Secret Army – Little Old Lady (22nd November 1978)

Wing Commander Kelso (Andrew Robertson) is required back in Britain as soon as possible. But it won’t be easy to move him – as he sustained severe facial burns when his plane crashed. There are ways though, but will Kelso agree?

The second series of Secret Army has already suffered from some melodramatic music cues, but there’s several in today’s episode which take the biscuit (especially the one during the opening few minutes). Rather than helping to create tension, their over the top nature somewhat dissipates the mood.

Although Albert briefly escapes from the Candide to meet Kelso, he otherwise remains pretty much rooted to the spot. But Hepton does have some decent scenes today, which makes a nice change (he’s been somewhat underused so far during this second series). Albert’s love for the Candide is displayed after someone drops a bomb into the middle of the dining room (luckily it doesn’t go off). More than helping the airmen to escape, more than his relationship with Monique, you do get the sense that Albert’s first love is the Candide – mainly because of the money it makes him.

Albert’s close fraternisation with the likes of Kessler hasn’t gone unnoticed, hence the bomb. We never discover if it was a dummy or whether it had a faulty fuse. But in story terms that doesn’t really matter as it serves to shake everyone up – especially Madeline, who is feeling isolated during Kessler’s absence.  She latches onto Monique and the pair strike up a hesitant friendship – encouraged by Albert (who can see the benefits) and despised by Max (who has no love for collaborators).

One running theme throughout the episode is Madeline’s fur coat, which she gives to Monique. She decides to wear it when taking Kelso down the line and gifts it to him as a parting present (he later throws it away). Amazingly it’s found by a German soldier and Brandt mentions it to Kessler. Could this be a clue that leads Kessler a step closer to discovering that the Candide is the headquarters of Lifeline? Presumably not, but you never know ….

Andrew Robertson gives a solid performance as Kelso. Despite notching up over fifty flying missions, Kelso eschews the aura of a hero – maintaining that he’s simply been lucky. His abrasive nature means that initially he clashes with Monique, but in a not terribly surprising plot twist they part on much better terms.

Things get a little odd mid way through the episode when Kelso decides, for no good reason, to hop off the train he and Natalie are travelling on. Partly this seems to have been done so that Kelso (a locomotive expert) can pinch another train and go chugging down the track. Commandeering a steam engine is not exactly the thing do to if you’re trying to keep a low profile.

Later safely ensconced with Sophie and Madeline (two old ladies who we’ve met before), Kelso is then introduced to Louis-Victor Condé (David King). An experienced actor, he uses his knowledge to instruct Kelso how to masquerade as a woman (as a female he’ll be able to use heavy make up which will disguise his scars). The scene where Louis-Victor fashions a tablecloth into a baby and proceeds to demonstrate the art of the actor is another of those odd moments. It’s certainly an unusual scene for SA.

Francois pops up again. He continues to be Lifeline’s least interesting member as either he’s fretting that Natalie’s in danger or he’s embracing her heartily once she returns.  Max doesn’t have a great deal to do, but Stephen Yardley’s aura of simmering danger is put to good use – particularly when Albert is carted off by the Gestapo. Albert returns later – shaken, but unharmed – although Max continues to brood.

Angela Richards probably comes off best, script wise. Not only does she share a fascinating two-hander with Hazel McBride which helps to bulk up both their characters, but later there’s a handful of strong scenes between Monique and Kelso (who by now is thawing somewhat).

Little Old Lady lacks many moments of real tension, but David Crane’s script is a good character piece and, apart from a few minor plot niggles, works well.

Secret Army – The Big One (15th November 1978)

The RAF mount a massive raid over Berlin – the big one. But things go awry after bombs are dropped short, destroying a residential suburb on the outskirts of the city. Amongst the dead are Brandt’s wife and son ….

The Big One is an episode that could easily have centered totally around the Germans as Lifeline’s contribution is pretty negligible.  Opening with the bombing raid (stock footage mixed in with newly shot material and somewhat melodramatic music cues) we then cross to the Candide, where Brandt is dining with Oberst Neidlinger (Mark Jones).  Neidlinger is the latest oficer attempting to draw Brandt into the conspiracy to kill Hitler, but Brandt still refuses to commit himself.

The conflict between the aristocratic military (as represented by Neidlinger) and the thuggish Gestapo (as represented by Kessler) is given another airing today. Kessler, dining with Madeline, repeats his views on the subject (he’s still fuming about the way the Gestapo is treated with arrogant comtempt by the military elite). The cliché of the good German hovers in the background of this episode, but by the end the lines between Kessler and Brandt have been somewhat blurred.

Brandt travels to Berlin in order to arrange the transfer of his family to a safer location – ironically on the same day that the bombs hit. There’s some more stock footage patched in, along with a small rubble strewn set which is the only bit of desolated Berlin we see. Brandt’s collapse (after he learns of his loss) is nicely underplayed by Michael Culver.

The relationship between Kessler and Madeline inches forward (he gives her a chaste kiss).

I like the way we switch from Lifeline (listening to the BBC radio broadcast stating that 22 RAF aircraft failed to return) to Kessler and Madeline (German wireless reported 45 aircraft shot down). Both Max and Albert have a suspicion that the German figures are more likely to be correct.

Lifeline pick up one airman, Flight Sgt. Bert Lewis (Daniel Hill), but they don’t hold onto him for very long. Frankly it’s not surprising as their interrogation of him is brutal and hectoring. Plot-wise the reason for this is obvious – Lewis, believing they were German spies, later makes a run for it – but given the experience Lifeline have, it’s hard to believe that Monique and Alain would be quite so clumsy.

And this is Lifeline’s major contribution to the story. Whilst a little tension is generated (will Lewis betray any of Lifeline’s secrets?) this falls flat as Lewis doesn’t really know anything about them. So this part of the plot would have played out just the same had Lewis spent a couple of days wandering around the countryside before getting picked up by a German patrol.

Brandt returns to Brussels and is treated to a meal by Kessler. This is a fascinating scene, not least for the way that Brandt behaves (in a very jolly and hyperactive manner). Seemingly shrugging off the death of his wife and son as matters of no consequence, he then playfully begins to mock Kessler’s liaison with Madeline. The reason for doing so is obvious – it’s Brandt’s way of telling Kessler that whilst others may gossip about his totally innocent relationship, he doesn’t (and hopes in turn that Kessler doesn’t read anything into the meetings he’s had with known anti-Hitler officers).

Given that Brandt earlier confessed to being somewhat wary of Kessler, it’s strange that he decided to be quite so blunt. But maybe it’s a sign that he’s not thinking clearly.

Matters come to a head for him during his interrogation (or debriefing, as he calls it) of Lewis. It begins amicably enough, in his trademark friendly style (something which Kessler has long derided). But a still grieving Brandt eventually loses control and takes out his frustration on Lewis. The few minutes leading up to his sudden outburst of violence are mesmerising – it’s framed as a tight two-shot of Brandt and Lewis, which slowly closes in on Brandt as his anger increases.

The Big One is Michael Culver’s episode and he doesn’t disappoint.

Secret Army – Weekend (8th November 1978)

Kessler is taken hostage by two desperate American airmen whilst Lifeline are keen to get their hands on three priceless paintings by Rubens ….

Even those with only a rough working knowledge of ‘Allo! ‘Allo! will be able to spot that this episode was used as the inspiration for the long-running saga of the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies (by Van Klomp).  And whilst the later parody by ‘Allo! ‘Allo! means that the paintings subplot raises a titter (as it were), events later in this episode take a rather grim turn.

I’ve previously raised an eyebrow at some of the series’ plotting and I’ll do so again here. Kessler knows that three paintings by Rubens are stored in a convent somewhere in the country, but he doesn’t know their location. Then up pops Oberleutnant Horst (Christian Roberts) who helpfully tells him exactly where they are. Well, that’s lucky.

Not only that, Lifeline are preparing to take possession of the paintings with the full consent of the Mother Superior (Sylvia Barter) and plan to leave expert forgeries in their place. What were the odds that Kessler and Lifeline would suddenly both decide to take a great interest in art?

For Albert the paintings mean security – at least for a little while. With no money currently coming in from London, once the paintings are sold they will allow the escape route to carry on (although not indefinitely). The shifting objectives of the war are touched upon here, with Albert unhappy at the way London are attempting to take more control (insisting that Communist spies are weeded out from the line). Although given that Albert’s first love has always been money (others in Lifeline may be patriots, Albert is much more mercenary) I’m not quite sure why he doesn’t just go with the flow.

It’s interesting to ponder what Kessler’s motives are. He tells the Mother Superior that the paintings are being taken into protective custody, bemoaning the fact that other art treasures have been looted. Is he telling or truth or does he plan to squirrel them away for his own use?

Christian Roberts gives a nice performance as the hapless Horst. Keen to impress Kessler at every turn, he nevertheless ends up a fellow prisoner after the pair are captured by Peter Harris (Paul Wagar) and Charles McGee (Vincent Marzello). The series has presented us with unpleasant airmen before, but McGee is in a class of his own.

Whilst Harris is mild-mannered and conciliatory, McGee is arrogant and reckless. Both are lucky to stumble across a friend of Lifeline who takes them in for the night – but McGee isn’t prepared to wait around to be collected the following day. Instead he ambushes a car (containing Horst and Kessler) and puts his masterplan into operation. Actually I don’t really think he’s got a plan, so it’s rather fortunate that he happens to stumble across the barge owned by Hans Van Broecken (this seems a tad contrived).

Kessler, now a prisoner on the barge, seems to be deriving a certain pleasure from the situation, confiding to Horst that he rarely has had the chance to study evaders at such close quarters. Clifford Rose, yet again, is on top form – contrast Kessler’s early (and quite informal) conversations with Horst to his later business-like persona.

