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Series / Oh, Doctor Beeching!

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Left to right: Jack, Ethel, Parkin.

"Oh, Doctor Beeching! What have you done? There once were lots of trains to catch, but soon there will be none."
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A Britcom created by David Croft and Richard Spendlove, which ran for two series from 1996-97 and starred some of the same cast members as Croft's earlier series You Rang, M'Lord?, including Paul Shane, Jeffrey Holland, Su Pollard (all of whom had also appeared in Croft's still earlier series Hi-de-Hi!), Perry Benson, and Barbara New.

In 1963, the rural train station of Hatley is being operated by a ragtag team of British Rail employees, including porter/acting stationmaster Jack Skinner (Paul Shane), his wife and station buffet manager May (Julia Deakin), and their teenaged daughter Gloria (Lindsay Grimshaw); flustered booking clerk Ethel Schumann (Su Pollard) and her dozy son Wilfred (Paul Aspdennote ); grumpy signalman/entrepreneur Harry Lambert (Stephen Lewis); odd job woman Vera Plumtree (Barbara New); elderly engine driver Arnold Thomas (Ivor Roberts) and his novice fireman Ralph (Perry Benson); and skirt-chasing guard Percy (Terry John). The arrival of the new station master, Cecil Parkin (Jeffrey Holland), coupled with Doctor Beeching's announcement of a railway axe - 2,000 stations to close, 67,000 jobs to be lost - forces the staff to pull up their socks.

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Unbeknownst to Jack, he has more to worry about than Dr Beeching and his axe - Parkin is an old boyfriend of May's from seventeen years earlier, and not only is he still passionately in love with May after all these years, but she was seeing both men at the same time when Gloria was conceived...


Tropes appearing in Oh, Doctor Beeching! include:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Vera Plumtree regularly flirts with Harry Lambert, who couldn't be less interested in her. He sometimes makes vague hints of returning her advances just to get her to leave him alone.
  • AB Negative: Parkin reveals in "Father's Day" that he has type AB blood. This is our (and his) clue that he cannot be Gloria's father, as May has type O blood, so her children by Parkin would have type A or B blood; Gloria, however, is type O, as is Jack.
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  • The Alleged Car: "The Van" features an alleged van given to Parkin when he is appointed station master of three other railway stations; the front doors keep getting stuck, forcing the passengers inside to climb out of the windows.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Wilfred is frequently on the receiving end of these - most often from Jack or Ethel - when he makes an obvious or inappropriate remark when the other characters' patience is already strained.
  • Book Dumb: Ralph tries to avert this by reading books about Ancient Greece, as he has aspirations beyond being an engine driver. He tells Ethel he is working through the great figures of Ancient Greece alphabetically, and that he is currently on Aristophanes and Aristotle. Ethel says her favourite ancient historical figure when she was at school was Caesar. Ralph then reveals himself as a straight example of Book Dumb by saying he won't get up to "S" for a long time.
  • British Brevity: Two series with a total of 19 episodes plus one pilot episode.
  • Catchphrase:
    • Whenever Vera Plumtree mentions "my late husband," she will invariably add, "He was an engine driver, you know." Subverted in "Lucky Strike" when Ethel anticipates "He was an engine driver, you know" and says it herself... only for Vera to say that at the time of the anecdote she is telling, he worked for the Gas and Coal Board.
    • Wilfred Schumann develops one when he startles Parkin by barging into his office without knocking. Parkin tells him to knock and wait to be told, "Come in." The easily confused Wilfred then spends the rest of the series knocking on doors and saying "Come in" himself.
  • The Charmer: Percy regularly flirts with Ethel, but the fact that he also pays considerable attention to Gloria Skinner and especially her friend Amy ensures he never gets very far with Ethel.
  • Comically Missing the Point: In several episodes, characters try unsuccessfully to set Wilfred straight where knocking on doors and saying "Come in" himself is concerned.
    • Percy suggests that "Come in" should come from the other side of the door; Wilfred laughs this off, saying there's no point his saying "Come in" after he's already entered.
    • Parkin tries to explain that he should be the one to say "Come in" when Wilfred knocks on the door; Wilfred interprets this to mean they should both say it.
