James Davern, creator and producer of the long-running series A Country Practice, has died at age 90.
Starting his working career in the railways, he went on to become a technician with the Department of Civil Aviation. This led to a technical role with the BBC in London, so when television arrived in Australia he brought his acquired skills to ABC in Melbourne.
By 1962 he became a producer for the magazine program People and the following year produced the documentary Shoreline.
In 1967 he was one of the first directors for the long-running series Bellbird. He continued to be connected with the series in various capacities including script editor. But in an unusual twist, by 1977 he was was part of the ABC management team that ultimately decided to axe the show.
Other credits when at ABC included the Australian Playhouse, This Love Affair, Behind The Legend, Alpha Scorpio, A Taste For Blue Ribbons, Rush, Patrol Boat and telemovies Because He’s My Friend, Shimmering Light, Barnaby And Me and Magee And The Lady.
He also worked for Crawford Productions, writing some scripts for shows like Homicide.
In 1979, two years after the end of Bellbird, Davern entered a scriptwriting competition run by the Ten Network with a proposal titled In General Practice, following Bellbird‘s lead by being set in a country community but with a focus on the local medical practice. His entry ended up coming third in the competition, claiming a $1000 prize, but Ten let the idea go. (The two entries that took out first and second places were never heard from again)
Davern then took his idea to the Seven Network but differing opinions among the member stations almost saw the show binned. A last-minute save by ATN7 boss Ted Thomas led to the show being picked up as A Country Practice, debuting late in 1981. The show went on to a 12-year run, winning 29 Logies and selling overseas. Ironically, it was Ten that then picked up the series after Seven axed it in 1993 and continued it for another year.
He also produced mini-series Land Of Hope and telemovies Hector’s Bunyip, Queen Of The Road and Whipping Boy.
He was inducted into the TV Week Logie Awards Hall of Fame in 1991, and in 2014 was awarded an Order of Australia medal (OAM) for service to television as a writer, director and producer.
James Davern is survived by his wife of 59 years, Philippa, children Sophie, Anna and Patrick, and grandchildren Bridie, Riley, Frankie and Teddy.
Source: TV Tonight, IMDB, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, The ABV2 Page, The Age. The Canberra Times, 30 October 1979. TV Week, 26 August 1967, 23 March 1991. Super Aussie Soaps, Andrew Mercado.