Another plot oddity concerns the three Rubens. They’re in the boot of Kessler’s abandoned car which is located quite easily by Monique and Max (they swop the originals for the forgeries). How did they know where the car was, especially since it was moved off the main road and hidden?

The episode really springs into life towards the end.  When McGee and Harris finally end up with Lifeline, McGee’s sexist banter doesn’t go down well with either Natalie or Monique. Angela Richards has a mesmerising moment as Monique spells out the facts of life to McGee at gunpoint.

And for those thinking that everything has gone just a little too smoothly, there’s a late sting in the tail – Hans and his wife Lena are taken away by Kessler for questioning. Kessler is at his most chilling when he tells them that they have nothing to worry about – provided they have nothing to hide.

Lena – unable to face the prospect of interrogation – commits suicide by stepping out into the path of an oncoming car. The bitter irony is that Kessler’s questioning was (or so he says) purely routine. Hans tells him that he doesn’t realise the fear he instills in people. Kessler replies that he does ….

It’s a slight surprise that we don’t see Natalie’s reaction to the news that her aunt has died.

Weekend was written and directed by Paul Annett. It’s an unusual double for this era of British television (Annett was much more prolific as a director, his only other television writing credits being a couple of episodes of Agatha Christie’s Partners In Crime).  Apart from a few plot niggles, it’s a decent episode. Not the best the series has to offer, but still very watchable.

Secret Army – Scorpion (1st November 1978)

Major Brandt’s wife, Erika (Brigitte Kahn), is in Brussels for a brief visit. Their interactions later provide the spur which kicks the plot into gear, but before that there’s plenty of nice character development on offer.

Brandt is clearly delighted to see her (something she reciprocates, although in a rather cooler way). This is partially explained by the fact that, as a General’s daughter, she suffers from something of a superiority complex – for example, she has no wish to meet Kessler. A member of the SS is plainly a much lower form of life.

Plot-threads which pay off later in the year are established here. Erika now finds living in Berlin, which is suffering heavy bombing raids on a regular basis, intolerable. Fearful for her own life (and that of their children) she begs Brandt to move them to Brussels. This he declines to do, although he concedes that they should leave the city.

There’s an intriguing moment when she finds a photograph of an attractive young woman in his wardrobe. His mistress? Since we know that he’s a workaholic it would seem not and his protestations of innocence do appear to be sincere. And yet ….

You have to say that his explanation for its presence (the cleaning woman could have left it there) is a bit feeble.

Brandt has already tried and failed several times to infiltrate the escape line with one of his officers. Indeed, during series one it seemed like he was doing it every other week.

He hasn’t attempted it for a while, so I suppose it was bound to happen again. The way that the audience (and Lifeline) learn about it today is a touch contrived though. Brandt and Erika are having an argument in bed and he tells her the whole story (an infiltrator – accepted as genuine by London – will shortly be going down the line). But at that precise moment his cleaning lady happens to overhear the whole thing.

That’s hard to swallow moment number one. Hard to swallow moment number two is the fact she knows that Albert is the person who needs to be told about this straight away. Slightly clumsy plotting then.

Hans Van Broecken (Gunner Moller), Natalie’s uncle (and no friend of Albert), returns. As a German himself, he’s the ideal man to try and identify the spy, but given his loathing for Albert, will he agree? Yes of course, otherwise the plot would have floundered somewhat.

If he’s unsuccessful then there will be some difficult decisions to be made. With nineteen British airman in Brussels, one way out would be to shoot them all. It seems cold-blooded, but it might be necessary in order to protect the line.

Some familiar faces can be found amongst the motley collection of airmen. James Wynn (later to play Sooty Sutcliffe in Grange Hill) is one whilst Harry Fielder (someone with a list of credits longer than several arms) is another. The spy isn’t either of these though – but he’s eventually dealt with by Max, with a horrified Hans looking on.

Hans’ disgust that Max resorts to murder is a little difficult to credit. Did he think they’d just let him walk away? He might not have discovered too much about the escape route, but he still would have been able to identify a number of people (Max and Hans, for two).

As touched upon eadlier, the plotting of the episode feels a little suspect in places. We’re told several times that various airmen have been cleared of suspicion, but it’s not explained how this is done. Considering that the infiltrator appears to be, until the very last minute, a perfectly normal British officer it’s hard to work this out.

Kessler only features briefly, but his scene – a meal with Madeleine (Hazel McBride) – is still a fascinating one. There’s some light shone onto Kessler the private man (he admits to being lonely at times, which is why he’s sought the company of Madeline – he’s decided she’s a kindred spirit). And he almost (but not quite) declares that Brandt is his friend, explaining to Madeline that normally he’d be irritated by the superior attitude of Erika, but given his respect for Brandt he’s content not to make a scene.

Angels

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I’ve just dug out series one of Angels for another watch. Whilst it’s a shame that only the first two series made it to DVD, that shouldn’t dissuade you from picking them up as these early episodes are first rate.

Along with the colour Dixon of Dock Greens, Angels is probably the series I’ve found myself reassessing the most.  Based on hazy memories of the later, twice-weekly soap format, I’d long held the opinion that it was a rather cosy, pedestrian show. Maybe it did later lose its spark, but to begin with Angels is rich in interest in all areas – acting, writing and directing.

That a core group of female writers were assembled (and each assigned one of the main characters to write for) is noteworthy. Others also made valuable contributions, such as P.J, Hammond (who provides a typically disorientating offering later in the first series). I’d previously written about the first two series episode by episode here.

Given that Simply now seem to be out of the DVD game, it might be that their various BBC licensed titles will slowly begin to drift out of print. If so, you may want to pick up their Angels releases (and indeed anything else of interest) sooner rather than later.

The 1970’s Angels fan was well served with merchandise. There were the obligatory tie-in novels as well as annuals and (most eye-opening of all) a range of dolls. That most of the merchandising was aimed at the child market – even though the series wasn’t always child-friendly – is slightly odd, but it was common at the time (various post watershed programmmes like The Professionals and The Sweeney did something similar).

Terrance Dicks (1935 – 2019)

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Growing up, Terrance Dicks’ Doctor Who novelisations were my staple reading diet. The Target range had other writers of course, but some of their books (like the two by David Whitaker) seemed a bit intimidating (especially the dense Crusaders).

Terrance may sometimes have been criticised for being a plain, straight-ahead sort of writer, but it’s undeniable that his books were perfectly pitched for his young readership. When I was slightly older I had the confidence to tackle The Crusaders, but had Terrance not been there first then maybe I wouldn’t have made the leap.

It’s a common refrain to hear people say that Terrance Dicks taught them to read, but it’s also true in so many cases ….

His contribution to Doctor Who in general was immense.  He wrote and co-wrote some excellent stories, but his work as possibly the series’ most efficient script editor really stands out. Having witnessed the script chaos which bedevilled the series during the late Troughton era, Dicks (with Barry Letts as a strong and supportive producer) brought stability back to the production office.

Dicks’ formula was simple – find a small group of writers you could depend on (Robert Holmes, Brian Hayles, Terry Nation, Malcolm Hulke, Robert Sloman, Bob Baker & Dave Martin) and then keep on recommissioning them. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Outside of Doctor Who, his work as first script editor and then later producer on the Classic Serials is worthy of further investigation. Like Doctor Who they had to get by on fairly small budgets and this might be one of the reasons why eventually they fell out of favour. By the mid eighties, glossy all-film productions of classic novels were the way forward and the humbler Classic Serial began to look second best by comparison. But many have stood the test of time well and still entertain today (such as the 1984 Invisible Man).

I’m also prepared to fight the corner of Moonbase 3, a series which I have a great deal of love for. It’s far from perfect (indeed Letts and Dicks’ series opener is especially stodgy) but it’s something I find myself drawn back to again and again. Although I’m not quite sure why ….

This evening I’ll be spinning Horror of Fang Rock in tribute. Not only is it a great story, it’s also a perfect example of Dicks’ no-nonsense style. Forced at the eleventh hour to cobble together a new story (after his previous submission was vetoed) Dicks didn’t panic – he simply rolled up his sleeves and got on with it.

Fang Rock is archetypical Doctor Who – take a group of bickering characters, trap them in an enclosed space with no hope of escape and then kill them off one by one.  It’s hard to go wrong with such a formula and Dicks didn’t disappoint.

He was inadvertently helped by Tom Baker who was in an even more stroppier mood than usual – but his disdain for the script, his co-star, Pebble Mill studios, director Paddy Russell and just about everybody and everything else actually seemed to work in Fang Rock‘s favour. Tom’s Doctor was never more alien and foreboding than he was in this story – and even if this was something to do with the fact that Tom was missing his regular Soho drinking haunts, no matter.

The Fang Rock DVD also boasts a lovely Terrance Dicks documentary and a lively commentary track where Dicks, Louise Jameson and John Abbott swop stories (often about Tom of course).

Judging by the way Terrance is trending on Twitter at the moment I’m sure I won’t be alone in paying tribute tonight. RIP sir and thank you.

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Angels – Walkabout (29th June 1976)

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Paula Milne’s Walkabout wastes no time in repositioning Maureen as both judgemental and close-minded.  In the first scene, which sees Pat tossing a few pennies towards a street busker (as she does every day), the division between Maureen and her closest friend is marked.  Despite previously being depicted as an open and embracing person, Maureen has now morphed into a much harsher character (for example, telling Pat that people living on the streets have made their own choice).

The new Maureen is discussed by Pat and Jo in a later scene. Pat is of the opinion that her friend has now become the perfect nurse (which isn’t a compliment – Pat contending that her responses to the patients are now mechanical rather than honest).

