All Saints: articles

All Saints' final toast as show axed

A silent toast between John Howard and Jude McGrath's All Saints characters in the final episode sums it up.

After 12 years, nurse Yvonne "Von" Ryan (McGrath) and Dr Frank Campion (Howard) know that sometimes shared silence speaks far more than a litany of words.

McGrath's character, blunt, private and no-nonsense, has never been one to waste or mince words.

But on this day, a month after filming has wrapped on the show after 12 years on Australian screens, Von is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we have the vibrant and cheeky McGrath, and her best mate from the show, Tammy MacIntosh, who has ditched the doctor's whites of her character Dr Charlotte Beaumont for a Bali tan.

As MacIntosh and McGrath share a heartfelt hug, there's no room for silence.

Within a minute McGrath has welcomed MacIntosh back from holidays, reminded her that her wedding anniversary is on Friday, and the pair have finished at least three of each other's sentences.

They settle in with sandwiches, wine and water and the chatter is ceaseless — punctuated with raucous laughter, shared giggles, an occasional near-tear, and wry quips to lighten the mood - as the pair discuss the end of All Saints.

"Oh, we're over the sadness — we wrapped filming a month ago," says McGrath, the only original cast-member, with Von-like directness.

MacIntosh echoes that "ultimately, there was nothing to be sad about".

"Oh rubbish, she's the tear queen," McGrath interjects.

"Well, yeah," MacIntosh concedes, "it was sad for a second but in the aftermath, you go, we were making a great show which audiences loved, whish was still rating around 1.2 million, so I'm going to hold my head high."

"It would be sad if the ship had sunk, but we left creating a really great show."

Until All Saints McGrath's longest television role had been as prison officer Colleen Powell in the early 1980s on Prisoner, but she found a host of new fans in the hospital drama.

From the outset, she says, she was determined Von would be intensely private — hard to know outside work.

MacIntosh found no such stand-offishness when she met McGrath — over eight years the pair quickly forged a friendship that will long survive the end of the show.

"I can't imagine having the relationship with another actor that I had on-set with Jude - unspoken things and an absolute beautiful presence to be around and moments where you could just look at her and have a whole conversation where no words were spoken," MacIntosh says.

"Some actors say "my character would never do that". But if you spend eight or ten years with a character, you don't know what they wouldn't do until it's there in front of them. That's life. You're creating a human being. You're not creating a robot."

"And you, Judith McGrath, are so pragmatic and disciplined and creative and smart that you always found a way and Australian audiences would buy it."

"And," says MacIntosh, a catch in her voice, "and that's enough about you."

McGrath, serious for a moment, says that relationship was "a luxury".

"There was a giving feeling. We knew the characters so well, sometimes it was like, that should be your line, and it always worked. It made such a nice working situation."

"Oh, I'm half-way up your bum today, aren't I," she fires at MacIntosh.

The pair agree it was that generosity among the cast that helped audiences love the show.

"Everybody loves a medical show," McGrath says.

"But I think it was the combination of characters and stories and there was always a true line with the characters."

MacIntosh adds: "There is a great risk in overplaying people who are in positions of authority — lawyers, doctors, but the great beauty of this show is the actors didn't play that authority at all. They played the human side.

"And every actor on All Saints listened. They really listened."

McGrath explodes in laughter. "And if they didn't they sure heard about it."

McGrath struggles to remember a favourite storyline — "often it's the one you're in", but cherishes one early in the show's life when Von befriended a child with leaukemia, "basically because it was just me and him, so he wasn't a medical emergency, it was just a relationship outside that was lovely especially when I had such a good young actor to work with."

MacIntosh will forever value the gifts other actors on the show gave her — forcing her to lift her game to match them.

"When you can still go home and have a shower and think "I'm really proud of what I did today" and someone I was acting alongside helped bring that out of me. That means you're really blessed," she says.

While MacIntosh's Dr Beaumont found romance at All Saints — in both gay and straight relationships, McGrath partially blames herself for Von's lack of romance.

"In the early days, there was a time in the show where everybody was doing it like rabbits," she chortles.

"And I said no. There is one person here who is not doing this, and that is Von. And I never got a romance again."

Not that the cast didn't try for the final episode.

"John Howard was like, "why don't we get that shower scene done," McIntosh laughs.

McGrath suspects if there had been a shower scene for Von and Dr Frank, it would have been her washing him for surgery after another heart attack.

McGrath was adamant Von should leave on her own terms for the final episode.

"They originally had Von retiring. I wanted her resigning, going out on her own terms. I wanted the feel - and bugger them (the producers), after all these years - that things were moving forward, not ending, even if the audience weren't going to see it."

The pair agree after 12 years, the saddest moment for the All Saints was not the end of the show.

That paled in comparison to the loss of cast member Mark Priestley to suicide in August 2008.

"It was hideous," MacIntosh says.

"Mark … he brought stuff to life. We knew he gave, but we didn't realise just how much until we didn't have him. A lot of All Saints died when he did.

"After we lost him, we had this core of about 100 people just there for each other at any given moment — and working was moment to moment. There was always someone to pick you up.

"I have never experienced that caring and unity among a group of people like it. Mark showed us the heart of this show. That was the gift he gave us."

Fighting a tear, McGrath says "and now you want the happiest moment?"

The answer is lost in laughter as the pair give vastly different versions of McGrath's late-night departure from the show's final wrap party.

Clearly, in 12 years, there were too many happy moments to count.

By Debbie Schipp
October 25, 2009