Pinter at the BBC – BFI DVD Review

This is an incredibly welcome release, as it brings together a very healthy chunk of Harold Pinter’s BBC output (none of which has been commercially available before). Indeed, Pinter’s television work on DVD has, until now, been rather sparse (a few isolated offerings from Network – the Armchair Theatre production of A Night Out and the Laurence Olivier Presents staging of The Collection – have been the highlights so far).

Disc One

Leo McKern in Tea Party

Tea Party (25th May 1966). 76 minutes

Tea Party was commissioned for a prestigious Eurovision project, entitled The Largest Theatre In The World, which saw the play performed in thirteen separate counties over the course of a single week (some took a subtitled version of the BBC original whilst others staged their own adaptation).

It’s a layered and uncompromising piece, with Leo McKern mesmerising as a self-made businessman who begins to lose his sense of reason (and also his sight). Has he been destabilised by inviting his brother-in-law Willy (Charles Gray) into his business or has his infatuation with his new secretary, Wendy (Vivien Merchant), pushed him over the edge? Do his two young sons from his first marriage really harbour evil intentions towards him or does his new wife, Diana (Jennifer Wright), possesses secrets of her own?

So there are plenty of questions, but as so often with Pinter the answers are less forthcoming. The final scene is extraordinary. Disson (McKern) – his eyes firmly bandaged – sits immobile in the middle of a party held in his honour. Although Disson plainly can’t see, we’re privy to his thoughts (he imagines a three way intimate exchange between his wife, brother-in-law and secretary) as he slowly regresses into a catatonic state.

All of the principals offer polished performances, with Merchant – Pinter’s first wife – especially eye-catching. Given the subject matter and the already rocky relationship she was enjoying with Pinter, it’s fascinating to ponder just what she made of the material. Tea Party is fluidly directed by Charles Jarrott and given that the cameras of this era were bulky and not terribly manoeuvrable, some of his shot choices are quite notable.

It’s a shame that the telerecording isn’t of the highest quality (a new 2K transfer was struck for this release, but given the issues with the original recording the benefit of this was probably minimal). A pity, but at least the worst of the print damage occurs early on.

The Basement (20th February 1967). 54 minutes

Harold Pinter contributed three plays to the Theatre 625 strand in 1967. For some reason the third of these plays appears on the first disc whilst the first two are featured on the second. That’s slightly odd, but since all three aren’t linked in any way it doesn’t matter which order they’re watched in.

We’re in absolutely classic Pinter territory here as Law (Derek Godfrey) discovers his cosy basement flat has been invaded by an old friend, Stott (Pinter) and Stott’s young and mainly silent girlfriend Jane (Kika Markham). Initially pleased to see Stott, Law is less enthused – at first – about Jane ….

The arrival of an outsider into a settled domestic setting is a dramatic device that Pinter would use time and again, but The Basement – the only one of his three Theatre 625 plays to be an original work – is notable since it plays with the artifice and techniques of television.

Even more so than Tea Party, the line between reality and fantasy becomes increasingly blurred as the play continues. Some scenes (such as when Law and Stott, both stripped to the waist, fight each other with broken bottles) seem obviously fantastical, but what of the others? Time certainly seems to move in a disjointed fashion (one moment it’s winter, the next summer) whilst the final scene posits the possibility that everything we’ve seen has been a fantasy.

Pinter is menacing and monosyllabic as Stott but not as monosyllabic as Markham’s Jane, who is passive throughout whilst Godfrey has most of the dialogue and seems to be the most decipherable character of the three. A tight three-hander, The Basement has aged well.

Special Feature

Writers in Conversation – Harold Pinter. A 1984 interview with Pinter, running for 47 minutes.

Disc Two

Hazel Hughes and Maurice Denham in A Slight Ache

A Slight Ache (6th February 1967). 58 minutes

Another three-handed play which also pivots on the arrival of an disruptive outsider, A Slight Ache boasts remarkable turns from both Maurice Denham and Hazel Hughes. Husband and wife – Edward and Flora – they seem reasonably content in their country cottage, but when they invite a nameless and mute matchseller (Gordon Richardson) into their home everything changes.

Denham’s fussy, pernickety Edward is slowly destroyed by the matchseller’s ominous silence whilst Flora finds that her long-dormant sexuality has been reignited by his presence. Some contemporary reviewers found this a little hard to swallow, but realism isn’t the chief component of this play. The matchseller simply serves as a catalyst for Edward and Flora to indulge in several powerful monologues.

Despite its radio origins, A Slight Ache has a much more of a theatrical feel than The Basement. Barry Newbery’s sets (especially the lush garden) are a highlight of the production.

A Night Out (13th February 1967). 60 minutes

It’s interesting to be able to compare and contrast this production of A Night Out to the 1960 Armchair Theatre presentation. Honours are pretty much even, with Tony Selby here proving to be equally effective as the repressed mummy’s boy as Tom Bell was back in 1960.

Anna Wing, as the mother in question, makes for an imposing harridan – although wisely she doesn’t overplay her domineering nature. Albert (Selby) is all she has left, but she ensures that her psychological games comprise honeyed words and pitiful entreaties rather than abuse.

Albert’s humiliation at an office party eventually leads him to a prostitute (Avril Elgar). That she, in her own way, is just as controlling as his own mother unleashes his ugly side. All the pent-up emotions he can’t express at home are unloaded on this poor unfortunate.

Well-cast throughout (John Castle and Peter Pratt catch the eye) A Night Out is the most straightforward of the three Pinter Theatre 625 productions, but is no less fascinating.

Disc Three  

Henry Woolf in Monologue

Monologue (13th April 1973). 20 minutes

We’re now in colour for the fifth play in the Pinter set. At just twenty minutes it’s one of the shortest and only features a single actor – Henry Woolf, but it still packs plenty of content into its brief running time though.  An unnamed man (Woolf) addresses an empty chair, which is standing in for his absent friend.  Or does he believe that his friend is actually sitting there? Or is his friend simply a figment of his imagination?

As so often, several readings can be made, each one equally valid.  The story which unfolds – male friendship disrupted by the arrival of a female – echoes back to the likes of The Basement and is skilfully delivered by Woolf.  One of Pinter’s oldest friends (the pair enjoyed a relationship for more than fifty years) Woolf doesn’t really put a foot wrong (he later reprised this piece at the National in 2002).

This might be a Pinter in miniature, but is certainly deserving of attention.  Something of a neglected piece (there’s no listing on IMDB for example) hopefully this DVD release will shine a little more light on it.

Old Times (22nd October 1975). 75 minutes

Old Times has a very theatrical feel.  This form of television staging would eventually fall out of fashion – for some it was simply electronic theatre (a bad thing apparently).  But it’s always been a style that I’ve enjoyed – when there’s no location filming or clever camera angles, the piece has to stand or fall on the quality of the writing and acting.  

It’s another triangle story – married couple Deeley (Barry Foster) and Kate (Anna Cropper) find their status quo disturbed by the arrival of Kate’s old schoolfriend Anna (Mary Miller).  With Kate remaining passive for most of the play she becomes an object that both Deeley and Anna seek to claim as their own.

Several theories have been propounded to explain the meaning of the play. When Anthony Hopkins tackled the role of Deeley in 1984 he asked Pinter for some pointers. The playwright’s advice? “I don’t know, just do it”.  

Anna’s presence at the start of the play (standing at the back of the living room in darkness and immobile) is a early indictor that the production isn’t striving for realism.  She shouldn’t be there – the dialogue between Deeley and Kate makes it clear she’s yet to arrive – so her presence ensures that a tone of oddness and disconnection is set.  Foster and Cropper duel very effectively (a lengthy scene where Deeley and Anna discuss the best ways to dry a dripping wet Kate is just one highlight).

Puzzling in places (has everything we’ve witnessed simply been Deeley’s imaginings?) Old Times is nevertheless so densely scripted as to make it a rewarding one to rewatch.

Landscape (4th February 1983). 45 minutes

Landscape is a two-hander shared between husband and wife Duff (Colin Blakely) and Beth (Dorothy Tutin).  Both indulge in separate monologues which never connect to the other person’s conversation.  Beth in fact never acknowledges Duff’s presence, although he does appear to know that she’s there (or at least that someone is).

The Lord Chamberlain’s office, back in 1967, found itself unimpressed with Landscape. “The nearer to Beckett, the more portentous Pinter gets. This is a long one-act play without any plot or development … a lot of useless information about the treatment of beer … And of course, there have to be the ornamental indecencies”.

A little harsh maybe. Landscape is plotless but leaves a lingering impression. The music, composed by Carl Davis and played by John Williams, helps with this.

Special Feature

Pinter’s People – four animated short films (each around five minutes) from 1969.  A pity that a fifth – Last To Go – couldn’t be included for rights reasons, but the ones we do have are interesting little curios (Richard Briers, Kathleen Harrison, Vivien Merchant and Dandy Nichols provide the voices, so there’s no shortage of talent there).

Disc Four

Derek Newark in The Hothouse

The Hothouse (27th March 1982). 112 minutes.

Watching these plays in sequence, what’s especially striking about The Hothouse is just how funny it is.  There have been moments of levity in some of the previous plays, but the farcical tone seen here is something quite different.  Originally written in the late fifties and then shelved for twenty years, The Hothouse is set in a government rest home which, it’s strongly implied, uses any methods necessary to “cure” its unfortunate patients (who we can take to be political dissidents).

Although a dark undertone is always present (indeed, the play concludes with the offscreen deaths of all but one of the senior staff) there’s also a playful use of dialogue and even the odd slapstick moment.  Derek Newark as Roote, the hopelessly out of his depth manager, steamrollers his way through scene after scene quite wonderfully.

A man constantly losing a running battle to keep his anger in check, Roote seems incapable of understanding even the simplest of things. Although he may not be quite as dense as he appears (his culpability in the death of one patient and the pregnancy of another is certainly open to interpretation).

With a strong supporting cast, The Hothouse was certainly the most surprising of the main features.

Mountain Language (11th December 1988). 21 minutes.

A one-act play which was first performed at the National Theatre in late 1988, it swiftly transferred to television just a few months later with Michael Gambon and Miranda Richardson reprising their stage roles. One of Pinter’s more political pieces, Gambon and Richardson (along with Julian Wadham and Eileen Atkins) all offer nuanced performances.

Gambdon and Wadham are soldiers, facing down a group of prisoners who include Richardson and Atkins. Language, so often key in Pinter’s works, is once again pushed to the forefront.

