Howards’ Way – Series Two, Episode Two

howards s02e02.jpg

Lynne’s safe, but is far from well.  Jan and Tom rush to the hospital to find her dazed and confused – she’s suffering from complete amnesia.  We learn that she was fished out of the water after about ten minutes (although it’s not explained who rescued her).  It’s also not clear why it took so long for Lynne’s next of kin to be contacted.

Jan Harvey is the one who’s given the lines when they encounter her for the first time (as well a nice two-shot of Jan and an oxygen-masked Lynne) but Maurice Colbourne almost manages to steal the scene with a cutaway shot of Tom wearily closing his eyes.  Sometimes, less is more.

There’s another example of Tarrant’s bizarre eco-system, where it always seems to be sunny indoors (studio) and gloomy outside (film).  We switch from the inside of the Urquhart’s house, with Polly and Gerald discussing the imminent arrival of Orrin (Michael Ryan), to outside Charles’ abode, where he’s surprised to be set upon by Shellet (who’s been lurking in the shrubbery).

This is a great little scene.  Shellet’s now a desperate man (“I’m broke, I’ve got no money”) although Charles responds in exactly the way you’d expect him to.  “You’re trespassing, get off my property or I’ll set the dogs on you.”  The way that Charles looks him up and down with a sense of revulsion is another nice touch.

The party at Abby’s flat provides ample evidence that Leo and rhythm don’t really go together (however, Davy does cut some impressive moves).  The scene’s more of interest due to the way it highlights the current status of the Abby/Leo relationship – they’re more at ease with each other than ever before (she kisses him briefly on the lips and then tells him that “I’ve never been as close to anyone as I am to you”) but with the spectre of Orrin on the horizon, things will change.

Tom sets out with Henderson (Andrew Hilton) for another testing run in the Barracuda.  Henderson’s the possessor of a certain oily charm – when he learns that Avril isn’t joining them he decides that it’s “probably just as well. We don’t want too many distractions, do we?”  Avril wisely makes no response.

Last time, we saw how Avril was upset at the way Tom bailed on the yard’s business in order to search for Lynne.  Positions are reversed here, as Henderson forces him to stay out a lot longer than he’d expected – meaning that he’s unable to meet Jan as planned (the pair had arranged to travel up to the hospital together).

Tom could have told Henderson that his daughter was ill in hospital and there’s every possibility he would have been sympathetic, but instead he grimly carries on with the testing.  But on the plus side, it gives us a charged encounter between Jan and Avril, after Jan rushes to the yard, looking for Tom.

From the moment Jan enters the office you can sense the chill.  Avril is polite, but it doesn’t take too long before some home truths are spelled out.  She tells Jan that “when there was doubt about Lynne’s safety, Tom abandoned this yard when its future hung in the balance, knowing he was jeopardising his business’s survival and ours.  I criticised him, but I now realise his feelings for his family gave him no option.  Today out there he’s trying to make up for it and knowing Tom, I bet he’s sweating blood he’s not here to meet you.  Don’t you understand your husband at all?”  If looks could kill, then Jan’s stare would have finished Avril off once and for all …

The initial meeting between Orrin and Polly is an exercise in awkwardness.  Although given the fact that Abby and her parents are currently estranged, I’m not sure why Orrin came to Polly first – why didn’t he simply go direct to Abby’s lodgings?  The upshot is that Abby agrees to return home, where Orrin will also be, whilst Leo (lurking in the background) looks a little discomforted.

There’s another lovely example of Polly’s monumental lack of tact, after she decides that it would be nice for her, Abby and Orrin to go out for tea.  After all, Leo’s on hand to look after the baby.  It doesn’t occur to her that it might be courteous to ask Leo if he’d mind (something which he rather pointedly mentions) although the fact that he then tells him it’s no trouble is a characteristic Leo moment.

Jack dispenses some more of his words of wisdom after he and Tom visit the production line where the Barracuda is now being mass produced.  “Wood is a living material. A boat is a living thing.  I’m not being sentimental.  By that, I mean she’s the sum total of all the men who worked on her, sawed and steamed her planks and shaved her timbers. When she’s running before the wind, that’s what you feel beneath your feet.”

Later, Jack heads off to the races with Kate, where Aztec Boy (the horse she owns 25% of) is running.  The production team clearly went on a real race day, as the hundreds of race-goers demonstrate, it’s just a pity that they couldn’t afford to shoot footage of an actual race  This means we switch from footage of Jack and Kate (on film) to the horses (on videotape) and back to Jack and Kate (on film) which is a little distracting.  But there’s a nice comic compensation – as the race goes into its final stages, Jack is closely following it through his binoculars, which Kate then snatches off him (nearly strangling him in the process!).

This week’s cliffhanger – Jan learns that Claude has married a key figure in the French fashion world – falls a little flat.  Jan’s concerned that his marriage will impact the boutique, which isn’t something I confess to being too concerned about.  Although Ken’s on hand to soften the blow.  “Not jealous are you? Lucky for you, you’ve got good old reliable Ken. Here in every emergency.”  God bless Ken, he never disappoints.

11 thoughts on “Howards’ Way – Series Two, Episode Two

  1. 1. According to Polly, Orrin was studying architecture in Europe. As the story progresses, Orrin never has anything to do with architecture but becomes a hardened businessman – as nearly everybody else in the series.

