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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Angels – Round The Clock (6th April 1976)

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The opening episode of series two, Round The Clock reintroduces us to all the S1 regulars quickly and effectively.  Within the first few minutes we see Pat and Maureen preparing for another working day (with Maureen also looking forward to a party in the evening), the effervescent Jo freewheeling down the corridor, poor Shirley enjoying a solitary lunchtime drink and Sita dishing out a dollop of sympathy to Mrs Andrews (Norma Andrews).

As the episode progresses, various threads are developed although two – Sita/Mrs Andrews and Shirley – dominate.  From her first scene, there’s a tense brittleness to Mrs Andrews, which is understandable after we learn that her young son, Ian (Stefan Gates), has been rushed to hospital with suspected meningitis.  Red-eyed and frantic with worry, she demands to have all the facts as quickly as possible.  But Sita prefers to be quite non-committal with her comments.

The unfortunate upshot is that Ian initially seems to be making a recovery, but this is only a temporary respite as he then takes a turn for the worse.  One of the interesting aspects of Round The Clock is observing which Angels have changed from series one.  Sita certainly seems to be a little different from the passive character she was then – when confronted about her behaviour, she remains fairly unrepentant (although her colleagues, such as Pat, are quick to pass unfavourable judgement out of her earshot).

It’s an interesting talking point – was Sita protecting Mrs Andrews by not telling her everything or simply making her agony (when she finally learnt the truth about Ian’s condition) even more painful?  There’s no definite answer to this, and Adele Rose’s script – to its credit – doesn’t plump for either side. Indeed, later on Mrs Andrews decides that Sita wasn’t at fault anyway, so this dramatic flashpoint is resolved in a low-key manner.

Mrs Andrews’ scenes in the children’s ward are quite haunting. Although we see the odd jolly child (with nothing worse than a broken leg) there’s something quite melancholy about this area, despite the bright posters and collection of toys. This plotline has no closure – although we’re told that most children make a full recovery, there’s the possibility that Ian may not.

Elsewhere, Shirley is working on a busy female ward.  Some of the patients, such as Mrs McCartney (Peggy Aitchison) are simply there for a spot of colour (she likes to scoff chocolates and call everyone “ducks”).  Mrs Fitch (June Brown) is also quite peripheral, but the way she clashes with Shirley is used to highlight the fact that Staff Nurse Brent isn’t her normal, efficient self.

Brown plays to type as a complaining sort (complete with her trademark droning voice) whilst it’s amusing that Mr Fitch (Alec Linstead) also has a similar tone. Being attacked by them on both sides means it’s not surprising that Shirley eventually loses her patience. Mild though her outburst is, this moment of crisis allows Sister Young to step in and have a heart to heart with her.

If Sita has changed since series one, then at this point it doesn’t appear there’s been any progress with Shirley.  In the pub she was as isolated as ever, sitting by herself whilst the rest of the world seemed to having a much better time.  She confesses to Sister Young that she still has no social life and no friends (although she does at least share a table in the canteen with Jo and Sita without the other two recoiling, so there’s been some progress there).

Shirley’s despair seeps out of the screen yet again, but there is a positive outcome, professionally at least, as she’s encouraged to take a geriatrics course.  This would seem to be something that most nurses (such as Jo) would avoid, but Shirley is very keen.  We’ll see this theme developed later in the season.

Jo isn’t given a great deal of screentime in this opening episode. Mainly she’s present to serve as a cool counsel for the unusually hot-headed Sita.  As for Pat and Maureen, Maureen’s suddenly become something of a party animal (closing the episode jiving with a George Best lookalike in the pub) whilst the previously flighty Pat has gained a dollop of common sense.

I liked the scene with Pat and an unnamed student nurse in the canteen.  The young nurse confided that she was on the verge of quitting, so Pat – who nearly did the same thing last year – gave her a pep talk.  Amusingly, the young nurse wasn’t at all convinced by Pat’s impassioned speech! That’s a nice touch, which shows that the series wasn’t always content to take the obvious or neat route.