“Your language is forbidden. It is dead. No one is allowed to speak your language. Your language no longer exists. Any questions?”

Mountain Language is another prime example of the way Pinter could make an impact in a very short space of time.

Disc Five

Colin Blakely, Kenneth Cranham and Harold Pinter in The Birthday Party

The Birthday Party (21st June 1987). 107 minutes.

Written in 1957, when Pinter was touring in a production of Doctor In The House, The Birthday Party was Pinter’s first full length play.  Revived thirty years later for this Theatre Night production, it’s plain that time hadn’t diminished its impact.

Kenneth Cranham is mesmerising as Stanley, a man haunted by vague ghosts from his past.  Treated with stifling maternal love by his landlady Meg (Joan Plowright), the arrival of two mysterious strangers – Goldberg (Pinter) and McCann (Colin Blakely) – marks the beginning of a nightmarish twenty four hours.  Also featuring Julie Walters and Robert Lang, The Birthday Party baffled many critics back in the late fifties – the reason why Goldberg and McCann have decided to target Stanley and the others is just one puzzle – but in retrospect it’s fascinating to see how key Pinter themes, such as the reliability of memory, were already firmly in place.

Special Features

Face To Face: Harold Pinter. Sir Jeremy Isaacs is the out of vision interviewer since – as per the style of all the programmes in this series – the camera remains firmly fixed on Pinter throughout.  Some decent ground is covered across the forty minutes of this 1997 interview.

Harold Pinter: Guardian Interview. Audio only, 73 minutes. This is selectable as an additional audio track on The Birthday Party, even though it doesn’t directly refer to that play (or run for its whole length). 

It might only be January, but this looks set to be one of the archive television releases of the year. Highly recommended.

Pinter at the BBC is released by the BFI on the 28th of January 2019.  

Harold Pinter, 1997

Take Me Home – Simply Media DVD Review

Tom (Keith Barron) is eking out a living as a cab driver in the Midlands town of Woodsleigh Abbots.  It’s something of a comedown for a skilled man, but since all the traditional trades have disappeared he has little choice. Life with his wife Liz (Annette Crosbie) is settled but rather humdrum.

However, when he meets Kathy (Maggie O’Neill) everything changes. Kathy, half his age, is a newlywed who has recently moved to the area. Having had an argument with her husband, Martin (Reece Dinsdale), she scrambles into Tom’s cab in a highly distressed state. He initially treats her with fatherly concern, but over time this transforms into a dangerous passion which begins to eat away at him ….

Originally broadcast in 1989, Tony Marchant’s three part drama stands as a document of the dying days of the Thatcher era.  Previously an industrial town, the arrival of Chinese computer firm InfoCo has transformed Woodsleigh Abbots, bringing in an influx of upwardly mobile white collar workers like Martin.

Martin and his friends are the winners at present leaving Tom, having seen the industry he spent his life working in evaporate, very much on the debit side of the ledger. As for Liz, she’s embraced InfoCo and enjoys working in their canteen, even if the rank and file staff members – such as Martin – treat her with indifference or mild contempt.

The company offers nothing for Tom though, so armed with his favourite Dusty Springfield cassette he’s chosen the job of cabbie.  But the recent regeneration has transformed the town to such an extent that he sometimes struggles to find his way. The irony in this is quite clear.

The contrast between Martin and Kathy, with their badminton and dinner parties, and the humbler pleasures of Tom and Liz is marked.  Clearly Martin and Kathy are on their way up whilst Tom feels that he’s being left behind.  His bitterness at the way that technological progress has halted his career, allied to his suspicion about the ever-encroaching InfoCo, positions him as a skilled man who has come to realise that his skills are no longer needed.

Keith Barron was one of those actors who could convey a whole range of emotions with just a single look. There’s an excellent example at the beginning of the first episode as Tom drops a couple (older man, younger woman) off at a motel. The waves of disapproval emanating from Tom (the man’s old enough to be the girl’s father for goodness sake) is palpable. But that was before he’d met Kathy of course ..

The clash of opposites is one of the things which makes Take Me Home so compelling.  Tom and Kathy have little in common – the age gap is just one example whilst their divergent musical tastes (he favours Dusty whilst she loves Deacon Blue) is another. 

Reece Dinsdale has a difficult role to play since Martin, initially at least, is portrayed as a wholly unlikeable type. Forcing Kathy to have an abortion (telling her that he wouldn’t be able to love their child and would also end up hating her) sets the tone. As befits a computer operator (or at least the 1980’s vision of one) Martin is coldly logical. They can’t afford a baby at the moment, so the “mistake” has to be dealt with.

The relationship between Tom and Kathy is a slow burn. But once they do connect, everything happens in a rush. Subtitled “a love story” in the Radio Times, it’s probably best not to expect a happy ending – it’s plain that when the affair is revealed the fallout will be dramatic.

It’s hard to fault any of the main performers. Barron is perfect as the essentially decent, but utterly conflicted Tom (a man unable to tear himself away from Kathy, even though he’s well aware that he’s destroying his marriage). Crosbie’s slowly dawning comprehension that something is badly wrong is also skilfully played.

O’Neill has to tread a difficult path, but she ensures that Kathy is more than simply an attractive piece of totty (or a helpless victim of either of the men in her life). And although Martin is initially portrayed in a deeply unsympathetic light, as time goes on the script (and Dinsdale) teases out his damaged, fragile side.

By the final episode the truth is out and events spiral further and further out of control before some sort of compromise is reached (although it’s debatable who the winners and losers are).  Barron and Crosbie share several pulsating scenes early in the episode.  Crosbie is never better than here – displaying a mix of emotions (denial, anger, forgiveness) in quick succession. The sight of a glammed-up Liz (maybe partly done to genuinely tempt Tom, but mainly to taunt him) is a haunting and faintly disturbing one.

Uncompromising and skilfully acted, Take Me Home still has considerable impact, nearly thirty years down the line. Recommended.

Comprising three episodes each of approximately sixty minutes duration, Take Me Home comes on a single disc. There are no special features but – as per all BBC titles – it’s subtitled.  The picture quality is fine (albeit a little grainy) with no noticeable issues.

Take Me Home is available now from Simply Media. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Series Three, Episodes Eleven to Thirteen

Moloch

Any clues that this is a Ben Stead script? Well, one or two ….

Sardos is a planet where the gross Section Leader Grose (John Hartley) rules with an iron hand although the unseen Moloch seems to be pulling most of the strings. Moloch doesn’t do much though, apart from occasionally piping up off-screen to advise that any miscreant female should be handed over to Grose’s men. It hardly needs to be spelled out what their fate will be.

Servalan later sums up the state of affairs on Sardos. “Well, Section Leader, the records were accurate. Women, food, and inflicting pain – in no particular order”. At least with Power, Stead would subvert expectations from time to time – sadly there’s no examples of that here. When Grose slaps a serving wench on the bottom and suggests that she’d look better with a “bit of dressing, and an apple between her teeth” we have to take his comments at face value.

The expectation is that one of the downtrodden females, such as Chesil (Sabina Franklyn), will be the one to strike the killer blow and bring Grose’s misogynistic empire crashing to the ground. That would have been something, but it wasn’t to be.

Vila later makes friends with Doran (Davyd Harris), an initially affable rogue who later turns out to be far less affable (that fact he hates women shouldn’t really come as any surprise – even though he’s not one of Grose’s men). Michael Keating is a little better served by this script than the previous one. His best moment comes when Vila runs into Servalan and the pair form an uneasy (and very brief) alliance. A whole episode featuring a team-up between Vila and Servalan would have been delicious, a pity it never happened.

The fortunes of the Federation have fluctuated during series three, mainly depending on who was writing the script. In Moloch, things seem so bad that Servalan has traipsed across the galaxy in order to retrieve Grose’s legion of ships. That doesn’t exactly chime with what we’ve seen previously, but that’s the least of this episode’s problems …

As we lurch towards the conclusion, things get more and more lunatic. The appearance of Colonel Astrid, Grose’s former commander, is bad enough but then we finally get to see Moloch himself. If you’re going to hold something back for a shock reveal at the end, you need to make sure that it’s worth waiting for. Oh dear.

Mind-boggling stuff. What were Chris Boucher and David Maloney thinking?

Death Watch

Armed with nothing more than a bad wig, Steven Pacey very credibly manages to make Deeta Tarrant seem like a very different character from his younger brother Del. The Deeta scenes give Pacey better material to work with than he’s had for most of series three and it’s one of the obvious highlights of the episode.

Vila’s amazing range of drinks and snacks is another and I also like the rare example of playful banter between Vila and Cally – which ends when the pair, acting like a couple of children, chase each other off the flight deck!

There’s some nice self-referential touches in this story. The commentator (David Sibley) serves a dual purpose – not only does he info-dump a considerable amount of detail about the upcoming combat, but when that’s over there’s time for a few sly digs at the artifice of television broadcasting (“it was your usual delicate mixture of enthusiasm and dignified cliché”). The portentous voice-over (“Space, the final frontier”) is another obvious bit of mockery.

Servalan does very little, but her scene with Avon is worth the price of admission alone. Paul Darrow manages to overcome the handicap of looking ridiculous (that jacket isn’t the best thing he’s ever worn) as he spits out his dialogue in trademark fashion. You just knew that another snog was around the corner and he didn’t disappoint on that score. Two other moments are especially delightful – the way Avon holds Servalan in an embrace whilst at the same time calling the Liberator for teleport as well as Servalan’s smile after he departs.

The POV shots during the Deeta/Vinny battle are nicely done, as are Deeta’s final moments which the audience are invited to share. A pity that the space suits are all a bit glam rock though.

Overall, there’s not a lot wrong with this one. It’s certainly rich in small character moments which means that it’s a rewarding story to revisit.

Terminal

Terminal offers us a preview of the irrational Avon we’d see in series four. The destruction of the Liberator is a direct consequence of his overweening hubris – had he taken the advice of the others and steered the ship around the unidentified particles then the Liberator would have lived to tell the tale. But Avon knew best, or thought he did …..

“Well, you certainly took your time finding me”. It’s the briefest of scenes, but even this small dose of Gareth Thomas is a sharp reminder of what the series has lacked this year. Although a few half-hearted attempts had been made to strike up a rivalry between Avon and Tarrant, it never sprung into life. Had – as originally intended – an older actor been cast as Tarrant then possibly their spats might have been more impressive. But Steven Pacey always seemed like a lightweight when lined up alongside Paul Darrow.

