1 9 6 2 – 1 9 7 1 (UK)
200 x 50 minute episodes
The popular series Dr Finlay’s Casebook was set in the 1920s in a pre-NHS medical practice in the fictional Scottish town of Tannochbrae (the series was actually filmed in the Highland town of Callander).
The delightful series – debuting on the BBC on 16 August 1962 – restored the dignity of the medical profession after Dr Kildare. Compared to the feverish activity of Kildare, Tannochbrae was in a permanent state of anaesthesia.
The basic concept for the series was based on the characters and settings created by the writer A.J. Cronin in a number of short stories based on his own experiences as a doctor.
The residents of Arden House were the crusty Dr Angus Cameron (Andrew Cruickshank), a confirmed bachelor who loved chess, was prone to asthma and was the type of old-fashioned doctor who intimidated patients into recovery; ‘young’ Dr Alan Finlay (Bill Simpson), who never looked a day under 40; and no-nonsense housekeeper Janet MacPherson – played to stiff Presbyterian perfection by Barbara Mullen.
The series was put together in just five weeks to fill a gap in the schedules. Andrew Cruikshank said; “It was very rushed at first and nobody ever noticed that Dr Cameron’s room at Arden House didn’t have a window”.
Bill Simpson was plucked from reading the news with Scottish ITV in Glasgow. Like Dr Finlay, he was an ex-farmer and hailed from the Ayrshire fishing village of Dunure, almost an exact replica of Tannochbrae. In fact, the prodigal son returned to Dunure to film an episode in the series.
The BBC took great pains to maintain period detail in the series and there was a surprisingly large amount of location footage, clearly shot in rural Scotland. This helped create a realistic setting for the stories as well as provide a sense of isolation.
The little town of Tannochbrae – in truth, not much more than a village – had a 26-bed cottage hospital, with the Lanark Infirmary nearby, and an ambulance obtainable from the police station or neighbouring Knoxhill.
Among its active population, Tannochbrae numbered a good few workers from the colliery and shipyard not far away and – being near the Clyde and a pleasant loch – it attracted businessmen who commuted from their offices in Glasgow.
The daily medical needs of a sleepy lowland community between the wars proved hugely successful with viewers and Dr Finlay’s Casebook was a Sunday evening must for millions of viewers during the 1960s.
During the final season, the inhabitants of the Arden House surgery also appeared on radio, where they carried on dispensing common sense and rubbing ointment for a further seven years.
The show made stars of the dapper Bill Simpson, veteran actor Andrew Cruickshank and Barbara Mullen.
One person, however, did take exception to the odious little Dr Snoddy (Eric Woodburn).
When the programme finally ended at the start of the 1970s, a Dr Desmond Reilly told a London conference of medical officers; “Dr Snoddy should be in horror movies. Over the years, he has been seen to bungle cases or to be an obstructionist. The best thing to happen for the good name of public health has been the dropping of the series”.
ITV revived Doctor Finlay in 1993 with Ian Bannen, Annette Crosbie and David Rintoul playing the parts of Doctor Cameron, Janet and Doctor Finlay and, in 2001, John Gordon Sinclair took on the title role in new adaptations of Cronin’s stories for BBC Radio 4.
Dr Angus Cameron
Dr Alan Finlay