A Very Peculiar Practice

A Very Peculiar Practice was a surreal black-comedy drama set in the health centre of a British university, produced by the BBC, which ran for two series in 1986 and 1988. The two series were followed by a 90-minute made-for-television film, A Very Polish Practice (1992), following some of the characters to a new setting in Poland.

A Very Peculiar Practice
Created byAndrew Davies
StarringPeter Davison
Graham Crowden
David Troughton
Barbara Flynn
John Bird
Country of originUnited Kingdom
No. of episodes15
Running time50 minutes
Original networkBBC2
Original release21 May 1986 (1986-05-21) 
6 September 1992 (1992-09-06)

It was written by Andrew Davies and was inspired by his experiences as a lecturer at the University of Warwick, and it has been interpreted as a commentary on contemporary trends in education. It was one of only two original television series that he wrote.[1]

In 2010, The Guardian ranked the serial at number 5 in their list of "The Top 50 TV Dramas of All Time".[2]


The series is a black comedy with surreal elements about an idealistic young doctor, Stephen Daker (Peter Davison), joining a university medical centre staffed by an ill-assorted group of doctors. These include the bisexual, ultra-feminist Rose Marie (Barbara Flynn) scheming to advance her career; brash, unempathetic Bob Buzzard (David Troughton) with his latest get-rich-quick scheme; and their leader the genial but decrepit Scot Jock McCannon (Graham Crowden) with his ever-present bottle of whisky. Additionally, the doctor who is being replaced by Stephen Daker had left in dubious circumstances.

A leitmotif is the commercialisation of higher education in Britain following the government cuts of the early 1980s, with the Vice-Chancellor Ernest Hemmingway (John Bird) trying to woo Japanese investors in the face of resistance from the academic old guard. Hugh Grant made one of his first television appearances as an evangelical preacher; Kathy Burke also had a bit part. In the second series, an American Vice-Chancellor, Jack Daniels (Michael J. Shannon), took over from Hemmingway, continuing the running joke of naming the VC after a famous American (although the whiskey distiller's name was Jack Daniel).

In the first series, Daker had a romance with a post-graduate policewoman, Lyn Turtle (Amanda Hillwood), after she rescued him from drowning in the swimming pool. In the second series Daker has been promoted to head of the centre with a new love interest in Polish academic Grete Grotowska (Joanna Kanska). Rose Marie also seeks romantic involvement with Grotowska, whilst at the same time sleeping with the VC Jack Daniels in her bid to oust Daker and become head of the medical centre herself.There is further complication when Mrs Daniels informs Rose Marie, who is her doctor, that she thinks her husband is having an affair.

In the sequel television film, A Very Polish Practice (1992), the couple live in Poland, where Daker struggles with the former Communist country's antiquated health service. Grete encounters an ex-lover (Tadeusz Melnik, played by Alfred Molina), who helped her get out of Poland and to whom she had promised herself, should she ever return, if he ever asks. She battles to decide whether to stay with Stephen and their child or to go with Melnik (with or without the child), confessing that she still loves him as well as Stephen. The idea for the second series was said to have come from the actress Joanna Kanska, who played Grete.[3]


Lowlands University (the fictional institution at which the series was set) was based on the University of East Anglia campus near Norwich. The BBC wanted to feature the UEA campus in the programme's credits but the University refused permission. The locations for the series' filmed sequences were the universities of Keele and Birmingham.[4] Also used for exterior filming was the BT engineer training school in Staffordshire. The selection of UEA by the producers was not unintentional as it was the base for Malcolm Bradbury, to whose development of the British campus novel the series is much indebted. Most of the interiors were shot at BBC Pebble Mill (first series) and London (second), in the common combined film/video format.

The series had its genesis in writer Andrew Davies's discovery that he owed the BBC approximately £17,000, due to him being commissioned and paid to write a TV project that he did not deliver. Davies decided that the best means of paying the debt was to write a new series, which became A Very Peculiar Practice. In a deliberate case of art imitating life, the final episode of the first series introduces a character named Ron Rust (Joe Melia), a writer who, for reasons that he doesn't quite understand, owes the BBC £17,000 and is trying to write a black comedy about a university to pay the debt. The Ron Rust character also appeared in Davies's A Few Short Journeys of the Heart (an adaptation of his short story collection Dirty Faxes), first shown in the Stages series on BBC2 on 10 August 1994.

