Oh, Doctor Beeching! is a BBC sitcom written by David Croft and Richard Spendlove. The pilot was broadcast on the 14th August 1995. The show ran for two series from 8 July 1996, with the last episode being broadcast on 28 September 1997. Oh, Doctor Beeching is notable for being the last in a series of three comedies by co-writer David Croft to use many of the same actors, starting with Hi-de-Hi!, and followed by You Rang, M’Lord?
Set in 1963, at a rural branch line railway station called Hatley, Jack Skinner (Paul Shane) the porter is acting stationmaster until a replacement is found. Jack deeply loves his wife May (played by Sherrie Hewson in the pilot episode, with her scenes re-recorded by Julia Deakin when repeated as the first episode of the regular series) who runs the station buffet, but is prone to becoming very jealous of her around other men. Without a station master the station has become rather disorganised: for instance the eternally miserable signalman, Harry Lambert (Stephen Lewis), is so underworked that he is running several sidelines from his signal box – including hair-cutting, selling fruit and vegetables, repairing bicycles, and taking bets – seeing his signalling duties as a distraction; he frequently speaks of “ruddy trains”. The station is part run by the eccentric, easily flustered booking clerk, Ethel Schumann (Su Pollard), who is always on the lookout for a new man in her life, and whose late-teenaged son Wilfred (Paul Aspen), the product of a relationship with a now deceased American soldier during the war, is the station dogsbody. Wilfred often comes across as stupid, but sometimes displays signs that he is brighter than he appears – for instance, in the episode “The Van”, he finds Arnold’s missing wife, Jessica.
Also present are Vera Plumtree, (Barbara New), who has no particular role, but seems to do various jobs around the station and acts as Mr Parkin’s housekeeper. Her late husband used to work on the railway, as she frequently reminds the other members of staff, (her catchphrase is, “he was an engine driver, you know”). She always muddles her words (Ethel also sometimes muddles her words, but not as often), and has an unrequited love for Harry (who always ignores her advances); Gloria (Lindsay Grimshaw), Jack and May’s pretty teenage daughter, who loves wearing short skirts, much to the chagrin of the father. She shows an interest in men, but Jack is over-protective, and won’t let any man take her out; the elderly engine driver, Arnold Thomas (Ivor Roberts); his inexperienced fireman, Ralph (Perry Benson), who is training to be a driver; the flirtatious guard, Percy (Terry John), with whom Ethel appears to be quite besotted at times. He returns her advances, but seems to prefer Gloria’s friend, Amy Matlock (Tara Daniels), who appears in most episodes, albeit usually briefly. Richard Spendlove, one of the writers and the co-creator, also appeared in several episodes as Mr Orkindale, the strait-laced district inspector.
Soon the new stationmaster arrives in the guise of Cecil Parkin (Jeffrey Holland), a stern, well spoken man. He is amazed to learn that the café is run by May (then called Blanchflower), with whom he had a passionate fling during the war before she married Jack – although we later learn that she was seeing both of them at the same time. Although Jack is in the dark as to May and Cecil’s history, he takes an instant dislike to the new stationmaster. A running subplot to the series is the question of whether Gloria is actually Jack’s daughter, or the result of May’s fling with Cecil (although in the second series episode “Father’s Day”, it is generally concluded that Jack is her father). Meanwhile, at the end of the episode a newspaper article is found threatening the station with closure under the Beeching Axe, which begins the series.
A running gag in the series was Vera almost finding out about Cecil and May’s relationship. Mr Parkin steals every moment he possibly can with May, often sneaking into the kitchen near the beginning of the day, before anyone else has arrived, and Vera caught them almost every time.
The programme ran for two series, although the final episode did not conclude by answering whether the station was closed, as it was unknown at the time of production whether a third series would be produced or not.
Characters and cast
Cecil R. Parkin (Jeffrey Holland) Stationmaster – the new stationmaster at Hatley who appears midway through the first episode. He is a perfectionist, and is determined to make the station the best on the line. On the surface, he seems refined, but it turns out that he knows the station’s buffet manageress because they had a passionate affair, which was going on behind her boyfriend (later husband) Jack Skinner’s back. He still has lecherous thoughts about her, and in several episodes he tries his best to get her to leave Jack. The station staff react to him in different ways – most are tolerant of him, but Jack and Harry, the signalman, take an intense dislike to him, which only slightly mellows as the series goes on.
