Home Television Drama Nation’s Health, The

Nation’s Health, The

1 9 8 3 (UK)
4 x 85 minute episodes

Channel 4 launched in 1982 with a promise that it would provide TV audiences with something new and exciting. Although much of its programming was far less dramatic than the frenzied press coverage that dogged its radicalism, the channel rightly earned a reputation for challenging drama.

Among the productions that helped fuel the early debates on Channel 4’s approach to drama was The Nation’s Health, a four-part series which aimed to highlight the run-down state of the National Health Service.

Dr Jessie Marvill (Vivienne Ritchie) joins the surgical staff of St Clair’s, a large teaching hospital, just as it faces major financial cutbacks.

The quasi-documentary style of presentation, reinforced by the lack of music in both the opening and closing credits, helps create the feeling that the viewer has opened a window on to an unremitting litany of inoperable cancers and botched childbirths.

Unfortunately, the rejection of conventional dramatic techniques of character development and clearly defined narrative structure reduces the cast of doctors and nurses to a battalion of two-dimensional ciphers who seem unable to muster any emotion beyond tired resignation, a feeling that might also afflict even the most robust viewer.

The programme’s author, G.F. Newman, was no stranger to controversy. He had previously been rejected by the production team of the police drama Z Cars for suggesting that one of the programme’s main characters would accept a bribe. He responded by creating a four-part series about the criminal justice system, Law and Order, featuring the brutal Detective Inspector Pyall (Derek Martin).

Complaints were received from both the police and the Prison Officers Association about the show’s negative depiction of their professions. With this in mind, Channel 4 followed each episode of The Nation’s Health with a studio discussion the following night.

The four episodes largely reinforced a widely-held view of the time that the NHS was on the brink of collapse, and Newman fails to suggest anything ‘worthwhile’ as a solution.

Dr Jessie Marvill
Vivienne Ritchie
Mr Marcus Thompson
Trevor Bowen
Ray Taylor
Tony Calvin
Brenda Taylor
Eileen O’Brien
Mr Vernon Davis
Ian McDiarmid
Mr Philip Montagu
Julian Fox
Brenda Andrews
Kathy Burke