WHEN writing of the general practitioner under advisement, I mean the main character in Dr Finlay’s Casebook, the BBC adaptation that ran from 1962 to 1971 and is inscribed on the nation’s frontal lobe cortex. UK-wide, it was one of the most popular programmes of the period, and made household names of its principal characters and their actors.

The TV series was based on stories by Cardross-born writer and doctor A.J. Cronin, whose famous work The Citadel helped to inspire the National Health Service. His Finlay character first appeared in the novella Country Doctor (1935). Subsequent collections were published under titles including Adventures of a Black Bag (not to be confused with the Viz comic strip, Black Bag, “the faithful Border bin liner”), Dr Finlay of Tannochbrae, Further Adventures of a Country Doctor, and Dr Finlay's Casebook.

Set in a general medical practice in the fictional lowland lochside village of Tannochbrae, the principal characters are handsome Dr Alan Finlay, the idealistic junior partner, played by Bill Simpson (already weel kent in Scotland as a newsreader); Dr Cameron, the grounded, more conservatively-minded senior partner, played by Andrew Cruikshank; and Janet, their redoubtable housekeeper and receptionist at Arden House, played with couthy Scotch insouciance by US-born Barbara Mullen.

Though later location work took place in Callander, and sometimes in Kilbarchan, the first six episodes were filmed in Tannoch Drive, Milngavie, with “Arden House” prominent on the approach to Tannoch Loch. The jaunty March from Trevor Duncan's "Little Suite", composed three years before the TV series began, opened and closed each episode. If you know anyone with a computer, you can go online and find otherwise well-balanced citizens of a certain vintage becoming emotionally affected on hearing the tune again.

Series 1, episode 1, broadcast on 16 Aug, 1962, found Finlay in Glasgow in 1928, a medical student who dreams of becoming a surgeon. When his landlord goes missing, Finlay sets out to find him and fetches up in Tannochbrae, a development that changes the direction of his life.

Though the good doctor’s various adventures mostly take place in this semi-rural backwater, the shipyards of the Clyde are never far away and, indeed, the third episode sees Finlay visiting the home of a young worker (Frazer Hines, later Jamie McCrimmon in Doctor Who) with a diseased ankle bone. Prognosis: “He’ll have to wear a leg iron.” Yikes. You can find that episode on yonder YouTube (the episode also shows a bow-tied English salesman trying to sell the boy’s tobacconist mother fags that came with a card series, “Rivers of England”. He gets short shrift).

Cronin was the primary writer for the show between 1962 and 1964, but thereafter expressed dissatisfaction with its direction, leading to news stories that he wanted it discontinued, with one paper accusing the author of “maliciously doing millions out of legitimate enjoyment”. A public outcry followed, forcing Cronin to issue a statement denying he wanted the series ended, but that he feared the increasingly “ragged” scripts and extraneous characters were turning it into a soap opera.

Nevertheless, its popularity continued. A Bill Simpson Fan Club was set up, and Andy Stewart's song Dr Finlay was a chart hit for five weeks. Its first lines read (clears throat): “In the land of bonnie Scotland lives a doctor of great fame/In a place called Tannochbrae, and Doctor Finlay is his name/All the ladies of the parish, whether bold or quite demure/Will agree with you and me that Doctor Finlay is the cure.”

The song goes on to allege that the local ladies never eat apples as these keep the doctor away. Unsurprisingly, the series was subject to parody, including an episode of Round the Horne set in "Stomachbrae”.

Another oddity of the early years was that, after President Kennedy’s assassination on 22 November 1963, the BBC screened the show as normal, resulting in thousands of complaints. Even worse, it had been preceded by Here's Harry, a sitcom famous for its opening sequence showing Harry Worth performing an illusion with his arms and legs. Turns out the BBC’s bosses had been attending a black tie do at the Dorchester.

What made the show so popular? Well, it has a similar pathos and humour to All Creatures Great and Small. There are fascinating insights into 1920's medical practices, and for us today there is the peculiar notion of a GP knowing his patients from birth to death.

There’s also good character development. The British Film Institute has noted that the combination of ages and outlooks provided tensions that were resolved in compromise and learning from each other. One tension, for example, arose between Cameron and Findlay over the emerging new science of psychiatry.

“Doctor Finlay's Casebook,” says the BFI, “was a programme that eschewed discord in favour of conciliation, a quality that looks slightly quaint when judged against modern dramatic preferences.”

The BFI also notes the attention to period detail and the “surprisingly large” volume of location footage, creating a realistic sense of semi-rural isolation, far from the nasty outside world. The episode A Test Of Intelligence portrays city life as dirty and disordered, with concomitant effects on the inhabitants.

Another episode to look out for sees Dr Cameron poisoned by mouldy rye and suffering hallucinations. If so inclined, you might also enjoy the occasional fluffed lines without retakes.

As well as the BBC TV series, a radio series aired from 1970 to 1978, and another on Radio 4 from 2001 to 2003. ITV produced its Doctor Finlay series from 1993 to 1996, with Ian Bannen, Annette Crosbie and David Rintoul playing Dr Cameron, Janet and Dr Finlay respectively.

We also note for the record that a Dutch TV adaptation, Memorandum van een dokter, ran from 1963 to 1965, starring Bram van der Vlugt. And not many people can say that.

What we can say is that, though several boxed set DVDs have been released, 122 of the 191 episodes have been lost. Such a pity. They were not to know back then that folk today expect eternal life from their television doctors.