Angels – Celebration (22nd June 1976)

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Shirley amongst her psychiatric patients – who has the problems? (Radio Times Listing)

A P.J. Hammond script set in a psychiatric unit? This probably isn’t going to be average then ….

It’s worth remembering that Angels was a pre-watershed series (this one went out at 8.10 pm). There’s nothing graphically violent about the episode, but the elliptical conversations, allied to a feeling that something bad could happen at any moment, makes for an uncomfortable – if bracing – fifty minutes.

An initial group therapy scene with Shirley and a collection of disparate patients sets the tone.  Over the course of the episode they’re all allowed at least one moment which illuminates their character, but to begin with their interplay is so fractured that – as Hammond intended no doubt – the viewer is left slightly confused and breathless.

Familiar actors, such as Alan Lake and Joseph Brady, tend to catch the eye first.  Lake (as Tony) plays to type as an individual who can change from charming to threatening at the drop of a hat.  His antipathy towards Shirley (as someone who’s been institutionalised all his life, he believes that he’s better placed than her to pass judgement on his fellow patients) is a theme that’s teased out as the episode progresses.  Given Lake’s life and death, it’s very easy to wonder about which facets of Tony’s character were close to his own.

Joseph Brady (Jock) doesn’t have a great deal of dialogue but the sight of the perpetually rocking Jock, softly babbling away to himself, helps to deepen the already building sense of unease.  As does Arnold (Jack Chissick), who is plagued by murder thoughts and has now taken to jotting them down in a book whenever a new one arrives.  That he immediately reaches for his book after seeing Jo for the first time is an interesting little moment.

Angels was never averse to bleak stories, but most episodes with dark themes would also drop in another plot with a lighter tone.  There’s not a great deal of respite in Celebration, although the wrong-footing ending (we’re primed to expect a crisis which doesn’t occur) does at least enable the story to conclude with a sliver of hope.

There is humour in the episode, although it’s of a rather dark nature.  Jo and Pat, corralled into helping Shirley organise a party for one of the patients, stumble into the room to find everybody dressed in party hats but sitting completely immobile.  It’s both comic and tragic, a feeling which is heightened when the two girls – neither of whom were terribly keen to attend – are forced to make excruciating small talk.

Shirley seems quite at home in the unit and treats the patients in a logical and rigorous manner.  Given that they can often act in deeply illogical ways this seems to be a risky policy.  Her style is commented upon by two people – first an Auxiliary nurse (Anne Ridler) and then Dr Fraser (Willie Jonah).

Both discussions are illuminating, especially the one with Dr Fraser. “We can’t just ask people,where does it hurt? The kind of wounds we’re looking for, they don’t show up on x-rays”. He then goes on to say that 90 percent of the work has to be done by the patients themselves with the remainder (“you and me and ECT and pills and Christian names and pots of paint and pictures”) supplied by the hospital staff

It’s slightly strange to see Pat and Jo teamed up (rather than one of the more usual combinations of Pat and Maureen or Jo and Sandra).  Pat seems to be acting slightly out of character (not unusual for a Hammond script, which often retooled the thoughts and views of the regulars) as she’s much more negative about Shirley’s work with the “loonies” than you might have expected.

It’s not totally out of character for her though and whilst she’s not central today, Pat is still gifted some fascinating moments – for example, the fact she so vehemently draws attention to her own complete normalness. Does the lady protest too much?

The episode is dotted with many items of interest, like George (George Waring) and Dianne (Mitzi Rogers).  Both day patients, they seem a good deal more “normal” than the others, although George’s cheerful and uncomplaining façade is brutally picked apart by Dianne.  But maybe this will prove to be beneficial for him in the long run – knocked to pieces so he can be rebuilt.

David Maloney’s direction is as assured as ever. There’s no particularly fancy shots, but in scenes – such as group therapy – where there’s around ten people present (and all contributing) it’s vital to be able to cut quickly and at the right time, otherwise you’re liable to lose a vital reaction shot.

Celebration is typical P.J. Hammond and therefore unmissable.

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