63. Treatment

Tapehead no 63 

In 1991’s Hospital Watch Mike Smith, Sarah Greene and Maggie Philbin spent a week presenting live broadcasts from the wards, waiting rooms, and operating tables of Hammersmith Hospital. 

It was one of the most gratuitous, most intrusive and voyeuristic programmes in the BBC’s fine, distinguished history and, this week, Tapehead is delighted to say, it’s back.

Someone has (sensibly) decided that undergoing an eight-hour operating during which at the entire nation examines the inner workings of your intestines in intimate detail, and them being interviewed by Mike Smith, is more than the human spirit can stand.

Smith and Greene have been replaced by Tony “Baldrick” Robinson and Sue Lawley – thus maintaining the TV tradition that decrees programmes about illness are hosted by people who make you sick. 

As most of the last series seemed to consist of innumerable microscopic cameras being fitted into a variety of tubes and then inserted into every orifice imaginable, Tapehead only hopes Sue Lawley realises that she’s letting herself in for.

The purpose of such a close-up look at the running of an everyday working hospital (Addembrook’s Hospital, Cambridge), and all the hideous illnesses that can strike us at any time, seems to be to prepare us for the worst. Hospital Watch does that by showing us the worst, showing what it looks like – in gratuitous, graphic detail. It is not for the faint-hearted.

Highlights in the last series included watching colostomy being “stapled” to someone’s rectum and a trip inside the enormous, twisting red tunnel that was one man’s urethra that was more thrilling than most of the rides at Alton Towers.

This year, amidst all the kidney operations and diseased gall bladder ops, TH’s highlight (Wednesday 10.05pm) is “watching a child with glue ear being fitted with grommets.” (Ouch! Mind where you’re putting those grommets.)

So get your BUPA application forms and doctors’ almanacs at the ready. Let’s hope no one croaks on camera.

The same should not be aid for ER, whose depressing lack of fatalities has proved highly disappointing. This week’s episode, though, “shocked America”. (Good)

Tapehead still finds ER’s principal characters horribly banal, and the so-called gritty realism and black humour, tame and corny. (Example – a student nurse complaining, “Everyone round here is so old and sick,” to which someone replies, “hey, it’s a hospital.” 

Pretty gritty black humour, eh?)

However, the actions of Dr Mark Greene -modern-day America’s equivalent of John Boy Walton – in this week’s episode (the title of which gives away the whole plot) mean ER has risen in TH’s estimation enormously. 

The episode was written by “Lance A Gentile”.

Cardiac Arrest has been like a combination of ER and Hospital Watch, occasionally parodying them both into the bargain. The balance between black humour and dark drama has been brilliant, but the biggest surprise has surely been how good Cardiac Arrest is at sentiment/sentimentality. 

In this series, evangelical white light backdrops have been given lower priority to strong story lines – a pretty radical idea where Cardiac Arrest is concerned.

Recently, members of the cast have been dropping faster than players in last year’s Man United double-wiining team: James was HIV-positive; Scissors was upside down in a car-crash; the gorgeous Clare Maitland was suspended, and ear doctor Docherty was pensioned off altogether – “grateful to leave this bizarre set-up” (presumably meaning the series itself).

The last in the present series, this week’s CA is less about medicine than deception and betrayal; making deals and sleeping with the enemy; get outs and getting off withs. 

Tim Robbins-lookalike, Dr Kirby, is being hung out to dry.

The last shot of this mad, funny, scary series says it all, with saint-cum-sinner, Dr Maitland, actually smiling; mad, hysterical excitement plastered all over her beautiful, funny face. 

Look after yourselves.


Hospital Watch: Mon-Fri, four times a day, BBC1

Cardiac Arrest: Wed, 9.30pm-10pm, BBC1

ER: Wed, 10pm-11pm, C4