The reason for this set-up becomes obvious when we observe Maureen spending the majority of the episode shadowing community health nurse June Morris (Miriam Margolyes).  June is everything that Maureen isn’t – a freewheeling, impulsive person who thrives outside of the regimented hospital set-up (describing it as an isolating cocoon).

In the wide world there’s no doctor or senior nurse to turn to, meaning that the community nurse has to operate autonomously – June revels in this, but looks as if it’ll come harder to Maureen. June then explains that the patient/nurse dynamic is totally different when making a home visit – in hospital the patients are rather dependent whilst at home they’re in their own environment and therefore more confident.

Maureen, continuing to be written in a somewhat negative light, wonders why they simply aren’t all shipped off into care homes. This is a somewhat unfeeling attitude and is the type of comment that later causes Pat, in a moment of anger, to label her a bigot.

The first notable patient on June’s round is Mrs Faulkener (Natalie Kent).  Her health may be failing but she’s still gloriously combative.  As June gives her a bath, Mrs Faulkener reflects on old age and the poor quality of presents she receives. “That’s what happens when you’re older, people think all you want is lavender, talcum powder and manicure sets”.

Mind you, she has had an impressive present recently – a plant which is currently taking pride of place in the bathroom. A gift from her son, who otherwise apparently rarely seems to visit, Mrs Faulkener has elected to coat the leaves in nail varnish. When an appalled Maureen tells her that this will cause the plant to die, the old lady counters with the observation that at least it’ll look nice for a while. This is impeccable logic.

The lion’s share of the episode revolves around today’s major guest star, Maurice Denham (as Jack Knight). A former academic and a current alcoholic, Jack is gifted several well-written monologues by Milne as well as numerous other sharp lines. Here, he’s reflecting on the difference between his imaginary picture of nurses and what he actually discovered when he spent some time at St Angela’s.

On the one hand, the Florence Nightingale variety – a silent gowned figure gliding in and out of a dimly-lit ward, bearing a lamp to symbolise the virtue of her calling. And then there’s the other sort – the type depicted in low-budget comedy films with skirts up their backsides and a knowledge of the male anatomy gained through practical research, rather in the classroom.

But what did I find in reality? Heavy-legged girls, white with ferocious vocation, or off-hand creatures with one eye on the clock and the other on their unfortunate patient’s grapes.

Maureen, left alone with him for a while, crosses verbal swords with the combative Jack. No doubt by the end of their time together, as she witnesses Jack in all his many guises (from articulate to broken), she’s learnt something of value.  Denham is as good as you’d expect whilst Erin Geraghty more than holds her own.  The sight of a subdued Maureen, returning to the hospital to join the others in wishing a safe passage to Sita (who’s heading off to India), shows us that some of her dogmatic views have taken a knock.

This is the point of the story of course and whilst it could have come across as a little contrived, the fact that Denham was given so much material (and delivered it so well) proves to be a major plus.  And it was pleasing to close series two with a story centered around Maureen, a character who tended to be sidelined during most of this run.

Building on the groundwork of the first series, Angels continued to impress during this second series. That it’s not better appreciated is a shame, as the fusion of actors, writers and directors certainly produced something rather special. Maybe one day Simply will relent and release series three on DVD ….

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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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Angels – Coming To Terms (15th June 1976)

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Having shared equal screentime in the previous episode, it’s a slight shame that Pat and Maureen have now reverted to type – Pat driving the main storyline with Maureen relegated to the role of observer and confidant.

Coming To Terms wastes no time in establishing the fact that Pat has bonded with a patient called Mrs Shepherd (Kathleen Byron).  For example, the way that Pat refers to her as “Shep”.  Their early scenes have a vague sense of foreboding – despite Pat’s bright and bubbly attitude, the seeds are already being sown about Mrs Shepherd’s terminal condition.

Mrs Shepherd is concerned how her son (referred to, but never seen) will react when he discovers that his mother and father never married. Pat’s decision to try and arrange a civil ceremony in the hospital then becomes the focal point of the episode.  There are various logistical hurdles to overcome as well as the thorny question of gaining the consent of Mr Shepherd (John Dearth).

Dearth only appears in a couple of scenes, but his imposing presence – both physically and vocally – creates an instant impression.  In his later career Dearth was cast on several occasions by Michael E. Briant (who directed this episode).

Rumours about Dearth’s issues with alcohol have made the rounds for decades and it’s hard not to think of that when watching his turn here. He does slur his words a little, but that sort of fits with Mr Shepherd’s character – who, after all, has just received the devastating news that his common-law wife is dying.

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Kathleen Byron also doesn’t have that many lines, but she makes the most of every moment.  A heavyweight actress (first in films, most notably Black Narcissus, and then later in a slew of television programmes) she gives Mrs Shepherd a sense of dignity and weary resignation. Although there are also moments of black despair and hopelessness.

By speaking to a social worker,  Pat kickstarts a chain of events which leads to an angry Mr Shepherd venting his frustration at the medical team.  This is a theme familiar from several previous episodes, just how involved should the nurses become with the patients? Other times it’s been more cloudy, but here there’s a definite feeling that Pat meddled for the good of all.

So this part of the story has a happy ending of sorts, with Mr Shepherd reconciled and happy to take part in the ceremony.  The wedding manages to close the episode on a positive note despite Mrs Shepherd’s terminal condition (which is an interesting trick).

Elsewhere, the other main plotline of Coming To Terms feels like it’s recycling a large chunk of the series one episode Case History. Both featured two male patients – one unfriendly (both to his fellow patients and the nurses) and the other voluble and somewhat irritating.

Today, the studious Keith Aldiss (Edward Wilson) is driven to distraction by a cheery and down-to-earth Northerner called Mr Kilshaw (Paul Luty).  Both were familiar faces (Wilson primarily from Rockcliffe’s Babies and Luty from All Creatures Great and Small and a host of other guest roles).  Mr Kilshaw’s good natured banter (telling Aldiss with grim enjoyment that he’s probably going to be sliced up!) helps to lighten the tone of an otherwise fairly sombre instalment.

The way they interact with Jo and Sita is the other reason why they’re present.  Both nurses clash with Aldiss, but whilst Jo is able to shrug it off, Sita reacts with anger.  As Sita’s been rather neglected recently, this episode goes some way to redressing the balance. She’s fretting about her upcoming exams and so hasn’t been eating or sleeping properly, which is beginning to impact her work on the wards.

It might have been nice to sow the seeds of this across a few episodes, as it all feels a little sudden (although it’s possible this might explain why she was so snippy at the start of series two).  Jo being temporarily put in charge of the ward causes a little friction between them, compounded after Sita makes an elementary blunder when treating Mr Kilshaw.

This is all good dramatic stuff for both Sita and Jo, although with Mrs Shepherd’s story dominating it feels a little rushed.

Apart from a brief film insert, Coming To Terms is studio-bound.  But Michael E. Briant keeps the interest up with a series of unusual shots.  He clearly liked shooting from behind the beds – this creates a bar-like, prison feel.

Easily the most notable sequence occurs when a stressed Pat staggers over to the rest room, only to find no succour there.  Thanks to an ever-increasing series of quick cuts (from one chattering nurse to another, over to the blaring television and then back to Pat) a nightmarish vision is deftly created.

Another very solid episode, Coming To Terms maintains the high standard of the second series.

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Angels – Home Sweet Home (8th June 1976)

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Holiday time for Maureen and Patricia. A whole week to see family, friends, boyfriends again. A week of discovery … (Radio Times Listing)

Having previously written the first series episode Off Duty, also a non-hospital story, Pat Hooker was clearly the ideal fit for this one.  Taking into account all we’ve learnt this year about Pat’s unhappy life with her parents, Home Sweet Home is an obviously ironic statement.

it also proves to be so for Maureen, although her week isn’t quite so bad. Maureen’s homecoming is however an excellent vehicle for Erin Geraghty, whose character this year has somewhat been shunted down the pecking order (Shirley, Pat and Sandra have been the three with the most interesting storylines so far).

Maureen’s arrival at the family farmhouse, set in the middle of the bucolic Irish countryside, has a faint air of tension due to the fact that there’s nobody home to meet her.  This feeling of unease is developed when Maureen’s youngest brother, Shaun (Gabriel Kelly), does make an appearance but shies away from her welcoming greeting.  That he doesn’t seem to recognise her is a signifier that she’s been away for a while and also that integrating back into the previously tight family unit might not be entirely straightforward.

Kate (Pauline Quirke) is equally unwelcoming, although it transpires that there’s several different reasons for this. Today’s episode is a rare opportunity for Erin Geraghty to use her comic skills – for example, I love Maureen’s delighted first sighting of her younger sister (“Kate!”) which quickly develops into a critical quizzing. “What in god’s name have you done to your hair?”. It may not sound much written down, but it’s a nicely played comedy moment.

Later, when all the family are gathered around the table, there’s another illustration of Maureen’s growing estrangement from her family after she discusses the latest television programmes (Maureen’s mother mistakenly believing that Michael Crawford is a friend of hers, rather than a top television star).  This scene also confirms that just about everybody in the seventies could be called upon to do a Frank Spencer impression, although Maureen’s has to be one of the worst.

The main dramatic meat of Maureen’s storyline begins when Michael Doyle (Aiden Murphy) pops his head round the farmhouse door.  A smooth-talking Irish caricature, they quickly pick up where they left off (presumably they’d been “walking out” before Maureen left for London).  Although it’s not confirmed until the end, the audience no doubt would have quickly twigged that Michael had turned his attentions towards Kate during Maureen’s absence (which explains some of Kate’s distant feelings towards her sister).

