1 9 8 1 – 1 9 9 3 (Australia)
1057 x 60 minute episodes
This long-running Australian drama series revolved around the activities of a medical clinic, hospital and veterinary practice in Wandin Valley, a small (fictitious) country town in New South Wales.
Initially, there was much emphasis on the younger members of the cast such as Grant Dodwell as the suave and trendy young physician Dr Simon Bowen, and Penny Cook who played Vicky the vet.
Over its first two years on air though, the series built up a group of regular older characters.
These regulars, together with Shane Porteous as Dr Terence Elliott, helped the programme to weather not only the departure of key younger characters in 1985 but the succession of other departures over succeeding years.
Dr Elliott never lost his cool. A recovering alcoholic, he had once been a leading surgeon until accidentally killing a boy on the operating table.
His first wife left him, his Hungarian matron girlfriend (Helen Hough) left him to go back to her homeland, and his second wife left him to go and work in the Outback. As if that wasn’t enough, his daughter died of a drug overdose.
The series screened twice weekly with two episodes forming one story and was hugely successful in weaving together ongoing narrative interest in the regular characters with one-off stories revolving around medical and social problems.
ACP also featured some fine comedy, particularly from Syd Heylen, Gordon Piper and Joyce Jacobs.
Such was the impact of ACP that events such as weddings and deaths were covered in the daily newspapers and women’s magazines with the same enthusiasm usually reserved for real-life.
When receptionist Shirley Gilroy (Vicky’s mother) died in an air crash, actor Lorrae Desmond who played the role made a request that the disaster not be shown on the television screen. She thought her screen death would be too hard on viewers.
And so it was that her TV policeman husband, Frank (Brian Wenzel), was seen receiving a telephone call with the tragic news. The impact on viewers was barely dulled.
Seven years earlier, when Molly Jones (Anne Tenney) died in 1985, it is not overly dramatic to say there were tears in homes throughout Australia. Sack loads of mail arrived at the TV station in the following weeks.
A Country Practice had that effect on its viewers. When Vicky and Simon married, the nation cheered . . . and watched: the most popular episode ever.
In its 12 years, ACP had become an institution across the country – a programme not afraid to tug on the heartstrings. Nor did it shy away from tackling the social issues of the day.
It is no coincidence that Bob Hawke, when Prime Minister of Australia, was happy to appear in the series.
Quite simply, ACP was a series for the family audience and was always populated with characters we welcomed into the lounge room.
Throughout its run, A Country Practice aired on Monday and Tuesday nights on Channel Seven, although Channel Ten bought the show for an ill-advised final season featuring few familiar faces.
In Seven’s final episode, a bush fire claimed the lives of many, and at the end of the episode, the survivors abandon the ruined town. Channel Seven burnt and destroyed many of the sets during the filming of these scenes, leaving Ten’s season a flat note to begin on.
The show was the longest-running programme on Australian television. In its record-breaking production run, ACP won numerous awards including 29 Logies and the United Nations Association of Australian Media Peace Award.
On a completely irrelevant note, I once bumped into Joan Sydney in a chicken shop in the Sydney suburb of Balmain. She spoke beautifully (even when ordering chicken). Joan passed away at her Sydney home in January 2023 after a long illness. She was 83.
The house which doubled as the Wandin Valley Bush Nursing Hospital is actually located at 29 Clare Crescent, Oakville, near Windsor (north-west of Sydney).
Vernon “Cookie” Locke
Sgt Frank Gilroy
Dr Simon Bowen
Dr Terence Elliott
Matron Maggie Sloane
Dr Alex Fraser
Ranger Cathy Hayden
Nurse Judy Loveday
Nurse Michael Langley
Nurse Lucy Gardiner
Matron Marta Kertesz
Fatso The Wombat