Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Five

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This episode provides the living Sir Edward with one last hurrah (his ghost will haunt subsequent instalments). Four encounters – with Jan, Abby, Charles and Ken – are key.

Up first is his meeting with Jan. Initially cordial, it doesn’t take too long before the genial Sir Edward once again shows his true colours. Easy to see why Jan later refers to him as frightening – there’s certainly something disquieting about the way he tries to force her to admit she made a mistake when she declined his offer of marriage. Ever the businessman, he dangles a gift before her eyes (Highfield) if only she’ll say it was so. No surprise that she storms away ….

Prior to this frosty parting of the ways, he’d opened up a little regarding his illness (mentioning that even a cold might be enough to see him off). As we’ll see, this wasn’t simply a random piece of information.

A little later, we see Abby and Leo having a heated discussion. You just know that after he says he doesn’t want to talk about Sir Edward any more, the man himself will turn up at their front door. Predictable, but entertaining. Abby and Sir Edward are relaxed in each other’s company, but he doesn’t seem delighted when Abby asks if he’d consent to having his picture taken with Thomas. This faint air of comedy then goes much darker after Abby innocently mentions that the baby might have a cold. The way Sir Edward divests himself of the gurgling child as soon as possible mixes farce with tragedy.

The most important meeting is, of course, with Charles. They’ve skirted around some of Charles’ deep-rooted resentments before, but this is the most detailed discussion they’ve had (which seems apt, as it’s their last). The lack of love Charles has always felt from his father is paramount. “All I ever wanted was time, your time”. But time was something Sir Edward never had – money and possessions, yes, time to spend with his son, no.

With Charles unable to accept his father’s apology, the only compromise they can agree on is to drink to the fact that Sir Edward had always been a formidable business adversary. There’s something tragic about the way that Sir Edward eagerly latches onto this small crumb of comfort – for a lonely, dying man it’s clearly better than nothing. Possibly the way he spasms in pain whilst Charles’ back is turned is slightly over-egging the pudding, but it’s still a very nicely played scene.

Sir Edward’s brief encounter with Ken – outside the front of Highfield – is chiefly interesting because it causes Sir Edward’s fatal collapse (the hectoring Ken proved to be the final straw for the ailing Sir Edward). This is an odd little moment, mainly because Sir Edward was heading off to the polo match to give out the first prize and was seemingly going to drive himself. In his state of health? Had he given the chauffeur the day off? Easy to see why the pair had to be isolated, but it just doesn’t ring true.

Elsewhere, Jack manages to upset virtually everybody today. He begins with Avril, who was pushing him to complete the Leisurecruise boat. Jack doesn’t like anybody (especially not his daughter) telling him how to run his yard (a popular one to tick off your HW bingo card) and isn’t backwards in telling her so. In the past he’d have headed straight for the nearest bottle of whisky, but there’s a temporary reprise in the form of Vanessa. But since he’s then so horrible to her (telling her that since she never had a child, she’s in no position to lecture him about father/daughter relationships) it’s not surprising that she reverses her position and attempts to force the bottle on him!

As so often with Jack, this is just a storm which will blow over quickly. But it always helps to enliven an episode.

Orrin’s continuing to be irritating (no change there) whilst Ken’s getting boggle-eyed at the thought his latest scheme might come crashing down (which is why he made another attempt to blackmail Sir Edward). One plus in Ken’s favour is that he didn’t just nip off sharpish after causing Sir Edward to keel over (he must have called for assistance since we later see a doctor attempting to revive him). Mind you, possibly he had an ulterior motive as he later was discovered by Charles ransacking Sir Edward’s papers. That was an awkward encounter.

Lynne has a scheme to market a luxury skin-cream aimed at the sailing fraternity (I can’t see this becoming a major plot-thread, but stranger things have happened) whilst there’s a stranger in town ….

His face should be familiar – Richard Heffer had appeared in a string of popular 1970’s dramas (Colditz, Survivors, Dixon of Dock Green, Enemy at the Door) as well as the 1983 rabies drama The Mad Death, amongst numerous other shows. A dashing polo player, the mystery man has his eye on Laura (much to Orrin’s disgust) before later lavishing flowers on Vanessa.

