Practice Makes Perfect
Peter Davison talks to The Fan Can about one of the greatest TV shows of the 1980s - the savagely funny and bruise-black A Very Peculiar Practice.
It must be nice to find yourself talking about this for a change, instead of Doctor Who. Yeah, and I've been waiting a long time for the whole of Peculiar Practice to be released and now they've finally done it!
Did you have your own copies? Have you looked at it since you made it?
I had a copy of the first series on DVD. And I had a few episodes of the second series on old Betamax tapes, but it was never really reshown. Although I love both series, the second was my favourite. It was a really good satire on Thatcher's Britain, and this view of education being run by big business.
How did you get the part?
I was sent the script and then had to go and meet the director. I think he was pretty unimpressed with me! I'd asked some question about the scripts and he said, "No, I think you're completely wrong about that." Directors have this terrible habit in auditions of asking actors what they think and I think David Tucker - who I'm actually still friends with now - just disagreed with what I thought about something. So I left thinking there was no way I'd get the role. I was disappointed because I'd loved the scripts, but then before I'd even got home they'd rung up and offered me the part.
What did you like about Andrew Davies' writing?
It was the kind of series where you didn't want to change any of the lines. Very often you get scripts where you say to the director, "Do you mind if I change this to this," but I don't remember a single instance where anybody wanted to change a single line in it, even down to the last full stop and comma.
You had two leading ladies in the show. Did you think one worked better than the other?
I rather liked the combative thing that Joanna Kanska had in the second series. I didn't not like the first series, don't get me wrong, but I just loved everything about the second one. Joanna could barely speak English when she got the part. She had to learn her lines phonetically. She could communicate with you fine, but there were lots of things where she'd just say, "Dahrling, what does this mean?"
The last episode of the series seems so final and apocalyptic. Did you have an inkling then that it would return?
Not really. The trouble with really good writers is that they always want to move on, and I don't think Andrew really wanted to write the second series. He was commissioned to write it, wrote one episode and sent it in and David Tucker told him, "I'm not sure this is very good, this is just a rehash of the first series." I think I'm right in saying, it was him who suggested this theme of businesses funding universities and it suddenly just inspired Andrew. He went off and wrote the entire second series in the space of about two weeks, I think! In the end though I think he thought he'd used up everything he could. But I never thought it would be a long-running series, like All Creatures Great and Small. But then at some point later I just think he thought he'd like to know whatever happened to these characters.
Did it feel like jumping into the same skin again? Did it feel like a continuation of the series or something different?
It was a slightly different take on it, but it still had its satirical points to make. It was about the emerging Poland coming out of the ruins of the Soviet Union and at that time the country was really run by the black market and gangsters! But gangsters with a good heart, rather like the Mafia tradition of let's look after the people.
Would you have ever wanted to do a full series of A Very Polish Practice?
I don't think so. I was a nice coda to the series for me, but I think the series was too good for that. I think it would have lessened it to make it a continuing story of Dr Daker in Poland or whatever.
How do you think the series stands up now?
I think it holds up pretty well. I mean, our expectation of what television is is slightly different now. It was for the most part studio-bound and that strange mix of video and film is slightly uncomfortable, but given that, I do think it stands up well. It is a thing of its time and it's set in that time, so I think it does stand up as a historical piece.
What do you think Stephen Daker would be doing now?
I think he would be back doing the nitty-gritty. I think that's where his heart was. Actually, a few years ago my son had stomach pains and we took him along to an out of hours doctor who struck me as being what Stephen Daker would be now. He just struck me as someone who was happiest when he was working all hours and doing whatever he could to keep people healthy.
Would you ever revive him, if Andrew Davies came up with an idea for a killer third series?
If it was a good script, yeah. It'd have to be an interesting take and it always was with A Very Peculiar Practice, it always did move on to a different area. But I don't think it's going to happen. I think Andrew's happy just adapting stuff!
Trailer here, peeps:
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