Jack Skinner (Paul Shane) Head Porter and Deputy Stationmaster – He is deeply in love with his beautiful wife, May, but gets very jealous whenever she comes into close contact with other men, especially Cecil. He heartily dislikes Cecil and shows it. He is an ex-soldier with a limp, from a wound he received during the war (only in Episode 9 we learn that his leg was wounded when he was thrown out of a pub and the landlord’s wife slammed the door on his foot, not during a battle, although Ethel changed the story to him jumping on a Nazi tank to shove a land mine down it and a big Nazi trapped his foot in the for).
Ethel Schumann (Su Pollard) Ticket Clerk – She is scatter-brained, and sometimes muddles her words. She often gets frustrated with Jack for his jealousy of May. She is also a flirt – she has a grown-up son from her marriage to a now deceased soldier named Earl, whom she frequently refers to in the earlier episodes. She is desperate for another boyfriend, and frequently makes advances to the station’s guard, Percy, who appreciates her advances, but seems more interested in the regular commuter, Amy. She is the only one who knows of Cecil and May’s war-time fling (other than Cecil and May, of course).
Harry Lambert (Stephen Lewis) Signalman – He is eternally miserable, with Stephen Lewis portraying the character very much like “Blakey” in On the Buses. He never smiles, and often sees the down side of things, never being seen happy. He hates his job, often calling the trains “ruddy”. Because trains come through Hatley only a few times a day, he operates numerous sidelines from his box: growing vegetables, mending bikes and clocks, rearing farm animals (pigs, turkeys and chickens) for the staff’s dinners, giving haircuts and taking bets. They are all illegal, yet all the staff, including Gloria know about them, are customers and keep their mouths shut. Cecil does not know, as he would make it stop. There is a recurring gag, where Harry will say, “if they poke their noses around, they will get the flat end o’ my tongue”, that person comes and he starts sucking up to them. Throughout the series, he bluntly tries to resist Vera’s advances.
May Skinner (née May Blanchflower) (Julia Deakin) Buffet Manageress – She had a passionate affair with Cecil Parkin before she married Jack, which ended when Cecil was called up to serve in the Army. She appears to genuinely love Jack, but she seems to still have buried feelings for Cecil. She frequently resists Cecil’s advances, but occasionally relents, even letting him kiss her in Episode 10, but states that it must never happen again. In early episodes it is hinted that Cecil is the father of her daughter, Gloria, but this is proved to be false in Episode 11.
Vera Plumtree (possibly later Vera Lambert) (Barbara New) Cleaner – She helps the staff, by cleaning their homes and washing clothes for them. She has much in common with Ethel: she muddles her words, and frequently talks about her unnamed late husband, who was an engine driver.
She is in love with Harry, but it is unrequited. Her friendship with May and Ethel is similar to that of Lou Beale, Ethel Skinner and Dot Cotton in EastEnders.
Wilfred Schumann (Paul Aspen) Porter – Ethel’s son. Most of the time comes across as extremely stupid. He is often verbally abused and hit around the head by Jack. Wilfred joins the Army in one episode so as to allow Ethel to elope with her American airmen boyfriend, but she ends her relationship. Wilfred was born in 1946, making him 17, and along with Jack, May, Gloria and Ethel speaks with a Northern accent.
Gloria Skinner (Lindsay Grimshaw) – Jack and May’s daughter. A rebellious teenager, very fond of short skirts and the company of older men. She has a crush on Cecil Parkin, the new station master and Percy, the guard. Jack is over-protective, however, and will let no man in the station take Gloria out. Gloria was born in February 1945, making her 18.
Percy (Terry John) Guard – the main station flirt. He flirts with every woman he comes into contact with, except Vera. But he seems to prefer Amy Matlock above others: he takes her out on several dates during the series, often leaving Ethel in the lurch. We learn in Episode 14 that he keeps promising to take Ethel out, but never does.