    2. The party is not in Abby’s flat. Admittedly it all seems confusing at the beginning, but Leo soon gives a hint: “Do you know… this is almost the first time we’ve really been out together?” (and goodness knows whether anyone is actually babysitting), and later Abby says: “I’d better go back up.” So they must be in a neighbour’s flat downstairs! Leo appearing to have no sense of rhythm must be evidence of acting skills on Edward Highmore’s part, because originally he trained as a dancer whose first professional job was, in his own words, “dancing behind Anita Harris” – and it is reasonable to assume that Anita, a respected showbusiness personality, did not tolerate rhythm-deaf dancers on the stage behind her.

    Leo and Abby’s exchange in this scene is meant to define their relationship at the time. They give all signs of being an item, yet they are not at all romantically linked. Over the period of her pregnancy and birth they have become close, comfortable, trusting and relaxed in each other’s company.
    Leo has recovered from his earlier infatuation with Avril and is now happy to assist Abby – he is like a devoted docile guard dog or perhaps a self appointed guardian angel, but does not yet perceive her as an object of desire. They share her tiny flat, he helps her with everything and pays the bills – since she had to stop working due to her pregnancy. And yet, surprisingly, there is no intimacy above what one usually might see in a usual sister and brother relationship. When she gives him a friendly kiss on the lips, he is neither surprised nor fazed and does not accept it as an invitation to take liberties.

    Literary purists will probably wince if I say that there seem to be certain general similarities between Abby and Leo’s touching relationship at that point and the relationship of the protagonists in the play “A Taste of Honey”. Abby is relieved that he neither expects nor demands a reward for his kindness, devotion and loyalty, even though his apparent lack of natural interest in her as a woman does puzzle her a little. Some time later she will give a stronger hint of her (mistaken) belief that perhaps Leo is not moved by female charms… but for the time being they are perfectly happy to share a near-perfect male-female friendship.

    3. Orrin arrives to the Urquharts’ house first because Polly was instrumental in notifying him of the situation with Abby and he is not even sure where Abby lives. Polly being Polly, wants to be in charge of everything and everybody. She is supremely dismissive of Leo and will remain so throughout the series – for the sole reason that in her view he is not much of a catch.

    Abby agrees to return home after Leo encourages her. He is still acting in her best interests, never thinking of himself first – even when he remains hovering in the background it is chiefly because after more than
    eight months of sole responsibility for her, he has become overprotective in the presence of people who he thinks may harm her. He is also beginning to develop a deeper attachment to her, though he does not quite understand it yet.


    • I was of course joking when I said that pretending not to dance well is a mark of good acting. In fact Highmore – not a classically trained actor with limited experience – acquits himself suitably well in the role. The vicious criticism he seemed to attract from the press and viewers alike was due to the general
      misunderstanding of the character. A staid, principled and serious-minded Leo was not supposed to be a portrait of an average youth of the 1980s, but the BBC publicity department woefully undersold the character in the light of the persistent, excessive, and rather unhealthy cult of the macho/bad boy type in the popular art and mass media.

      In Gerard Glaister’s book on making of the series, Highmore is credited with a thoughtful analysis of the character he portrayed, but this may have been Glaister’s own interpretation. In another interview, Highmore appeared somewhat dismissive and unable to offer any defence of the character’s redeeming
      features, calling into question any reliable motivational support from the BBC series producers and/or directors. Interestingly, Highmore’s attitude on that occasion is in stark contrast with the highly eloquent and surprisingly mature expositions of an actor’s relationship with the portrayed character by his own son, a very successful former child actor Freddie, some years later.


      • Sounds like a book I should track down. Outside of HW, there’s not many of Highmore’s other roles that I’m familiar with (apart from his tv debut in Doctor Who – Planet of Fire, which has sometimes attracted negative comments from DW fans).

        Leo certainly offers a contrast to his slightly older sister, who during S1 is basically portrayed as a self-obsessed man-eater, but as I’ve probably said before, good and nice characters don’t thrive in series like these – flawed ones do.


      • A slight correction here: it wasn’t Highmore who called into question the lack of motivational support from the BBC – it was me…


  2. If a story is well written and has something worthwhile to say, then good and nice characters are equally interesting – how about Sidney in “Grantchester”?


  3. Sorry, this board seems to have no facility for editing. Just one last thought on this thread: Leo is important as a foil to some other flawed characters so doesn’t need to stand on his own. And after all, even he and Abby are flawed. It is not a black and white story.


  4. As to the level of support Highmore received, that may have varied from director to director. What’s certain is that HW was made in a way that modern television isn’t (back then, it probably would have been ten day’s rehearsal and two in the studio).

    This gave all the actors a chance to bond and develop their characters (which doesn’t happen today). You’ll often hear actors comment that in modern dramas they’ll turn up, not having met anyone, do their scenes with their fellow actors after a brief run-through, and then leave.

    The sort of enenvironment enjoyed by HW, where all the actors were able to rehearse and develop their characters over multiple days, simply doesn’t exist now.

    Whether this was an environment in which Highmore thrived in is debatable, but since he was present for all six series he must have been doing something right. Had Glaister not been happy with him, I’m sure he’d have written him out.


    • I believe Glaister was determined to tell the tale of the Howard family (plus associated circles) to the bitter end, so any crucial member’s absence would considerably impoverish and skew the fabric of the story – as unfortunately happened with Maurice Colbourne.

      I have seen a page from a studio filming schedule for HW (as I’m sure you have) and the order of a typical day was this: 11-13 rehearse and record, 13-14 lunch, 14-18 rehearse and record, 18-19 supper, 19-22 rehearse and record.

      As for directing for television, here is a quote from a TV director Michael E. Briant, which throws some light on the matter:
      “[On television] the role of the director is primarily to point cameras. The speed and instant acting required today has taken much of the fun out of the work […]


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