  • Cool Train: The ex-LMS/BR 2-6-0 "Blossom" and her GWR chocolate-cream coaches, which suits the rural nature of Hatley.
  • *Crack!* "Oh, My Back!": Happens to Harry Lambert in "The Gravy Train" when he spots a penny on the floor of his signal box, bends over to pick it up, and can't stand up again.
  • Creator Cameo: Writer Richard Spendlove sometimes appears as Mr Orkindale, the straitlaced district inspector.
  • Cut Short: Where Hi-de-Hi! and You Rang, M'Lord? had Grand Finales, Oh, Doctor Beeching! ended without a definite resolution. When the second series finale was filmed, the BBC had yet to answer the question of whether or not a third series would be commissioned; ultimately, it wasn't.note 
  • Date Peepers: Jack, May, Gloria, Wilfred, Vera, and Harry all sneak after Ethel on her date with her USAF boyfriend Joe in "Love is a Very Splendid Thing" out of concern that she might get taken advantage of; they spend the afternoon hiding behind the Cadillac Joe has borrowed from a friend for the occasion.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: The theme tune, a parody version of an 1893 music hall song called "Oh! Mr. Porter", was sung over the closing credits by Su Pollard, who played Ethel Schumann.
  • Dope Slap: Wilfred ends up on the receiving end of quite a few from either Ethel or Jack for being slow on the uptake. For example, in "Action Stations", the staff are rehearsing for a visit from Dr Beeching, with Harry "playing" Dr Beeching for rehearsal purposes. Wilfred looks at the picture they have hung of the man himself and says "he" looks nothing like his photo. At the end of the episode, Dr Beeching turns out to be Lady Lawrence's gynaecologist, and a triumphant Wilfred says he told them the doctor looked nothing like his picture. Jack grabs Wilfred's cap and hits him with it; Parkin stops him, takes the cap, and promptly picks up where Jack left off.
  • Dreadful Musician: Wilfred is often heard practising his electric guitar, but never seems to show any improvement, much to the annoyance of the other inhabitants of the Railway Cottage terrace who are stuck listening to him.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Arnold's nickname for his wife Jessica is "popadom". Her father served in the Royal Army in India, and this was his nickname for her; Arnold started using it when they were courting. He is visibly self-conscious when he has to use her nickname in front of Jack, Ethel, and Wilfred in "The Van".
  • First-Name Basis: Most of the Hatley station staff, including Jack, May, Ethel, Vera, and Harry, have worked with each other for long enough that they address each other by their first names. When Parkin shows up, he uses their more formal titles (although he makes an exception for May when no-one else is listening; she is also the only one to routinely address him as Cecil).
  • Frozen in Time: The series was set in 1963, during the beginning of the Beeching Axe of thousands of British railway stations. As most of the decisions of which stations would close had been made by the end of 1963,note  Hatley's fate would have been decided after at most a few months of in-series time (several nearby stations are mentioned as having been slated for closure before the end of the year).
  • The "Fun" in "Funeral": In "The Late Mr Buckly", the station staff are surprised by the delivery of the title character. When the local funeral director says he is not expecting anyone by that name, the staff scramble to hide the coffin from both Mr Parkin and the passengers. (It turns out Mr Buckly was sent to Hatley by mistake; his funeral is in Hagley. Mr Orkindale shows up to sort out the mistake and send Mr Buckly on his way.)
  • Grumpy Old Man: Harry Lambert, true to most roles played by Stephen Lewis, is almost never seen smiling. He is close to retirement, and much as he hates his job (hence his many side enterprises), he hates the changes being made on the railways even more. He also gets easily angered when he hears Wilfred playing the electric guitar, partly because Wilfred isn't very good but more because he hates rock and roll for being too loud. (Not that this stops him from recruiting Wilfred to play guitar in his band, Harry Lambert and the Rhythm Rascals.)
  • Happily Married: Jack and May Skinner are an unusual match, and May is sometimes implied not to have been entirely faithful even after Parkin was out of the picture, but they are devoted to each other (to Parkin's frustration) and, in several episodes, are stated to still be sexually active (to Parkin's horror).