She almost blurts out his name, but we have to wait to the end credits (where he’s billed as David Relton) for the penny to drop. So one of the Reltons (and possibly the black sheep at that) has come home to roost.

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Frankie Howerd: The Lost Television Pilots – Kaleidoscope From The Archive Collection

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The third of the Kaleidoscope releases out this week, Frankie Howerd – The Lost Television Pilots offers easily the best value, both in terms of running time and content.

First up is episode three of Up The Convicts (although since it was the first to be recorded it does qualify as a pilot). Up The Convicts was a short-lived (four episodes) series made for the Seven Network in Australia. Howerd is Jeremiah Shirk, a convict transported to a penal colony in New South Wales and put to work as the servant for a wealthy couple. Essentially Up Pompeii in different clothes, it’s a typically raucous fifty minutes of Howerd at full throttle.

The script might be corny, but Howerd was a past-master at spinning gold out of the thinnest material. His trademark style – pausing to berate the audience, either for not getting the joke or for reading dirty innuendoes into his innocent words – is present and correct and he seems to enjoy bouncing off the cast (Frank Thring is especially good value and it’s nice to see Wallas Eaton pop up as well).

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The plot of the episode is pretty thin. His thoughtful mistress arranges a marriage for him, but Jeremiah doesn’t (as he hopes) get to grips with a beautiful serving wench, instead he’s presented with a nightmare vision of a plump woman who never stops eating. But the story isn’t really important – when Howerd’s on, he’s on.

Although all four episodes are reported to exist, only episode three is included in this release – which is a shame, as based on this example I wouldn’t be averse to seeing the rest. Apart from a few brief seconds of tape damage, the videotape is in pretty good shape.

1976 was a busy year for Frankie. Apart from Up The Convicts in Australia, he was also to be found in Canada, where he made The Frankie Howerd Show. Another short-lived series, this DVD contains the pilot and first episode, which you have to assume are the only survivors from the thirteen made.

Frankie is a British ex-pat living in a run-down Toronto boarding house overseen by landlady Mrs. Otterby (Ruth Springford) and her son (Gary Files). Other residents include Wally Wheeler (Jack Duffy), a surly man with a shady past, and Denise (Peggy Mahon), an attractive young woman who inevitably catches Frankie’s eye.

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The series finds Frankie in typical form, bursting through the fourth wall at regular intervals – either to once again berate the dirty-minded audience for seeing innuendos where (he believes) there are none or to apologise for the poor performances of his fellow cast members. Nobody could work an audience like Frankie – had he played a sitcom in the traditional way (ignoring the audience) then the results wouldn’t have been half as interesting.

Mind you, it’s very much a series of its time. The pilot features several Indian stereotypes of an incredibly broad nature (one cast member browns up as Mr Singh, an employment exchange worker who attempts to find Frankie a job). It’s a breathtaking (for all the wrong reasons) performance, but it’s hardly unique from television of this era. As with Up The Convicts, if you like Frankie then you’ll like this – predictable it might be, but Frankie’s never less than a delight.

Although The Gong Show was a popular American format, there was never a hit British version – despite two seperate attempts to launch a series, both with Frankie as the host. The second pilot, made by Channel 4 in 1985, was transmitted to little acclaim – whilst the first (included on this disc) was produced by Southern in 1977 and appears not to have made it to air.

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Barry Cryer, who worked on the programme, noted in his autobiography Butterfly Brain that it didn’t really play to Frankie’s strengths. But whilst Frankie does occasionally feel a little adrift as the host, he’s always good value when interacting with the diverse range of performers. Frankie’s also in his element when crossing swords with the three panellists – Madeline Smith, Russell Harty and Diana Dors (especially Harty, who seems to relish being mean to some of the contestants). And with Caroline Munro as a hostess and Bella Emberg as the stone-faced scorer, you can’t say that the show lacked star quality.

As always with The Gong Show, there’s an incredible grab-bag of performers. From an elderly lady (decked out with a glittering union jack hat) singing God Save The Queen (she was quickly gonged off by all three) to a young eighteen-year old lad tackling Sweet Caroline very credibly via a middle-aged singing muscle-man you can’t deny that there’s something for virtually everyone (and that’s only scratching the surface – I won’t spoil the surprise of some of the odder acts).