Aiden Murphy doesn’t quite convince – in an episode that feels very theatrical anyway, he’s easily the stagiest performer. But at least he’s considerably better here than he was as Hippias in the Doctor Who story The Time Monster.

Although Maureen has sometimes been portrayed as a little naïve, it’s pleasing to see that today she doesn’t fall for Michael’s spiel (I like the way she recoils when his hands begin to explore previously unchartered territory).  “Well you haven’t been learning technique like that at agricultural college” is another glorious line from Hooker.

Interspersed with Maureen’s travails, Pat is having an equally dramatic time of it with her family.  To begin with, the viewer is called upon to parse the meaning behind the outwardly polite, but obviously brittle, three way dialogue between Pat and her mother, Rose (Georgine Anderson), and father, Lawrence (Geoffrey Palmer).

Big reveals are slowly bubbling to the surface, but they drip out a bit at a time (frustrating for Pat, but dramatically satisfying for the viewer).  First we learn that Pat’s mother is leaving her father, although the reason is initially unclear. Both deny that there’s anybody else involved (although we later learn that Lawrence was previously seeing someone).

Rose doesn’t seem to be a well woman. At times somewhat disconnected from reality (telling Pat the same thing several times) as a student nurse possibly Pat should have picked up on these danger signals.  The fact that later, at a stifling party, she labels her mother as “crazy” is a tad unfortunate in retrospect ….

Rose’s dream (of going to London and completing her training to join the legal profession) is later offhandedly dismissed as a fantasy by Lawrence.  This is after Rose has taken an overdose at the party (following Pat’s “crazy” comment).  Incidentally, the off-screen overdose is played in such an understated way that for a moment it wasn’t clear to me whether Rose had left the house in a fit of pique or had overdosed.

It’s interesting how Rose’s delicate mental state (this isn’t the first time she’s attempted suicide, although Lawrence believes the others weren’t serious) doesn’t really seem to engender any more sympathy towards her.  Pat is still very much a daddy’s girl, although he’s hardly that admirable a character. The way he dangles a foreign holiday in front of her (with the promise that he’ll then find her a job more suitable than nursing) is an example of the controlling nature which lurks beneath his affable surface.

There’s plenty to chew on throughout Home, Sweet, Home. For example, Pat’s distant conversation with an old friend, which shows how little they now have in common.  It seems to be that both Pat and Maureen have changed and developed considerably since leaving home – and only because they have left their old lives behind.

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Angels – Accident (1st June 1976)

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An accident in a chemical factory … Nurses Sandra Ling, Jo Longhurst and Shirley Brent all have a part to play in what follows (Radio Times Listing).

A fair chunk of Accident, the first fifteen minutes especially, takes place outside of the environs of St Angela’s.  To begin with we’re back on the beat with Sandra (who’s continuing her occupational therapy placement).  Last time I commented about how everybody seemed just a little too nice to her, but today things are a tad more realistic – on the way into work she’s confronted by the leering Geoff Fenton (Graham Fenton) who declares that he needs a touch of massage.  Sandra’s fiery expression leaves us in no doubt about what she thinks of him ….

Fenton’s the rather lackadaisical safety manager at a local chemical factory which will prove to be central to today’s story.  Indeed, the fact that we’ve already been told that things are a bit slack there might explain why Bob Hubbard (Barry Lowe) was left to tend the machines all by himself.

So whilst Bob is getting squirted with a dangerous chemical called phenol, his number two – Charlie Masters (Andy Bradford) – and seemingly eveybody else are getting the once over from Sandra. It does slightly beggar belief that Bob’s left to suffer all by himself. Surely it would have been a good idea for someone else to be in the factory with him?

Despite the episode title, this was no accident – it was deliberate sabotage.  The sight of a twitchy David Troughton (playing John Overton) tinkering with the machines earlier on had already set us up to expect something bad to happen, but another plot niggle is the later reveal that Overton was deliberately targeting Bob. How could he have known that Bob would be tending that particular machine at the precise moment it blew?

Jo is currently working in the intensive care unit which puts her in a more subservient role than usual. On the wards she and the other nurses tend to pretty much rule the roost, but here she’s very much down the pecking order. First comes Dr Miles (Terence Conoley), then Sister Ashton (Marcia King) and then finally Jo.  Dr Miles tends to give Sister Ashton the rough edge of his tongue and Sister Ashton is equally snippy with Jo. Poor Jo, on the lowest rung of the ladder, has no one beneath her she can be horrid to ….

The relationship between Jo and Sister Ashton (presumably playing the same character as the unnamed intensive care Sister from Vocation) isn’t explored in any great depth.  We know that Jo loathes her (she calls her a “bitch” out of earsbot) although Vocation did suggest that Sister Ashton’s dispassionate nature was simply a coping device. When dealing with a never-ending stream of seriously ill patients, this seems reasonable.

The anxious Mrs Hubbard (Patricia Lawrence), waiting for news of her husband, is a type familiar to regular Angels watchers, although Lawrence still manages to tease some interesting nuances from what could otherwise be a fairly stock character.

The fact that Bob was having an affair with John Overton’s mother (played by Barbara Young) is something of a twist. It helps to explain why Overton, already presented as a disturbed type even before we learn that he’s attending the psychiatric clinic, decided to attack Bob. Young’s performance is somewhat broad – indeed, during the scene where Mrs Overton confronts her son it teeters over the edge somewhat.

Another slightly odd turn comes from Andy Bradford as Charlie.  He seems so hyperactive and annoying that you’d assume he would be the last person (apart from the homicidal Overton) who should be let loose on dangerous machinery. Although to be fair, he’s much more subdued after Bob’s had his accident.

Troughton is much more restrained than either Young or Bradford.  Overton is easily able to function normally on a surface level (Sandra doesn’t pick up that anything is wrong when she gives him a routine check-up) and he only starts to devolve later on when the (unseen) police begin to close in on him. Overton’s child-like nature (reinforced by the fact that comics are his favourite reading matter) is played well by Troughton, who’s as good as you’d expect.

Shirley has decided that she’s interested in combining geriatrics and psychiatry, which helps to explain why she’s currently working with Dr Berry in the psychiatric unit.  This feels slightly contrived, but it does allow the impressively bearded Dr Berry (Roy Holder) to question Shirley’s reasons for being there.  It’s previously been suggested that working in geriatrics was something of a retreat for her and psychiatrics might be even more so (especially if she’s using it to work out her own unresolved issues).

This is an intriguing possibility, although given that the story is quite busy there’s not a great deal of time to develop it.  Indeed, this is one reason why Accident doesn’t quite gel for me – there’s plenty of story potential in the various issues raised, but the script would probably have benefited from having a narrower focus.  It’s still perfectly watchable, but does feel somewhat bitty.

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Angels – Facing Up (25th May 1976)

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Three very different stories relating to pregnancy unfold during the fifty minutes of Facing Up. The first features Ann Clark (Patricia Hassell) who is initially regarded with a jaundiced eye by Pat.  Maybe it was early in the morning, but Pat’s bedside manner seems decidedly rough and ready. When the slightly drippy Ann confesses that she doesn’t have a towel, Pat (through gritted teeth) tells her that she can probably find one.

Later, when a concerned Maureen discusses Ann’s case with Pat, Ms Rutherford doesn’t seem too bothered about the news that Ann could lose her baby – surely it’s easy enough to get another one ….

Mind you, all of the doctors and nurses are a little offhand with Ann.  Mainly they spend their time telling her not to worry, which only tends to make her worry even more.  Marc Zuber, as a breezily unconcerned doctor, for example.

At first, it’s hard to see the relevance of a later scene – Pat enjoying a slap up meal with her Uncle James (Frederick Jaeger) – but things quickly begin to make sense as pregnancy story number two is developed.  Pat is shocked to discover that both her parents never really wanted children (although Uncle James is quick to back-peddle a bit as he tells her that her father loves her now). Derek Martinus, as he’s done before, favours ever-tighter close ups of both Jaeger and Fullerton as the drama unfolds.

This scene impacts the reminder of the episode as Pat, ruminating bitterly over the fact that she was an unwanted child, then has to go back to the hospital and care for Ann, who wants a baby more than anything else in the world.  Her husband, Tom (Conrad Asquith), might be as equally drippy as she is, but there’s no doubting the love he has for her (or the fact that he’s equally as committed to their baby).

When Ann breaks down in tears, it’s an interesting touch that Pat freezes for a second before swiftly crossing over to comfort her.  From this point Pat’s earlier tension is erased and the pair bond.  Although there’s been some doubt throughout the episode about whether the baby will survive, there’s also been a feelgood vibe about this part of the story – so it’s not too surprising that everything goes well and Mr and Mrs Clark take charge of a healthy – albeit small – boy.

The scenes of Ann giving birth are, as you’d expect for a pre-watershed series, not very explicit but are still effective (Ann’s blurry POV reaction is especially well done). Derek Martinus really only blots his copybook when we quickly switch to stock film several times in order to show the child. Having a freshly born baby in the studio would have been very tricky of course, but this moment doesn’t convince at all.

Pregnancy story number three concerns Sandra, who’s out and about and developing her occupational heath skills.  Attached to a trading estate covering several factories, this gives her plenty of opportunity to interact with a wide range of people.  Everything seems a little too jolly and tidy to begin with though – as a female in a predominately male factory environment you’d have expected her to be on the receiving end of some hefty dollops of sexism.  But no, everyone’s as nice as pie ….

Although one worker (the distinctive Declan Mulholland) initially bristles at the way Sandra chides him about the strain he’s putting on his back, he quickly realises that she’s talking sense and begins to lift the boxes just like she suggests. Another worker (Ken Kitson) is quick to pop by with an offer of a cup of tea whilst Denis Swainson (John Bardon) seems equally as affable.