Arnold Thomas (Ivor Roberts) Train Driver – An old train-driver – one of the more minor characters. He is the star of the penultimate episode, where he goes to great lengths to make sure he is not sacked. He has a wife called Jessica, who appears to be mentally ill. He alludes to her in almost every episode, but she only appears briefly in Episode 13.
Ralph (Perry Benson) Fireman and Trainee Driver – Works with Arnold – the two often engage in comic banter. Ralph can be as daft as Wilfred, and is slow at learning to drive – but he drives the train perfectly in the final episode. Like Arnold, he is a minor character, but one episode centres around him – in Episode 14 he threatens to go on strike. It is also revealed that he has a crush on Gloria.
Amy Matlock (Tara Daniels), best school friend of Gloria’s, in most episodes. She is often the object of Percy’s desires.
Mr Orkindale (Richard Spendlove) District Inspector – Senior to Parkin, calls staff by Christian names and fancies May. Dislikes Mr Parkin as much as everyone else, and in Episode 17 cheats him out of a place on the bowls club outing, just so he can have a few extra drinks.
Earl Schumann – Earl was Ethel’s husband and Wilfred’s father. He was an American who was a salesman selling Intimate Apparel. During the Second World War, Ethel married Earl after he fell in love with her, joined the United States Army and moved to Britain. Ethel kept a piece of their wedding cake in a little pink box to prove they were married. At the end of the war, Ethel became pregnant with Wilfred. Earl was at a Nazi ammunition dump with his platoon, blowing up Nazi shells, when Earl was killed in an explosion (“there was a big explosion and he went missing!”, in Ethel’s words). They only found bits of him 18 years later. Because of his German name, May mistook him to be a German, Italian and Indian. According to Ethel, he was very handsome and trusted her (“As he left to go overseas with his platoon, he said to me”, “one thing I know for sure Ethel, no man will be bothering you while I’m away!”, in Ethel’s words). Wilfred never knew him.
Ernie Bennett – the bus driver, played by Hugh Lloyd (who was reminiscent of the bus driver in the 1941 railway film “The Ghost Train”)
Co-writer Richard Spendlove made a number of guest appearances as the inspector, Mr Orkindale. Another former Hi-De-Hi! regular, Felix Bowness, also made a number of appearances as the train Guard Bernie Bleasdale. Windsor Davies appeared in the final episode as the Mayor of Clumberfield, when the station staff re-enacted the station’s opening for its 100th anniversary. Sally Grace appeared in Episode 7 as Mr Parkin’s former fiancée, Edna Taylor. The LMS Ivatt Class 2 2-6-0 No 46521 from the Severn Valley Railway was used on the film set and carried the named “Blossom”. The engine has now been sold to the Loughborough Standard Locomotive Group and has just returned to service after an overhaul at the Great Central Railway.
Title and music
The title was a reference to the music hall song and Will Hay film Oh, Mr Porter!, and a modified version was sung as the end titles by Su Pollard:
Oh, Dr Beeching what have you done?
There once were lots of trains to catch, but soon there will be none,
I’ll have to buy a bike, ‘cos I can’t afford a car,
Oh, Dr Beeching what a naughty man you are!
First broadcast: Monday 14th August 1995
The peaceful life of Hartley station looks set to be disrupted with the arrival of a new fault-finding station master and rumours that the Minister of Transport, Dr Beeching, is planning to close down a large section of the network.
1. All Change
First broadcast: Monday 1st July 1996
As rumours begin to filter through that the new head of British Railways, Dr Beeching, is planning on closing large portions of the network, life at the peaceful rural outpost of Hatley is changed with the arrival of a new station master.
2. Talking Turkey
First broadcast: Monday 8th July 1996
When Harry’s turkey – being reared and prepared for the staff’s Christmas dinner – is seen running up the line, an oncoming train is brought to a swift halt. Meanwhile, Jack’s getting more suspicious about his wife and Mr Parkin.
3. The Train Now Standing…
First broadcast: Monday 15th July 1996
Mr Parkin decides to improve the station’s service and appearance by fixing and reinstating the long-defunct electronic PA system. Which of the staff he might be able to get to voice the announcements is another matter entirely!