This is an enjoyable curio which – had the fates been different – could easily have run to a series. Although it appears to be sourced from VHS, the picture quality is more than watchable.

The set is rounded out by three interviews (listed as special features). All were recorded at the same time – around 1978 – when Howerd was in America plugging his appearance in the Bee Gees’ ill-fated film version of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Hand. The first – with Merv Griffin – runs for 10″32′ whilst the second – with Mike Douglas – runs for 8″06′.

The most substantial is Ryan’s Roost (27″50′). This one looks to be sourced from VHS and is in black and white, which might be the reason why it was relegated to special feature status. All three have moments of interest, although Howerd – without a British audience to play off – does at times appear to be a little diminished.

Any admirer of Frankie Howerd will find plenty to enjoy across these two discs. Highly recommended.

Frankie Howerd – The Lost Television Pilots is available now. It can be ordered from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

Rare Chills – Kaleidoscope From The Archive Collection

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Rare Chills collects together two spine-tingling tales. First up is The Fearmakers: The Shadow of Death. Easily the most obscure of the two, I’ve been able to track down very little information about it. The pilot for a proposed series, it was shot on location at Warwick Castle and featured just two actors – Jack Woolgar and Barry Stokes (Woolgar also introduced the story and was one of the producers, so he was clearly a man of many hats).

It’s an odd little piece. Every trick in the book is utilised in order to create an oppressive atmosphere – we’re at a deserted baronial house late at night, the wind is whistling and the thunder is crashing down – at the same time we are observing a man called Booth (Woolgar) searching for something.

Eventually he finds his prize (a diamond) but is later confronted by a younger man – Weaver (Stokes) – who also claims ownership. A brief tussle for supremacy then takes place, but the victor will have to face the supernatural forces which have been unleased by their actions ….

The Shadow of Death is content to take its time. Woolgar wanders around the house by himself for the first five minutes before finding anything and it’s only when Stokes turns up mid-way through that things really start moving. That it was made on a tight budget can be surmised by some of the shot choices, which don’t always match up to the previous ones (if the production ran out of time or money that would explain why they didn’t get all the coverage they wanted).

The plot is a little vague. If Booth stole the diamond sometime in the past, why did he hide it in the house? And how did Stokes know that Booth would return on that night? The mysterious shadow creature which stalks the house is never explained either.

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The print quality is passable, although there’s intermittent damage on the right hand side. A decent time-waster then and worth watching for Woolgar and Stokes, but the story is rather thin.

Much more substantial and enjoyable is Mrs Amworth. It’s certainly loaded with talent – adapted by Hugh Whitemore from the story by E.F. Benson, directed by Alvin Rakoff and starring Glynis Johns (not a bad line-up at all). The original short story by Benson can be accessed here.

Johns gives a lovely performance as the titular Mrs Amworth, a charming lady who’s recently moved into a sleepy English village. A hit with the residents, she’s quickly become the talk of the town, although a recent epidemic has set Francis Urcombe (John Phillips) pondering.

It seems too fantastic to be true, but could the kindly Mrs Amworth really be a vampire – flitting from person to person and draining their blood? Less of a moody chiller than The Shadow of Death, Mrs Amworth still has a few shocks along the way (mixed in with a few amusing moments – or at least I assume they were intended to be amusing). The notion of a vampire hiding out in a bucolic English village is an irresistible one and with the likes of Derek Francis offering strong support, the thirty minute running time clips by most agreeably.

This production of Mrs Amworth will probably be familiar to many, since it escaped onto the internet a few years back. The DVD release does offer an upgrade in picture quality – although by no means pristine (the colours are rather washed out) it’s certainly the best presentation of the materials I’ve seen so far.

A mixed bag then. The Shadow of Death might be the rarer of the two, but it’s Mrs Amworth which really appeals and makes Rare Chills worth a look.

It’s slightly surprising that there’s no contextual information about these programmes supplied with the DVD. Network’s range of curated releases – under the banner of Forgotten Television drama – includes substantial viewing notes which places the programmes in context. Some sort of background on these two dramas – The Shadow of Death especially – would have been welcome. Who made them, how were they lost, how they were rediscovered, etc. Hopefully future releases will contain some info – even if it’s only a brief note on the interior of the DVD case.