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Softly Softly: Task Force – Money for Sale (17th January 1973)

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The Task Force are on the trail of Alfred Felton. A distinguished-looking criminal in his fifties, Felton has disappeared (the fact he was carrying a great deal of stolen money when he vanished piques Watt’s interest).

In the past John Watt has berated Harry Hawkins for his willingness to dash about. Senior staff, says Watt, should be more office bound. Today he seems to have forgotten that maxim – Watt spends the early part of the episode out and about and in full investigation mode.  It’s quite a rarity these days to see him playing detective, and even rarer that he’s digging around all by himself.

Felton’s car – a Wolseley – seems to be key. Find that and they might have a good chance of locating Felton. Watt tracks the car down to a scrapyard run by Paddy Reilly (Paddy Joyce).  One of those instantly recognisable actors, Joyce is highly entertaining as the endlessly slippery Reilly – a man who breezily breaks the law without a second thought.

Reilly doesn’t get the third degree from Watt though, that’s reserved for Powers (John White) – the man who sold the car to Reilly.  Powers, a man with a taste in flamboyant shirts, is eventually worn down by Watt.  Since Stratford Johns’ departure, there hasn’t been quite so many pulsating interview scenes, but Frank Windsor handles this one pretty well.

As the episode rumbles on, the main question remains unanswered – is Felton dead or alive? And if he is dead, who killed him? That the resolution of the mystery only occurs towards the tail end of the episode helps to explain why Money for Sale feels somewhat static. It doesn’t help that Felton’s criminal associates don’t appear until the last ten minutes or so – as when they do they help to give the story a little extra push.

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Softly Softly: Task Force – Time-Table (3rd January 1973)

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Jack Rogers (Peter Whitbread) was a notable safebreaker in his day, but now seems to have gone straight.  But that doesn’t prevent him from being a person of interest to the Task Force whenever a job with his signature is pulled.

The first meeting between Hawkins and Rogers is an interesting one. Rogers is polite and helpful whilst Hawkins is antagonistic and confrontational. Given that this bank raid occurred up North (in Manchester) it seems barely credible that out of all the potential suspects up and down the country we zero in on Rogers.  Are we being set up for a story in which an innocent man is pursued?

We don’t have long to wait for the answer, indeed in the very next scene it’s revealed that Rogers was responsible.  Surprising that the mystery wasn’t eked out – there would have been dramatic capital in leaving it unclear for a while as to whether Rogers was guilty or innocent.  Watt later confides to his senior staff that in the past his mantra has been “concentrate on the criminal, not the crime”.  He has absolutely no evidence that Rogers was involved (in fact he has a water-tight alibi) but Watt is still content to keep chipping away at him.  That’s a slightly disturbing modus operandi, it has to be said.

Rogers has a powerful ally. His employer, Simmonds (Bryan Pringle), is someone who, according to Rogers, was prepared to take a chance on an ex-con.  The truth is once again revealed quickly – the older Simmonds has been corrupted by the younger Rogers and the pair have now formed a criminal partnership (Simmonds acting as a decoy whilst Rogers carries out the crimes).

What has made the previously law-abiding Simmonds suddenly turn crooked? It’s teased out subtly to begin with, but by the way the pair talk to each other it’s plain that there’s a mutual attraction.  This is handled in a far more restrained way than James Bree’s screamingly camp antiques dealer a few episodes back.  Their relationship is an intriguing part of the episode and Pringle’s self-important and wounded air as Simmonds easily bests Adler to begin with (even forcing the policeman to cough up some pennies for using his phone!) is nicely played too.

The precise mechanics of exactly how Simmonds covers for Rogers during the first two crimes is a bit of a puzzle. And a lengthy film sequence in which the pair drive identical vans around and around does tend to drag.

This apart, Time-Table contains plenty of interest. Whitbread and Pringle are both very solid, Watt’s clash with a budget-conscious Cullen catches the eye, whilst wedding bells contain to ring for Hawkins and Sara.  Evans views the forthcoming nuptials with a jaundiced eye – how will the upwardly mobile Sara survive on Hawkins’ relatively modest salary? The notion of her getting a job never seems to have been considered.