But there’s a sting in Swainson’s tale which is connected to his daughter, Barbara (Vanessa Paine).  Barbara is sixteen years old and devastated to be told by Sandra that she’s pregnant.

Vulnerable and worried, Barbara is insistent that her father can’t be told. But when Sandra unwisely drops some broad hints to Mr Swainson, it results in a black eye for Barbara (who is also kicked out of the family home).  I find it interesting that this storyline veers off in a rather unexpected way.  We seem to have been set up for another happy ending – Barbara and her father coming together thanks to Sandra’s intervention – but this is brutally snatched away in an instant.

The episode also deliberately doesn’t follow this story to its natural conclusion. Mr Swainson hits Barbara off-screen (and doesn’t appear again after the scene he shares with Sandra).  It’s made painfully clear to Sandra that she had no cause to meddle in the case and that her rash action has only made a bad situation much worse.

Angels always favoured storytelling from the nurses point of view. It would switch viewpoints as and when required, but since Sandra is prevented from speaking to Mr Swainson again it makes sense for the viewers to also be denied the opportunity to see him.

The three separate storylines – Ann, Pat and Barbara – are all decent enough when taken in isolation, but the way they meld into each other is the episode’s main strength.

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Angels – Concert (18th May 1976)

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The second of Susan Pleat’s two scripts set in and around the geriatric ward, Concert, like Day Hospital before it, is an OB VT production shot on location.  As previously touched upon, this helps to make the story seem just that bit more real.  Sylvia Coleridge and Irene Handl return (the ranks of familiar senior actors is supplemented with the appearance of Leslie Dwyer) but it’s some of the background elderly players who, along with the location, are key to the documentary-like feel of the production.

They clearly are infirm and so don’t have to act the part.  We see Shirley attend to them via a series of brief vignettes – fulsomely praising one lady after she walks a handful of steps to the table, gently cajoling another into taking a bite of food – and these moments spark mixed emotions.  Shirley’s ever-growing connection to all her regulars is plain which makes her quick to react with anger when quizzed about the futility of looking after people who are clearly never going to get better.

This theme is developed when Jo, curious about the regular musical concerts organised in the hospital, decides to drop by and lend a hand.  Jo’s reluctance to get involved with the geriatric side of nursing has been mentioned in previous episodes and is put into words today by another character. “Feed ’em and clean ’em and that’s your lot. They’ll addle your brains and break your back”.

That seems to be a commonly held view and it’s the reason why many nurses elect to give geriatrics a miss.  Concert, aiming to challenge this opinion, is helped by the fact that both Annie (Handl) and Patrick (Dwyer) are still mentally sharp, even if physically they’re beginning to fail.  Their quick wits ensures that the viewer isn’t always dwelling on the frailer and more hopeless-looking cases.

But a feeling of melancholy is never far from the surface. At the same time that most of the old folks are having a jolly singalong at the concert (My Old Man being amongst the highlights) Ailsa, back in the ward, is being told by her son that they simply couldn’t cope with her at home.  She, naturally enough, descends into bitter tears whilst elsewhere Jim Murphy (Colin Higgins) lectures Jo about the growing population of old people and the issues with caring for them.

The series didn’t often take the opportunity to revisit one-off characters.  They do today though, with Gordon Massey (Colin Higgins) making a return (he’d previously featured in the series one episode Saturday Night). He doesn’t have a great deal to do in this episode (and there’s no particular link back to his previous appearance) but it’s still a nice touch.  Like Shirley, he’s passionate about his work on the geriatric ward – for him it’s because he knows what it’s like to be abandoned and therefore is adamant that it’s not going to happen to any of his charges.

No doubt Shirley would have loved to have been at the concert as well, but instead she’s sharing an evening from hell with the drippy Roland (Norman Tipton). Quite what their previous relationship has been isn’t too clear, but Roland – shortly to depart for a lengthy trip abroad – is keen to demonstrate to Shirley just how much he cares for her.  However it’s pretty obvious that the sooner he packs his bags and leaves, the better off she’ll be.  Shirley may usually be bereft of male company, but you have to draw the line somewhere ….

It’s bad enough when he’s attempting to force wine on her at the restaurant, but things get even more toe-curling when he decides that playing a deep and meaningful record on her Dansette is the way to go.  Not a good move. He may feel unfulfilled due to a lack of personal contact, but Shirley doesn’t.  She has her work, and that is her life.

When they can’t talk very much, or even talk at all, they can’t hear you, well then you really have to look at them. Because people’s eyes are really where they are. And if I have to talk to them in that way, then I can. But, say with you or my mother then I can’t do that at all. Or with a lot of people. But there I just get on with things. It’s me and it’s right somehow.

This is a nicely delivered monologue by Clare Clifford, which sees Derek Martinus flicking back between close-ups of her and Norman Tipton (an ironic touch, given Shirley’s comment about people’s eyes).

Concert may have a lecturing tone, but it isn’t done in a heavy-handed way. Jo, like the audience, is pitched into a strange new world and by the end she seems to have learnt something, although there’s still a sense that she’s reluctant to get too involved, unlike Shirley.  The episode doesn’t offer any pat solutions (given how complex the issues are, how could it?) but plenty of food for thought is generated.

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The Love School (BBC, 1975) – Simply Media DVD Review

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It is 1848.  Seven young men active in various artistic fields form a secret group, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  All are bound together by common aims – chiefly a desire to innovate and so break free from the stifling constraints of conventional artistic thinking.  Critical and public acclaim for their work is sparse to begin with though, whilst their unity as a cohesive collective is threatened by their egos and conflicting desires …..

Broadcast in January and February 1975 (comprising six 75 minute episodes) The Love School boasts a cast chock full of talent.  Peter Egan, Ben Kingsley, Patricia Quinn, David Collings, David Burke, Kenneth Colley and Sheila White are just some of the leading players.

The opening episode – The Brotherhood – introduces us to several main characters.  In these early stages it’s Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Ben Kingsley) who makes the strongest impression. Resplendent in a flowing wig, Kingsley certainly has plenty to work with. Rossetti might be a genius (he certainly believes so) but he’s also capricious and manipulative.

After persuading Ford Madox Brown (Malcolm Tierney) to take him on as a pupil, he then promptly dumps his mentor in favour of Holman Hunt (Bernard Lloyd). And whilst Rossetti and Hunt may later be the prime movers in founding the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the opportunistic Rossetti is always happy to drop his friends at the drop of a hat if it means advancing his career

And yet to begin with Hunt is always prepared to forgive his friend his sins.  Lloyd, like Kingsley, shines in this first episide – bringing to life the engaging and sensitive Hunt.  Peter Egan (as John Everett Millais) has less to work with initially, but his natural charm still comes to the fore.  Millais is a gifted artist, and has been since he was a child, but recent rejections by the Royal Academy are beginning to sting.

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David Troughton (Frederic Stephens), Gareth Hunt (Thomas Woolner), John Quentin (James Collinson) and Nicholas Grace (William Rossetti) skirt around the perimeters of several episodes whilst Patricia Quinn, as the haunting Lizzie Siddal, and Sheila White (the gloriously common Annie Miller) both make instant impressions.

The already strong cast is further enhanced when David Collings and Anne Kidd (as John and Effie Ruskin) appear. An influential critic, Ruskin champions Millais’ work, but the artist becomes besotted with his wife …

Collings teases out Ruskin’s icy detachment with skill. At times Ruskin treats Effie with casual indifference and cruelty, but on other occasions their bond seems very strong. Into this strange and dysfunctional marriage comes Millais, as open and eager as ever.

Given the lion’s share of episode two, Egan is excellent – showing us how the always indulged and spoilt Millais becomes increasingly confused by the signals he’s receiving from Effie (they eventually marry following her acrimonious divorce).

One way of marking the passing of time is to keep an eye on the false beards and moustaches which suddenly appear. Hunt, for example, after travelling abroad for several years returns with an impressive beard and then reaffirms his intention to marry Annie. He’s paid for the guttersnipe to receive the best education possible, but has this turned her into a lady fit for polite society?

Speaking of false beards, there’s an excellent example courtesy of Desmond Llewellyn as Mr Coombe. Elsewhere in this third episode, Seeking The Bubbles, Egan sports a bald cap as Milliais grows older. Acting under heavy make-up was something Egan did a lot of during the 1970’s (see also The Prince Regent).

It’s slightly disconcerting the way Millais and Hunt age so rapidly. One minute they’re in hale and hearty middle age and the next they’ve been transformed into doddery old men. It’s a shame to see them go so soon, but on the plus side it means that Rossetti then reappears to dominate the second half of the serial.

Two notable actors, Kenneth Colley and David Burke, make their first appearances in the fourth episode (Remember Me). As Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris (who is usually referred to as Topsy) they may come across as two of the oldest undergraduates ever seen, but in their early scenes both manage to convey an appropriate degree of youthful enthusiasm when meeting their idol Rossetti for the first time.

Some delightful comic scenes then develop. The pair may be obsessive admirers of Rossetti, but Topsy especially finds it easy to pick holes in some of his more recent work.

Rossetti’s tender relationship with the physically ailing Lizzie generates some compelling moments. Despite his numerous sexual conquests elsewhere, he does seem to be genuinely in love with her. Although the fact he’s content to leave her alone all day, suffering silently, whilst he’s out and about enjoying himself tells its own story.  After being absent in episode three, Kingsley comes roaring back to life in this one.

