The earliest medical media rivalry in the UK must be between Dr Finlay’s Casebook and Emergency Ward 10.
Doctor Finlay’s Casebook
Dr Finlay was loosely based on stories by author A.J. Cronin about a general practitioner from the 1920s in the rural (and fictitious) Scottish village of Tannochbrae. The Arden House surgery staff consisted of crusty old Dr Cameron, played by fine Scots actor Andrew Cruickshank, and young, dashing Dr Finlay, played by former TV newsreader Bill Simpson. Their ministering angel was the saintly housekeeper Janet, played by Barbara Mullen.
The series was originally thrown together in five weeks to fill a five week gap in the BBC’s schedules… and lasted in an almost unbroken run until the early 1970s. It also existed for a long while as a radio drama, and then returned again in the early 1990s in a Scottish TV drama (with high production values but without, sadly, the inimitable Cruickshank, Simpson and Mullen.
Emergency Ward 10
The chief rival to Dr Finlay had already been running a while on ITV – Emergency Ward 10. Set in the imaginary city of Oxbridge in the English Midlands. This twice-weekly serial started in 1957, when a lowly writer suggested ‘something about doctors and nurses’ might fill a yawning gap in the schedules (is there a pattern emerging here?). The emergencies always took second place to the romantic lives of the doctors and nurses, and the number of deaths allowed per year was set at five (compared to E.R., which sometimes manages to clock up five deaths before you’ve even got as far as the opening titles).
An astounding range of British acting talent cut their teeth on Ward 10 – including Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley – and a movie was released starring Wilfred Hyde-White called Life in Emergency Ward 10. The series ran out of steam and viewers in 1967 – but was revived pretty much intact (different hospital, different stars, same stories!) as General Hospital in the early seventies.