The plot’s a little loose in places. Did Avon really just track Blake down in order to take part in his get-rich plan? We’ve previously been told that the Liberator contains untold wealth, so this seems unlikely. Or did Avon – even after all their squabbles – really want to reconnect with his former ship-mate? Again, this is slightly hard to swallow but it seems the more likely reason of the two.

But I do like the way that Avon’s motives are rather cloaked – when Servalan (shock, horror) makes an appearance, she wonders if Avon teleported down alone because he didn’t want to share Blake’s spoils with the others (Avon maintained it was because he didn’t want to put them in danger). The brief smile on his face after Servalan’s comment leaves this point moot.

Of course, there was no Blake, it was all an illusion conjured up by Servalan in order to (yawn) capture the Liberator. The only good thing about the destruction of the ship in this story is that we’ll be spared any more of these Servalan-hatches-a-crazy-plan-to-steal-the-Liberator plotlines in the future.

Best not to question why neither Servalan nor her minions notice that the Liberator’s not exactly looking in tip top shape. She’s been onboard before, so surely all the gloopy pustules on the walls should have started the alarm bells ringing.

Terminal’s ominous and constant heartbeat (which only increases the closer that Avon gets to his prey) works well and it’s nice to see Vila take charge for once. Left on the ailing Liberator with Dayna, he hatches a plan to hopefully buy them some more time.

The death of Zen (“I have failed you. I am sorry”) has always been more upsetting to me than the death of Gan. Sorry David.

Terminal does sag in parts (it takes an awfully long time for Avon to reach faux-Blake and the less said about the links the better) but it’s still a good’un.

So that’s that. The final end. At least until there was a last minute reprieve ….

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Series Three, Episodes Eight to Ten

Rumours of Death

I love the cold opening – a pity that the show didn’t do more of this. Unshaven and in pain, we share Avon’s disorientation as he’s visited in his cell by Shrinker (John Bryans). The prison cell is a simple set, but off-camera screams from other, less fortunate, inmates helps to create a sense both of scale and oppression. Fiona Cumming’s direction here, and throughout the episode, has some nice choices – with Shrinker standing and Avon sitting, the low camera angle reinforces the Federation man’s dominance (at least initially).

Avon’s ruthlessness is perfectly demonstrated in this episode (as well as his single-minded desire to withstand anything – even days of torture – to achieve his ultimate goal). Whether this is a good or bad thing is debatable – it’s easy to argue that the seeds of his eventual downfall were sown here. After killing the most important woman in his life (who betrayed him) it surely would make killing the most important man in his life (whom he believed had betrayed him) much easier.

After some of the more pulpy sci-fi stories of series three, Rumours of Death is a pleasingly straightforward thriller/spy yarn. And whilst the palace revolution – and Servalan’s temporary dethroning – was achieved rather easily, this could be taken as an illustration of just how tenuous her grip on power was at this point.

Jacqueline Pearce doesn’t have a great of screentime, but her scenes with Avon are pulsating (especially “It’s an old wall, Avon, it waits. I hope you don’t die before you reach it.”). Although once again it’s remarkable that Avon and Servalan keep on running into each other when they’ve the whole galaxy to play with.

Greenlee (Donald Douglas) and Forres (David Haig) are a couple of interesting characters – Federation types who also seem like fairly ordinary people. The fact they’re a likeable double-act helps to blur the lines between the “good” and “bad” sides. Sula (Lorna Helibron) is another example of this – is she a pure rebel, keen to restore democracy with a People’s Council, or does she just have her eye on replacing Servalan?

The revelation that Sula was Anna (and therefore everything Avon thought he knew was wrong) means that he has – in his own mind – no choice but to kill her. Whether she did really love him (as her dying words suggest) is another of those moments that’s open to interpretation. And that’s one of the reasons why Rumours of Death is such a good episode – few B7’s have this level of nuance. Who do you trust and who do you disbelieve?

Although the episode Blake wasn’t even a gleam in Chris Boucher’s eye when he scripted this one, in retrospect it’s easy to see how even at this point Avon was firmly set on the road to Gauda Prime.

Sarcophagus

You can’t help but love and respect a story which begins in such an oblique and bewildering fashion. Sarcophagus‘ first five minutes pass by with no explanation, although the roles of the masked servitors will become clearer later on (when we see the Liberator crew occupying the same positions).

As with most of S3, there’s a definite feeling of ennui hanging over the crew. With no particular goal in sight, they spend their time doing relatively little (you know things are desperate when Vila and Avon are indulging in a game of space draughts). Tarrant’s asteroid (“something else to chase” as Cally says) is the latest example of a mission which seems to be designed more to keep them busy, than for any other pressing reason.

Largely set aboard the Liberator and (apart from some non-speaking extras) solely centered around the regulars, Sarcophagus may have been designed as a cheap show, but Tanith Lee was able to work with these limitations and unlike, say Breakdown (another Liberator heavy story), ensure that everybody was well served by the script. Avon and Cally top and tail the story (with other intriguing scenes scattered throughout), Tarrant might be his usual annoying self when interrogating Cally early on, but he gets a decent scene with the alien later (although largely it feels like he’s just softening her up for Avon’s killer blow). Dayna gets to warble a tune(!) whilst Vila’s conjuring tricks (with a dose of non-diegetic sound) ends up as a decidedly creepy moment.

Easy to see why this is a slightly marmite story, since it’s almost totally a tale of dialogue and concepts with little or no action. But I’m glad that Boucher took a chance on a television novice like Tanith Lee, as both of her B7 stories are ones which repay multiple viewings.

Ultraworld

Vila seems to have had a nervous breakdown, that’s the only possible explanation I can find for his behaviour in this episode (chuckling with Orac at a series of lame riddles and gags). One sample will suffice – “Where do space pilots leave their ships? At parking meteors”. True, in the end this becomes an important plot point, but it’s still incredibly lame (you can’t blame Michael Keating, he could only work with the material he had, but the script gives him little scope to portray Vila as anything over than a childish buffoon).

Jan Chappell, who spends most of the episode unconscious, also has limited room to shine. So with Vila out to lunch and Cally asleep, that leaves the trio of Avon, Tarrant and Dayna. This does have its compensations – especially as we’re treated to some typical Avon jibes (when Tarrant declares that he takes calculated risks, Avon counters “calculated on what? Your fingers?”). And with Avon sitting most of the second part of the episode out, this leaves Tarrant and Dayna at the forefront – it’s notable how Tarrant takes control (even if you sense he really doesn’t know what he’s doing).

Although Ultraworld had a fairly small guest cast, it doesn’t seem to have been a particularly cheap show. The modelwork is impressive (the huge pulsating brain is gloriously icky whilst the capture of the Liberator is another nice sequence – albeit a bit wobbly). Location filming at the Camden Town shelter also helped to create a sense of space.

Of course the story is a very silly run-around (Trevor Hoyle, like Tanith Lee, was a science-fiction novelist and a television novice, but their two S3 stories couldn’t be further apart – one was lyrical and layered, and the other was called Ultraworld). This is a story that you sense Hoyle wasn’t taking terribly seriously.

Especially played for laughs is the scene where the Ultras decide that Tarrant and Dayna should demonstrate the human bonding ceremony. Dayna seems up for it (“kiss me. Come on. I can’t be all that repulsive”) as she, ahem, sets to work on Tarrant. The way the Ultras are looking in (“has the bonding ceremony begun?”) sets the tone of this sequence.

Everything’s sorted out with embarrassing ease – Cally and Avon might have had their memories stolen but luckily Tarrant was able to find their data stores just lying about. A pity they weren’t swopped around, as an episode with Avon stuck in Cally’s body (and vice-versa) would have been very interesting.

It’s silly, but it’s fun.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Series Three, Episodes Five to Seven

Harvest of Kairos

This one is odd, very, very odd. For just this episode, Tarrant has become the unopposed leader of the group (Servalan keeps chuntering on about his command skills, and when she boards the Liberator once again reminds everybody that Tarrant’s the boss). Wat’s Avon doing whilst Tarrant’s running the show? He’s staring at a rock he’s found (Darrow plays this episode like the Avon of S4 – whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on how much you enjoy S4).

Andrew Burt’s not a bad actor, but he’s woefully miscast as Jarvik (mind you, any actor would struggle with this role). From his first words (“Woman, you’re beautiful” as he grasps Servalan for a quick snog) it’s hard to keep a straight face whenever Jarvik has any dialogue.

How he temporarily humanises Servalan is interesting, but it’s a pity that it’s done in such a ham-fisted way. “When was the last time you felt the warmth of the Earth’s sun on your naked back? Or lifted your face to the heavens, and laughed with the joy of being alive? How long since you wept at the death of a friend?” Another actor might have delivered this with a little more subtlety, I’m afraid that Burt’s line reading only generated tears of laughter from me ….

Jarvik is a man. Tarrant is a man. Therefore they have to do what men do – face each other in combat. It’s possible that there’s an element of satire in Ben Steed’s script, but I don’t really think so – it seems we’re required to take everything at face value. The climax of the story (Jarvik is accidentally shot dead) is incredibly unconvincing (I assume the clock was ticking round to ten pm). But it does allow Tarrant to remind everybody that Jarvik was a special kind of man. A man’s man, you might say.

The creature is monumentally silly as well, but that’s the least of this episode’s problems. And yet, like Voice from the Past this is an episode that I still derive some pleasure from. It’s illogical and made on the cheap (Servalan seems to be flying around in a space station) but whatever else it is, it’s not dull.

City at the Edge of the World

Whether by accident or design, all the regulars get at least one starring episode during series three (Cally is especially lucky as she gets two – Children of Auron and Sarcophagus). City is Vila’s chance to shine and it’s nice to see Michael Keating given more to do for once than just act as the comic foil. The episode’s a bit of a run-around, but Colin Baker’s performance as Bayban helps to keep things ticking along nicely. Subtle his turn isn’t, entertaining it is.

Always nice to see Valentine Dyall, although he isn’t called upon to do much more than stand around looking noble. Carol Hawkins looks lovely, although Kerril’s sudden mood swing (from hating Vila to loving him) is a little hard to swallow. Maybe this was all just one of Vila’s soma induced dreams?