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Writing credits for the serial were shared between Ray Lawler, John Pebble, Robin Chapman and John Hale (one apiece from Lawler and Pebble, two each from Chapman and Hale). Chapman’s two episodes – four and five – are especially interesting. Depicting the rise and fall of Rossetti, both are compelling (although once again, the ever-growing false beards sported by several key characters can be a tad distracting).

Despite being largely studio bound, the milieu of Victorian England is very efficiently brought to life. The way the production uses ambient noise (such as horses and carriages clopping past outside) is an effective way of creating an immersive atmosphere.

There are several eye-catching directorial flourishes. At one point the picture is speeded up to suggest a frantic burst of activity from several of the artists – although this isn’t entirely convincing (it rather brings to mind Benny Hill). Rather more memorable is the moment when Patricia Quinn’s mouth is overlaid on a painting of Lizzie.  This is a traumatic scene for the hallucinating Rossetti, convinced that his dead love has returned from the grave to taunt him.

Even with the lengthy running time, some stories feel slightly undeveloped (we hurtle very quickly through Milliais’ life, for example). But with multiple colourful characters jostling for position it’s not really surprising that some fare better than others.  Ben Kingsley’s Rossetti (who appears in five of the six episodes) emerges as the first amongst equals.

The Love School is deftly able to impart an appreciation for the works of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood whilst at the same time not shying away from the multiple personality flaws which infected its leading lights (this makes for excellent drama of course).

Something of a neglected gem from the mid seventies, it’s yet another quality title that’s been brought back into circulation thanks to Simply.  An absorbing experience from start to finish, The Love School is worthy of your time.

The Love School is available now from Simply Media, RRP £24.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here, quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount.

 

Angels – Weekend (11th May 1976)

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Three separate plotlines run throughout Weekend. Pat and Maureen (but especially Pat) are tired of living in at the hospital and so decide to go flat hunting, Miss Windrup makes a new friend whom she invites around for tea and Jo takes decisive action in order to convince Mr Paton (Duncan Lamont) that he should visit his hospital-bound sister.

The Pat/Maureen relationship has always seemed a slightly uneasy one, given their totally different backgrounds and outlooks.  Pat’s privileged and pampered life prior to becoming a nurse is touched upon during the scene where she’s ticked off about the untidy state of her room.  Being told that the cleaners are giving it a wide berth until it’s more presentable clearly doesn’t please her – the notion of Pat tidying up her own mess a little bit is plainly anathema to the girl (surely that’s what the cleaners are employed for).

This is the sort of petty rule which makes her very keen to find her own space.  The placid Maureen is perfectly content with her lot, but (as always) is happy to go along with her friend.  At this point the Pat/Maureen dynamic is operating along previously defined lines (Pat dominant, Maureen submissive) although later on the roles are switched around somewhat.

Maureen, her puritanical Irish upbringing brought to the fore, is shocked to discover that one potential flat share would see them thrown together with three men.  Pat’s quite unruffled (and indeed pleasantly curious) about this but Maureen dismisses the notion straight away. What would her mammy say? This scene might be played for laughs but it still helps to reiterate that they live in very different worlds.

The comic tone continues when they meet a representative (Carolyn Hudson) from the gloriously named ‘Fix A Pad’.  Pat and Maureen are now finding it difficult to agree on anything – for example, Pat wants to live far away from the hospital whilst Maureen would prefer to be close. And when Pat mentions that she’d like two bedrooms, Maureen is surprised since she’d assumed they’d be sharing.  Pat reacts to this with scorn (“what happens to my love life?”). Mind you, Maureen does bat this back quite effectively with “what love life?”

Following this awkward meeting, Pat decides that “the only thing we really had in common was that we were new together” and the pair then go their seperate ways. But although it looks for a while as if their friendship has indeed come to an end, it’s not too surprising to learn that by the end of the episode they’re pals once again. They may have many different interests but Pat comes to realise (thanks to a third party) that this is precisely why their friendship works. Maureen’s opinion on this goes unrecorded (which does tend to reinforce the notion that she’s very much the junior partner here).

It’s interesting how Miss Windrup manages to laser in on Nora Eden (Nancie Jackson). It’s true that she was sitting by herself in the canteen, but it does imply that Miss Windrup has a sixth sense which allows her to sniff out lonely souls like herself.  Of a similar age to Miss Windrup, Nora has come back into medical teaching after her offspring moved abroad.

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Their initial conversation is quite revealing, not least for the way in which it restates the hollowness of Miss Windrup’s existence away from the hospital.  She may bravely agree that her job keeps her busy and fulfilled, but we’re still left with the sense that she really doesn’t have much of a life (later she admits this herself).  Her air of sadness and melancholy is reinforced when we see her out shopping, picking up some choice delicacies for her visitor.  These establishing scenes leave us with a question – will there be a sting in the tale when Miss Windrup and Nora take afternoon tea?

The answer to that is yes, but it’s a fairly mild one. Nora doesn’t appear at the appointed time, leaving a crestfallen Miss Windrup to clear away the uneaten food. But there’s recompense the next day when Nora shows up with profuse apologies for having missed the date.  We then see a pathetically eager Miss Windrup invite her in for a cup of coffee and another heart-to-heart.

As for Jo’s plotline, Elsie Clegg (Maggie Flint) isn’t seriously ill but she becomes increasingly depressed about the fact that her brother never visits her.  He’s not too far away, but claims – via a letter – that he simply can’t spare the time to pop in.

This excuse isn’t good enough for Jo and she decides to pay him a visit.  Everybody else – Sita, Sandra – thinks this is a bad idea, but she’s adamant.  After a bit of a lull, this plotline gives Julie Dawn Cole something to get her teeth into.  She plays Jo’s apprehension (when she’s invited into Mr Paton’s house) very nicely.  Of course, having Duncan Lamont in the role of Len Paton doesn’t hurt.  Always the most solid of actors, the first scene between Jo and Len is quite absorbing.  A mystery is also established here.  Is Len really too busy to visit the hospital or is there another reason why he can’t bring himself to see his sister?

The knife is twisted just a little more after he finally makes an appearance at St Angela’s, only to promptly vanish before seeing Elsie (leaving behind a pot-plant flower as the only proof that he’d been there at all).  Elsie’s already burst into tears several times and when she does so again (after her puppy-like joy at learning that Len has finally come to visit her is dashed) it feels rather affecting.  Jo continues to dig away at this puzzle, despite the fact that it’s really nothing to do with her (it’s true that visiting Len late at night to demand answers does feel somewhat unwise).

The resolution to this mystery is an excellent showcase for Lamont and is the dramatic highpoint of an episode that overall still feels quite low-key. But possibly Weekend isn’t the worse for that, as even in a hospital it can’t always be a matter of life and death.

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Angels – Day Hospital (4th May 1976)

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The fact that Day Hospital was shot on OB VT in real locations helps to give the episode a totally different feel to what we’ve seen before.  As good as the studio sets always were, there’s just something more immersive and satisfying about the fact that you can look out of a window and see real life outside.

Set in a geriatric ward and attached day care unit, the episode manages to strike a good balance as it’s neither too maudlin (although there’s bleakness towards the end) or too superficial.  Shirley had mentioned previously that the infirm and elderly are similar in many ways to children – today it’s Ailsa (Sylvia Coleridge) who fits that description the closest.

If you wanted someone to play an eccentric, then you couldn’t really do better than Coleridge. Petulant and deeply irritating at times, Ailsa exists in part to try Shirley’s patience through a series of wheezes (smashing plates, pouring water from a vase onto the floor to try and fool Shirley into believing that one of the other patients has wet themselves, etc).  But she’s also given a few moments of pain and anguish, which enables the viewer to see the more complex person hiding beneath the dotty surface.

Dodi (Aimée Delamain) and Annie (Irene Handl) enjoy the best of the script though. Dodi is initially presented as an autocratic and imposing individual.  Living alone (albeit with nursing support) in a big house, she views the prospect of making regular trips to the day hospital with dismay and disdain.  But after one visit she’s quite won over.

Annie is a salt of the earth, speak as you find, type of person.  A hospital regular, along with Ailsa (whom she has a love/hate relationship with), she also finds the idea of going to the day hospital daunting (although at least she only has to travel down the corridor to reach it). Like Dodi though, she becomes a firm fan very quickly.

At first, Dodi seems to be a rather broadly drawn character, but as the episode wears on she’s shaded in very effectively.  The scene with Dodi and Annie in the day centre is beautifully played by both Delamain and Handl.  Dodi’s lonely, spinsterish existence, allied to the early deaths of her brothers (due to WW1 and its aftermath), is teased out in a heartbreaking way. Derek Martinus, as he does elsewhere, elects for close-ups during these dramatic moments, which is a simple but effective touch.

Even though Annie’s tale is also shot through with suffering (she lay undiscovered in her house for three days after suffering a stroke) there’s something about Handl’s delivery of these lines which still manages to create a sense of warmth.  No doubt residual affection from her long comic career is playing a part here.

With the guest actors featured heavily, the regulars are slightly pushed into the background, but those featured – Shirley, Maureen, Pat – still benefit from some decent character development throughout Susan Pleat’s script.  After suffering run-ins with both Ailsa and Annie, Shirley has to work hard to retain her self control (even more so after another patient suffers a broken leg and Shirley finds herself accused of negligence by her relatives).

Shirley’s slightly stunted personal development may be the reason why she finds all one-on-one interactions to be somewhat trying, although nobody could blame her for getting a little irritated with either Annie or (especially) Ailsa.  But by the end of the episode she’s definitely gone through something of a learning curve, leaving us with the impression that piece by piece she’s becoming more of a rounded person.

Although Shirley is having a trying time in the ward, Maureen (working in the day unit) appears to be having a much easier experience.  Maybe this is just down to the luck of the draw, or possibly Maureen’s more placid nature just fits in well with the atmosphere of the place.