Rare Chills is released today by Kaleidoscope, RRP £12.99. It can be ordered from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

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Steptoe and Son (1965 American Pilot) – Kaleidoscope From The Archive Collection

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Most people will probably be aware of Sanford and Son, the successful US version of Steptoe and Son which ran for a total of 136 episodes during the 1970’s. But an earlier attempt (by Joseph E. Levine in 1965) to adapt the series for the American market has remained, until now, little more than a footnote in the Steptoe and Son story.

This was due to the fact that no recording was known to exist – until, that is, researchers from Kaleidoscope stumbled on a film print in Ray Galton’s basement. This is touched upon in the brief special feature, which we’ll come to later, but what of the main course?

Whilst Ray Galton and Alan Simpson have a prominent “created by” credit on the opening titles, their voices are largely absent. Although the half hour does feature a squabbling father and son duo called Albert and Harold who run a rag and bone business, it has a very different feel from the BBC Comedy Playhouse pilot, The Offer.

That was a claustrophobic two-hander, whereas this is more expansive (there are a number of other speaking parts, most prominently Jonathan Harris). Albert (Lee Tracy) is still the manipulative one, but Tracy doesn’t have Wilfred Brambell’s air of pathetic defeat. Instead, Tracy’s Albert is a spry sort of chap, happy to hang out at the local café (singing along with the local beatniks, no less).

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Aldo Ray’s Harold has the same sort of put-upon air that Harry H. Corbett excelled at, although Ray doesn’t really have long enough to make his mark. There are a few brief moments when his anger comes bubbling to the surface though – had the show gone to a series then this might have been an interesting area to develop.

One part of the pilot which isn’t very effective is the soundtrack. The incidental music is very much in the “waa, waa, waaaaa” tradition – hammering the comedy points home with a lack of subtlety. The laugh track (I’m not sure whether it was canned or actually a genuine audience) also seems a little off.

Although Harold does call Albert a “dirty old man” several times, the context is quite different from the British original. It’s nothing to do with his lack of hygiene (this Albert is always very dapper) instead Harold’s cursing is aimed at the way his father always manages to outsmart him (with a “waa, waa, waaaaa” on the soundtrack, no doubt).

Although you might have expected Phil Shuken’s teleplay to be an adaptation of The Offer (and some of the pre-publicity suggested this was so) the pilot is a totally different story. Although Harold is keen to leave, he’s pre-empted by Albert who signs the business over to him. Of course this is only a ruse and the status quo is restored at the end after Albert tricks Harold into burning the agreement. Harold expresses mild exasperation at this – but there’s no room for the emotional distress displayed by Harry H. Corbett (“I can’t get away, I can’t break free”).

In one way it seems invidious to keep on referring back to the BBC original, but if it wasn’t for the Galton and Simpson connection then this pilot’s appeal would be very limited indeed. As a curio for those interested in Steptoe or G&S then it’s certainly of interest – provided you’re not expecting something as bleak and impressive as The Offer then it’s a diverting enough half hour.

Shot on 35mm film, either it’s undergone some restoration work or Ray Galton’s basement was the ideal place to store film materials, as it looks very nice with only a few intermittent seconds of damage here and there. The sole special feature is a four minute excerpt from the Kaleidoscope documentary The Native Hue of Resolution.

This sees Ray Galton and Tessa Le Bars (G&S’s agent) venturing down to Ray’s basement, where they just happen to stumble over a film can. No doubt this was a moment staged for the documentary, but it’s still nice to see them rummaging around this room of treasures for a few minutes.

Steptoe and Son is worth a look, but with a running time of only thirty five minutes it’s an expensive buy. If these archive releases continue, then there might be some merit in collecting various orphaned titles together – that would be one way of offering decent value for money.

Steptoe and Son – The “Lost” Unaired 1965 American Pilot Episode is released by Kaleidoscope on the 13th of August 2018, RRP £12.99. It can be ordered from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

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Doctor Who Fanzine Musings

Inspired by the efforts of a new Facebook group (The Doctor Who Fanzine Database) I’ve recently been digging back through parts of my own collection for the first time in a number of years. Pre-internet, these zines – sometimes glossy A4, sometimes photocopied A5 – were the beating heart of fandom. It was just as easy to start a heated debate within the pages of a fanzine back then as it is today on Twitter. The only difference is that the responses would appear over a number of months, rather than minutes ….

