“I didn’t want to interfere with the legacy of that show”

RFDS producer Imogen Banks admits she was apprehensive about following in the footsteps of The Flying Doctors.

Producer Imogen Banks admits she was apprehensive about attempting a new TV drama around the Royal Flying Doctor Service when then-Endemol Shine CEO Mark Fennessy suggested the concept.

After all, Crawford Productions The Flying Doctors had run for 221 episodes in the mid ’80s and screened around the world.

“I was very nervous because I didn’t want to interfere with the legacy of that show. That was such an iconic piece of Australian Television,” she tells TV Tonight.

“But I spoke to the head of Communications at the RFDS and she offered to take me out flying. I got completely, immediately hooked on what they did. I fell in love with that part of Australia.

“We met all these great people along the way, and heard really specific and unique experiences.

“The more I got involved with the service, and the more time I spent looking at what the kind of contemporary issues are, the less worried I became about interfering with the legacy of that wonderful series.

“The RFDS became this great lens through which to look at remote Australia”

“We just really wanted to accurately represent that part of the world, and the stories of people living in those specific circumstances, and the role that the RFDS plays within that. So really, the RFDS became this great lens through which to look at remote Australia.”

Writer / performer Ian Meadows, who co-created the series with Fennessy & Banks, based scripts on actual cases of the service, based in Broken Hill.

“He spoke to as many people as he possibly could. There was a big dossiere put together with stories and experiences that people have had,” she continued.

“A lot of the work that they do in this day and age is responding to mental health crises, they do so much preventative work -they’re amazing.”

“Julie kept reiterating, ‘it’s about the family'”

When the project was presented to Seven’s Head of Drama Julie McGauran it was well-developed, with Seven keen for a drama that spoke about Australia and would connect with local audiences.

“Julie kept reiterating, ‘It’s about the family’ and obviously, the family is the RFDS team,” Banks explained.

“Often, when you’re making a drama for a commercial network, you want to lead an audience into a world, in a way that they feel comfortable, and then start to open up, and then start to challenge.

“As the season goes on, it starts to get into more complex and difficult territory. But because you’re being carried by these characters you’ve really developed a relationship with, it’s safe.

“It goes all over the place. It goes to surprising places, and it’s like peeling back layers.”

“She brought so much to that role”

Casting began with Justine Clarke as Base Manager followed by Steve Peacocke and Rob Collins (“it was written for him really”) and Emma Hamilton.

“We cast Emma through an audition, and a test with her and Steve. It became apparent very quickly that she brought so much to that role,” she recalled.

“There was a bit of argy bargy (with Steve) because of Five Bedrooms, and options and things like that. But the good thing about this industry a lot of people know everyone, so you can figure stuff out if you cooperate.”

Filming took place on location in Broken Hill, with casting agent Kirsty McGregor even drawing upon locals. But COVID challenges threw in unexpected curveballs.

“Once borders started closing, we were really digging in. We were casting from within the crew and had some incredible performances! We had this beautiful art department runner, and he gives a gorgeous performance in later episodes,” she added.

“That was part of the beauty of making the show. It really was spectacular experience.”

RFDS screens 8:30pm Wednesdays on Seven.

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