Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Nine

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Avril’s gone back abroad for another business meeting. Where she could be …. I wonder if it might just be Malta? I wasn’t expecting to see a topless Tom sipping an orange juice though. Whilst it’s nice that the actors weren’t stuck in England, pretending that it was a lovely sunny day, from the fluttering umbrellas it’s clear that the weather in Malta wasn’t terribly balmy either. But Colbourne and Gilmore – troopers that they are – do their best to convince us that it’s not at all cold.

Leo’s a bit touchy at present, snapping at Kate when she discusses the forthcoming baby. As for Kate herself, it seems that romance might just be in the air, although Jan is baffled as to who her suitor might be. Regular HW watchers are probably better informed – which means that the reappearance of Admiral Francis Redfern (Michael Denison) shouldn’t really come as a surprise to many.

If Kate’s back than that means we go back to the races. But Kate’s got more than horsey business on her mind as she wants Francis to photocopy (or photostat as she says) several documents from the Planning Comittee he sits on. The upright Admiral Redfern doesn’t seem too put out by this, so clearly he’s deeply smitten by Kate. What’s it all about? All will be revealed later (although how Kate got to learn about it in the first place I’m not entirely sure).

Charles has to fend off a gaggle of reporters, well three to be precise. Either they’d blown the budget on the Malta filming or the continuing travails of Frere Holdings wasn’t really a big story (although this seems unlikely as it’s front page news in the Southern Indepdent – with a banner headline reading Frere Holding’s Prosecuted on Fraud Charges). Mmm, isn’t that apostrophe in the wrong place?

Anyway, back to Charles. Wearing a pair of dark glasses, despite the total lack of sunshine, he offers brief replies to the hyperactive barrage of questions lobbed his way from the two, dictaphone waving, reporters. With a photographer hovering in the background, it’s quite nicely shot although a few film cameramen would have ramped up the pressure a little.

Jack, a two-fingered typist if ever there was one, is preparing a history of a Mermaid Yard. Vanessa asks him how far he’s got amd after a minute he sheepishly has to admit that he’s sorted out the title!

Laura comes calling on James. It’s not a convivvial meeting though, as she continues to turn the screws. And with the death of someone called Nicola still preying on his concisence, it seems that Laura has plenty of material to torture him with. Cue James looking very down in the mouth. And after making James’ day, Laura then moves over to the Mermaid to give Jack an equally hard time. Her initial seemingly sweet nature seems to have evaporated totally.

Angela Down makes the first of two appearances as Charles’ defence counsel, Lee Simons. She’s a tough cookie that’s for sure, speaking sharply to Charles in a way that few people previously have. And due to his current situation he has no option but to listen carefully. Interesting for 1989 that they decided to go with a female character rather than a male one. HW does have a few female regulars (Avril, etc) in executive positions, but most of the other executive characters who pop in and out tend to be male.

After Ms Simons begins to chip away at some of the more suspect areas of Frere Holdings, it’s clear that Charles and Gerald are facing challenging times. There’s a lovely moment when she asks them quite boldy if they’re guilty! A wonderful way to close the scene.

Ken’s a little discomforted to have been called as a witness to Charles and Gerald’s upcoming hearing. Vicki offers him the benefit of her advice – initially he’s not terribly interested in anything she has to say but he perks up when he learns that she’s discussed it with her uncle, Sir Alan Rockwell, chairman of Confederated Industries. Slightly hard to believe that Ken – a man who likes to cover all the angles – didn’t realise that Vicki had such poweful connections. But it’s lovely how his expression changes from contempteous to calculating after he realises that she has relatives in high places ….

Avril and Tom are in Malta to meet the smooth-talking Sabio Fernandez. Well I say smooth-talking but the actor, Franco Rey, is the victim of a rather slipshod spot of dubbing. Rey doesn’t have that many credits to his name but they’re mostly English language roles, so I wouldn’t have thought his real accent was that strong.

Sir John’s back! He has a convivvial business lunch with Jan, who’s always keen to expand her empire. Jan’s already been giving the increasingly flaky James some hard stares in the office, but when she learns that Sir John appears to remember doing businees with him in the past, she gets rather concerned (the incidental music hammers the point home with a menacing note). I’m not quite sure why this should worry Jan though – it’s not as if Sir John remembered anything bad about him.

Ken and Laura later have an entertaining, if all too brief, argument. This leads on to Ken asking Vicki if she has any plans for the evening. She does, a drink with her boyfriend, but he asks her if she can cancel it and go out to dinner with him instead. By the expression on her face it seems that she’s quite pleased to be asked. And how was it telegraphed that Ken was interested in Vicki? Why, by the way the camera kept tight focus on her shapely backside of course. Not subtle, but it made the point.

Ken and Vicki run into Jack and Kate at the Jolly Sailor. Jack’s delighted to shake the hand of the mini-skirted Vicki whilst Kate looks on with a face like fury. Partly this is because she believes Vicki is (ahem) something more than a secretary but mainly it’s because she loathes Ken Masters with a passion. It’s nice that eventually Jan and Kate have come to agree on this. Also, nobody does a scowl like Dulcie Gray. It’s simply wonderful.

Kate then drops the bombshell to Jack that a proposed Marina development (not another Marina development?) intends to bulldoze the Mermaid. Crickey, this is what they call a packed episode.

James is becoming increasingly torturted. He tells Ken that “Jan has become very important to me and I do not want to anything that will hurt her”. Hmm, he probably should have thought about that before, shouldn’t he. As you might expect, Ken offers him not a shred of sympathy.

Later, James confesses all to Jan. His wife didn’t leave him for an estate agent, instead it was his affair with a model called Nicola Hind which caused the break-up. But the main problem was a late-night jaunt on the water with Nicola (which resulted in her death). And then he tells her that he owes an awful lot of money to Ken, who’s been blackmailing him ever since. Cue tinkling piano incidental music and a wobbly lip from Jan as she realises that Ken’s been pulling everyone’s strings.

The whole of series five, but especially this episode, has a tangible air of melancholy. Maurice Colbourne died on the 4th of August 1989 aged just 49. He’d completed work on nine of the thirteen episodes from this series, which meant that his sudden and unexpected death caused a flurry of frantic rewriting to explain his absence from the remainder of the run. The Malta footage might not have been the last material he shot for the programme (filming tended to be done at the start of the production block, prior to the studio work) but it serves as a decent, if wholly unintentional coda, to Tom’s story. Walking around Malta in the sunshine with Avril as they pick out a toy for Abby and Leo’s baby is a touching, if bittersweet, moment.

Although Tom hadn’t really featured terribly heavily in any of the main series five plotlines, the mere fact of his presence was still key. Whilst he’s been shown to be obessive and blinkered down the years, Tom Howard was also the voice and conscience of the programme. Whether he would have moved more into the forefront during series six is a moot point, but now he’s gone there will be a tangible air of loss.

Nearly thirty years later his absence is still something which I find affects me, but on a positive note that can be put down to Maurice Colbourne’s sheer skill as an actor. Making Tom Howard such a compelling character is a type of immortality and it’s pleasing to think that the performances of Colbourne and his colleagues are still entertaining us, three or more decades later.

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