Network’s General Hospital – Series One has all the existing episodes from the first incarnation of this early seventies soap (which in this format was transmitted twice-weekly on ITV daytime between 1972 and 1975). The fact that it contains just thirty eight episodes (and the last existing one is no. 258) is a clear indication just how much has been lost.
Indeed, since a number of editions are black and white film prints made for overseas sales, had they not been recovered then the survival rate would have been ever more desperate. But looking on the bright side, if hundreds of episodes did exist then the chances of them all reaching DVD would probably have been quite slim, so at least the collectors urge in all of us can be satisfied that we’ve got everything from the twice-weekly version of the series that we can possibly have.
General Hospital, like many Network titles, was a blind buy but after a few episodes I’m already enjoying it greatly. True, episode one is a touch stodgy but after that things get much more interesting. For example, there’s comic relief from Patsy Rowlands as hypochondriac Peggy Finch, a woman who spends her time spreading doom and gloom amongst her fellow patients (usually by telling them that they’re seriously ill!)
She makes quite an impression on Albert Unsworth (Peter Hill) who instantly leaps to her defence. Hill will be familiar to Doctor Who fans, thanks to his appearance in Day of the Daleks (which aired earlier that same year, 1972). And there’s something of a Day of the Daleks cast reunion as elsewhere in the hospital we find Anna Barry. She plays Mrs Sylvia Tate, whose young son is facing a kidney transplant (the son is played with such deathly earnestness that it takes your breath away). Mrs Tate doesn’t want her husband to donate his kidney and hers isn’t suitable, so we leave her at the end of episode three on the horns of a dilemma.
The most entertaining storyline of these early episodes concerns GP Dr Robert Thorne (Ronald Leigh-Hunt). One of the patients is convinced that he knew Thorne in Salisbury, but back then he wasn’t called Thorne and he wasn’t a doctor. Could the respectable Dr Thorne really be an imposter? Dr Martin Baxter (James Kerry) and Dr Peter Ridge (Ian White) certainly think so.
Baxter and Ridge are clearly the alpha-males of the hospital and even this early on it seems plain that hearts will be broken (although hopefully only in love!) Elsewhere in the hospital, David Garth plays consultant Dr Matthew Armstrong. It’s always one of those strange quirks of archive television watching that you can pick two totally random series and find the same actors in both.
Garth had played Charles I in The Further Adventures of the Musketeers (which had also featured Anna Barry) and brings the same detached air to Armstrong. He’s not exactly an actor brimming with charisma but he does have a certain solid presence. As does Lynda Bellingham as Nurse Hilda Price, who provides a sensible, capable and seemingly unflappable presence around the ward. Quite different is Judy Buxton as Student Nurse Katy Shaw. Shaw is just as efficient, but Buxton has a breathless, wide-eyed and innocent persona which has already won me over.
A word about the theme music. You couldn’t hope to have a theme less suited to a medical drama than Derek Scott’s effort. It’s pleasant enough, but its rinky, tinkly nature doesn’t really suggest drama. Possibly they might change it later on, so I await further developments with interest.
The pictures on the back of the DVD sleeve promise later appearances by both Tony Adams and Joanna Lumley and since I’m sure that there will be other familiar faces popping up, no doubt I’ll be posting again about this series in the future.