Broadcast in early 1974, series three of The Brothers continues to chronicle the travails of the Hammonds, a family who are often at loggerheads as they squabble over the best way to run their business – Hammond Transport Services.
As seen in series one, the death of Robert Hammond initiated considerable strife and internecine bickering. Hammond’s eldest son Edward (initially played by Glyn Owen, but from series two by Patrick O’Connell) assumed he’d have sole responsibility of the company, so was more than a little taken aback when the terms of his father’s will were divulged. Equal shares were also left to his two brothers – Brian (Richard Easton) and David (Robin Chadwick) – as well as to his father’s secretary and mistress, Jenny Kingsley (Jennifer Wilson).
Mix in Robert Hammond’s widow Mary (Jean Anderson), an imposing matriarch keen to interfere at any given moment, as well as Brian’s rather forceful wife Ann (Hilary Tindall) and David’s more pliant wife Jill (Gabrielle Drake) and you have a combustible mixture with plenty of dramatic possibilities.
This helps to explain why The Brothers was a popular success, running for seven series between 1972 and 1976 (and indeed could have carried on a little longer still – there’s no sense by series seven that the concept had run out of steam). But although it clicked with the public it doesn’t seem to have been highly regarded by the BBC themselves. They appeared to have forgotten about it when preparing the drama budgets for 1977, meaning that there wasn’t any money left to commission an eighth series. It sounds barely credible, but it seems to be the case that one of the BBC’s top-rated dramas of the mid seventies ended because of an accounting quirk.
And it wasn’t just a success in the UK. Colin Baker delights in telling the following story. “A phone call came in from the foreign minister of Israel. He said that not only was he devastated not to be able to come and meet us as he was such a fan, but he suggested that had the Six Day War been launched on the Arab nations on the day that The Brothers was being shown instead of Yom Kippur, they would have had more of a chance of taking the nation by surprise because everybody watched The Brothers!” This seems so ridiculously unlikely that it must be true ….
The series also generated a rather bizarre spin off – an LP entitled Christmas with the Hammonds. Offering such delights as Edward ‘Ted’ Hammond and Paul Merroney warbling their way through Good King Wenceslas and a full-cast assault on The Twelve Days of Christmas it’s a wonky treat from beginning to end. Alas, it’s unavailable on CD, but the dedicated treasure hunter should be able to track down the original vinyl.
Created by Gerard Glaister and N. J. Crisp, it’s always interested me how Glaister could create and produce series such as Colditz and Secret Army on the one hand, but also dabble successfully in soap-like drama like as The Brothers and Howard’s Way as well (Trainer was something of a misfire though).
By the third run of The Brothers everything’s clicked nicely into place, although the introduction of Colin Baker as Paul Merroney (a character dubbed by some as a proto JR Ewing) is still a series away. Others yet to appear include Kate O’Mara (a regular from series five onwards) and Liza Goddard (who debuts in the sixth series). Hopefully if Simply keep up a healthy release rate then we’ll soon have the chance to enjoy all of their performances (Colin Baker fans won’t have too long to wait though, as series four is due for release in January 2017).
The third series opens with N.J. Crisp’s The Hammond Account. Brian has never been the most dynamic of characters, which means he tends to be manipulated by his much more ambitious wife Ann. Here, she’s keen that Brian should be managing director, rather than Ted. Several key threads are also introduced – such as the brothers debating how advertising could help to grow the company’s fortunes whilst Jill and David’s marriage starts to fray at the seams. Meanwhile on the shop floor, the trusty Bill Riley (Derek Benfield) is concerned that a new boardroom initiative will have a detrimental effect on driver recruitment ….
The first few moments of The Hammond Account also serves as a good introduction for new viewers, as we see David and Ted show a potential client, Mr Rogers (Robert MacLeod) around their site, explaining to him exactly how Hammonds operates. Shot on 16mm film, it’s a lovely slice of grimy seventies working life. Bill’s reluctance to countenance management employing non-union drivers is another reflection of that era.