The relationship between Vila and Kerril is delightfully chaste (their ‘sex’ scene seems to mainly consist of them lying on adjoining couches). An agreeable romp then – not a story with great depth or impact but thanks to the performances it breezes along nicely.

Children of Auron

Oh no, not another story where Servalan attempts to steal the Liberator ….

On the plus side, Liberator pinching does very much play second fiddle to her other (frankly bonkers) plan – feeling a little broody, she intends to wipe out vast swathes of Cally’s people just so she can use their cloning facilities to create a race of mini-Servalans. But compared to Roger Parkes’ previous script (Voice from the Past) this seems quite sensible.

Auron never really comes alive as a planet. Their isolationist nature is touched upon (but if this is the case, why was a pilot tootling around in space?) and Ronald Leigh-Hunt does his usual gruff act, but it’s hard to really connect to the tragedy that befalls them.

Cally has a twin! I love Chris Boucher dearly, but sometimes his script-editing was odd. Cally has a twin? Fair enough, but pulling the same trick with Tarrant a few episodes later makes this harder to swallow (you can’t help but expect the same thing to happen with Avon, Vila and Dayna too).

Odd that Zelda wasn’t given more to do, although her final scene with Cally was touching.

All the regulars get some decent lines (plus Paul Darrow has some serious brooding time) but it’s really Jacqueline Pearce who gets the best of the script. Even though Servalan once again displays an astonishing lack of judgement, it’s impossible not to feel something after she’s tricked into destroying her embryos. “They were mine, I felt them die”.

Rio Fanning and Ric Young (as Deral and Ginka) offer some light relief (although I’ve a feeling this wasn’t intended). Poor Servalan, good men must be hard to find if these two are the best she can come up with.

Serious points off for the chucklesome ending (almost as bad as Breakdown – we’ve just witnessed a catastrophe, so let’s have a bit of a laugh). Children of Auron is a bit static and wordy (and the plot isn’t exactly watertight) but it’s a solid character piece.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Series Three, Episodes One to Four

Aftermath

The great galactic battle is a bit of a damp squib – with various bits of reused footage being pressed into service. Interesting that Cally and Vila only play a small role in this one – partly this enables new arrival Dayna a decent slice of the action, but it also means that Avon can move centre-stage unchallenged. What are the odds that Servalan would have ended up on the same planet as Avon? Hmm. If that’s hard to swallow, then so is the fact that Avon and Servalan immediately lock themselves into a hate/hate (with maybe a dash of love) relationship.

How many words had they previously exchanged? Judging from what we see here, they seem like the best of enemies with a lengthy history, which isn’t the case at all. Avon’s roughhousing (“Imagination my only limit? I’d be dead in a week”) is played nicely.

My interest always flags when hairy primitives pop up, although since they only feature in a fairly minor subplot it’s not too much of an issue (the Avon/Dayna/Servalan triangle is the main point of interest during this story). Josette Simon makes an instant impression whilst Paul Darrow easily steps up to the mark as a leading man. And another good cliffhanger!

Powerplay

I’m not the greatest S3 Tarrant fan, but he does have a decent introductory episode. Not quite sure though weren’t more explicit about making him a rogue Federation officer rather than just another freedom fighter. Although maybe Tarrant was fibbing about his freedom fighter status – this would have been an interesting angle to develop at a later date.

Michael Sheard is entertainingly gruff and Darrow and Simon continue to work well together. On original transmission, I was sure that Blake was the secret killer. Alas, that was a bit wide of the mark.

Cally doesn’t do a great deal but Vila’s subplot – especially his “we’ve got you surrounded” shtick – is good fun. Mind you, his effusive appreciation of the lovely young ladies is so overdone that you just know a sting in the tail is coming.

Following Servalan’s encounter with Avon last week (straining credibility) this time she runs into Vila and Cally. It’s clearly a small galaxy.

I’ve always been fond of this one. The fairly small guest ensures that pretty much all the regulars get a good crack of the whip. Mind you, given the number of times I watched the VHS omnibus back in the day, it does seem odd not to be carrying on with Sarcophagus ….

Volcano

Some of the volcano stock footage looks familiar. Was it also used for the Doctor Who Inferno title sequence?

As it’s an Allan Prior script it’s probably best to ratchet down your expectations. The planet Obsidian does at least boast one decent actor – Michael Gough as Hower – but even he struggles with most of the dialogue. Malcolm Bullivant, as Hower’s son Bershar, is pretty wooden throughout though.

Things aren’t much more promising on the Federation front – Ben Howard (as Mori) is operating in Travis (Brian Croucher) territory. The fact that he, and a small group of Federation troops, manage to take over the Liberator should be a standout moment, but it turns out to be something of a damp squib.

The battle fleet commander (Alan Bowerman) maintains the generally low standard of the guest cast.

Why did they gag Cally but not Vila? Anyway, it’s pretty pointless to gag a telepath ….

There are a few bright spots though. With only Avon and Vila left aboard, Vila has to step up to the mark after Avon is injured. He taunts Servalan very nicely. Vila doesn’t do much in the story, but STILL gets many of the best lines.

Servalan’s plan (she wants the Liberator, then at the last minute decides she doesn’t) sums up the incoherent nature of the story.

Dayna and Tarrant get a nice slice of the narrative down on the planet, even if Hower and Bershar aren’t great conversationalists. They do possess the most wonderful robot though. It’s hard not to take your eyes off him.

The most intriguing part of the story occurs when Tarrant tells Hower that they’re mercenaries and in exchange for the use of his planet he’d be in line for a percentage of the spoils. Was Tarrant fibbing or did he seriously think they’d be setting off for a life of crime as intergalactic pirates? I suppose this does anticipate later stories such as Gold though.

Not a very good story, but it’s fitfully entertaining.

Dawn of the Gods

I love the fact that everybody – except killjoy Tarrant – begins the episode by enjoying a nice game of Space Monopoly.

This is one of those stories which features a great many Liberator scenes. On the positive side this means there’s ample time to develop and explore the characters of the regulars, the negative is the sense that the story is proceeding at a snail’s pace.

The needle between Avon and Tarrant is entertaining though.

TARRANT: One day, Avon, I may have to kill you.
AVON: It has been tried.

I love Vila’s dazed comment as well (“I’m in hell — and it’s full of Avons”).

Actually, the Liberator part of the story is easily the best thing about Dawn of the Gods – when we reach the artificial satellite of Krandor things get very odd. The sight of the top-hatted Caliph for starters.

Groff, with his eye shade, also looks out of place, but at least he’s played by a decent actor (Terry Scully) who’s able to take the paper thin character and flesh it out a little, thereby ensuring that we care just a little about Groff’s fate.

Yet another mystical legend from Cally’s home planet, at least the Thaarn looks impressive, even if it’s difficult to work up much interest about his politely spoken desire to rule the universe.

The way the story stumbles to a conclusion is a bit of a problem, but this time round I didn’t find Dawn to be that painful (whereas in the past I recall it being much more of a slog). Perhaps I was just in a good mood today.

Three films from the Play For Today series to be released by Simply Media on the 1st of October 2018

Simply Media will be releasing Our Day Out, The Imitation Game and The Fishing Party on the 1st of October 2018. Below are details on all three, taken from Simply’s press release.

Our Day Out

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An anarchic, bittersweet comedy drama from Oscar-nominee Willy Russell, creator of Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine. Rated 8.2 on IMDB. Directed by BAFTA-winner Pedr James (Our Friends in the North) and produced by David Rose (Z Cars).

A hilarious and chaotic romp about a group of inner-city Liverpool schoolchildren let off the leash for a day’s outing. Different teaching approaches clash when the compassionate Mrs Kay (Jean Heywood – Billy Elliot) and disciplinarian Mr Briggs (Alun Armstrong – Krull) attempt to supervise.

Stopping at a cafe, a zoo, the beach and a funfair, the children take every opportunity to cause havoc. This tender comedy draws on Willy Russell’s own experiences of school trips as both pupil and teacher.

Originally broadcast in 1977, it was later adapted as a stage musical and still features today as a popular school text.

What the Press Said:

“I laughed out loud a great deal, and secretly wept a little.” The Sunday Times

“A gloriously funny and touching play.” Guardian

The Imitation Game

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Bestselling writer Ian McEwan (The Children Act) wrote this impassioned drama, inspired by stories of women who helped to crack the Enigma Code during WWII.

Rated 7.8 on IMDB and first shown in 1980. Directed and produced by BAFTA-nominee Richard Eyre (Notes on a Scandal).

Starring Harriet Walter (Sense and Sensibility / The Sense of an Ending) in her first major screen role alongside Oscar-nominee Brenda Blethyn (Vera) and BAFTA-nominee Patricia Routledge (Keeping Up Appearances).

19-year-old Cathy Raine (Harriet Walter) lives in 1940’s Frinton on Sea, expected to spend the war working at the local munitions factory. Against the wishes of her family she signs up for the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

There she befriends working-class Mary (Brenda Blethyn) and moves to the code-breaking centre at Bletchley Park where Cathy meets Turing-like mathematics don John Turner (Nicholas Le Provost). But Cathy is being kept in the dark by the secretive male hierarchy – until she stumbles upon a secret intelligence file that may jeopardise her safety.

What the Press Said:

“A Play for Today of rare distinction” Clive James

The Fishing Party

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Crown Court creator Peter Terson’s comedy of class and manners. Rated 8.9 on IMDB, and first shown in 1972. Directed by BAFTA-winner Michael Simpson (Prince Regent).

Derbyshire miners Art (Brian Glover), Ern (Ray Mort) and Abe (Douglas Livingstone) head north to Whitby for a boys-only fishing escape.

Checking into a shabby B&B run by haughty landlady Audrey (Jane Freeman – Last of the Summer Wine) and her henpecked hubby, the trio are bamboozled into paying a high price for their rooms.

Their boat is piloted by a stern ex-fisherman, who warns them about mixing chips and brown ale on choppy waters. The boys are half-cut before they leave the harbour, and as they head out to sea they’re decidedly off-colour.

What the Press Said:

“A joyous comedy… overflowing with brilliant observation and wonderfully circular dialogue.” TV Cream

All three DVDs have a RRP of £12.99, Our Day Out runs for seventy minutes, The Imitation Game for ninety two minutes and The Fishing Party for fifty seven minutes.

Blakes 40 – Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch: Series Two, Episodes Eight to Ten

Hostage

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Oh dear, this isn’t very good is it? Plus points, we get a brief smidgen of Kevin Stoney whilst Servalan placed under a little pressure is always good to see.

