Emergency -  Ward 9



Title: Emergency -  Ward 9


Transmission Info: First transmitted on 11 April 1966  at 9.50 p.m. on B.B.C. 2 as part of the Thirty Minute Theatre series. Approximately 30 mins. in duration. Repeated on July 19th 1967. It is not thought that any recording survives.












Actor Character
Terence De Marney Flanders
Tenniel Evans Padstow
Dan Jackson Adzola
Gillian Lewis Nurse Angela
Paul Carson Doctor
Anwer Begg Doctor
Rowena Gregson Night Nurse
Evangeline Banks Sister
Raymond Witch Vyshinski
John H. Moore Old man
Sheelagh McGrath Nurse
Dean Anthony Nurse

(Source: Gilbert 1995: 332-3)







Costume Joyce Macken
Make-up Cherry Alston
Story Editor Kenith Trodd
Designer Paul Allen
Producer Harry Moore
Director Gareth Davies
Writer Dennis Potter












Contrary to my clear - even vivid - recollections of watching the Nigel Barton plays as a fifteen year old, I cannot recall seeing the original transmission of Emergency Ward 9. Since the tele-recording of this play no longer exists and as I have not yet personally consulted the original scripts (held at the BBC Written Archive Centre), I must rely on the two reliable sources to which I continually acknowledge my extensive debt throughout this site - Gilbert (1995) and Cook (1995).

The action is set in a men's ward of a "ramshackle London hospital". The central characters are Padstow, a schoolmaster and lay-preacher, Flanders, an old, working-class Londoner and a black man, Adzola. Through this setting Potter offers the audience a microcosm of conflicting attitudes and values in post-war Britain - representing in part the conflicts between imperial certainties and post-imperial instabilities, between old and new perceptions of difference in race and in class and between existing versions of Englishness and the changes engendered by the intrusive consumerism and "admass" culture which Potter had already rehearsed in "The Glittering Coffin" and "The Changing Forest".

For Cook (1995:43), the characters represent "the liberal teacher/preacher" (Padstow), "the aspirant immigrant" (Adzola) and "the older generation who fought in two World Wars at great personal cost but who now see themselves as disenfranchised" (Flanders). Padstow straddles, as it were, the two conflicting sets of cultural values and perceptions, caught between attempting to convert Flanders from his ingrained, unthinking but non-malicious racial prejudices and becoming confused by the changing structures of social inequality which Adzola's meritocratic position represents.



Banks-Smith, N. (1966a) TV Review of Emergency - Ward 9, The Sun, 12 April



















By  1966 Potter had undoubtedly experienced the strange world of the hospital ward as he began to be treated for his psoriatic arthropathy. Gilbert (1995:134) prefaces the chapter in which he discusses this play with a quote from one of Potter's Daily Herald TV reviews from 1963: "Watching Emergency - Ward 10 while actually in hospital, as I did last night, is an uncanny situation." Emergency - Ward 10 was Britain's first, twice-weekly "soap opera" which was broadcast on ATV from 1957 until 1967, portraying the daily lives of those involved in the social round of the hospital ward.

According to Gilbert's sources within the BBC, the play was originally entitled Emergency - Ward 11 but the title was revised before transmission. Cook suggests that this revised title may indicate "a view that 'reality' in 'Britannia Hospital' never quite measures up to the ideal world of the soaps. Likewise the ideal of racial and social harmony (...) never quite works out in practice as intended." (1995:44)

Gilbert suggests (p. 136), in something of the same vein, that the conventional characterizations "of nurses as angels (...) and patients as nobly suffering" are equally romanticized and idealized and perhaps merit a more prosaic representation than the soap opera can portray.

The hospital ward as the arena for uncovering the metaphorical, non-medical sicknesses of institutions, of individuals and of roles in society is, of course, one to which Potter returns notably in Moonlight on the Highway, in The Singing Detective and, ultimately, in Karaoke. The hospital ward is the arena into which people are thrown only by virtue of their common status as patients ('sufferers') or as those who treat patients. And yet, in spite of this sole, functional commonality, hospital inter-relationships are typically marked by the most intimate intrusions into privacy. As Gilbert puts it (p. 135), "the ritual humiliations of being a patient are swiftly established, as is the sense of being a supplicant." In contrast to the situations in which one finds oneself in the outside world, in hospital, one cannot isolate oneself from one's neighbours, nor even choose who one's neighbours might be or how one might interact with them. In the general ward, social differences are not taken into account when allocating patients to beds and, as a result, these very differences tend to surface all the more patently. The private domain of the individual is marked not by the usual territorial boundaries of the privet hedge and the front door and the drawn curtains of the living room but rather by the drawing of curtains around a "personal" bedspace. Paradoxically, such curtain-drawing marks not the establishment of privacy but rather the contrary - the imminent intrusion of doctors and nurses into the closest and most private of intimacies. Compare Philip Marlowe's experiences behind closed hospital curtains with his consultants and their entourage and equally by the unguently eroticised administrations of Nurse Mills in The Singing Detective.

For an essentially private and reclusive person like Potter this intrusive intimacy proved particularly invasive and revelatory of the inner self.





For indications of what Gilbert describes as Potter's "own racism" (as reflected perhaps in Flander's prejudices towards Adzola and in some of the treatment Ali receives in The Singing Detective), there is a lengthy discussion on p. 136 of Gilbert (1995), together with several references to Potter's own commentary on this in the following pieces:

Potter, D. (1968) 'Prejudice, it seems, is multi-coloured', In My View, The Sun, 26 January
Potter, D. (1968) 'The night I realized I, too, fear the stranger', The Sun, 29 April



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