Pat’s place in this story is very interesting.  She’s someone who we haven’t really explored in any great depth for a while, which makes this episode a very welcome one.  With Pat’s mother being a friend of Dodi, Pat is instantly drawn to her – she may be occasionally tetchy, but Dodi also has the aura of a wise sage.

Pat finds herself telling Dodi things – about her strained relationship with her mother and her doubts about nursing as a vocation – which she claims she’s never shared with her friends.  Given how close Pat and Maureen seem to be, this is a little surprising, but on reflection maybe not.  It’s a nice character beat either way though, as it helps to show that the outwardly confident Pat is just as riddled with insecurities as, say, the socially awkward Shirley.

Dodi’s death at the end of the episode therefore comes as a jarring blow, not only to the audience (who no doubt would have grown to appreciate her as the story wore on) but also to Pat, who tells Maureen that she’s lost her new-found confidant.  This seems to be a slightly selfish point of view, but it also feels quite truthful. Pat’s final visit to Dodi’s house – now covered in dustsheets and empty of all life – is nicely played, especially the moment when she picks up the small bell that Dodi was fond of ringing whenever she required attention.

The fact that Dodi died in a late-night fall down the stairs is a bleakly ironic twist.  Previously pretty much bed-bound, the strong inference is that her new-found confidence after attending the day hospital was a contributory factor in her death.  Maureen is quick to scotch Pat’s suggestion, but this lingering notion is left hanging in the air.

It’s pleasing to know that we’ll encounter Ailsa and Annie in another episode shortly.  Thanks to the nuanced performances of all three senior actresses, Day Hospital is a thought-provoking and memorable episode.

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Angels – Legacies (27th April 1976)

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Legacies is another episode which places Shirley front and centre.  It was established in the first series that she has an awkward relationship with her parents and this theme is developed during the early part of the episode.  It seems that Mr and Mrs Brent (Lloyd Lamble and Peggy Ann Wood) have given Shirley everything she could have asked for, apart from love.  They’re polite enough to their daughter but also emotionally closed-off, which strongly implies that Shirley’s repressed nature is a direct result of her upbringing.

The way that Mr and Mrs Brent display polite interest at the news that Shirley will be involved in the forthcoming celebrations at St Angela’s (to mark twenty five years as a teaching hospital) but firmly decline to attend is very cutting.  The thought that this might disappoint their daughter doesn’t seem to have crossed their minds.  Mind you, it’s also true that their own relationship seems just as superficial (polite on the surface but lacking any sort of emotional depth).

Intercut with these scenes are a number of gritty location shots following Diana (Mary Maude) as she makes her way back home to her squat. In story terms there’s no particular need to have them in the episode (it would have been just as easy to open with Diana being brought into the hospital) but they do add a little bit of grimy mid seventies colour to the episode.

A self-destructive drug addict, Diana’s a regular at St Angela’s and viewed with weary resignation by the staff.  Shirley begins by professing bafflement – since she can’t understand her, she has difficulty in treating her.  Sandra is on hand to dish out a dollop of common sense – personal feelings don’t matter, everyone deserves the same duty of care

Shirley’s psychological war of nerves with Diana is the dominant theme of today’s story.  It ebbs and flows, but eventually Shirley comes out on top, telling Diana that “we’re both losers, but you don’t even know it”.  Diana’s background is revealed to be similar to Shirley’s – well-off parents who gave her every material benefit but nothing else. That they’re two sides of the same coin is then explicitly stated, which is a slight shame (given how oblique some of Diana’s monologues are, it probably would have been better not to have spelled out this obvious point).

Legacies is a very verbose script. We do have an explanation as to why Diana is such an articulate junkie, but there are times when she does feel like an artificial character. Although if one were being generous it may be that this was intentional. Shirley does pick up on the fact that Diana is an arch-manipulator – always playing a role, she finds it easy to push people’s buttons in order to create the effect she requires.

The fact she causes Shirley to lose her temper pleases her – but not in a malicious way.  Rather, Shirley has now passed the test and can be treated as almost an equal (the way they smile at each other at the end of the episode feels encouraging but also faintly sinister).

If Shirley is the angel who has received by far the most character development during the series to date, then some of the others – such as Maureen – are rather lagging behind.  Maureen doesn’t feature very heavily today, but her scenes (mainly pouring scorn at the parasitic way Diana leeches from the state system) don’t quite ring true.  Nothing we’ve seen of her previously would suggest that she would react in this way, which leaves me with the impression that her character has been refashioned just to service this particular plot point.  If so, then it might have been better to create a one-off nurse for the role.

Shirley’s early interactions with Diana are quite awkward and unpleasant (although you are left with the strong sense – based on previous stories – that this will change).  Her relationship with the elderly Miss Buckle (Jean Kent) is quite different, although the attentive viewer would probably have been able to quickly work out the sting in this tale.

Miss Buckle is polite and thankful for all the attention she’s receiving, but she seems just a little too nice, meaning that the revelation she has munchausen syndrome doesn’t come as a total shock.  In her way she’s just as much of a drain on the resources of the hospital as Diana is, but the script has much more sympathy with her than it does with Diana. It’s not a particularly large role, but Kent (a British film regular during the 1940’s and 1950’s) is spot on.  The way Miss Buckle reacts when she realises that Shirley knows her secret is beautifully played.

With some familiar faces – Don Henderson as a drunk, Phil Davis as Diana’s friend, Christopher Coll as a doctor – popping up, there’s plenty of incidental interest in this one, although the Shirley/Diana relationship dominates.

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Angels – Ambition (20th April 1976)

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Up until now, Alison Salter (Cheryl Branker) has been an exemplary student nurse, which makes her recent erratic and tardy behaviour all the more puzzling. Both Shirley and Sister Easby attempt to discover what’s troubling her – but the fiercely private Alison is reluctant to divulge her secrets ….

There’s plenty of interest in Ambition, although unlike the previous episode it’s not a matter of life and death (unless you count Alison’s career).  One slight drawback with this one is the fact that Alison’s purely a one-shot character (never seen before, never seen again) which does mean that her background and character has to be verbally sketched in by the others very rapidly.

The problem with this approach is that we only ever witness the fraying and irritable Alison and not the remarkably efficient nurse destined for great things (according to Jo, she’s sure to be another Barbara Castle).

Leslie Duxbury’s script does its best to wrong-foot the viewer.  It opens with Alison dropping two pre-school children off for the day (either with a neighbour or a paid carer – this isn’t quite clear).  The inference is that they are her children, but they turn out to be her sisters. Equally, it’s easy to believe at first that Frank Salter (Oscar James) is Alison’s husband – and not, as later becomes clear, her father.

Throughout, Alison is quite effectively portrayed as an isolated figure in the hospital.  As the other nurses bustle into the locker area – chock full of gossip and rushing to get themselves together – Alison is always shown to be in her own self-contained bubble.  Presumably this is a change from her usual personality, although as previously stated the audience doesn’t really know what is usual for her.

I do like these scenes though. Shirley, Sita, Jo and Sandra are mixed in with a group of four or so minor players, with the result that there’s a fair amount of hubbub as they arrive and then later depart each day.   These scenes – and others throughout the episode – are also helpful as they solidify the attitudes of the regulars.

Sandra and Jo, rather like Maureen and Pat, really do seem to be chalk and cheese.  Sandra’s already planning her future (occupational nursing) whilst Jo doesn’t seem to have any ambitions at all.  Whilst Sandra rifles through the library looking for job opportunities, Jo is content to quote love poetry and dream of what might be ….

Shirley’s desire to work with geriatrics is teased out a little more. Indeed, the solid “b” plot of today’s episode concerns Shirley’s relationship with a cantankerous elderly patient, Mrs Cosgrove (Betty Romaine).  I did wonder whether there was going to be some sort of twist in this tale – but no, the storyline proceeds along a fairly predictable route.  Mrs Cosgrove doesn’t have a good word for anyone (she decides that Alison should get on the next banana boat home, for example) but most of her ire is directed towards the woman in the bed opposite her.  She’s a non-speaking extra though, so we’re denied any verbal contretemps between them.

Instead, Mrs Cosgrove crosses swords with Shirley who eventually manages to pierce her shell to discover the more approachable woman underneath.  Shirley’s patient, steely but jocular approach is a revelation compared to her more by-the-book nursing from series one and serves not only to demonstrate her growth as a nurse but also as a person.

Also lurking on this ward is Sister Easby.  The slipshod Alison receives a few hard stares whilst her interactions with Shirley are also noteworthy.  Sister Easby isn’t someone who dishes out praise that often, so Shirley isn’t sure whether her success with drawing out Mrs Cosgrove is being applauded by Sister Easby or mocked.  What’s interesting though is that when Sister Easby later joins Shirley and the others for lunch she’s quite affable and willing to chat.  Clearly she’s a very different person depending on whether she’s on or off duty.

Miss Windrup, making a late appearance, is the one who finally gets to the bottom of Alison’s issues (following failed attempts by both Shirley and Sister Easby).  It’s a nicely played scene, directed well by Derek Martinus.  Martinus maybe doesn’t throw in quite so many directorial flourishes throughout as in his previous episode, but there’s still some unusual low-angle studio camera angles and a couple of surprisingly panoramic film shots (a bit wobbly it’s true, but still effective).

Ambition doesn’t provide us with closure on Alison’s story, but it seems more than likely that she’ll be forced to leave nursing, much to Miss Windrup’s regret.  As has been seen before, Angels didn’t always go in for pat and happy endings – it would have been easy enough to leave the viewers with a sliver of hope, but real life is often untidy and unsatisfactory and this episode rather mirrors that.

