By 1964, ATV's medical drama Emergency Ward 10, set in the fictional Midland town of Oxbridge (presumably in this universe the collective name for Oxford and Cambridge universities is "Camford") had been pulling in audiences for seven years, and was the longest-running soap opera on British TV. As is par for the course with TV series of the time, only a fraction of the episodes aired still exist in the archive, hence it only now making its TV Minus 50 debut. It's especially lucky this particular instalment still exists, in fact, as it's a bit of a milestone in British TV, for reasons that will be discussed below...
Emergency Ward 10's brief but frantic opening theme was guaranteed to grab the attention of any viewer who might have wandered off to make a cup of tea, and, playing out over the start of the episode's opening scene, can imbue even the most apparently mundane of set-ups with an aura of hidden menace. Case in point: a couple having a quiet stroll. These are Louise Mahler (Joan Hooley) and Giles Farmer (John White). They're both doctors at Oxbridge hospital - she the resident black woman, he the resident working class shortarse. They're walking home after being stood up by Giles' father, with whom they were due to eat out that evening. They assume he failed to show up due to disapproving of his son's relationship with a black woman (he's got form in being horrid to Louise).
But in fact, Mr Farmer's no-show is down to having hit his head in a fall, and he's being treated at the very hospital where his son works by his marvellously-named colleague Lester Large (John Carlisle). Giles initially puts it down to drink, but his father (Bernard Kelly) insists he just fainted. This makes Giles very worried: it's clear he's suspected something wrong with his father for a while...
But what else, you may wonder, is going on in the bustling emergency ward? Well, Lester and another of the doctors, resident lothario Reginald Lane-Russell (Basil Hoskins) are examining some workmen who've been brought in with sunstroke (I love the extra playing the nurse in this scene, doing her very best to remain visible at all times)...
...and the lovely Annette Andre's currently guesting as aspiring actress Sally Graham. What's wrong with her is never addressed in this episode, but young Nurse Maclean (Jan Carey) is agog at the procession of male visitors she's had since her arrival.
Among Sally's admirers is goofy Welsh intern Ivor Gittings (Mark Powell), who brings her a newspaper with an article about her indisposition. He tells her he'd love to have a photo of her: "Why don't you come to the theatre one night and I'll give you one?" she responds.
Elsewhere, the hospital's new matron (Iris Russell) is causing friction. Sister Doughty (Pamela Duncan), recently shifted to a new ward, claims to be fine with the new plan to bring in clinical instructors rather than have the ward sisters teach new nurses (Emergency Ward 10's at times almost Archersesque in its earnest attempts to educate the audience in the latest developments in the medical world), but her face tells us she's having none of it.
As if a new matron shaking everything up wasn't enough to deal with, Sister Doughty then has the anguished Mr Farmer in her face, demanding to know how long he's got to live.
Reginald Lane-Russell, meanwhile, a fairly new addition to the hospital staff, seems keen to establish himself as resident lothario (and if you can do that with a name like Reginald Lane-Russell then I take my hat off to you), approaching nurse Michaela Davis (Tricia Money) with one of the all-time great chat-up lines, "I wanted to ask you a question... it's rather personal, I'm afraid: do you eat?" Strangely, she manages to resist.
Sally Graham is also managing to resist a sleazy type, this one being the producer she's been knocking around with (Bernard Brown). She's gone off him since discovering that he's not separated from his wife as he had claimed. Regardless, he warns her she needs to be out of bed within a week, or it could spell doom for both his theatre company and her acting career.
As alluded to above, the extras in Emergency Ward 10 tend to be especially good value (getting to be a patient on the show must have been one of the most coveted roles among TV extras, what with just getting to lie there in bed doing the crossword), and unfortunately the chatty lady with the amazing hairdo behind Bernard Brown draws all the viewer's attention, even in spite of his Reed Richards 'do.
The signs all point to old Mr Farmer having lung cancer, and Giles pours his heart out to Louise about the whole thing. The pair share a kiss, which isn't all that remarkable a thing for a couple to do (although admittedly they didn't do it all that much on telly in 1964) - the significance is that it's the first interracial kiss on British TV. It's all very matter-of-fact, but it certainly cheers Giles up.
Prickly (literally, going by the look of his stuck-on beard) consultant Dr Grant (Michael Baxter), initially pooh-poohs the notion of Mr Farmer having lung cancer, although he accepts that the old man should cut down from 40 fags a day to 20 (!). But after giving Mr Farmer a good going over in bed he admits that the unthinkable might have happened: he could be wrong...
What happens next? Well you won't find out here, I'm afraid, as the next episode is yet another one that's lost to the ages.