Upon viewing the scene of Jack the Ripper’s final atrocity In Alan Moore’s visionary From Hell
Inspector Abberline comments that "there’s naught to us but shit and mincemeat". Working on geriatric wards brings home that same truth. The smell of shit and death is everywhere. While Channel 4 likes to portray nursing life as one big Bacardi fuelled shagathon most hospital wards are a cross between Bodies and Green Wing – incompetence, bureaucracy, cover-ups punctuated by comedy, despair and boredom. That BBC 4’s Getting On gets this and revels in it is just hugely refreshing.
Three central characters drive the show. Return to Practice Nurse Kim Wilde (Jo Brand), a study in exhaustion, decency and sloth. Kim is backing the NHS after a long break but she’s not quite ready to dig the new breed. Jaded by creeping bureaucracy, low morale and low self-esteem, she’d just like a quiet life. Fat chance of that. Shit rolls downhill and Kim resides at the bottom of a very steep mudslide.
And bright at the top is Dr Pippa Moore (Vicki Pepperdine) — a cheerily brusque medic obsessed with shit. She’s come to exactly the right place. Pippa’s academic work on faeces earns priceless research points to secure more funding for the hospital. Where there’s muck, there’s brass it seems and Pippa has dibs on every stool that lands in the ward. She gets surprisingly territorial over plop – a psychoanalyst would have a field day with her.
That’s after they’ve finished with Sister Den Flixter (Joanna Scanlan), of course. Dippy as anything, desperate for a man and dressing for the other side of 40 than the one she’s on, Den represents a sizeable chunk of the nursing body today. Senior Kim, she gets on with her well enough though is slightly more used to the stupidities of the modern NHS. She is used to them all right – she just has no clue how to deal with them.
And somebody who has no clue but how to deal with them is the male matron Hilary Loftus, played by Ricky Grover in an inspired piece of casting. Hilary is that very modern beast: a collector of skillsets who possesses no skill. An administration wizard, fluent in meaningless management speak, NLP and anger management, a Zen master of passive aggression. Taking an innocuous remark by Kim as homophobic, he makes a formal complaint, threatening her job and prompting a Conflict Resolution Strategy Meeting. Ricky Grover is a pitch perfect idiot careerist cunt and I’m terribly impressed.
Often, this is hardly NHS works. Ward politics infect everything. Interdepartmental skirmishes trump patient care. Wards are micromanaged out of existence and replaced with paper form factories. You probably suspected this the last time you were in hospital but blotted it out. Basically, you’re fucked once they get hold of you.
But don’t let that bother you – Getting On is terrifically well-observed and very funny. If ever a face was built to express the baffled resignation essential to the role of Kim it was Jo Brand’s but she feels no need to steal any scene she’s in. She’s understated, respects the boundaries of her role and the roles of others. Just like the NHS soldier she once was. Scanlan, Pepperdine and Brand scripted this three-parter and there’s definitely scope for more from this odd little ward bound The Office.
It was commissioned as part of the networks Grey Expectations seasons, a series of programmes exploring old-age presumably as a response to criticism that they will commission any old shit from the young. Good for them but they should be hitting up these three old broads to produce more of these if only in preparation for some of the clinkers they’ve broadcast in the name of youth, the stupid bastards.
The verdict on Getting On: Needs to be picked up..
Marks out of 10: 8
Imagined: Wednesday 12th June 2013