The Albert Memorial Hospital was the setting for intrigue, blackmail, divorce, shootings, murder and explosions… …Little wonder then that the young doctors and nurses had little time to administer to their patients. And when life was a little quieter, it gave the medics a chance to fall in love with each other with alarming regularity.
All these comings and goings went on under the watchful eye of Ada Simmonds, whose kiosk was ideally placed opposite the reception desk, lift and Casualty department.
The Young Doctors centered on the lives of the staff at the Albert Memorial Hospital in Sydney. It was created the man responsible for Crossroads in the UK, and there were similarities between the two soaps – they were both low budget fare that was constantly mauled by the critics, but loved by the viewers (what do critics know anyway?!). The show, which started in the same week as wartime soap The Sullivans, was originally commissioned for just 13 weeks. Initially, the cast and crew were told that the Nine Network would not be renewing the soap’s contract, but during the wrap party they learned that they had been given an eleventh hour reprieve. From what should have been a short 3 month run, The Young Doctors went on to be the longest running soap of its day.
The medical soap was not one for expensive sets or extensive outside locations. The cramped studios where it was filmed were so hot in the summer that ice packs had to be placed on the cameras to stop them overheating, and the actors’ make up would melt and run down their faces (remember how some characters in the early days often seemed to have very oily skin?!). Especially in the early years, the action focused mainly on the hospital lobby, or Bunny’s Place, the restaurant across the road from the Albert that was popular with hospital staff. Another commonly used location was the office of Hospital Superintendent Dr Brian Denham. From the luxury of his leather swivel chair he would listen to the trials and tribulations of his staff, before commenting “Hmmm..”, “I see…” or “I don’t know what the board will have to say about this.” His most classic line though, used to describe more than one of his staff, was “he/she is obviously mentally ill.”
The show’s glamour came from its young cast; it had more than its fair share of dashing doctors and pretty nurses. Not surprisingly, many a storyline featured romances between the young interns and the female nursing staff. Undoubtedly, the biggest love story of all was between Spanish hunk Dr Tony Garcia and sugary sweet nurse Tania Livingston. The couple’s wedding was a huge media event a decade before Scott and Charlene’s on Neighbours and the couple were loved by audiences worldwide.
The first season’s cliffhanger centred on the “will they, won’t they” marriage between the pair. Early 1978 saw them wed, but their happiness was short lived. Tony was ambitious, and left the Albert and Tania to establish himself in pastures new, which was pretty much also the behind the scenes reason for his exit.
Weddings could also be literally the kiss of death for a character. A gunman opened fire at nurse Julie Holland’s wedding, while Liz Kennedy was electrocuted by a faulty lamp after returning from hers. Not all the actors left in such a dramatic fashion though. Many characters simply disappeared from the screen, being referred to from time to time to give the impression they were still in the hospital. Some would return to the screen a few months later as if they hadn’t been away, while others simply ceased to be mentioned at all.
Surely many a patient lay desperate for medical attention while a young doctor ushered a petite nurse into store cupboard or examination room for a “chat”. Some of the busiest Romeos of all were Chris Piper, Peter Holland and Ben Fielding, who between them broke the hearts of many of their colleagues, patients and viewers!
At the hub of all this activity was Ada Simmonds, the gossipy, but maternal kiosk lady. The kiosk proved an excellent place for characters to discuss ongoing plotlines while Ada fixed them a sandwich, thus bringing the viewers up to date on the action. It was also ideally placed to witness any emergency admissions to the hospital, including a worryingly high number of staff members (which meant many medical storylines weren’t complicated by the addition, or expense, of other actors).
Many of the younger cast members were former models taking on their first acting roles. This bevvy of beautiful youngsters was counterbalanced by a group of older and more experienced actors playing the hospital’s authority figures, most notably the feared Sister Scott, Sister Jeffries, Dr Shaw and of course, Ada Margaret Simmonds. While the young docs and nurses came and went, many of the older cast stayed for all, or most, of the show’s run.
In later years, production values improved; new sets were added and there were more outside locations. Ironically, this seemed to lessen, rather than add to, the show’s appeal. However, although the show that was slated by critics from the outset never won any awards, it did break records. With episode 1219 it beat previous title-holder Number 96 to become the show with the most episodes filmed in Aussie TV history. It kept this record for over a decade, until it was overtaken by A Country Practice.
It was around the time of this achievement that things started to go wrong. First, the brains behind the show, Alan Coleman, left to start his own production company. The soap also suffered from some high profile cast departures. Some of the best loved characters left the soap in a short space of time, including Dr Fielding, Maggie Gordon, and then Sister Jeffries, Kate Rhodes and Dennis Jamison. But it was the show’s ever changing time slot that was to be the final nail in the coffin. Thanks to Australia’s love affair with sport, and with the advent of one day cricket, the Nine Network stations frequently moved the time of the show to accommodate the cricket coverage. Worse, in Sydney, the local station moved the show to the five o’clock slot, which was seen as a total lack of faith in its future. Just a few months after the party to celebrate the record breaking episode, it was announced that production on The Young Doctors was to stop. Luckily there were already about six months of episodes in the can, so the show continued airing until 1983.
In the show’s final storyline, the Albert Memorial closed down and the staff moved on to find new positions elsewhere.
While the hospital staff gathered together at Bunny’s for a poignant rendition of Auld Lang’s Syne, Tania took a plane to Hong Kong to marry old flame Peter Holland. He had called her the previous day and proposed on the phone. (Peter’s voice was not heard. The actor who played him had already left the soap, and obviously wasn’t available to film a final scene!). Back at the Albert, Ada took a last look around the hospital before switching off the lights for the last time. No-one explained why they left the kiosk lady to lock up but, hey, it was a great scene and of course the show just had to finish with a scene of Gwen Plumb!
After six years of emergency operations, shootings, adultery, romance, divorce, amnesia, car crashes, plane crashes, poisonings, miscarriages and kidnappings, the last extra groaning on a trolley had been wheeled past Ada’s watchful eye.
The Young Doctors: 1976-1983, 1396 episodes/30 mins, Grundy/Nine Network