I also like the way that Watt (a man who clearly leads from the front) takes it upon himself to visit Sara in order to enquire what wedding present she’d like the force to give them.  An old-fashioned barometer, in case you were wondering.  And the way that Watt turns the screws on an increasingly frantic Rogers and Simmonds concludes the episode in a satisfactory fashion.

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Softly Softly: Task Force – Needle (13th December 1972)

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SS:TF, certainly during this era, used a very small pool of writers. There are pros and cons to this approach – a plus is the way it guarantees a constant tone, but on the negative side it can mean that the stories tend to feel somewhat similar.

Tony Hoare would later become a key writer on Minder, but his early work, such as his handful of SS:TF scripts and contributions to Crown Courtdemonstrates that his distinctive scripting style was already in place.

Hoare, a former inmate himself, is easily able to ensure that this prison-based story feels vivid and real.  As good as the series was, it’s sometimes noticeable that the villains can be unthreatening and lightly sketched.  Needle is quite different – there’s a sharp streak of cynicism which runs throughout.  This is unusual but not unwelcome.

After an unpopular prison officer, Watson (Edwin Brown), is brutally run down outside the prison gates, Watt and the others swiftly decamp to the prison in order to investigate. That we don’t have the usual preamble scenes at Task Force HQ is an interesting touch – no doubt this was partly logistical (saving studio space for the prison sets) but it also works in narrative terms. No sooner have we left Watson dying in the gutter than the story promptly moves onto the next stage.

As the episode progresses, Hoare’s voice seems to be coming through loud and clear. Prison life is shown to be thoroughly dehumanising – both for inmates and warders.  The crumbling Victorian structure, the indifferent diet and the constant threat of casual violence all helps to make it a hellish place.

One inmate, Bernie Bryson (Peter Armitage), later articulates why the warders are worse off than the prisoners. “They figure if they wear big boots and bark like dogs it makes them hard cases. They come straight off the dole queue, see. They ‘aint got the guts to thieve or the brains to work, but this way they can kid themselves that they’re something special. I’m here against my will and only temporary, they’re here permanently and because they need to be”.

Armitage is excellent as the cocky, unrepentant Bryson – comfortable in the knowledge that nothing can touch him. Nothing that is, except his marital problems ….

On the outside, his wife Jane (Janet Lees-Price) lives a comfortable existence in a remarkably decorated flat. Presumably Bernie chose the décor – the massive mural of classic Hollywood gangsters is certainly a talking point.

If Bernie feels a lot more real and dangerous than the series’ usual crop of villains, then so does Jimmy Cass (James Beckett). A friend of Bernie’s on the inside, Cass (one of the men who ran Watson down) finds himself becoming very friendly with the man-eating Jane on the outside.

Full of memorable touches (such as Adler keeping a close vigil on Watson, desperate to hear the dying man’s last, gasped words) Needle is certainly a cut above the norm.

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Softly Softly: Task Force – Conversion (6th December 1972)

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An ingenious bank raid – carried out at the same time that the street is undergoing a gas conversion – is today’s crime. But as so often, character dynamics are pushed to the fore whilst the crime sits in the background.

Adler’s continuing mission to refer to all the regulars as “son” continues (today it’s Snow who receives that honour). Having not featured too heavily for a while, it’s nice that Terence Rigby is given more to do (although the reason becomes clear at the end of the episode).

Pete Ryan (Billy Hamon) is befriended by Snow. Something of an innocent, the early part of Conversion leaves us in no doubt that he’s very slow on the uptake (two experienced villains plan to use him when they rob the bank).

Pete, one the army of gas fitters, agrees to block the road at the appointed time (thereby allowing the getaway car to escape). This he does, but it means that he becomes a person of interest to the police – although not as you might expect.  He isn’t lifted for a grilling, instead Snow buys him drinks and listens to his story.

This all the more remarkable since Pete is aware that Snow’s a copper.  Although Snow could never be called soft, something about Pete (who’s barely more than a lad) clearly engages his sympathy.  So when Pete is killed in a road accident, Snow (who was observing him at the time) blames himself.