4. A Moving Story
First broadcast: Monday 22nd July 1996
May admits to Ethel that she has met Parkin before. When the story gets to Jack – with a few diplomatic omissions – he confides to May his worries and ‘deep’ love for her. Meanwhile, Parkin’s furniture has arrived for the station master’s house.
5. The Late Mr. Buckly
First broadcast: Monday 29th July 1996
When a coffin is delivered aboard the morning train, Jack and Harry decide it’d be best if it’s kept out of public view. Unfortunately, matters are complicated when Wilfred accidentally burns the delivery slip.
6. Horse Play
First broadcast: Monday 5th August 1996
Wilfred receives a message about a horse due for delivery, but a mix-up leaves quite a different animal at Hatley. Meanwhile, Mr Parkin has a slightly unorthodox gift for May.
7. Past Love
First broadcast: Monday 12th August 1996
When Mr. Parkin’s fiancée, one Edna Taylor, arrives at the station unannounced, all hell breaks loose.
8. Job Opportunity
First broadcast: Monday 19th August 1996
When May receives an almost guaranteed offer of work at another station’s buffet, Cecil and Jack unwittingly join forces to keep her at Hatley.
9. Sleeping Around
First broadcast: Monday 26th August 1996
Jack and May become worried when Gloria fails to return home one evening. Meanwhile, Ralph and Arnold are preparing for the dance, and Ethel is desperate for a partner on the floor. Mr Parkin could also have a nasty surprise up his sleeve…
1. No Milk For The Minister
First broadcast: Sunday 29th June 1997
Hatley is thrown into disarray when a burglary at another nearby station leaves the milkman without any means of delivery. Meanwhile, Mr Parkin is increasingly lustful for May, and hopeful of a visit by the Minister for Transport.
2. Father’s Day
First broadcast: Sunday 6th July 1997
As Jack and Cecil’s rivalry comes to the boil, something’s got to give – and if Jack has his way, it’ll be Parkin’s head. But a chance meeting aboard the train could change everything…
3. The Gravy Train
First broadcast: Sunday 13th July 1997
Jack’s patience for Mr Parkin’s rules is wearing thin, and he’s no longer concerned with keeping his job. His attitude certainly isn’t changed when he comes across a large amount of money. Pity it’s forged!
4. The Van
First broadcast: Sunday 20th July 1997
Mr Parkin is appointed manager of a number of other stations in the vicinity, and British Railways send a van for him to drive between them in. Perfect timing, as the canteen fridge has packed up, and Arnold fears his wife could be in trouble.
5. Lucky Strike
First broadcast: Sunday 27th July 1997
Ralph’s torn between his head and his heart – his uncle, a firebrand communist, has just been made district union leader, and is calling a wildcat strike. As he wrestles with his loyalties, everyone else worries about Beeching’s ultimatum that a single striker will result in the closing of the line.
6. Love Is A Very Splendid Thing
First broadcast: Sunday 17th August 1997
Finding Ethel to be particularly upbeat, the rest of the staff suspect she’s met a man – and he turns out to be Joe, an American serviceman stationed nearby. Fearing he’s holding his mother back from going to the US, Wilfred joins the army.
7. Action Stations
First broadcast: Sunday 7th September 1997
When Lady Lawrence’s chauffeur tips off Mr Parkin that he’s due to collect Dr Beeching from the station later that evening, the staff of Hatley go into a cleaning frenzy.
8. A Bowl In The Hand
First broadcast: Sunday 14th September 1997
A bowls club excursion goes wrong for all concerned when a series of changes and mix-ups leave May alone with Mr Parkin. Whatever will Jack think?
9. A Pregnant Pause
First broadcast: Sunday 21st September 1997
After failing to master the art of stopping whilst training to drive the new diesels, Arnold is depressed, frustrated, and in fear for his job. Meanwhile, May worries that she’s pregnant. Will either possibility come to fruition?
10. Ton Up
First broadcast: Sunday 28th September 1997
Whilst putting some old paperwork into storage, Wilfred comes across an 1863 newspaper. Much to Jack’s surprise, it shows that Hatley station is just days away from its centenary, and the staff determine to celebrate the occasion.