The first DW fanzines I can remember buying were issues six, seven and eight of Private Who from London’s Forbidden Planet in 1987. At this stage it hadn’t quite transformed itself into the prozine it would become (later it would attract bitter criticism from certain quarters thanks to its enthusiastic cheerleading of the McCoy era). This incarnation of Private Who was willing and able to lob a few brickbats in the series’ direction (issue six featured a thumbs down review of The Trial of a Time Lord).

Since at that point DWM (my only resource for DW news and reviews) was a very non-controversial publication (the arrival of John Freeman, who began the process of beefing up the tone of the magazine, was still a year away) this review was slightly eye-opening. Although as I was shortly to learn, Private Who‘s negative viewpoint was mild compared to the vitriol that the current series attracted from other quarters ….

I had and have a love/hate relationship with DWB.  I loved the in-depth articles and interviews which documented the series’ past but hated the editorial tone which delighted in trashing the series’ present at every opportunity.  Gary Levy/Leigh was hardly alone in disliking the way DW was heading, but the endless personal attacks directed at JN-T were very wearying. And yet, since the good stuff outweighed the bad I  simply tutted at the more hysterical ravings and passed over to the next interesting article.

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The lowpoint of the magazine has to be the extensive Eric Saward/Ian Levine interview from the early nineties which, even by the magazine’s own standards, was a breath-taking hatchet job aimed at (who else?) JN-T.  Especially disturbing was the way that certain people who had passed on (Robert Holmes, Douglas Camfield) were cited by Levine as hating the direction JN-T had taken the series in. Other zines (like Skaro) were quick to find the use of the dead to bulk up their arguments more than a little distasteful.

Mind you, even pre-eighties Who could sometimes find itself under attack. Paul Cornell’s DWB review of Terror of the Autons (he didn’t like it, not one little bit) chimed with the then current trend of early nineties fandom, which tended to give the Pertwee era a good kicking at regular intervals.

One major attraction for taking out a regular subscription to DWB (the only magazine I can remember which used to send out a strip of blank address labels and requested that you filled them out!) was the fact that it ran adverts for many, many fanzines.  So DWB was incredibly important to me as it opened up a conduit into the wider world of DW fandom (and beyond, as it became increasingly common for zines to cover a variety of different programmes).

Purple Haze and Perigosto Stick were two which really struck a chord. Often these zines (almost always A5) only lasted a few issues, but that didn’t seem to matter as more titles always seemed to pop up to replace them. This era of DW fanzines had a very definite identity and style – irreverent and with a keen desire to slay some sacred cows (which more often than not meant poor old Jon Pertwee).  The recent new Time Team squabbles (some people aghast at the fact that a bunch of twentysomethings have the temerity to offer their opinions about old Who) rather overlooks the fact that back in the early nineties that particular generation of twentysomethings were even more outspoken about eras of the programme they were too young to have watched the first time round.

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The battle between the A5 photocopied zine and the A4 glossy seemed to concern some people (but then Doctor Who fandom loves nothing more than a good fight).  Some – like the relaunched Skaro – were able to mix the feel of an A5 with the production quality of an A4, thereby creating the best of both worlds. Second Dimension also ended up as a glossy (a far cry from its early days as a bunch of loose sheets stapled together) without sacrificing too much of its tone.

Even though I loved the slapdash nature of many of the A5 zines, it’s possibly In Vision which remains my favourite of the 1990’s era (and certainly the one I come back to the most).  Although new research has invalidated some of the facts presented (even more so with its predecessor, Space and Time) I-V is still a treasure trove, which became even more detailed as it began to cover the 1980’s stories.  Tip of the hat to The Frame as well – although sometimes criticised for being bland, if you dig through a complete collection there’s more variety than you might expect.

One interesting thing about skimming through the FB group is realising that so many of these zines had very limited print runs (a fair few in the tens, rather than hundreds).  Given this, it’s a pity that more material hasn’t been collected in book form or otherwise made available.  There are some publications out there (Keith Miller’s, for example) but this only scratches the surface.  It would be nice if more classic DW fanzines were made available, otherwise this fascinating era of creativity is in danger of being lost forever.

Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Four

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The episode opens with a gorgeous sweeping aerial shot as the Xanadu makes its way back to Tarrant. This almost – but not quite – makes up for the fact that Leo is present and correct onboard and no worse the wear for his dip in the ocean. Whilst this isn’t as bad as negating an end of series cliffhanger, it’s still an annoyance to have set up a dramatic beat and then see it dismissed so casually.

All three elect not to tell anybody about Leo’s dice with death, Jack commenting that “it never happened, did it? Must have been a bad dream”. Was this a sly nod to Bobby’s shower exploits in Dallas? It’s a rare sunny day in Tarrant and a fair number of extras were pressed into service as the Xanadu makes its triumphant way into port.

Ken’s very active today (and he’s also wearing a very eye-catching jacket). First up there’s a meeting with Sir John. These encounters are always entertaining, not least for that way that Sir John (unique amongst Tarrant residents) always refers to him as “Kenneth”. Since the bank seems disinclined to help him raise some working capital, Ken then moves onto Sir Edward. This is also great fun, as he brazenly attempts to blackmail Sir Edward! You suspect he’s dicing with danger there.

Later, there’s more personal matters on hand as he invites Jenny out for a drink. Ken making a move on the prettier members of his staff isn’t a new thing, but Jenny (at present) isn’t prepared to give him more than a shoulder to cry on. It’s a fascinating few moments nonetheless, as Ken opens up about his childhood (his first racket was reselling school milk!) and the fractious relationship he enjoyed with his father. It’s a pity that we haven’t really looked before at what makes Ken tick, but better late than never.

He didn’t want to know anything about me, thought I was the black sheep of the family. Said if I didn’t sort myself out I’d end up going to prison. What did he know? Nothing. By the time I was eighteen I had my own business. It was a garage business. Do you know something? He was one of my first customers. He drove around in a used car when I drove around in a brand new one. I earned more in a week than he earned in a year.

Nice Orrin from a few episodes ago now seems to have been replaced with the more familiar Nasty Orrin. He continues to harass Abby whilst also making his presence felt at both Leisurecruise and Relton. Oh, and his braces are impressive as well.

The seasoned HW watcher should know never to believe what people say (they’re more than likely to do the exact opposite). So when Lynne declared in episode two that she had no interest in returning to England, I wasn’t convinced. And so it came to pass that she rather improbably hitched a lift on the Xanadu. Jan and Kate are absolutely delighted of course and there’s an awful lot of cooing as the pair welcome the young chick back into the fold. A rare moment of happiness, although how long everybody stays happy remains to be seen ….

Gerald and Laura have an awkward meeting. He’s still bitter and hurt over the way their seemingly close personal relationship simply evaporated. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Ivor Danvers was one of HW‘s most underrated performers and whenever he was given something dramatic to get his teeth into (sadly not very often, as most of the time he existed to line feed Charles) he never disappointed. Danvers deftly captures Gerald’s conflicted emotions whilst O’Mara also plays the scene well – Laura’s self-satisfied smirk after Gerald leaves is a sign that her contrite statements were valueless.

Vanessa eventually accepts Jack’s offer of marriage (I love the way he takes an extra gulp of whisky just before she delivers her answer!) whilst Jan continues to have a rocky relationship with Robert. In all the excitement of welcoming Lynne home, Jan totally forgot about the meeting he’d arrived with the bank’s solicitors. Cue a couple of grumpy looking extras looking at their watches and sighing. She may be apologetic, but it’s obvious from the expressions she pulls that Jan really doesn’t like anybody telling her what she should do.

The major revelations in this episode are left for the closing minutes (at least this is a cliffhanger which will be difficult to reverse). Sir Edward has gathered all his friends, family and business associates together for a garden party. Slightly surprising that Charles accepted the offer, but in plot terms all will become clear shortly.

Revelation one is that Sir Edward has married Polly. There’s a faint ripple of applause whilst various folk (notably Jan and Gerald) look rather ashen faced. But whilst we’re all still reeling from that, he drops another bombshell – he’s not a well man and has returned to Highfield for the last time. The camera seeks out Charles, who slowly begins to process precisely what this new information means ….

