A Very Peculiar Practice Series 2

First broadcast 1988/ written by Andrew Davies/ starring Peter Davison, Graham Crowden, David Troughton, Barbara Flynn, Joanna Kanska, Michael J Shannon
After the first season ended on the slightly bizarre merger between the University and a police college it was hard to see what direction Andrew Davies was planning to go in. Thankfully he strips this unlikely arrangement out of the way immediately instead having the campus fall into the hands of ambitions Americans whose vice chancellor is named Jack Daniels. It’s as apposite a moniker as last season’s quintessential Englishman Ernest Hemingway. This time round the series is given an increased level of surreal happenings, often straying deeper into the dreams of either Jock or Stephen as they fathom the changes this new hierarchy brings. The Nuns prove to be as symbolic as the Tower of London’s ravens, while the students, so often absent during season one, have a greater presence and the series is the richer for it. There is also an increased level of farce as times which helps underpin the grimness elsewhere while relationships take on an altogether more intriguing dimension.


Each of the main quartet develop new aspects to their characters. Stephen Daker realises Amy is not coming back any time soon and slowly falls for Greta a Polish art history expert who can go from being annoying to adorable in a sentence! This relationship, while initially as awkward as Daker’s previous one soon develops into a subtle releasing of Stephen’s inner self as he learns how to stand up to the bullying regime that’s taken over. Her European behaviour melts the EngIish reserve to allow Peter Davison to develop a steel that makes his performance even better. As for Joanna  Kanska well if you’re not infuriated with her when she takes everything Stephen says the wrong way and never stops talking in their first scene then you will love her when she apologies for being “a dogs breakfast” in bed!  
Bob Buzzard becomes bigger, if that were possible, as his character teeters on the verge of pantomime fury with every development. Ever the eager schoolboy it is his enthusiasm that leads him to make one bad decision after another and when his wide Daphne walks out his survival instincts turn out to be the reverse of his blag. David Troughton is hilarious and energetic to the point where he seems like he will explode!
Jock McCannon becomes our narrator this time round. Edging Stephen’s eye view of Lowlands to one side Andrew Davies uses McKinnon as a prophet of doom, amidst increasingly apocalyptic visions of what will become of his beloved University- if it was “sick” in season one, now it is dying. Graham Crowden is the unexpected star of the season as he uses Davies’ powerful sense of things changing to make Jock rootless (early on he seems to be living somewhere different each time) and yet also correct in his dire warnings of what is to come. Crowden is a delight- whether in one episode rambling around a series of night time calamities or in his whisky assisted consultations with befuddled students. There’s also a lovely sub plot in which he seems to become a sort of surrogate parent to a student called Sammy Limb (Dominic Arnold) who turns out to be the most likeable person ever. In an alternate television universe there’s a flat share sitcom starring the two of them.
What of Rose Marie? “As a woman” she does little service to her sex spending the series jockeying herself into positions of influence whether on a personal or career level. This is the only jarring element of the season as last time she seemed to be the epitome of common sense yet now her ambitions have narrowed to become personal and at times spiteful. She seduces both Jack and Greta to the point where you wonder if she cares for anyone. The answer probably is herself. Course, this gives Barbara Flynn carte blanche to raise those eyebrows and change her voice just so that the object of her attention will melt as she perfectly balances the line between being soothing and threatening.
"Aye, I'd recommend at least a bottle a day my boy"
 I can’t stress enough how brilliant all the above are but this time there are others around who make an impression notably  the eccentric Professor Bunn played by none other than Inspector Morse’s boss aka James Grout. While at first he appears to be an amalgam of out of date English academia, he becomes a powerful advocate of education over commerce, exactly the opposite of Jack Daniels of course. Talking of whom Michael J Shannon gives a bang on portrayal of American belief in their right to do just as they please while being outwardly polite thank you maam. You will hate him as the series goes on yet it would be wrong to write off entirely his ideals even if they are ill suited to a university. Andrew Davies manages to balance both sides of the argument.  Jack Daniels embodies – as the name suggests- the epitome of American values yet also the flaws in those values. So while everything is couched in caring language the truth could not be further away. This American Vision continues to be sold both inside the US and beyond. At Lowlands the vice chancellors policy is to gradually turn the university into a research establishment earing lots of money. Academic achievement in itself is seen as irrelevant. Learning is for school, he is saying, when you reach adulthood you should “pay your way”. That Jack Daniels appears to have gone completely mad by the final episode does not make his ideals any less likely to happen. It is illuminating to watch Andrew Davies’ arguments nearly 30 years on when much of what he clearly despised has come to pass. It hasn’t quite reached the level of arts subjects being eliminated but you never know.
The second season is  more ambitious visually as well as conceptually managing to make the university look like there are people in it and taking time out to poke fun at some of the methods Daniels favours,  notably audio acoustics which is heralded as the shining example. It ends as you suspect it might but kind of wish it won’t in tragedy at all levels. Each character loses something though some gain something else. The final episode has a filmic sense of scale and even a false triumph to be whipped away by a double tragedy that provides a suitably downbeat ending to a series that was always heading for darkness.
Some may find the writing a touch heavy handed from a modern perspective, and it is the case that the middle of the season can sag a little though in the end all the strands pull together in a masterful manner. It had become increasingly trendy to demonise the US at this time yet Andrew Davies makes salient points throughout resulting in an entertaining and thought provoking mix.


  1. "It hasn’t quite reached the level of arts subjects being eliminated but you never know." There is no government contribution for any arts students, and next to no research grant income to be one other than from private sources. The message is clear - I'm glad I am in a STEM subject, which has enough problems of its own but is certainly more secure.

    1. xso you don't give a fuk about anything but your own shortterm interests what a pathetic sellout