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: Ethel recalls in "Sleeping Around" that her father was an abusive drunk; he once stuffed her mother into a dustbin head first, and, when she was nearly eighteen, he tried to put her across his knee to spank her but she fended him off with a Groin Attack.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: In "A Bowl in the Hand", Parkin has put Jack on duty on the day of the station's Bowls Club outing and put himself on the team in his place. Jack tries to ask him to let May stay behind while Vera handles the catering for the outing on compassionate grounds; as Parkin had put Jack on duty and slated May to handle the catering precisely so he could steal some time alone with her away from Jack, he refuses. Mr Orkindale arrives in the middle of this conversation, and Parkin declares that while Beeching is wielding his axe, railway employees must put duty first and personal pleasure a long way second. Orkindale agrees, then asks why Parkin is not in uniform but Jack is; Jack, he explains, is the star of the bowls team and cannot be left behind. He orders Parkin to stay behind while Jack joins the bowls outing - after all, duty first, personal pleasure a long way second.
  • The Inspector Is Coming:
    • Mr Orkindale from British Rail's local district offices puts in a few appearances.
    • Subverted in "Action Stations", in which local aristocrat Lady Lawrence is expecting a Dr Beeching (not, in fact, Dr Richard Beeching of the Beeching Axe, but her gynaecologist).
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Occurs between Parkin and Mrs Skinner, usually by Vera.
  • Is This Thing On?: In "The Train Now Standing", Parkin asks Ethel to read the various announcements over the public address system, finding the RP accent she can affect preferable to Jack's heavy Yorkshire accent. When she first plugs in the PA system, she taps the microphone and asks if it's switched on. When it doesn't work, Jack takes over the microphone and says, "Testing, testing, testing! Mary had a little lamb!"
  • Last-Second Word Swap: Parkin does this if someone (usually Vera) barges in while he is opening his heart to May Skinner. For example, "A Bowl in the Hand" features this exchange:
    Parkin: I yearn for the moment when I don't have to look over my shoulder anymore in case someone hears me say, "I want you!"
    Vera: (entering with a pile of linens) ... oops! Beg pardon!
    Parkin: ... I want you, Mrs Skinner, to make sure that all the passengers have a chance of a nourishing meal.
  • Literal-Minded: As part of being slow on the uptake, Wilfred tends to stick rather too literally to some of the instructions he is given.
    • When he barges into Parkin's office to deliver his mail without knocking in "A Moving Story", Parkin tells him that, in future, he should knock on the door, wait to be told, "Come in", then he should enter and "say what your purpose is". Wilfred finds a letter he forgot to deliver, and after knocking on Parkin's office door and saying "Come in" himself, he enters and says, "What your purpose is."
    • In "Lucky Strike", Parkin tells Wilfred he should answer the phone not just with "Hello", but by "saying who you are"; the next time the phone rings, he picks up the receiver and says, "Who you are."
  • Love Hurts: In the grand David Croft tradition, the series is not without its bittersweet streak, especially when a character falls in love. Besides Parkin's frustrated affection for May, there is Ethel's romance with American airman Joe in "Love is a Very Splendid Thing" which ends after just a week when he is posted back to the USA.
  • Lysistrata Gambit: May admits to Ethel that this is how she got Jack to call off a strike the previous year (and, in a parallel with the original Lysistrata, admits that it was a close run thing as to whether she or Jack would give in first). When Jack refuses to let Ralph go out with Gloria to stave off another strike, May threatens to pull a second Lysistrata gambit.
  • Malaproper: Ethel and Vera both muddle the English language, particularly for unusual polysyllabic words. Just to give one example for each from the same episode ("Horse Play"):
    • When May tells Vera to keep quiet about the box of expensive silk lingerie which she claims is a present for Gloria (a cover story to hide the fact that they are for May herself from Parkin), Vera promises that "not one syllabus will escape from my lips."
    • A few minutes later, May, still looking to prevent Jack from finding out that Parkin has given her expensive underclothes, asks Ethel to pretend they're a present from her. Ethel is outraged, wondering aloud what Jack would think had been going on between her and May to merit such a gift: "He'll think we're Lebanons!"
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Gloria is supposedly Jack and May's daughter, but when Parkin arrives at Hatley and May introduces him to Gloria, he does the maths and realises she was conceived when he and May were seeing each other. (It is revealed in the second series episode "Father's Day" that her father is probably Jack after all, but definitely not Parkin.)