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The Prince And The Pauper (BBC, 1976) – Simply Media DVD Review

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Tom Canty, a street urchin, and Prince Edward, heir to the throne, bear an uncanny resemblance to each other. After they meet by chance, the Prince hatches a scheme in which the pair swop clothes and identities temporarily.  This will allow Edward to move incognito through the streets for an hour or so and get to learn a little about the ordinary folk he will soon be ruling.

But disaster strikes when Edward is captured by Tom’s cruel father, John Canty (Ronald Herdman). Unsurprisingly, no one believes he’s really the Prince of Wales whilst Tom, trapped in the palace, is equally unhappy.  The nobles take his protestations about being a commoner as a sign of madness, with Tom ending up as a pawn in a power game – the control of England being the prize ….

Published in 1881, Mark Twain’s evergreen nove! has spawned numerous big and small screen adaptations.  This BBC Classic Serial from 1976, adapted by Richard Harris and directed by Barry Letts, has many plusses in its favour – not least Nicholas Lyndhurt’s deftly played dual role as Tom and Edward.

The fourteen-year old Lyndhurst already had television experience (most notably in two previous classic serial adaptations – Heidi and Anne of Avonlea) but it still must have been a daunting prospect for him to have shared the screen with so many heavyweight actors.  He acquits himself with assurance though – creating two very separate personas for Tom and Edward (deferential and brow-beaten for Tom, autocratic and outspoken for Edward).

A quick glance down the cast-list makes it obvious that Barry Letts was in the directors chair. The first episode alone sees brief appearances from the likes of Dave Carter, Stuart Fell (as a juggler and fire-eater) and Max Faulkner.  Several other faces familiar from the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who enjoy decent roles, most notably Bernard Kay as Lord Hertford.

Kay, like many of the nobles at court, might be afflicted with a false beard, but as a very classy actor he’s easily able to rise above this handicap.  Nina Thomas is delightful as the sweetly concerned Princess Elizabeth whilst Martin Friend and Ronald Lacey, as Lords Sudbroke and Rushden, are both good value as a pair of devious plotters (Lacey was one of those actors who should have appeared in a Doctor Who, but sadly never did).

Ronald Radd is someone else who surprisingly never got the Doctor Who call.  As the ailing King Henry his understated playing bolsters the already strong cast. Henry’s death-bed imaginings is one highlight amongst many throughout the six episodes. Sadly this was one of Radd’s final roles – broadcast shortly before his death at the age of just forty seven.

June Brown does well with the fairly thankless role of Mother Canty (having little to do but act concerned) whilst Ronald Herdman might be a little ripe as John Canty but is still effective.  The early evening slot these serials enjoyed meant that violence tended to be implicit (so whilst we often see Canty raising his hand to Tom/Edward, blows are rarely struck).

But there is one jolting moment. Canty strikes down the inoffensive and bookish Father Andrew (Donald Eccles) leaving the old man dying the street, a trickle of blood on his face.  This sudden outburst of rage from Canty does help to illustrate that he’s an unstable powder keg, liable to explode at any moment, and therefore a constant danger to the outspoken Edward.

As the story progresses, both boys are drawn deeper into their new lives. Edward, despite making a new friend – Miles Hendon (Barry Stokes) – finds himself lurching from one dangerous situation to another, eventually ending up in prison. Meanwhile the increasingly confident Tom, following the death of the King, has to face the possibility that shortly he’ll be the focus point of a coronation ….

If the cast are first-rate, then there’s plenty to enjoy on the production side as well.  Kenneth Sharp’s sets are impressive, with several palace rooms possessing an imposing sense of scale.  James Acheson was an extremely safe pair of hands to have as the costume designer (later he would pick up three Oscars) so there’s no complaints there either.

The exterior film sequences gives the serial a glossy feel, although – as was the norm – most of the action takes place in the studio (and on videotape).  I’ve no doubt that Barry Letts relished the challenge of depicting the brief meeting between Tom and Edward.  There’s a very effective split-screen shot, but I was also impressed with a CSO mirror shot (Barry loved his CSO, sometimes to extremes, but this sequence works well).

Running for six episodes, each around 27 minutes duration, The Prince And The Pauper is a good example of the BBC Classic Serial output from the 1970’s.  It may lack the production gloss of later adaptations, but the excellent cast and fidelity shown to the source material means that it’s a very enjoyable watch.  There are many different versions of The Prince And The Pauper out there, but I have no hesitation in warmly recommending this one.

The Prince And The Pauper is available now from Simply Media, RRP £19.99, and can be ordered directly from Simply Media here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

Angels – Vocation (13th April 1976)

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A suicide attempt … Miss Windrup’s 30th anniversary … both disturb Nurse Sandra Ling … (Radio Times Listing).

The series opener, Round The Clock, concentrated on reintroducing the regulars from series one.  There would be one absentee though (Lesley Dunlop declined to return for this second run) which meant that Angela Bruce (as Sandra Ling) would now feature as a new regular (the character had appeared in a single first series episode).

Given how busy Round The Clock was, it made sense to hold Sandra back until this second episode.  She features strongly in the “A” plot (a young woman clings to life following a suicide attempt) with a “B” plot (Miss Windrup celebrating thirty years at St Angela’s) running alongside it. Although Paula Milne does manage the feat of tying both of these plot-threads together towards the end of the episode ….

Attentive first series viewers would have been able to pick up various unspoken touches which reinforce Miss Windrup’s previously established loneliness.  Some are quite subtle (switching off No Regrets by the Walker Brothers on the radio) although others are much more explicit – such as the way Miss Windrup’s face falls for a split second after Joan White (Sheila Keith) announces her intention to retire.

A contemporary of Miss Windrup, Joan has clearly had enough of trying to teach classes of disinterested students.  Although Miss Windrup attempts to dissuade her by declaring that she’ll be bored within a matter of weeks, it seems that Joan (presumably also single) has no such fears about finding activities to fill her days with.  Presumably Miss Windrup is most concerned about losing a friend, confidant and lunchtime companion.

This is interesting enough, but most of the drama today is occurring in the intensive care ward. The first sight we have of Sarah Carter (Lois Ward) is stark enough and things only get bleaker as the episode progresses.  For a series that was pre-watershed (this episode went out at 8.10 pm) Sarah’s later resuscitation attempt feels quite harrowing.

Derek Martinus’ direction throughout is noteworthy. For example, when we cut to Sarah’s resuscitation, the camera lingers on the flat-lining monitor for the first few seconds.  No dialogue is required, the visual image provides the viewer with all the information they need.

Martinus also favours framing shots of characters peering through glass doors – beginning with Mrs Carter (Josie Kidd) observing the work of the intensive care unit from the outside.  The mute, slightly distorted picture Mrs Carter sees is effectively disorientating.  Later, Sandra is pictured on the outside looking in at Mrs Carter (in the waiting room).

When Sandra does enter the room on one occasion, the scene begins with the camera still outside for a while, leaving the viewer voyeuristically witnessing Mrs Carter’s upset countenance but unable to hear any words.  A later, also mute, scene (the Doctor explaining how Sarah died to Mrs Carter, whilst Mr Carter rocks back and forward in his chair, obviously unable to process the news) also stands out.

Mrs Carter simply can’t understand why her daughter would have taken an overdose of sleeping tablets and since Sarah never wakes up we’re denied the answer to this question.  Her estranged husband (played by Bill Treacher) only features briefly, but his pleading final question to Sandra (wondering if Sarah could have taken the overdose by accident) is heartrending. After several beats, Sandra does confirm this might be true but it’s pretty clear that neither she or Mrs Carter believes it.  But it does give Mr Carter a faint hope to cling to.

Sarah’s death occurs offscreen, but I think this is a plus not a minus.  There’s something more powerful about the sight of Sandra observing the now quiet room than there would be in the cliché of a failed life-saving attempt.

Sandra’s bottled-up anguish following Sarah’s death comes spilling out on two separate occasions. The Intensive Care Ward Sister (played by Marcia King) is the first to clash with her.  Sandra’s hurt contrasts sharply to the Sister’s icy-cold control.  This is a theme familiar from countless hospital dramas – there’s simply no time to wallow in self-pity about the demise of one patient as there are always others who require care and attention.  King is so good in this pivotal scene that it’s surprising to see that she only has a handful of television credits to her name.

This opening skirmish merely sets us up for the grand finale – as Sandra finds herself a fairly unwilling attendee at an informal party held to celebrate Miss Windrup’s thirty years at St Angela’s.  The other nurses are indulgent, if occasionally mocking, towards ‘Windy’ although it’s no surprise that Shirley is the one who appreciates Miss Windrup’s efforts the most.

Pat is quite perceptive though – the fact that Miss Windrup’s office is decorated with the portraits of so many of her students but not her friends or family speaks volumes.  Miss Windrup has fully embraced the vocation of nursing, but at what personal cost?

Unlike Joan White, it seems that Miss Windrup simply can’t contemplate retirement (despite having to deal with giggly and irritating students). Her life is her job.  Sandra feels quite differently though, declaring that the vocation of nursing is little more than a “con”, designed to keep them compliant.  The intelligent nurses are the ones who walk away ….

She doesn’t find a great deal of support amongst her colleagues though and eventually the status quo is restored.  Sandra and Jo make their way home, with Jo promising something entertaining for tea.  But the cracks remain on both sides, meaning there’s the sense another eruption could happen again in the future.

Impressively uncompromising, Vocation is far removed from the cosy, soapy image that Angels sometimes conjures up (indeed, when it conjures up any image at all). A promising early series two instalment, this sort of quality bodes well for the stories to come.

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