Continuity isn’t a strong point of this story. Servalan reacts with amazement when Joban tells her that Blake’s become a hero amongst the rank and file of the Federation, which flatly contracts previous stories where Blake’s growing reputation was becoming a problem.

I don’t know if it was ever seriously considered, but the possibility of Travis teaming up with Blake would have been very interesting. Having Travis as a new crewmember aboard the Liberator opens up all sorts of possibilities (which would have been more satisfying than the increasingly odd way his character was used – Voice From The Past, anyone?).

The crimos are pretty rubbish, as are the polystyrene rocks, whilst Travis seems stupider than usual (does he really not know who is weakest out of Blake, Avon and Vila?).

So not good, but there’s a few good one-liners scattered about and – as ever – great interaction between the regulars, so it’s not completely unwatchable.

Countdown

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The main drawback with a story which has a ticking countdown throughout is that things only really get exciting during the last few seconds. And so it proves here – even though we know that Avon and Del will save the day just in the nick of time, there’s still some decent tension wrung out as the clock ticks down to zero.

As for the rest of the episode, the development of Avon’s character (especially the revelation about his love for Anna and his uneasy relationship with her brother) is clearly the main point of interest. Darrow and Chadbon spar very effectively and it’s a pity that Del was never seen again (although given what we learn about Anna in Rumours of Death that’s possibly not too surprising).

Elsewhere, the characterisation of the remainder of the guest cast is pretty sketchy. Provine is a nasty piece of work and that’s about it – his only function in the plot being to give Blake another clue to the location to Star One (which is done in a highly unconvincing way). The locals are all pretty forgettable as well but I’ll give a bonus point out for the fact that there’s a female amongst their number (I’ll then deduct a point for the fact she’s such a wet lettuce).

Once again the girls are stuck by the teleport whilst the boys go down to play. This is becoming rather monotonous. Since it was already known that Sally Knyvette wouldn’t be returning for S3 (indeed she wouldn’t have done S2 had her contract not forced her to) it almost looks like all the writers had given up any interest in developing her character.

I do like the way that the Federation troops (supposed to be the best of the best) spend the opening few minutes doing nothing except running away as fast as they can from the advancing rebels!

Decent enough, but never a favourite.

Voice From The Past

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It may be mad as a box of frogs, but it’s impossible not to love Voice From The Past. I like the notion that Cally has badgered the others into doing exercises although it doesn’t seem to be agreeing with Blake, who is having the funniest of all funny turns.

Gareth Thomas goes right over the top and then back up again during the first fifteen minutes or so. It’s great stuff, as are Paul Darrow’s karate chops when Avon attempts to subdue a hysterical Blake!

Given Blake’s often arbitrary command style, it’s surprising that the others twig quite quickly that he’s not himself. Avon, as so often, is gifted most of the best lines (“Well, he’s certainly not normal, not even for Blake”).

Jenna, looking especially lovely today, is persuaded to share Blake’s nightmares (so she too gets the chance to register high on the hysteria scale). But once that moment of fun is over, the plot starts to fall apart somewhat.

It’s barely credible that Avon would leave Vila in sole charge of Blake. Equally hard to believe is the fact that a gullible Vila swallows Blake’s story that Avon and Cally are the guilty ones. Also, why are Avon, Cally and Jenna all sitting in a room with a door that Blake can lock? A touch careless of them ….

All of this messing with Blake’s mind ultimately does feel like filler, since when the main plot kicks in – Blake is invited to join a cabal of notable Federation types who plan to bring down the current administration – it seems clear that Blake would have been happy to join them without any manipulation.

What can you say about Shivan? Words fail me ….

Servalan’s tussle with Governor Le Grand tops the episode off in style. Servalan on the big screen is some sight.

Something of a messy episode, but it’s also great fun.

Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Thirteen

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It’s something I’ve touched on before, but Howards’ Way – despite the fact it was sometimes labelled as a show which embraced Thatcherite ideals – often took pains to spell out that business success counted for nothing without personal happiness. And that’s very much a theme of this final episode as three characters – Jan, Abby and Charles – discover.

Jan’s not had the most interesting things to do this year, but finally things pick up. For the first time in ages there’s a fashion show, which means there’s plenty of attractive models flouncing about whilst Jan (armed with a walkie talkie) prowls around looking stressed. Her single-minded focus on ensuring that the show goes off without a hitch means that she has no time to speak to Lynne, which is spelled out by the way she shuts her down on more than one occasion.

The fact that Lynne had important news – her pregnancy – to impart is a weapon later used by Kate. She tells Jan that it’s no use being a successful businesswoman if you neglect your family. With Leo suffering traumas over the custody of Thomas and Lynne sobbing in her room it’s fair to say that Jan’s not been offering a great deal of support to either of them. But in previous years her business focus (and the way it was detrimental to her family) was more explicitly stated – in series six it’s remained undiscussed until this final episode. That’s slightly disappointing, had it been raised earlier it would have given Jan something dramatically satisfying to play with – certainly more than the endless scenes of her looking stressed in the office (which has been her main contribution to the series this year).

Has Jan learnt her lesson? Things seem to end optimistically when she touches base with Leo, but only the unmade seventh series would have revealed whether she could reconnect with those she’d neglected.

Abby’s story is by far the most intriguing and certainly the one with the darkest ending. Again, a seventh series might have reversed this episode’s conclusion, but at this point it’s hard to see how a reconciliation between her and Leo could have been on the cards.

A rare meeting between Ken and Gerald enables Ken to air some unpalatable home truths – he believes that Abby, as the child of Polly and Charles, is now showing her true colours. Gerald reacts angrily to this, but since he later repeats it to Abby’s face it does seem that, on reflection, he’s come to the same conclusion. Abby’s manoeuvring – albeit with Orrin’s assistance – has removed Charles from the chairmanship of Frere Holdings, with Gerald neatly slotted in as his replacement.

For a successful businessman, Gerald does have some scruples – he reacts strongly when Abby tells him the news – but he’s plainly also a realist as he does later accept the position. The father/child relationship (with both her natural and adopted fathers) has reversed totally, with Abby now in a very dominant position. That would have set up a number of possibilities had the series continued.

Abby’s exit – taking Thomas to America (ignoring the joint custody agreement arranged with Leo) – leaves us with an unresolved cliffhanger. Would she have returned or made a new life for herself in America with Orrin, William and Thomas? I’d favour the latter, but others may disagree.

How does Charles take the news that Frere Holdings is no longer his? Not very well. Drinking heavily and raising his glass to the portrait of his father that for some reason he’s not taken down, it’s the darkest we’ve ever see him. Bitterly applauding his father for triumphing from beyond the grave, Charles seems set on a downward spiral (angrily telling Lynne to leave him alone). But as with Jan, there’s hope for the future since we later see Charles negotiating a reconciliation with Lynne. Easy to see how his story would have continued – plotting to regain control of Frere Holdings, whilst juggling a possible wife and child – but would he have been able to maintain the correct balance in his life which had (up until now) proved impossible? Another of those imponderables.

I have to confess that keeping track of the various businesses and their share holdings has become a little confusing over time. It seems unlikely that Charles could have been levered out of the chairman’s seat so easily, especially when all previous attempts had failed. True, Abby and Orrin now have access to Sir Edward’s shares in Frere Holdings (plus Pierre Challon’s minor holding also played a part) but it’s hard to imagine that would have been enough. Just how did Sir Edward manage to gain control of such a large block of shares, and if he did have them why didn’t he attempt to force Charles out in the past?

Equally perplexing is the way that Ken regains control of Leisurecruise. Orrin’s shares were enough to tip the balance, but again this seems a little too convenient to be true. Ah well, it least it gives us one final Ken/Laura confrontation, this time with Ken gloatingly telling Laura to clear her desk. Ken might be the only one who seems content with business success alone, but even he’s given a small personal beat of regret (at the end of the episode he looks longingly at Jan – strengthening my suspicion that they might have got back together sometime in the future).

Even by HW‘s own standards, the resolution of Brigette Dupont’s claim on Lynne’s perfume was dealt with in a very half-hearted way (Admiral Redfern dropped by to casually let Jan know that Ms Dupont didn’t have a leg to stand on). Goodness knows why they raised this plot-thread in the first place if they were going to dismiss it pretty much straightaway.

Jack’s decision to leave the Mermaid for another yard where he can work in wood (he likes wood you know) is also rushed through at breakneck speed. But this does allow the series a sense of closure as well as an air of new beginnings – Jack exits the yard for the final time and Leo takes over. Leo’s story is also at a crossroads – following in his father’s footsteps at the yard, he sees his design for the America’s Cup accepted by Admiral Redfern’s consortium. That’s a remarkable (if not to say totally improbable) development for a novice designer. And when Jenny came home from her round the world trip, would it be into Leo’s arms or would Abby have returned to stake a claim on him? Alas, we’ll never know.

And that’s that. Seventy eight episodes which were sometimes confusing, sometimes infuriating but almost always highly entertaining and never dull. If Howards’ Way lacked the tight scripting of Glaister’s previous soapy drama – The Brothers – then the performances of the regulars always helped to paper over most of the cracks. It’s certainly a series I’ve revisited a number of times and I know I’ll come back to it again in the future. The world of Tarrant is always an enjoyable place to visit.

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Twelve

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Charles and Lynne’s relationship continues to blossom – mind you, being in Bermuda (even if it’s largely on business) probably doesn’t hurt. Although Lynne is doing her best to try and distract Charles from paperwork – taking a dip in the ocean whilst Charles rifles through papers aboard his yacht, she does the old “give me a hand up” trick and then pulls him into the water. An astute man like Charles should have spotted that one coming ….

Ken continues to taunt Laura. Now he’s back in the ascendant again he’s merciless about putting the screws on although later we’ll see that Laura is hatching schemes of her own. It’s always good to see these two cross swords, but even more interesting is Ken’s later dinner date with Jan. Fair to say that these two have had a chequered history but despite all they’ve been through, crafty Ken is still able to make Jan laugh. Clearly she’s got a short memory and has totally forgotten that Ken attempted to ruin her last year.

Another of those “what ifs”. Had HW gone to a seventh series, could Ken and Jan have finally got together? It might have happened, and if so would have been rather interesting.

