Royal Flying Doctors Service drama takes flight in Broken Hill

Imogen Banks (Photo credit: Daniel Asher Smith).

When Endemol Shine Australia’s Mark Fennessy and Imogen Banks started developing a drama inspired by the Royal Flying Doctors Service two years ago, neither could have imagined how much more topical and relevant the subject would become.

Based on the true-life heroics of the service’s doctors, nurses, pilots and support staff, the eight-part Seven Network drama RFDS (working title) started shooting in Broken Hill today with Jennifer Leacey as the set-up director. Leacey is directing four episodes and Jeremy Sims and Adrian Russell Wills are each helming two.

“The series feels very timely with what is going on in the world at the moment,” Banks, who is producing with Sara Richardson, tells IF.

Banks, who co-created the series with Fennessy, based on his original idea, and Ian Meadows, continues: “We’re very lucky to be telling a story about people who are serving humanity and doing good, utilitarian things with their lives.

“Also, because of border and travel restrictions people are more conscious of the interior of Australia and the connection between isolation and community.”

As previously announced, the drama/action adventure starring Justine Clarke as the base manager, Rob Collins as a doctor and Stephen Peacocke as a flight nurse was due to roll in April before COVID-19 intervened.

Among additions to the cast, Emma Hamilton plays a doctor escaping her past who joins the RFDS on a day when the team is dispatched on a catastrophic emergency retrieval.

Ash Ricardo and Rodney Afif are pilots, Jack Scott is a nurse and Kate Mulvany is a community liaison officer.

Also joining the cast are three teenage newcomers who were discovered by casting director Kirsty McGregor: Sofia Nolan as the niece of Peacocke’s character, Thomas Weatherall as an apprentice engineer and Ash Hodgkinson as Hamilton’s son.

“The series is very heavily researched-based,” says Banks. “The RFDS have been extraordinary partners. Ian and I have had a lot of conversations with pilots, doctors, nurses, the base managers and mental health workers.”

Scripted by Meadows, Claire Phillips, Wills and Jon Bell, the Endemol Shine Banks production is funded by the Seven Network, Screen Australia and Screen NSW through the Made In NSW Fund and the Regional Filming Fund. The DOP is Damian Wyvill, whose credits include Lambs of God and camera operator on Harrow.

Endemol Shine International, whose CEO Cathy Payne was an early supporter of the project, is handling worldwide sales.

Seven Network executive producer Julie McGauran said: “Now more than ever we should be celebrating true heroes. We are excited that this series will highlight those of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, with powerful storylines set in the majesty of rural Australia.”

The production is using strict COVID-19 protocols following federal and state guidelines, and working closely with the local council. Each department had to submit its own protocol and there is a full-time COVID-Safe advisor.