Very Polish Practice  I'm a hamburger man, now.
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