Kate’s on the prowl – attempting to chivvy up Leo (his mind is understandably elsewhere these days). There’s more fun with Kate later as a stuttering Admiral Redfern attempts to express his feelings for her. The fact that Dulcie Gray and Michael Denison were a real life couple adds a little extra spark to this nicely played scene.

There are a few points of interest elsewhere – such as Jack and Vanessa winning a boat race (although it’s only a fairly fleeting plot point) and Jan’s attempts to stabilise the fluctuating fortunes of the House of Howard – but the meat of this episode takes place in Bermuda where the question of William and Thomas rumbles on.

Previously I’d marvelled at Gerald’s attire, this time it’s Orrin who impresses – his golfing clothes includes long shorts and white knee socks. Abby’s also wearing some eye-catching togs, but I need to be strong and pull myself away from this trifling fashion talk in order to concentrate on the plot. Robert Hudson (Bruce Boa) is back and we also see the often-talked about but rarely glimpsed William (Daniel Bortolli).

William’s a lad of a few, if any, words. But given his upbringing it’s no surprise that he’s not exactly a voluble, friendly child. In clothing he’s thoroughly Americanised and although he’s happy for Orrin to give him a piggy-back ride there’s no such happy reunion with Abby. She later tearfully tells Gerald that he didn’t even recognise her, which floats the possibility that even if Abby did regain William, he may not match up to her idealised dreams.

Last time Hudson was on the scene he was very much running the show, but now the power dynamic has shifted with Abby and Orrin (especially Abby) firmly in the driving seat. Abby is the one who offers Charles a settlement of fifty million dollars whilst Orrin symbolically stands directly behind her, rather than by her side. Once again she’s icy and controlled – is this something of an act to intimidate Hudson and Charles or has Abby really crossed over to the dark side? That’s something else that might have been explained and explored in a seventh series.

A few late items of interest. Lynne reveals that she’s pregnant to an overjoyed Charles. Either they’re quick workers or their relationship has been developing off-screen, since it only seems like a few episodes ago when they re-met. And Claude’s mother, Brigette (Carina Barone), pops up. It’s pleasing to know that Claude’s silly accent runs in the family, although since Barone seems to be French, I’m not quite sure why she sounds as if she’s putting the accent on. Maybe HW had employed too many faux foreigners over the years and by now I’m programmed to regard all foreign accents as false?

Brigette has come to stake a claim in Claude’s perfume line, but the matter gets more intriguing when it’s revealed that she’s being bankrolled by Laura. Eek! So there’s just one more episode to go – will all these plot-threads be neatly tied up? We shall see.

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Eleven

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The great and good of Tarrant are on the waves today, competing in a race organised by Charles. Leo and Jenny make for a very attractive team (maybe the lad should forget all about Abby and hook up with young Jenny instead). The equally comely Charles and Lynne are crewing another boat – and whilst it’s maybe a little odd to see Charles enjoying himself rather than sitting at his desk fretting about share prices, since he’s keen to beat the Relton boat it’s not just a pleasure cruise for him.

Jan and Robert make for the oddest combination. Way back in series one, Jan had a cordial dislike for mucking about on the water, but now she appears to be an old hand as she takes the wheel with a nonchalant air. Given that she spends all her time running an international fashion business (including designing all the clothes herself) I’m not sure where Jan’s found the time to become a first class sailor as well. Does she never sleep?

Who wins? Leo and Jenny, whilst Charles is a man overboard. Luckily there’s no damage done, indeed as Lynne hauls him back onto the boat he has a little chuckle. Certainly this is a much more relaxed Charles than we’ve seen for a long time. Has he finally escaped from the imposing shadow of his father?

If Jan and Robert also share a few laughs on the water, then it’s not long before she’s wearing her more usual expression (pained). This is after she learns that Robert has also been handling Charles’ affairs, although there seems to be nothing in this (Robert tells her that he only deals with Charles’ personal affairs, meaning that there’s no conflict of interest). We learn a little more about Robert – he’s divorced with several children – and indeed the rush to humanise him continues at a rate of knots. We later see the pair of them share a smoochy dance (to The Lady In Red, the slushy song of choice from this era) which suggests that they’re slowing falling in love. They’d better hurry up though, only two episodes after this one.

Jack’s been on a bit of a roll recently. After his entertaining antics last time, there’s more fun today – first when he comes clean to Vanessa and tells her that Tony could be his son. This is topped by the arrival of Bill who admits that Tony might actually be his son ….

Clearly Tony’s mother was a generous hearted woman (although, possibly thankfully, no further suspects step forward). This sort of material was like gold to Glyn Owen, who doesn’t disappoint after Bill drops his bombshell. The pair then decide to break the news to Tony, who confides that he’s no longer interested in the identity of his father. So this plotline rather staggers to a conclusion with no resolution.

It’s not all fun for Charles today. It’s revealed that he was behind the break-in at the Mermaid (sponsoring Hector Burrage to dislodge Admiral Redfern from the chairmanship at the bank). It’s a mildly interesting nugget of information, although you have to wonder why Charles – if he finds Redfern so disagreeable – doesn’t simply move his business to another bank.

The saga of William rumbles on. Abby and Orrin are in Bermuda (certainly makes a change from the south coast of England). They seem close – holding hands for example (plus there’s a non-explicit bedroom scene) – and are very much of one mind. Gerald, having headed out to Bermuda to advise, finds himself surplus to requirements. But his presence is worthwhile for the sight of Ivor Danvers in shorts. Not something I’d thought that I’d ever see.

Laura is making a bid to muscle in on the House of Howard by attempting to snaffle some shares. This late development feels a little odd – so close to the end of the series it probably would have been wiser to try and tie up all the existing loose ends rather than create new ones. Unless there had originally been some thought to carrying on with a seventh series.

Leo and Jenny kiss. And why not. Since Abby and Orrin seem to be coupling, you can’t blame the lad for seeking succour elsewhere.

Jack exploding for no good reason is a HW staple. This episode has a humdinger of an example – unhappy at Leo being given more control over the yard, Jack tells Avril that she’s “devious” and on exiting her office, informs Pierre Challon (James Coombes) that he’s a “frog”! Hovering around the periphery of the series for a while, Pierre slightly moves more into focus today – sharing a meal with Avril, there’s just the hint of a spark between them. In 2017 Coombes provided the voices of the Kraags in the BD/DVD reconstruction of the Doctor Who story Shada – a nugget of information which probably isn’t of interest to many people, but I thought I’d share it anyway.

Back to Jack, he’s still fuming that anybody – not least his daughter – could boss him about in his yard (his mood wasn’t improved after Avril told him that it’s not his yard anymore – Relton own it) and so he decides to quit. We’ve seen Jack threatening to leave the Mermaid Yard before, but this time could he really mean it?

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Ten

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We left the previous episode with Charles and Lynne in a tentative clinch (he seemed keen, she was very conflicted). In true Howards’ Way fashion their relationship has now accelerated at a rate of knots as today they’re remarkably pally and tactile. Quite why and how this sudden sea change occurred isn’t made clear – as ever, you just have to grin and bear it.

Jan’s not really been well served by the plotlines this year. Most of the time she’s been stuck in the office, complaining as Robert pours cold water on yet another business idea. There’s plenty of that today as well – enabling Jan Harvey to once again unleash her trademark irritated stare – but there are other developments too ….

Given that Leo no longer lives at home (allied to the fact that Jan’s remained unattached for a while) it’s easy to understand why her character has been work, work, work orientated – it’s just puzzling that it hasn’t been addressed before. But who invites her out for a spot of dinner? Why Robert of course. This does take a minute of processing, but it appears that Robert is actually a human being with a sense of humour and both have an enjoyable evening. Nice to see Jan laugh for a change, although there may very well be a twist in the tail at a later date.

This is a good Jack episode. Many of his well established traits are given another airing – together with Bill he berates the fact that working in wood is becoming a lost art, he tells Leo in no uncertain terms that he’ll do what he likes in his yard, etc – whilst (glory be!) Tony’s plotline begins to move. You might have seen this coming, but Tony finally confesses that he’s looking to trace his father, who might have worked at the Mermaid Yard.

When Jack learns the identity of Tony’s mother he goes a little white. Could Tony be his son? Hmm, it seems possible. Although we have to wait until the next episode for the ultimate punchline – when Bill admits that he could be the father too! Jack and Bill squabbling for parental supremacy would have made a decent spin-off sitcom.

Whilst the scenes between Jack and Tony (the lad still coasting along in blissful ignorance) are entertaining enough, there’s even better to come. Kate turns up – with a face like thunder – seeking an audience with Jack. We haven’t had a good Kate/Jack face-off for a while and whilst this one isn’t an all-time classic there are still some fine moments (Jack’s delight at learning Kate may become a councillor, for example).

But most of the entertainment is saved for later, when a reluctant Jack is forced to meet with Hector Burrage (Michael Lees). Burrage was the recipient of the incriminating document apparently stolen from the Mermaid (which implicated Admiral Redfern and Kate). Jack – in splendid form – is able to laugh the whole thing off, thanks to a few dodgy memos of his own. Lovely stuff from Glyn Owen as always.

Vanessa offers Avril a cheque for £250,000 to cover the fraud perpetrated by her brother. I do like the way that Avril half-heartedly murmurs that she couldn’t possibly accept it – within seconds she’s grabbed it and passed it over to Gerald for safe keeping! That solves that problem you would think, but since Vanessa had to sell some of her Relton shares to raise the money it’s put the company in danger of a takeover bid from Charles. A touch convenient the way this happens (also, given Vanessa’s links to Relton I can’t believe she’d sell her shares so willingly).

Abby and Orrin are now in America. Not surprising that the series didn’t have the budget to make the trip over, so a little suspension of disbelief is required when we see both of them in a brief street scene. To be fair, the location does look a little like the US (the yellow cab helps as well). Abby’s still in her power-dressing mode and now seems to be the dominant partner – for the moment, Orrin is content to defer.

Once again, you have to question whether Abby’s actions are motivated purely by her desire to do the best for William or if it’s more to do with personal gain. Or even a little of both. And indeed, even if her actions are selflessly directed towards William’s future, how will this single-minded stand affect her personal relationships? Time will tell, but we’ve only got three episodes to find out. Although she’s only onscreen for a few minutes, Abby certainly makes an impression (and it’s a chilling one when she tells Orrin that Ken is now under her control).