  • The Missus and the Ex:
    • Gender inversion; May is married to Jack but was once dating him and Parkin at the same time. May admits to Ethel that she and Parkin have a history, and Ethel passes the revelation on to Jack, but he doesn't know most of the details, such as that Parkin might be Gloria's real father, or that he is still very much in love with May after all these years.
    • The episode "Past Love" features a variation in which Parkin's fiancée, Edna Taylor, arrives in Hatley while he is away for the day and discovers an unsent letter he has written to her breaking off their engagement after having found "the love of [his] life" again. She does not take this revelation well.
  • Moment Killer: In many episodes when Parkin thinks he and May are alone and he is in the middle of an Anguished Declaration of Love for her, Vera will choose the worst possible moment to walk in on some errand or another, forcing Parkin to either make a Last-Second Word Swap to convince Vera that what she sees is Not What It Looks Like or forcing both Parkin and May to stand apart and go into an Acting Unnatural routine.
  • Never Found the Body: This is why the US military will not pay Ethel her husband Earl's pension. In the last days of World War II, he was part of a squad tasked with destroying the contents of a German ammunition dump, but was seemingly killed in a massive explosion; however, his body was never recovered, and until they find it, Ethel won't get a penny of his pension.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: When Harry Lambert repairs the lead for the public address system in "The Train Now Standing", Parkin tells Ethel to plug it in and test the system. Wilfred tries to get their attention but is repeatedly told to shut up. When the PA system doesn't work, Wilfred finally gets a word in to explain that the socket they are using is broken, as he blew it out by plugging his guitar amplifier into it.
  • Not So Above It All: Both Parkin and Orkindale are guilty of this. Orkindale, for example, is one of the more frequent customers of Harry Lambert's many side lines.
  • Not What It Looks Like: In "Past Love", Parkin returns from his lunchtime meeting on the same train as Gloria, and they are both standing by the door as the train pulls into Hatley. However, Ralph misjudges the stopping distance yet again, and Parkin and Gloria are thrown against each other as the train lurches to a halt. Parkin's fiancée, Edna, opens the door to find what looks like Parkin trying to seduce Gloria. Parkin is particularly horrified by this conclusion as he thinks Gloria might be his daughter, but Edna is the last person he wants to find out he might have an illegitimate child, so he cannot clear up the misunderstanding so easily.
  • Oop North: Although the precise location of Hatley is left somewhat vague, it is evidently somewhere north of Birmingham judging from the pronounced Northern accents of such characters as Jack and Ethel and Jack's comment, when Parkin tries to persuade him to affect an RP accent for station announcements, that the locals pronounce the names of nearby villages with the same accent he uses.
  • Out-of-Context Eavesdropping: When Ethel and her American airman beau Joe are having a picnic in "Love is a Very Splendid Thing", Jack, May, Gloria, Wilfred, Harry, and Vera are eavesdropping from behind Joe's friend's Cadillac. When Ethel picks up two pieces of chicken and asks Joe if he wants a leg or breast, the six eavesdroppers stand up with horrified looks.
  • Overprotective Dad: Jack constantly fusses over the short skirts Gloria is wearing, and pours metaphorical cold water on any man who shows interest in her. When Parkin comes to suspect Gloria might be his daughter, he also criticises the skirts she wears as too short.
  • Pass the Popcorn:
    • When Parkin is being chased around the platforms at Hatley by his enraged fiancée, Edna, the hugely amused Skinners and Schumanns watch the chaos through the windows of a train sitting at the platform.
    • As Jack, Ethel, and Wilfred wrestle with the temperamental doors of Parkin's van, Harry watches and laughs at them from his signal box. At one point, the bell sounds to herald an oncoming train; he says to himself that it will have to wait, as he doesn't want to miss the mayhem unfolding with the van.
  • Potty Emergency: In "The Van", Ethel is desperate to visit the ladies' room when Arnold begs her and Jack to help him track down his wife, whom he believes to have locked herself in their outdoor toilet. As the doors of the van won't open properly, she has to wait until they reach Arnold's house - and since she can't use his toilet, she ends up having to go behind a gooseberry bush.
