The final scenes of All Saints for actress Judith McGrath weren’t quite followed by an ensemble celebration.
Her final day as ‘Von’ Ryan took place several days after actor John Howard had finished. And television being what it is, they were also filmed out of sequence from those that conclude the episode. Her actual last scene involved attending to a young patient about to give birth. Just another emotive day on set, as she explained to TV Tonight.
“Tammy (McIntosh) naturally burst into tears. I didn’t because everybody was sort of asking ‘How do you feel?’ But I thought ‘I just want it to finish and then I’ll work out how I feel,'” she says.
“It was a long, long day. And I was in every scene, acting with the young girl, who was beaut. But all that crying…. I just wanted to come home and have a drink.”
When All Saints ended, McGrath remained the only original cast member still on the show after 11 years. But on several occasions she thought of calling it quits too.
“I did love the show and I loved playing the character,” she says. “But there were times when I though ‘Move on Jude, just get on with it.’ But it just seemed to roll over.
“It’s a funny thing. You’re there and you think ‘I’ve had enough now.’ I thought the character had reached a certain point unless it got reinvented. And of course, they did. They kept reinventing a bit.
“I suppose we all go through that phase, but some people really act upon it.”
The show was given its marching orders in August by Seven, which cited increased production costs, although some observers noted the network was top heavy in local drama with Packed to the Rafters, Home and Away and City Homicide also on its slate. The end of the series also marks a shift in weekly dramas dropping from 40 eps a year to numbers in the low 20s.
McGrath says the addition of the Medical Response Unit was one of the reasons the show became more expensive.
“The economy drives it. It certainly drives the boys on the Board in Mahogany Row. It is cheaper for them to create those 22 weeks a year. These shows are relatively quite expensive. Well, ours became expensive when suddenly you’ve got two units on it.
“If you’ve got two units for 40 weeks a year that’s a lot of crew. That’s a lot of money. And also, I suppose, keeping up the writing for 40 eps a year,” she says.
“And of course when the plug was pulled on us the scripts had already been written so there had to be a hasty retreat to rewrite the end of it.”
At 70 minutes the final episode sticks to the traditional formula of hospital patients before the final act sees a closure led by the exit of McGrath’s character, ‘Von’ Ryan -the show’s veritable ‘salt of the earth.’
“I was surprised, I must admit, that they brought in the same formula of three patient storylines. I thought they might have tossed it around a bit,” she says.
“Towards the end it deals with the people everybody’s been watching for so long.”
At least to mark the show’s final scenes, McGrath was congratulated by the loyal crew. Others were conspicuous by their absence.
“None of the big boys from Mahogany Row were there, but you expect that. I’m being quite vile today, aren’t I?”
The axe for the show has also been questioned by some, given it has still been a good rater for Seven. It has matched or bettered Rush, Rescue: Special Ops and more recently been in the same league as Home and Away and City Homicide.
As well as costs, McGrath cites the show being moved around Seven’s schedule as contributing to its demise.
“When they start mucking about with times, like after Dancing with Stars, it wouldn’t come on until 10, people were very cross about that. I suppose part of our audience would rather be in bed by 11:00.”
That connection between audience and story is what gave the series its lifeblood, personified through the rollcall of actors who worked on the series, including John Howard, John Waters, Tammy MacIntosh, Andrew Supanz, Virginia Gay, Kip Gamblin, Georgie Parker, Erik Thomson, Libby Tanner, Celia Ireland, Wil Traval, Jolene Anderson, Christopher Gabardi, Belinda Emmett and Mark Priestley.
“I’d say it’s ‘heart’ would be its legacy and its characters,” McGrath suggests. “Because it was such a character-based show. You got to know the people. They were in your living room each week, so you became very familiar with them. And people like that. They feel part of it.
“I can always remember when Country Practice finished, and I was driving home to Queensland through the country. And people were quite bereft because they felt it was their show.”
Since ending the show in August, McGrath has been enjoying considerably more leisure time. After 11 years of relentless hours and starting times, it’s been something of a revelation. It’s so easy to enjoy a more relaxed pace.
“There’s a lot to be said for the work discipline, because when you’re busy you do so much more. I think, ‘Right I better do that. Ohh no, that can wait.’ And if somebody says, ‘Do you want to go to lunch? Yes I’ll come!’ she laughs.
But her thoughts do look to new projects too including one quirky script with two older women.
“I’ve just been asked to do a little short film. And they’re the sort of things I want to grab, because it’s different.
“I love doing kid’s television too. Things like Round the Twist, Animal Farm were fun. It’s like you used to do in radio drama. It’s extending the belief a bit, character wise. They’re lovely to work on. Especially when you’re always cast as the nasty one.
“Or some theatre. But you know, roles for women my age, they’re a bit dicey.”
The final chapter tomorrow night will likely be a low-key affair. She expects to be watching at home, ever the studious critic of her own work.
“Whether I ask anybody else around, I doubt that. I think it’s always best that I sit here going, ‘Oh no! Get off! You can’t do that!’
“It might be best if I view it alone.”
And to the fans who have stuck by the show she is very grateful, even if she hasn’t quite gotten around to answering the fanmail.
“I’m very appreciative of the fans who have been there all the way through. There’s so many of them. I’ve been very lucky, really, I don’t get much silly fan mail. But sorry if I haven’t replied to mail, that’s my message.
“There’s so many that say ‘Thankyou, I love watching you and appreciate what you do.’ And that’s lovely.
“And especially to the fans in the UK, sorry!” she says.
With mail still arriving for a show that the network no longer wants, she discovers yet another shopping of fanmail that has to be answered.
With her new pace of life, it may take a little longer to resolve.
“I think ‘Ohhh, tomorrow….tomorrow…”
The final episode of All Saints airs 9:30pm Tuesday on Seven.