Avril and Gerald and Charles and Laura are independently called to a meeting in Malta, where the future of the Poelma Corporation will be revealed. This has to be one of my favourite end-of-episode moments – as Ken strolls in to drop the bombshell that he’s now the chairman of Poelma! Not a twist I was expecting, but delicious nonetheless.

Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Nine

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There’s another example of “tell not show” at the beginning of today’s episode. Kate, indulging in a spot of pruning, sees two police officers approaching. The scene ends before we learn what they want and indeed we don’t hear a peep out of Kate for the next fifteen minutes – not until a horrified Jan answers the phone (although we’re not privy to the other side of the conversation).

A brief moment of tension is therefore created, but it’s instantly dissipated as the next scene shows Jan and Kate leaving the police station. A recent burglary at the Mermaid Yard has implicated Kate (connected to the documents she assembled last year when launching her abortive attempt to save the yard). It’s not really anything to worry about then – Kate isn’t set for a diet of bread and water – but you do feel that a little more could have been made out of this moment.

The burglary seems to be linked to the new chairman of the bank, Admiral Francis Redfern (Michael Denison), who – as we’ve previously seen – is an old friend of Kate’s (was the break-in an attempt to smear his name?). The urbane Francis (like so many before him) is forced to feel the rough end of Kate’s tongue for a few moments – although she’s mollified to learn that his position at the bank might mean a smoother ride for Jan in the future.

It’s highly characteristic that Kate automatically assumes they’ve now got a friend at court, although Francis is quick to point out that any support he can offer is dependent on Jan’s business proposals ….

Leo and Abby have a short, unhappy conversation which ends with Abby giving him a hard slap (this occurs after a taunting jibe that her only values are now monetary ones). Gerald also shares this disquiet, but he remains publicly supportive. It does seem now that she’ll meet with anybody – Orrin or even Ken – who will be able to help her achieve her ultimate goal. Mind you, given that HW was often said to embrace the Thatcherite ideal (even though 1990 were the dying days of Thatcher’s premiership) she’s not doing anything that many others – such as Jan – haven’t previously done. But is it about the money or is it about regaining William? Others have their opinion, but only Abby knows for sure.

Charles and Gerald arrange their parting. As with all of their business dealings, it’s handled in a straightforward and correct manner – although it’s notable that Charles seems to be the one with the most regrets. He once again states that his decision to contest his father’s will was in Abby’s interests and there’s something in his pleading tone which makes me inclined to believe him. You possibly won’t be shocked to hear that Gerald later takes up a position at Relton. With Gerald and Avril now on the same side, this sets up intriguing possibilities for the future (or would have done, if the series wasn’t hurtling to a conclusion).

Jack and Vanessa’s honeymoon hits a little bump when she learns the truth about her brother, but things soon get back on an even keel. The fact that Vanessa is keen to reimburse both Laura and Avril the money they’ve lost (well over half a million pounds) clearly suggests that she’s a woman of considerable financial means – but if she did so it would close off another area which could be mined for drama.

Although Laura puts a brave face on her loss (telling a gloating Ken that losing £300,000 is inconvenient but not disastrous) it may be that she’s not being entirely truthful. Hitting the reset button thanks to Vanessa would put us back to square one and negate the whole David Relton plot-thread. Let’s keep an eye on this one.

The mysterious Tony continues to mooch around the Mermaid, throwing knowing looks at regular intervals. This is a plot-thread which has been given time to breathe, but I think by now it’s been as stretched about as far as it can go. But alas, we still don’t know the truth about him, so it’ll rumble on for at least another episode.

Lynne’s not had a great deal to do so far this series. Most of her scenes have been with Jan and Robert and have played out in the same way (Jan and Lynne attempt to push their business ideas forward, the ever cautious Robert hums and haws). This episode does do something more with her though – first, she and Leo venture out on the water as she attempts to heal the breach between him and Abby.

A later encounter with Charles is even more intriguing. That the flame still burns between them is suggested when they kiss (although she pulls back after a moment). Given that their previous fling was brief and ended rather unhappily (with Lynne taking an acrobatic plunge into the water) it seems a little improbable that they would simply pick up where they left off after a gap of several years.

But this is Howards’ Way, where the improbable often becomes probable, so never say never ….

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Eight

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The shockwaves of David Relton’s departure continues to reverberate. Of course this is old news for the viewers, who’d already been presented with evidence that he was a crook last time, so today is more a case of watching the likes of Laura and Avril catch up.

Laura (sporting a new hairstyle) is the first to twig. Orrin doesn’t do a great deal in this episode, but what he does – politely hammering the point home that Laura was somewhat foolish to trust David – he does very well. So not only has Laura had her heart broken (I won’t mention again how hard this is to swallow) she’s also lost a considerable sum of money.

Avril at least has the compensation of not being unlucky in love, but the way she frittered away £250,000 of Relton’s money is understandably giving her the jitters. I’ve touched upon this point before, but in the early days of Relton Marine, combative boardroom scenes were quite common. These have totally disappeared over the last few years, leaving the unfortunate impression that Relton Marine is only run by Avril and Leo. It’s difficult to fathom why they went down this route, as feisty boardroom battles seem to be an obvious way of generating drama.

Speaking of generating drama, this episode has the rather annoying habit of stopping scenes just before a juicy revelation arrives. So we see a meeting between Gerald and Avril, but it ends before the key moment (Avril offers Gerald a job). Given that “show not tell” is a basic storytelling rule, this seems odd.

One notable moment occurs when Avril desperately attempts to find Vanessa, keen to break the news that her long-lost brother is a cheat and a crook. Considering that Vanessa’s getting married in the morning you have to say that Avril’s got a slightly skewered sense of priorities. It falls to Jack (for once the voice of reason) to tell his daughter that it’s best to say nothing for the moment.

Entertaining though the sight of Laura and Avril’s woebegone faces are, there are two key aspects to this episode – Abby’s choice and the wedding between Jack and Vanessa.

Abby’s choice is certainly something which continues to generate debate whenever grizzled HW fans meet. Maybe her endgame is regaining custody of William, which explains why she’s keen to abide by the provisions of Sir Edward’s will (even if it means cutting Leo out of her life). Or, as Kate believes, is it simply that she’s changing into a new person? If power and money corrupts, has the prospect of untold wealth already begun to warp her persona?

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There’s an absolutely key scene (played out to Talk Talk’s Life What You Make It) in which Abby peruses various high-end shops, eyeing a complete makeover.

Baby, life’s what you make it
Celebrate it
Anticipate it
Yesterday’s faded
Nothing can change it
Life’s what you make it

The arrival of the new improved, power-dressed Abby comes as something of a shock. It’s certainly a world away from the lumpen fashions we saw her modeling during the first series. It appears that her reclothing has created a shell which will steel herself for the battles ahead (behind the glossy new exterior she’s still somewhat hesitant). As Abby passes Leo his ring back, it’s plain that she’s now made her choice ….

Earlier, Charles had vainly attempted to persuade her that his decision to contest his father’s will was in her best interests. Abby (and later Gerald) disagreed, but the truth isn’t so clear cut. We’ve seen so little of Charles the man (as opposed to Charles the marina development businessman) that it’s hard to believe he isn’t operating with an ulterior motive, but maybe, just maybe.

The brief meeting between Charles and Lynne was a poignant one. Not only in story terms (the pair had a brief fling at the end of series one) but also due to the fact that Anholt and Childs married around the time that this series was in production. Sadly they divorced in 1998.

Abby’s decision to walk away from Leo casts something of a pall over Vanessa’s last night of freedom (the likes of Jan and Lynne are keen to discuss the ins and outs, before realising that it’s rather tactless to gossip about a failed relationship just as Vanessa’s about to tie the knot) but the big day goes off without a hitch. It’s all really rather lovely and even this hard-bitten television watcher had to confess to getting a little misty eyed. Jan’s dress was rather dramatic, I wonder if she designed that one herself?

Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Seven

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Bill is a wise old bird. His comment (“Tarrant breeds quarrels, every day someone’s having a barney”) sums up Howards’ Way perfectly.

So who’s arguing today? Charles and Gerald for one. Charles’ inability to cease fighting his father (even after his death) is the bone of contention between them. Psychologists might have a field day with Charles’ decision to move into Highfield – is this because he wishes to exorcise the ghost of his father, or will he in due course turn into him? One shot – Charles in the foreground with a painting of Sir Edward looming in the background – seems to be a very deliberate framing.

The ever patient Gerald has clearly reached the end of his patience quota as the episode ends with him tendering his resignation. We’ve been here before of course, but maybe this time he really means it.

Their scenes are possibly the dramatic highlight of an episode that chugs along quite agreeably, even if it never quite clicks into top gear. Abby’s still looking mournful as she considers her future. Leo doesn’t feature a great deal, but in one way that’s understandable (Abby wants to make the decision for herself). So Leo is cast in a passive role, having already made his position quite clear (he wants Abby to stay, naturally). Unsurprisingly he takes her out on the water to explain this – important decisions have to be discussed when you’re bobbing up and down in a boat.

If this plotline is currently in a holding position, then the unlikely romance between David and Laura already seems to have run aground. As touched upon before, it’s hard to take this coupling at all seriously (given how limited David’s screentime has been) but it really does appear that hard-bitten Laura has fallen for him. So when a gloating Ken tells her that David and Avril are in Malta she’s not best pleased. Score one to Kenneth Masters.

Tarrant currently seems to be stocked with people who aren’t quite who they appear to be. Last time a young lad called Tony Munro (David Rhean) started working at the Mermaid, today Jack finds him rifling through the files. And following the departure of Sir John from the bank, Jan is stunned to find that Robert is now on the board.

There’s not enough data yet to explain Tony’s actions, but Jan may simply be getting a little paranoid about Robert. Her main criticism of his actions is that he’s constantly business minded (not a bad trait for a business adviser). He’s keen to cultivate Lynne’s support – business again, or does he also have pleasure in mind? Jan registers her concern by pulling a series of anguished faces. Jan Harvey was always very good at this.

Continuing the theme of untrustworthy types, questions are beginning to be asked about David Relton. Like his whirlwind romance with Laura, the subplot between him and Avril is begun and concluded so quickly that it simply isn’t credible. For these storylines to have any impact (or believability) David needed to be in place for a run of episodes (appearing in only three was never going to cut the mustard).