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Three

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Another episode, another surprise return. Today it’s Sir Edward. First he pays a visit to his country seat, where his faithful retainers are all lined up to greet him (his dogs look the most pleased). Later he gives Jan a fright by suddenly popping up. His car window swooshes down, he looks out and says “hello Jan”. Not the most devastating opening gambit, that’s for sure ….

Both Jan and Gerald independently wonder what Polly’s up to (sadly she didn’t make the trip over). Genial Sir Edward twists the knife when he tells Jan that Polly is now running a dozen boutiques. Jan’s glazed expression makes it plain that she’s not exactly delighted to learn of her oldest friend’s success. Whereas poor Gerald still seems to be slightly pining for her – one obvious plotline for series six would have been Polly’s return, but this never happened (presumably Patricia Shakesby was otherwise engaged).

The dinner date between Jan and Sir Edward is cordial but guarded – elsewhere though we see more strained relations. Leo and Abby have a brief, but utterly furious argument. Both have been angry before, but I’ve never seen them quite so out of control in each other’s company. Even the calming presence of Gerald isn’t able to cool Leo’s temper.

Leo and Abby do later make up before he, Jack and Bill head off for Gibraltar, but there’s definite fractures showing in their relationship. This is exacerbated when Orrin comes calling – his friendly peck on her cheek develops into something more and (at least to begin with) Abby doesn’t put up a struggle. Orrin can’t see anything wrong – after all, Gerald’s at the office and Leo’s away – but eventually Abby comes to her senses. Just in time! I was beginning to get a little worried.

Abby’s almost infidelity apart, there’s a nice quiet moment between her and Gerald. Although the first series often stated that Gerald was an absentee father, things now seem to have changed (or the information we had then wasn’t entirely accurate). The affectionate bond between them is obvious, whilst it’s also fascinating to learn how he looked after the infant Abby. Of course this may be because Polly had other fish to fry.

As ever, the interlapping business affairs have now become even more complicated. Orrin has bought Ken’s Relton shares and expresses a desire to work with Kate who’s keen to strengthen her ties with Charles. Meanwhile Charles is concentrating on his latest marina development whilst fretting about why his father has suddenly reappeared in Tarrant.

In the first episode, Jan’s business had suffered a serious hit after James borrowed deeply from company funds. This difficulty now seems to have been brushed aside as she’s keen to expand her empire even further with the perfume designed by Claude. Sir John is guardedly interested, but decides it has to be a joint venture between the House of Howard and the bank. And this is where Sir John’s nephew, Robert Hastings (Paul Jerricho), comes in.

You may know Jerricho as nasty Mr Hicks (the malevolent games master from Grange Hill who received summary justice at the hands of Mr Baxter. “Slip on the wet floor did you?”). Or possibly as the Castellan from Doctor Who (“no, not the mind probe”). Truly, that was an unforgettable performance. And believe me I’ve tried ….

In a way it’s surprising that we haven’t seen the bank take a closer interest in Jan’s business before – it certainly brings to mind the storyline which drove the action for several years in The Brothers (the arrival of merchant banker Paul Merroney and his desire to remould Hammond Transport).

The most interesting nugget of information from these scenes is Jan’s statement that she’s now the sole designer of her clothing line. No, really. It’s hard enough to swallow the notion that Jan could have built up a burgeoning fashion empire by stumbling across several world class designers (who all just happened to be unemployed) but the idea that Jan is now knocking out the designs herself (although we’ve never seen this happen) simply takes the breath away.

Moving on ….

It’s a windy day in Gibraltar (with poor Jack’s hair suffering somewhat). But after a brief drink and a quick view of the sights, it’s down to business as the trio prepare to sail the Xanadu back to England. Jack’s been blithely confident – shrugging off Vanessa’s entreaty not to go – but now it seems that she might have had a point, as they run into filthy weather in the middle of the ocean.

This was a major (and no doubt expensive) sequence. Shot in the controlled environment of a film studio tank and utilising a full-sized boat, it’s a memorable couple of minutes. The feeling of dread only increases when Leo is swept overboard just before the credits roll. An impressive cliffhanger, but I hope they don’t negate the impact by simply dismissing the events next time.

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