Many of the third year students are eagerly awaiting their exam results. But not Shirley. Is this because she’s afraid of failure or is there another, darker reason?
Although best known for creating and writing the majority of Sapphire and Steel (five out of the six serials), P.J. Hammond also contributed to a number of long-running series (Z Cars and The Bill being two of the most notable). A Hammond script is always a item of interest – whatever the series, his unique style always comes through loud and clear.
Interim is a good case in point. Since it revolves around Shirley, you might expect it to be a little chilly (which it certainly is), but the emotional coldness stretches further than her. It’s very disconcerting to see Ruth, up until now positioned as a cheerful and positive character, acting so abusively towards her.
After Ruth witnesses Shirley repremanding a first year student (played by Chris Range), she reacts with uncharacteristic fury. “It’s the same old problem, with background. You middle-class bitches, it’s ingrained”. This seems especially unfair since Ruth only walked in on the end of the conversation, whereas the audience were able to gain a fuller picture and no doubt most would have concluded that Shirley was in the right.
The first year (not even granted a name) continues to be a mocking presence throughout the episode, occassionly appearing (or heard laughing in the distance) in order to disconcert Shirley a little further.
The episode isn’t as heavy on dialogue as some. The opening few minutes – Shirley breakfasting at home with only an inane DJ on the radio for company – begins proceedings in a low-key way. These early scenes aren’t just filler though.
A hurried conversation on the phone with her father, an equally hurried conversation with her landlady (who gently attempts to find out a little more about the painfully shy girl) and then a trip into work with the voluble Mr Wilkins (Lane Meddick) are all character developing moments. The encounter with Mr Wilkins is the most entertaining. He clearly has his eye on her (witness his obvious disappointment when he realises that she’s working a late shift the next day and so won’t need a lift).
In some respects he’s the perfect companion for Shirley – since he speaks so much (chuntering on about parking and the inconsiderate nature of other drivers) this means she doesn’t feel under any pressure to add much to the conversation. When he later mentions that she’s especially quiet this morning, it’s a little baffling. It’s hard to imagine that Shirley’s usually more voluble (or indeed that Mr Wilkins ever shuts up!)
A late scene, where Shirley invites him into her flat, provides the episode with a rare moment of levity. Clearly Mr Wilkins believes that his luck is in, but she’d only wanted him to open her results letter and tell her the news. Once he’d done that (she’d passed) the very disappointed man is wished a good evening ….
Given Shirley’s swot-like nature, it seemed unlikely she would have failed, so even though the episode doesn’t reveal her result until the end that’s not the main point of tension. Instead, the audience is slowly invited to understand how – just for today – Shirley is questioning her vocation.
“I can’t take death. I associate it with loneliness, my own loneliness. I can’t seperate the two means of thought”. Many of Interim‘s scenes are two handers – such as this pivotal encounter between Shirley and Miss Windrup. A terminal patient, Mr Allen (Roy Spencer), has provided the trigger for this outpouring. It’s nicely played, like the rest of the episode, although it does feel like the sort of thing you’d only find in a Hammond script.
Mrs Allen (Mela White) shares a brief scene with Shirley later on (yet another good two hander). Having played a patient a few episodes back, it was a little surprising to see Keith Jayne again so soon (this time as the Allen’s son). Although he doesn’t have any dialogue, he still makes an impression. Mr Allen’s reluctance to see his son (he doesn’t want the boy to witness him in such a feeble state) means that the lad is forced to take up a watching brief in the corridor. One memorable camera move opens on him before pulling back to observe the bustle occurring elsewhere.
An unusual episode then, and one that stands out from the more routine instalments.
2 thoughts on “Angels – Interim (17th November 1975)”
This is one of your best pieces, offering a clear consideration of a fairly demanding (and cold) ontological exercise by P.J. Hammond.
Watching the first series again, I’m struck by the clear distance between the ten episodes written by the core team assembled by Script Editor Paula Milne (Pat Hooker, Deborah Mortimer, Anne Valery, Adele Rose and Jill Hyem) and the other five written by old hands Leslie Duxbury, P.J. Hammond, Alan Janes and Len Rush.
With the other five scripts the difference isn’t so much gendered (Len Rush’s story about postnatal depression doesn’t seem to strike any wrong notes and Hammond has a good deal of insight into Shirley), but that the four men were writing the sort of narratives that they’d already worked out how to do on Z Cars.
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Clive James, ‘O for a glimpse of my friends!’, Observer, 23 November 1975:
“Angels (BBC1) has fulfilled my predictions and established itself as the only stayer among the BBC series launched in the autumn. Even at its weakest it is interesting about nursing, and at its best it is very interesting about character. This week’s story concentrated on the fascinating Shirley, as played with deep vulnerability by Clare Clifford. Lonely from being plain, and plainer still from being lonely, Shirley is just about the most gripping personality on the small screen on the moment. P. J. Hammond gave her a paragraph’s holiday from inarticulacy which made you half-wish he hadn’t, she was so frightening. ‘I can’t take death, I associate it with my own loneliness. … I see a shape, someone beautiful or interesting, and I think: Don’t die.’ There is no reason why the show shouldn’t run forever.”
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