Temptation is in the air in these early episodes. The smooth-as-butter advertising man Nicholas Fox (Jonathan Newth) is interested in Ann whilst David continues to find himself pursued by Julie Lane (Gillan McCutcheon). Hilary Tindall gives a wonderfully layered performance throughout the series as Ann. Given that Brian is a bit of a wet lettuce, you might expect that she’d be keen to seek solace elsewhere, but Ann does genuinely seem to love him. This is touched upon when she wonders why he doesn’t kiss her more often – he replies that he never knows whether she wants him to or not. Just a couple of lines of dialogue, but it illuminates both their characters very well.
Sadly, Jill is a much more pallidly drawn character than Ann. Gabrielle Drake is lovely of course, but she doesn’t have a great deal to work with (and since Jill rather devolves as time goes on, fading more and more into the background, it’s no surprise that Drake decided to leave after the next series). By contrast, Julie is a much more vivid presence, who also sports some rather fetching clothes. David’s tank top, which appears in episode two, is memorable too, albeit for a different reason.
The quartet of company directors – the three brothers plus Jenny – provides the series with plenty of decent character conflict. One such flashpoint occurs when Brian’s desire to move into Europe is temporarily blocked by David. Thanks to some dense plotting from the previous series, Hammond’s financial future has been secured by Jill (who has provided a substantial amount of capital to guarantee their loans). This becomes a source of considerable tension between the brothers. Both Richard Easton and Robin Chadwick raise the roof during these scenes.
Moving onwards, it’s pretty obvious from the title of the first non-Crisp story, Hijack, what direction Eric Paice’s story will take (we see a Hammond lorry, driven by Bill, hijacked and the goods stolen). There’s a decent amount of location filming as we follow Ted and Bill from Dover to Boulogne as Hammonds start to push into Europe.
Derek Benfield excels during the next episode, Riley, as Bill’s criminal conviction (even though it was all the way back in 1948) is raked up by the police, who decide he’s implicated in the hijack. Hugh Sullivan and Brian Grellis play the two coppers who delight in making Bill sweat. Grellis (DS Pritchard) is the good cop whilst Sullivan (DI Parsons) is most definitely the bad cop. Temporarily moving the focus away from the boardroom and bedroom squabbles and onto Bill Riley is a good move – since it helps to shake up the narrative a little.
The later part of series three sees the tensions in David and Jill’s marriage continue to simmer away (David’s always been more than a little smackable, so Jill has all my sympathy) whilst Ann finds herself increasingly drawn to the cravat-wearing Nicholas. And there’s a marvellously awkward dinner party as Mary entertains Jenny for the first time. Given that Jenny had a long-term affair with Mary’s late husband it’s not a surprise that their relationship has rarely ventured above glacial. But this brief moment of rapprochement quickly fades after Mary lends Jenny’s daughter, Barbara (Julia Goodman), a substantial sum of money to settle her new husband’s debts. It’s fair to say that Jenny’s not pleased about this ….
Because Jenny has no desire to be in debt to Mary, she decides to sell her Hammond shares – this sparks off an entertaining round of infighting which boils over in Conspirators. It’s a wonderfully entertaining 45 minutes from Eric Paice, packed with incident as David and Brian join forces to bid for Jenny’s shares (they also hope this will force Ted to leave the company). Ted reacts in fury when he learns what his brothers are planning, storming home and knocking back the scotches like they were water. In the end he persuades Jenny not to sell and clearly enjoys passing the news onto David and Brian.
Series three concludes in a suitably dramatic fashion with Return to Nowhere, which opens with the focus on Ann and ends with a cliffhanger centered around Mary.
With the writing credits shared pretty evenly between N.J. Crisp and Eric Paice, there’s a cohesive and coherent feel to the series. All of the regular cast get a good crack of the whip, but Hilary Tindall as Ann particularly impresses.
Picture quality across the thirteen episodes is generally very good. There’s the occasional spot of tape damage on a few episodes, but any such issues are quite brief.
Thanks to a first-rate cast and strong scripting, The Brothers – Series Three is consistently entertaining. It’s good news that the fourth series will follow shortly and also that the remaining three series are slated for release later in 2017.
The Brothers – Series Three is available now from Simply Media. RRP £29.99.