Doctor Finlay: The Adventures of a Black Bag by A.J.Cronin

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BBC Radio 7, 6 June 2009
Although a remake of a classic television and radio series, originally starring Andrew Cruickshank and Bill Simpson, Doctor Finlay has both feet firmly rooted in the past. The series is set in the small Scottish community of Tannochbae, wherein everyone knows their place and remain happy to lead humdrum lives. The women tend the house, while the men pursue rural pursuits like farming or eke out comfortable lives as shopkeepers. As in the James Herriot books set in North Yorkshire in the pre-1939 era, the people treat doctors with suspicion, on account of their pseudo-scientific knowledge and educated manners. Why should a medical person be able to cure anyone better using remedies that contradict centuries of folklore? Once accepted, however, the doctor becomes a pillar of the community, a cross between a therapist, counsellor, a shoulder to cry on and a medicine man.
But that is not to say that Finlay and Cameron are always successful - on several occasions their medical judgment has to be tempered by concern for their patients, even if that means not curing them. This was certainly the case in this episode, where a young wife was dying of cancer, yet refused to permit Finlay to inform her husband, a professional footballer faced with a vital Scottish F.A.Cup tie against Glasgow Rangers. If he knew about his wife's condition, his performance on the field could be adversely affected and thereby let the team down. This was considered more important, especially in a small community like Tannochbrae. Eventually the young wife died, and her husband, mortified by the news, gives up football altogether.
While listening to any version of Doctor Finlay, one immediately focuses on the actors, and whether their performances match the standards set by the original cast. It was galling to think that the two main players, John Gordon Sinclair and Brian Pettifer, had once been young Turks of the late 70s and early 80s in Gregory's Girl and Get Some In respectively. In Jeremy Howe's version of the Cronin tale, adapted by Bruce Bennett, they formed a vocally contrastive double-act, with Sinclair's Finlay exuding youthful idealism, while Pettifer's Cameron offered a soothing, reliable presence of someone understanding the importance of diplomacy in a doctor's life. Kate Murphy's Janet lacked some of Barbara Mullen's maternal presence, but Murphy brought a refreshing quality of humour to the role, especially in the way she showed an encyclopedic knowledge of local football lore, much to Cameron's surprise.
Although set in the kind of rural world that died out long ago, Doctor Finlay holds a certain fascination for listeners who still believe in the doctors' capacity to cure all ills, even if their personal lives are something of a mess.