THE PERMANENTLY knackered University of Lowlands was the setting for this bracing slice of higher edutainment with PETER “COME ALONG, TEGAN” DAVIDSON as blue-eyed ingénue campus doc Stephen Daker, brightly and naively walking into a nightmarish world of self-interest and mutual exploitation, and getting the sharp end of the stick right in his pleasant, open face. Yes, once again it’s a case of ‘sick and twisted institution becomes metaphor for Thatcher’s Britain’ (see also The Old Men at the Zoo), but as this is Andrew Davies on script duties, the ‘do you see?’ symbolism seldom gets too outrageously clunky, and even when it does, it does with all the eye-rolling splendour the cast can muster.
And what a cast. Daker’s departmental colleagues-cum-bitter, scheming rivals come first, with white-coated, smouldering crypto-lesbian ultra-feminist Rose Marie (BARBARA FLYNN), nerdish private enterprise wannabe and all-round amoral walking nervous breakdown Bob ‘Let’s get ON with our lives, buddy!’ Buzzard (DAVID TROUGHTON) and ultra-soused, self-mythologising, not-terribly-wise old man Jock McCannon (GRAHAM CROWDEN). Davidson’s love interest sparring parters were no-nonsense sports therapist-cum-copper Amy Turtle (AMANDA HILLWOOD) in series one, and permanently cross Polish art student Grete Grotowska (JOANNA KANSKA) thereafter. JOHN BIRD was ineffectual, paranoid vice chancellor Ernest Hemingway (do you see?) at the start. Second series involved the purchase of the university by your standard shady, defence-linked American conglomerate headed by Commie-fearing smoothie Jack B. Daniels (do you continue to see?) with his eye on the main chance of closing down all that bothersome ‘learning’ and setting up a big old ‘research’ facility. Other one-off cameos included HUGH GRANT’s early turn as a priest with busy hands, JAMES GROUT as blithe nudist humanities don George Bunn, JOE MEILA as weird, saturnine creative writing tutor Ron Rust, who’s supposedly the writer of the series they’re all appearing in, and TIMOTHY WEST as sexually frustrated Professor John Thomas Fury (do you – look, there’s a lot of this sort of stuff). Excellent stuff all round, filmed round the convincingly bleak environs of the University of East Anglia. One-off revival A VERY POLISH PRACTICE got bleaker still, relocating Stephen, Greta and Bob to… well, you can probably guess.