The Royal Flying Doctor Service was said as Australian as Vegemite. Hector Crawford first heard about the Royal Flying Doctor Service in March 1981 and came up with the idea for a TV series about the work of the flying doctor service based in a small remote country town. Set in the Australian outback, the 3-part mini-series 'The Flying Doctors' told a dinkum Australian story of the lives and loves of a community of inland Australians. 

In 1985, Mitsubishi Motors presented the world premiere of 'The Flying Doctors' on Australian television, one week before the season premiere of 'Dynasty'. Ian Crawford reportedly sold 'The Flying Doctors' world rights to Magnamedia for distribution in the U.S. and throughout the world. The success of the mini-series locally (according to AGB McNair ratings peaking at 28 points in Sydney and 30 in Melbourne) led to the regular weekly series which originally went on air between 1986 and 1994. 

Co-executive producer and writer Terry Stapleton told Barbara Hooks of 'The Age', "As a writer, when you're talking about an Australian institution as legendary, noble and valuable as the Royal Flying Doctor Service, there's a hefty sense of responsibility. The secondary consideration is much more commercial: if one isn't careful it could come across as a noble and possibly tedious documentary. The tail would wag the dog. So the challenge was to make it live and throb and pulse and do all those things that people enjoy watching." 

Line producer Oscar Whitbread told Jim Schembri of 'Fairfax Media' in August 1988, "I think the creative process comes much earlier (than the script), when you make decisions before you make the series, that's when the creative urge is. You ask, 'How are we going to do it? What are we after?' Once you get your locations and the look right, then the stories fit in. The first decision was that it had to be the outback and not the country. The 2nd thing was finding the location, which was Minyip. The 3rd thing was what the doctors do. After all, it is a medical show. So nothing is too hard." 

A cast and crew of around 50 people took 3 months between February and April 1984 to shoot 'The Flying Doctors' mini-series, on location at Nulla Station in New South Wales, Minyip in Victoria and the Mundi Mundi Plains on the South Australian border beyond Broken Hill. It was understood interior shooting was filmed inside the Port Melbourne and Richmond studios of channel Nine.  

Alan Bateman joined channel Nine in August 1988 as managing director of drama. He spoke to Robin Oliver, "The only problem with local drama at Nine is that it has been bloody dreadful. I’ll make a bit of an exception for 'The Flying Doctors', because it is a well-made, well-crafted program. They spend many millions of dollars a year on drama and Sam Chisholm has given me the basic commitment that I will have those millions to spend on my drama. 

"What Nine needs is some non-formula drama that requires thought on the part of the viewer. Essentially, that's what 'Rafferty's (Rules)' is. It is thinking television. It demands that you pay attention. It is not video wallpaper. There are no great blanks where, if you have a conversation, you can pick it up again. The only thing I know about the channel Nine production slate is what I see. 

"'Flying Doctors' is on the air and there's more to come. I'm a believer in the basic rule that, if it's not broken, don't fix it. The last thing they want is my coming in with hobnailed boots and saying, 'I'm going to put the Bateman stamp on this program.' There will be no need to put a kindly magistrate in at Coopers Crossing (real life Minyip)."

Oscar Whitbread insisted, "You've got be morally aware. One of the main criticisms we get is, whereas shows like 'Rafferty's Rules' are tackling issues and have a bad ending or something, we have a 7.30pm time slot, it's family viewing. Maybe you think we're pandering to our own credibility about this, but we're not. It's just that we think there should be a nice ending, maybe not always happy, but usually reflective and upbeat." 

Alan Bateman: "Fortunately, I am a very old friend of the producer, Oscar Whitbread, one of the great characters of television. He and I worked together at the ABC and that was very harmonious. There is no doubt that Crawfords has been lifting its game. I am very comfortable with Ian Bradley, the new chief down there. We are friends."

After reviewing episodes of the 2nd season, Barbara Hooks made the comment in 1987, "By scheduling 'The Flying Doctors' against Seven's 'Rafferty's Rules', Nine is inviting audiences and critics to compare the 2 and ultimately to choose between them. Both series have merits, both have flaws. But I would have thought, given the economic climate, that it is churlish to divide the audience over something we have too little of anyway – local drama. It also forces upon critics a distasteful task – to recommend one over the other. 'The Flying Doctors' is popular. It could be popular and innovative. All it needs is courage – and a new time slot." 

Alan Bateman continued, "The point I have made to them (Nine) – I didn't have to make it to Seven, they understood it already – is that there are no short cuts. If anybody arrives with a pitch for me and says I'll have a drama finished on your desk in 6 months, I just don't believe them. It is a slow and deliberate process. You make your mistakes in the development stage, not in the programs that go to air. So the development stage can be anywhere from one year to 3 years. 

"They (Nine) had a philosophy, which Sam Chisholm has now reversed totally, that dramas would be done outside (not in-house). Indeed, any sort of initiative came from consultants and outside packaging companies. That all changes now. I've got 3 or 4 very good ideas. But they are still whirling around in my head. They have been there for some time and they have matured. At the right time we select one of them. As with 'Home and Away', we will test it at all stages, we will research it within an inch of its life. It's not the only way, but it's the only way I know that works."

Alan also made the point to Lea Wright in June 1989, "The truth is that commercial networks are fundamentally commercial business and if we don't win ratings we go out of business. I assert that 'The Flying Doctors' is high-quality Australian drama." At time Alan Bateman made known to Barbara Hooks as well, "It is common knowledge that an awful lot of people are pulling out of the Melbourne scene because there is a feeling that in 10 years (say 1999) it will all be out of Sydney. I don't believe that. Our resources in Australia are so small anyhow, to cut off something like 45% of your creative resource is just bad business."

Reviewer Pamela Bone made the observation in 1986, "Its ('The Flying Doctors') popularity is unsurprising; it's an engaging hour of non-taxing entertainment which has all the right ingredients of excitement, humor and romance, and with characters that are likable and believable. I liked 'The Flying Doctors'. It's credible, well-acted, and leaves you with a pleasant feeling of having been entertained without having had to think too deeply. And a good thing about it is that, because the episodes are self-contained stories, it doesn't matter if you miss some."

'The Flying Doctors' was shot on film and not filmed on videotape. Oscar Whitbread explained, "Film gives you far more flexibility, it means you can get out of the 4-wall sets. And I think we have picked very good film directors. Besides, working on film also appeals to the actors."

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