Life in the fast lane

Rupert Smith

Friday October 6, 2000


If ever there were a televisual equivalent of crack cocaine, it's Holby City (BBC1). While the experience may not be particularly pleasant, it's addictive and leaves you feeling as if you've just been run over by a van. Which is precisely what happened to half a dozen characters in the first few moments of the new series, as a convenient pile-up outside the hospital gates got the corpse count off to a flying start.

The next hour flashed by as if time itself had been telescoped. Holby City is played at such furious pace - there's a crash team or a "bleed" every 90 seconds or so - that one imagines the actors and production crew collapsing in a sweating heap at the end of the episode. The benefit to the audience of this frenetic approach is that there's never a dull moment; lust, hatred, pity and horror pile one up on the other. It makes Titus Andronicus look like The Good Life.

Lust inched ahead in the first half thanks largely to the new hunk on the block, cocky registrar Alex Adams (Jeremy Sheffield), who managed to flirt with a colleague over a bleeding roadkill. He even managed to deliver lines and look seductive in a surgical mask, always a challenge to the medical drama heart-throb. Meanwhile we longed to punch the screen every time silly, dippy Nina (Kelly Hunter) wittered on about her chakras. Things looked up when we learned that she had a dicky heart, but sadly she survived to witter another day.

More poignant was the tale of Alan and Greg (Peter Plycarpou and Gary Sefton), who had been innocently driving along in a van when implacable Fate caught up with them. As they took it in turns to collapse or go into spasm, we learned that Alan and Greg shared more than just a van; yes, they were lovers - which was news to Alan's wife. This triangle proved to be anything but eternal, as an aneurysm took Alan to his reward, leaving Greg and Mrs Alan sobbing over his remains. Astonishingly, this pulpy storyline contrived to be genuinely affecting, and to express something convincing about the fragility of life and the value of love - which, let's face it, is not what you expect from a BBC1 medical drama.