  • Really Gets Around: May, in her younger days. Not only was she seeing Jack and Parkin at the same time when Gloria was conceived, but there are several episodes where May or Gloria reference other male admirers whom she was seeing on a regular basis behind Jack's back, while Mr Orkindale frequently flirts with her in a way that suggests they have a history together.
  • Running Gag:
    • After being told by Parkin to knock when he wants to enter his office and wait to be told to come in, Wilfred Schumann gets the wrong idea and spends the rest of the series knocking on every door he walks through and saying "Come in" himself - including the booking office window shutter and the doors to Parkin's van.
    • Ralph (and sometimes Arnold) routinely envelopes someone standing on the platform at Hatley (usually Parkin) in a cloud of steam by getting careless with the release valve.note 
  • Shotgun Wedding: Jack and May got married when May became pregnant with Gloria. Unbeknownst to Jack, May had been seeing Parkin at around the time Gloria was conceived (he was prevented from marrying her himself when he was called up for military service), so he might have been marrying the mother of another man's child.
  • Spoofing in the Rain: Near the end of "Father's Day", it begins pouring with rain just as Wilfred starts practising "Singin' in the Rain" on his electric guitar. Harry Lambert, who had previously dismissed the song as utter rubbish, checks that no-one is looking and begins to imitate Gene Kelly's dance from the 1952 film. After a few moments of getting soaked, he returns to his original opinion that the song is stupid.
  • Stealth Insult: When Ethel reminisces about her husband, American serviceman Earl Schumann, she comments that he used to say he knew he had no need to worry about her being pursued by other men, while his comrades said you'd have to be on the funny farm if you decided to chat her up. She takes these to mean that Earl trusted her absolutely and that his fellow soldiers knew she was absolutely off limits. It never occurs to her that they both actually meant that only a lunatic would find her attractive.
  • That's What She Said: The "actress and the bishop" version shows up in "The Van" when Jack, May, Ethel, and Wilfred are sliding the station's fridge into the back of Parkin's van to drive to Gaskin's, the local appliance repair shop:
    [as the fridge finishes sliding into the back of the van and all four lifters breathe a sigh of relief]
    Jack: There. It's gone in beautifully!
    Wilfred: That's what the bishop said to the actress-
    Ethel: WILFRED! [gives him a Death Glare] I shall stop you going to that youth club!
  • Thicker Than Water: In "Lucky Strike", local union leader Ted Urquhart is leaning on Ralph to join in a planned strike over wages, and although Ralph knows he is putting the jobs of everyone on the railway line in jeopardy (as the government is threatening to close any line whose workers go out on strike), he is inclined to go along with the strike as Ted is his uncle.
  • Toilet Humour: In "Ton Up", the celebration of the station's centenary is forced to go vegetarian after Ralph's pheasants are confiscated by the local gamekeeper and the local butcher refuses to give Jack a consignment of sausages and chops for free; the dinner instead consists of such food as baked beans, pea soup, and cauliflower cheese. The final scene shows the Railway Cottage terraces by night; every few seconds, the curtains of one or more bedrooms are blown outwards as a trombone plays on the soundtrack.
  • Universal-Adaptor Cast: Paul Shane, Jeffrey Holland, and Su Pollard play the same sort of characters they played in David Croft's previous series Hi-de-Hi! and You Rang, M'Lord?, with Shane as the working-class Lovable Rogue, Holland as the morally upright Straight Man, and Pollard as The Ditz. Barbara New and Perry Benson play similar roles to those they played in You Rang, M'Lord? as well, with New as the slightly dotty outsider and Benson as a half-wit (with hints of Hidden Depths) at the bottom of the career ladder.
  • The Un-Smile: Parkin tells the staff members that they should smile at the passengers to create a friendly atmosphere. When they try it, Harry Lambert looks as though he is in pain, and Wilfred looks deranged.
  • Video Credits: As with most series co-created by David Croft, the closing credits feature brief clips of each of the principal actors recreating scenes from the episode.
  • Video Inside, Film Outside: The interiors of the station were studio sets, while the exteriors were filmed on location at Arley in the Severn valley (a station that was already facing closure before Beeching started wielding his axe; it re-opened in the 1970s as a heritage station).

"I'll have to buy a bike 'cause I can't afford a car! Oh, Doctor Beeching, what a naughty man you are!"
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