This study examined the blood pressure (BP) control and number of drugs prescribed for a sample of hypertensive patients from 18 practices in Northeast England. Out of a total of 35,379 registered patients aged 40-69 years, 2995 (8.5%) were on treatment for hypertension. Data was abstracted from the practice records of a random sample of 691 patients. Using British Hypertension Society standards, BP control was optimal for systolic pressure (less than 160 mm Hg) in 469 (68%), and for diastolic pressure (less than 90 mm Hg) in 345 (50%), but only 269 (39%) had optimally controlled systolic and diastolic pressures. Sixty-one per cent were taking one drug and 39% two or more; 82% of patients aged 40-49 years but only 61% of those aged 60-69 years had optimally controlled systolic pressures. Forty-three per cent of the 40 to 49-year-old group and 56% of the 60 to 69-year-old group had optimally controlled diastolic pressures. A strong inverse relationship was found between age and systolic BP control but there was no association between age and diastolic pressure or the number of drugs being prescribed. Sub-optimal BP control is a major problem and remedial strategies should stress the greater gain from treating older patients.