Four episodes in, Staff offers something of a change of pace. With Pat, Maureen and the other new trainees absent, the episode is solely centered around one of the women’s wards. This too is a departure as up until now we’ve only observed the male patients.
There’s also more of a sense of just how tiring and frustrating nursing can be – the night shift swopping notes with their day replacements, commenting on how hectic their shift has been – whilst the character of Staff Nurse Linda Hollis (Janina Faye) helps to illustrate the difficulties faced when attempting to juggle a career and a marriage. This is shown via a handful of fairly terse phone calls with her husband – from the tone of the one-sided conversation it’s plain that he expects her to be home bang on time ….
Previously we’d seen how Shirley, operating as a temporary Staff Nurse, sowed discord – thanks in part to her own inexperience (although the intransigence of Jo didn’t help). Linda runs quite a different ship though. All the nurses under her charge are made to feel part of a team and despite the hectic pace, Linda’s good humour and positive nature never flags.
No sooner does Jo transfer to this female ward, then Shirley also appears to lend a hand. This inevitably leads to the same sort of clashes observed in previous episodes. One of Jo’s fellow nurses – Elaine Fitzgerald (Taiwo Ajai) – suggests that she should make more of an effort and try to find some common ground with Shirley.
Up until now Clare Clifford’s been called upon to be mainly strict, hectoring and disapproving (with only a brief hint of vunerability). But Jo’s friendly overtures towards Shirley gives Clifford rather more to work with – for the first time we realise just how lonely and isolated Shirley is.
Most nurses who don’t live on site share rooms, but Shirley lives alone. Jo, attempting to find the positives, comments that it must be nice to have a bit of peace of quiet, but the truth is that nobody has offered to share with her. Jo, continuing to build bridges, tells her that she knows somebody who’s looking to share and suggests a meeting.
This one positive act causes Shirley to blossom – she allows Elaine to do up her hair and swops her severe glasses for contact lenses. But when Jo is forced to cancel the visit, the status quo is restored. This is marked by Shirley removing her contact lenses and putting her glasses back on. Back to square one.
The patients are a diverse group of individuals. They’re easily the most substantial characters we’ve seen so far (in the first episode the patients did little except add a spot of colour to proceedings). Mrs Wilson (Rosalind Elliot), having miscarried, is in a highly depressed state and the arrival of her mother (played by Hilary Wilson) simply makes her feel worse. Wilson, a highly distinctive actress who specialised in playing disapproving types, makes an impact with her brief scene. Mrs Wilson Snr’s parting words for her daughter, delivered via Linda (“tell her I love her”) is a rather heart-breaking moment.
Elsewhere, Mrs Joylon suffers a nasty nosebleed whilst Miss Beatty (Margaret Boyd) faces the prospect of moving into a nursing home. Having suffered a stroke she’s unable to speak, but is still able to express her feelings plainly enough. As ever, it’s Jo who’s the positive one – telling her that the place she’s going to is first rate – even if her later private thoughts are rather more pessimistic.
Toni Palmer, as Mrs Jones, offers a wonderfully vivid performance. Mrs Jones is a regular visitor to the hospital – thanks to a series of suicide attempts. She’s remarkably cheerful though, since none of the attempts have been serious (they’re simply designed to elicit some attention from her husband). Mr Jones has always rallied around in the past, but not this time. When she learns that he won’t be coming to visit, her collapse is dramatic. Like Hilary Wilson, Palmer was a very recognisable televison face, and is good value during all of her scenes (especially the last few).
If we can believe IMDB, then Staff was the first of only four Angels scripts penned by Anne Valery. That’s very surprising if so, since this episode is a very strong one. It may lack any major plotlines, but it’s rich in smaller character moments.