Book review: The Flying Doctors: The Inside Story by James Oram (BBC Books, 1991)
Their practice covers an area twice the size of Western Europe. They fly tiny aircraft through dust storms and cyclones. They treat everything from snake bites to heat stroke, childbirth to brain surgery, and often in near impossible conditions. They are the Flying Doctors, a tiny band of doctors and nurses who respond to around the clock calls from isolated stations and townships across the great Australian outback.
In this book bestselling author, James Oram, not only uncovers the story of the real Royal Flying Doctor Service but also takes us behind the scenes of the popular television series and inside the lives and loves of its stars. We learn about both on- and off-screen romances and about the dreams and ambitions and hopes and failures of the actors and characters they play. We find out why heart-throb, Peter O’Brien, leaves Neighbours to become the affable pilot in The Flying Doctors; about the real outback village setting for the series and about the question of raising such social problems as Aids and the role of Aborigines in the series.
Entertaining, revealing and often very funny, this slice of Australian life is a must for every Flying Doctors fan.
As a big fan of The Flying Doctors since I was about nine years old (give or take), when I found out this book existed I had to have it. Fortunately, I could get it for under a pound on eBay. Hooray! As soon as it arrived, I devoured it.
For any fans of The Flying Doctors, the book is a treasure. Not only does it have pictures but also lots of interesting titbits about the cast and the production. For instance, they recorded in the winter when it was freezing, so the actors had to suck on ice cubes to not show the condensation when they breathed, as they were pretending to be in the middle of summer!
You also get to know the origins of the real RFDS (fascinating!) and its creator, and how the TV series came about. Like the back of the book says, some bits are quite funny. To my surprise – not to mention delight – there’s even a picture of Sam Neill (from Dead Calm, to be precise) and Robert Grubb recounts a tale involving Sam from the set of Robbery Under Arms, which I’ve had for a while but have yet to sit down and watch. Apparently, that very same story managed to end up as a plot line in one of the episodes! But hey, I bought a book about my favourite TV show and it contains a picture and a story about one of my favourite actors – who was never even in the series! Bonus!
The downside of the book, aside from being a mere 128 pages, is that the structure is incoherent and the content is all over the place and often repeats itself. For instance, page 88 mentions that Liz Burch and Rebecca Gibney were called “the twins” because they became such close friends. This is repeated on page 93, where it also repeats that Rebecca Gibney plays Emma Plimpton. Yeah, mate, you said that already, a few times.
Oram is supposed to be a journalist and an author, but this book is so uneven it feels like a pet project of an enthusiastic fan rather than anything more substantial, which is disappointing. The chronology also feels very peculiar. There are bits that appear to be from series one, Sharon being an obvious example, but on the other hand it’s mentioned that they’re shooting, or have just finished shooting, series eight.
Another funny thing, when you take series eight into account, is that the people behind the show says there’s no reason why the show can’t go on for years and years and years. They made nine series. How can you be that confident it will go on for years, when it should be fairly obvious it was on its last legs by series eight? Besides, The Flying Doctors ran until 1993 or 1994, not 1991 as stated on IMDb, which means they can’t have been making series eight when this book was written. Especially not considering that by that time the only remaining characters mentioned in this book were Geoff, Kate, Vic and Nancy.
I would have liked for the book to go more into detail about each of the characters in turn and told us about the actors behind them, but it rambles on for pages about Andrew MacFarlane, Liz Burch, Peter O’Brien and Rebecca Gibney – not that I’m complaining – but it hardly gives a mention to Lenore Smith, Robert Grubb (who, for the most part, only gets to recount the story about Sam Neill), Brett Climo and everyone else. Ron, Joe and Gibbo don’t get a mention at all – or Maggie, who should have been in the show by that point. There’s a picture of Marty Jarvis, but that’s all, and Luke Mitchell is mentioned briefly.
This could have been the most spectacular book about The Flying Doctors ever, but I’m afraid it isn’t, and it’s such a shame. Still, I loved reading it, and what information there was I gobbled up with a big smile on my face.
3.9 out of 5 Nomads, and if you want to follow my Flying Doctors re-watch (with plot summaries and thoughts about each episode), head on over to Coopers Crossing! 🙂