Angels – Confrontation (1st December 1975)

An argument between Sister Young (Nadia Catouse) and head porter Harry Jamieson (Bill Owen) quickly escalates into a full-blown crisis after he instructs all the porters to down tools. Ruth, present during the original incident, then finds herself with severely divided loyalties ….

Having briefly appeared in On The Mat, Harry is much more central to this story. The episode opens in his office, which is a treasure trove of trinkets. A model cenotaph on his desk suggests that he had wartime experience (confirmed later on after he mentions Tobruk) whilst a record player is cued up with foreign language lessons. At first it appears that he’s doing a little extra cramming for his holidays, but it’s then explained that due to the variety of nationalities working at the hospital (many of whom can’t speak English) he has to keep abreast of a variety of languages.

He’s clearly popular with the younger nurses – Pat and Maureen pop in to have a brief chat and a sweet – but his relationship with the more senior staff, such as Sister Young, is trickier. Anne Valery’s script develops how the various departments – especially the nurses and porters – can find themselves locked into bitter disputes.

Sister Young is quick to blame the porters when anything goes wrong, whilst Harry can justifiably claim that if the correct procedures aren’t followed then the whole system collapses. His military background (as an NCO?) is put to good use as he efficiently marshals the bewildering number of forms required to keep the hospital running. Possibly old military habits (a disdain for some of his superiors) can be seen in the way he crosses swords with Sister Young. He’s certainly unafraid to speak his mind and stand his ground.

Ruth and Claire were at each other’s throats in P.J Hammond’s Initiation, but we’re back to a more normal relationship today – cordial, but with occasional irritated barbs (Ruth once again referring to her colleague as surly Shirley). The fact they’re both keen to nab the Staff Nurse job on Sister Young’s ward is obviously going to bring them into conflict – although initially this is done in a comic way (both attempting to butter the Sister up by offering her cups of tea or watering her flowers ….)

It’s only when Ruth finds herself having to choose between Sister Young and Harry that the situation turns rather more dramatic. If Ruth doesn’t side with her nursing superior then the path would presuambly be left open for Shirley.

But there seems to be no doubt who was in the right (Harry) with Sister Young admitting in private that her temper often gets the better of her (her blazing confrontation with Harry is an episode highlight). Given this, the fact she still expected Ruth to back her up seems a little unfair. To deepen the complexities, it’s suggested that Sister Young’s recent promotion request was blocked because she stood up for one of her colleagues (this example of her good nature is then used as a lever in order to persuade Ruth to stand with her superior).

Ruth’s strong union links have been stressed before, so despite Sister Young holding the key to her possible promotion, it was always likely she would plump for Harry’s side. But even though she does so in the end, Ruth then bitterly declares that she’s been manipulated for other people’s ends. Harry, like Sister Young, seems to be blameless in this – both are simply hot-headed individuals who weren’t prepared to back down – so maybe the union rep, Tom Goddard (Harry Landis), could be the villain.

But that’s not really the case. Goddard is keen to press for Sister Young to receive an official reprimand (even though this will impact her already shaky promotion prospects) but he sees this as safeguarding their position in future disputes. Goddard certainly isn’t the raging union militant we sometimes see in seventies dramas.

Pat and Maureen are now an integral part of the ward, having quickly settled down from their initial, hesitant steps. Pat’s still a little shaky in some areas, although she gets little sympathy from Sister Young (still smarting from her bruising reprimand).

For the first time, a patient – Mrs White (Rita Webb) – returns for a second episode. There’s a slight mystery here, since something seems to have happened to her husband. We’re never told what precisely, simply that he won’t be home to meet her when she’s discharged. Is he away on work, has he left her or has he died? A strange moment. It’s equally strange that Mrs White is put to work after the porters go on strike. Watching one of the patients scrub the floors (even though it clearly cheers her up) is an oddity.

Although Ruth’s choice is the key part of the episode, Bill Owen’s performance makes it memorable. Like a number of other performers during the first series, it’s a shame his time on Angels was so limited.

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