The theme tune, "We Love You" was written by Dave Greenslade and performed by UK singer, Elkie Brooks.[5]

The first series was released on DVD (Region 2) in the UK in 2004. A DVD set of the first and second series, along with A Very Polish Practice, was released in the UK during October 2011. Davies novelised both series in A Very Peculiar Practice (1986, Coronet) and A Very Peculiar Practice: The New Frontier (1988, Methuen).



Series 1

No.TitleOriginal air date
1"A Very Long Way from Anywhere"21 May 1986 (1986-05-21)
A fresh-faced young GP joins the medical practice at Lowlands University. He is soon disillusioned by his new colleagues, but is fortunate to be rescued from drowning by a nice research student.
2"We Love You: That's Why We're Here"21 May 1986 (1986-05-21)

Stephen gives a disastrous speech at the welcome for new students, and soon has to start dealing with their sex lives.

Featuring Hugh Grant and Peter Blake
3"Wives of Great Men"4 June 1986 (1986-06-04)
Professor Furie (Timothy West) demands Stephen give him dexedrine so he can work harder.
4"Black Bob's Hamburger Suit"11 June 1986 (1986-06-11)
Bob Buzzard tries to persuade his colleagues to start prescribing an experimental drug.
5"Contact Tracer"18 June 1986 (1986-06-18)
Nongonococcal urethritis breaks out at Lowlands, which leads to some embarrassing conversations.
6"The Hit List"25 June 1986 (1986-06-25)
The Vice-Chancellor wants to close a women's residence so it can be used by Japanese investors. But first he needs to discredit the warden (Jean Heywood).
7"Catastrophe Theory"2 July 1986 (1986-07-02)

A trio of civil servants are sent to audit the university.

Featuring Kathy Burke.

Series 2

No.TitleOriginal air date
1"The New Frontier"24 February 1988 (1988-02-24)
Stephen is now head of the practice, there is a new medical centre, a new American Vice-Chancellor, but no girlfriend. He is accused of inappropriately touching a female academic during an examination.
2"Art and Illusion"2 March 1988 (1988-03-02)

The Vice-Chancellor's wife wants an Art Gallery.

Featuring Clive Swift, André Maranne, Tim Wylton and Simon Russell Beale.
3"May the Force Be with You"9 March 1988 (1988-03-09)

Bob tries to turn the clinic into a massage parlour, Grete's boyfriend wants to kill her, Rose Marie starts a male sexuality group and the campus is invaded by animal rightists.

Featuring Tim Preece and Chris Jury.
4"Bad Vibrations"16 March 1988 (1988-03-16)

Students in the department of electro-acoustics are coming down with strange maladies.

Featuring David Bamber.
5"Values of the Family"23 March 1988 (1988-03-23)
Professor Bunn is opposing the Vice-Chancellor's policies. Bob Buzzard makes friends with a famous athlete.
6"The Big Squeeze"30 March 1988 (1988-03-30)

Students are suffering from malnutrition owing to high rents. Professor Bunn is accused of exposing himself to two students.

Featuring Robert Lang and Mark Addy
7"Death of a University"6 April 1988 (1988-04-06)
Rioting breaks out on campus, which brings an old friend back into Stephen's life.

Screen One drama : A Very Polish Practice

(6 September 1992)


  1. Sarah Cardwell (22 July 2005). Andrew Davies. Manchester University Press. pp. 56–61. ISBN 978-0-7190-6492-0.
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2010/jan/12/50-best-tv-dramas-brideshead
  3. Peter Davison (6 October 2016). Is There Life Outside The Box?: An Actor Despairs. John Blake Publishing. ISBN 978-1-78606-327-4.
  4. "BBC - BBC Four Drama - A Very Peculiar Practice". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  5. "BBC - Cult - Classic TV - A Very Peculiar Practice (1991)". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
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