Spike Harran (Frank Barrie) and Tom Bishop (Graham Weston) are the two members of the gang granted speaking roles.  Many more are seen when the bank raid is carried out, but they were clearly stuntmen and non-speaking extras.  Indeed, the robbery is something of a jolting moment – up until this point the episode has proceeded in a typical fashion for SS:TF (high on character detail, low on visual excitement) so the sight of a gaggle of stuntmen throwing themselves about with wild abandon certainly catches the eye.

The early scenes between Pete, Spike and Tom have something of a comic air. Partly this is down to Tom’s tie, but the dialogue (the way that Spike and Tom have to repeat things again and again to Pete) also reinforces the feeling that the whole escapade is a bit of a lark.  But the brief violence seen during the raid, Pete’s death and Snow’s cold fury at Pete’s wasted life all help to darken the mood.

Adler once again is placed at the centre of the story. His interactions with both Snow and Evans are fascinating.  Snow is happy to give the new Task Force boss a little time to settle in (his attitude reflects his phlegmatic nature). The voluble Evans is a totally different type of person, he’s never slow to reveal his feelings ….

Adler and Snow later bring Spike back to the area.  Their train journey allows Snow to vent his feelings towards Spike, whom he feels had a part to play in Pete’s death. “If this was an old-fashioned compartment with a door there, I’d open it and shove you out”.  Snow’s impassioned tirade, which runs for several minutes, is easily the highlight of the episode.

Terence Rigby once again is excellent value, which makes it a pity that he then took something of a break from the series (sitting out the second half of series four and not returning until the fifth series).  Presumably Rigby had commitments elsewhere.

Grahame Mallard is drafted in as PC Nesbitt (he’d previously appeared in two previous episodes as two different PCs).  His introduction is typical of the series as it couldn’t really be any lower-key (he just appears out of nowhere).

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Softly Softly: Task Force – Justice (29th November 1972)

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Adler is moved back to CID by Cullen. Given what we’ve seen of Adler in previous episodes, it comes as no surprise to learn that he grasps this opportunity with both hands. But he’ll have to try and forge a close working relationship with Harry Hawkins, which may prove to be tricky ….

Adler’s character is delineated a little more at the start of this episode. He tends to be somewhat condescending (calling both Hawkins and Knowles “son”) and also there’s a nice moment concerning his love of plants.  A scene where he blithely offers Cullen some sage horticultural advice is preceded by a conversation between Knowles and one of Adler’s neighbours, Miss Polkington (Janet Burnell). She casts aspersions on Adler’s garden (hers is much better, she says).  A small touch, but it does suggest that Adler may occasionally place too much confidence in his own abilities.

Given Hawkins’ rather placid personality, putting him together with Adler is an interesting move.  Both have very different styles – Hawkins favours movement and action, Adler is methodical – which suggests that decent drama will be generated once they begin to come into conflict.  Especially since Adler is swiftly promoted and becomes Hawkins’ immediate superior ….

To be honest, the main plot (a crooked antique dealer) rather ambles along until we’re about mid-way through the episode. That’s when the antique dealer in question, Bensfield (James Bree), makes his first appearance.  James Bree was an actor who could do subtle (Secret Army) but could also deliver something a little broader (the Doctor Who story The War Games, say).  Today he’s screamingly camp. It’s the sort of turn that’s difficult to forget, especially the moment when Bensfield turns his lascivious attentions towards the stolid Hawkins.

Another familiar face popping up is Karl Howman. He plays Fletcher, Bensfield’s young, leather-jacketed bit of rough who duffs up Knowles (he was house-sitting for the antique laden Miss Polkington). Howman, in his first television role, is very squeaky but the scene he shares with Bree does manage to tease out a moment of tenderness between Bensfield and Fletcher (which helps to humanise Bensfield, making him seem like less of a camp caricature).

Plot-wise this isn’t the most interesting story, but the interaction between the regulars is pretty decent and whilst the guest players are somewhat mannered and stylised, they do catch the eye.

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