Avril and David are in Malta to meet with Pierre Challon (Michael Cochrane). Pierre sports the most outrageous French accent heard in the series since the late, unlamented Claude. But the twist – which by now most of the audience would have probably seen coming – is that he’s a con man putting on a funny accent (was this a tongue in cheek nod back to some of HW‘s comedy accents of the past?) So David and fake Pierre have conned Avril out of a quarter of a million pounds. This doesn’t say much for her business acumen, but as per the point raised before, had David been around Tarrant longer then her blunder would have been a little more more forgivable.

Elsewhere, Jack teases Laura that he’s going to ask David to be his best man, rather than dependable old Bill. Jack was only joshing of course and later he and Bill – along with Leo – enjoy a jolly evening at the Jolly Sailor (Jack counting down his last precious hours of freedom). By the end of the evening both Leo and Jack are quite insensible. How Bill managed to get them home is anybody’s guess …..

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Six

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It’s the day of Sir Edward’s funeral. Despite the fact that few of the people present had any love for him, it’s still a sombre affair. But it’s livened up by one rather good gag. This must be one of the earliest examples of a mobile phone interrupting proceedings (it was 1990 remember). As the vicar intones “I heard a voice from heaven saying ….” Ken answers his brick-like phone with the words “hello, Ken Masters”. Well it amused me.

One notable absentee is Charles, who we see mooching by a bridge. Out of all the main characters, Charles has always been the one most fixated on business. True, he did have a lengthy relationship with Avril, but that often seemed just to feed back into his professional life. Given this, it comes as a real shock to see him unshaven and so lost in the aftermath of his father’s funeral.

Gerald (who by contrast is now a totally different man from the one we met at the start of the first series) gently attempts to find out why Charles couldn’t bring himself to attend. But apart from some vague comments about the way his mother suffered at the hands of his father we don’t gain any fresh insights. Charles’ histrionics are nicely played by Tony Anholt (a little over the top maybe, but that might be simply because we’re not used to any sort of emotion from Charles). Seeing the more human Charles here, it’s a pity that this side of his character wasn’t developed more. Another of those “what if” moments that might have been tackled during a seventh series.

It’s easy to forget that Vanessa was a Relton, but if this fact has been overlooked recently then the return of her brother, David, serves as a reminder. Some meat is helpfully put on the bones of his character – inheriting Relton Marine at a young age, he promptly sold the business and has trekked around the globe for the last twenty five years. Given Richard Heffer’s own age, this would have made David around nineteen at the time he sold the company, which just about fits the timeframe.

He might have a slightly icy relationship with Vanessa (not surprising if they haven’t seen each other for a quarter of a century) but he gets on very well with pretty much everybody else. David butters Jack up a treat (and then stands Jack and Bill an evening’s drinks). No surprise that Jack takes full advantage and eventually makes his way back to Vanessa very much the worse for wear!

Even more intriguing is David’s coupling with Laura. She remembers the callow youth he had been (what price a Howards’ Way prequel, set in Tarrant during the 1950’s and 1960’s?) but it’s plain that he’s had a great deal of, ahem, experience since then. No sooner have they become reacquainted than they tumble into bed, where he tells her that he’s fallen head over heels in love with her.

Given that this sort of thing does happen in HW it’s impossible to dismiss his claims out of hand (whereas most drama series wouldn’t have the nerve to jump in with both feet) but it might be that he’s pursuing his own agenda. Since his final appearance is in next week’s episode I think we’ll find out shortly. Their between the sheets action is rather marred by the honking saxophone (which was on the soundtrack rather than in the bedroom).

Lynne’s makeup presentation impresses Jan and Kate, but Robert is less effusive. He may always be positioned as the wet blanket, but it’s hard not to see that he has a point. His constant caution and desire for a clear business plan is clearly beginning to irritate the more freewheeling Jan (I’m still stunned that she’s now a world class clothes designer. Apart from anything else, when did she learn to draw?)

Lynne has a little more fun when she and Jenny later push Ken’s new prototype boat to its limits (with a crowd of investors looking on). This is a nice moment, reminding us of the carefree Lynne of old.

It seems that Leo’s well on his way to becoming a world class boat designer. He does have the grace to say that most of the work on the latest Leisurecruise success was Tom’s, but Avril’s still impressed with the amendments he put in to the later stages (so a design job at Relton will now be his. Hurrah!) Had HW gone to a seventh series then it’s easy to see Leo gradually moving into Tom’s old position as Tarrant’s top boat designer. A pity that it’s all a little pat though (Tom had to struggle just a little to establish himself). Watching Leo pour over designs at a drawing board wouldn’t have been dramatically very interesting, but a few brief scenes during the preceding episodes would have helped to sell this storyline somewhat.

Orrin suggests he and Leo meet. It’s a short and not terribly sweet encounter – Orrin attempts to buy him off, but Leo makes his position clear. “There’s only one thing I want, and it’s been coming to you for a long time”. Whack! One well aimed punch and Orrin’s on the ground. I confess I did let out a little cheer ….

Hovering over the entire episode has been the issue of Sir Edward’s will. As predicted by several characters, it’s been designed to cause the maximum amount of heartache. Jan is gifted a piece of jewellery from the first Lady Frere (a mocking example of what she could have had), Charles is granted Highfield (a place he always loathed) whilst Abby and Orrin are made co-executors of Sir Edward’s will. The bulk of his estate will be held in trust for William – provided that Abby severs all ties with Leo.

Gosh, that’s a bit of a cliffhanger. With Abby barely able to get the words out, it leaves her with a bitter dilemma. Stay with the man she loves (at least we assume she does) or leave to secure her firstborn’s inheritance?

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Five

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This episode provides the living Sir Edward with one last hurrah (his ghost will haunt subsequent instalments). Four encounters – with Jan, Abby, Charles and Ken – are key.

Up first is his meeting with Jan. Initially cordial, it doesn’t take too long before the genial Sir Edward once again shows his true colours. Easy to see why Jan later refers to him as frightening – there’s certainly something disquieting about the way he tries to force her to admit she made a mistake when she declined his offer of marriage. Ever the businessman, he dangles a gift before her eyes (Highfield) if only she’ll say it was so. No surprise that she storms away ….

Prior to this frosty parting of the ways, he’d opened up a little regarding his illness (mentioning that even a cold might be enough to see him off). As we’ll see, this wasn’t simply a random piece of information.

A little later, we see Abby and Leo having a heated discussion. You just know that after he says he doesn’t want to talk about Sir Edward any more, the man himself will turn up at their front door. Predictable, but entertaining. Abby and Sir Edward are relaxed in each other’s company, but he doesn’t seem delighted when Abby asks if he’d consent to having his picture taken with Thomas. This faint air of comedy then goes much darker after Abby innocently mentions that the baby might have a cold. The way Sir Edward divests himself of the gurgling child as soon as possible mixes farce with tragedy.

The most important meeting is, of course, with Charles. They’ve skirted around some of Charles’ deep-rooted resentments before, but this is the most detailed discussion they’ve had (which seems apt, as it’s their last). The lack of love Charles has always felt from his father is paramount. “All I ever wanted was time, your time”. But time was something Sir Edward never had – money and possessions, yes, time to spend with his son, no.

With Charles unable to accept his father’s apology, the only compromise they can agree on is to drink to the fact that Sir Edward had always been a formidable business adversary. There’s something tragic about the way that Sir Edward eagerly latches onto this small crumb of comfort – for a lonely, dying man it’s clearly better than nothing. Possibly the way he spasms in pain whilst Charles’ back is turned is slightly over-egging the pudding, but it’s still a very nicely played scene.

Sir Edward’s brief encounter with Ken – outside the front of Highfield – is chiefly interesting because it causes Sir Edward’s fatal collapse (the hectoring Ken proved to be the final straw for the ailing Sir Edward). This is an odd little moment, mainly because Sir Edward was heading off to the polo match to give out the first prize and was seemingly going to drive himself. In his state of health? Had he given the chauffeur the day off? Easy to see why the pair had to be isolated, but it just doesn’t ring true.

Elsewhere, Jack manages to upset virtually everybody today. He begins with Avril, who was pushing him to complete the Leisurecruise boat. Jack doesn’t like anybody (especially not his daughter) telling him how to run his yard (a popular one to tick off your HW bingo card) and isn’t backwards in telling her so. In the past he’d have headed straight for the nearest bottle of whisky, but there’s a temporary reprise in the form of Vanessa. But since he’s then so horrible to her (telling her that since she never had a child, she’s in no position to lecture him about father/daughter relationships) it’s not surprising that she reverses her position and attempts to force the bottle on him!

As so often with Jack, this is just a storm which will blow over quickly. But it always helps to enliven an episode.

Orrin’s continuing to be irritating (no change there) whilst Ken’s getting boggle-eyed at the thought his latest scheme might come crashing down (which is why he made another attempt to blackmail Sir Edward). One plus in Ken’s favour is that he didn’t just nip off sharpish after causing Sir Edward to keel over (he must have called for assistance since we later see a doctor attempting to revive him). Mind you, possibly he had an ulterior motive as he later was discovered by Charles ransacking Sir Edward’s papers. That was an awkward encounter.

Lynne has a scheme to market a luxury skin-cream aimed at the sailing fraternity (I can’t see this becoming a major plot-thread, but stranger things have happened) whilst there’s a stranger in town ….

His face should be familiar – Richard Heffer had appeared in a string of popular 1970’s dramas (Colditz, Survivors, Dixon of Dock Green, Enemy at the Door) as well as the 1983 rabies drama The Mad Death, amongst numerous other shows. A dashing polo player, the mystery man has his eye on Laura (much to Orrin’s disgust) before later lavishing flowers on Vanessa.

She almost blurts out his name, but we have to wait to the end credits (where he’s billed as David Relton) for the penny to drop. So one of the Reltons (and possibly the black sheep at that) has come home to roost.

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Four

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The episode opens with a gorgeous sweeping aerial shot as the Xanadu makes its way back to Tarrant. This almost – but not quite – makes up for the fact that Leo is present and correct onboard and no worse the wear for his dip in the ocean. Whilst this isn’t as bad as negating an end of series cliffhanger, it’s still an annoyance to have set up a dramatic beat and then see it dismissed so casually.

All three elect not to tell anybody about Leo’s dice with death, Jack commenting that “it never happened, did it? Must have been a bad dream”. Was this a sly nod to Bobby’s shower exploits in Dallas? It’s a rare sunny day in Tarrant and a fair number of extras were pressed into service as the Xanadu makes its triumphant way into port.

Ken’s very active today (and he’s also wearing a very eye-catching jacket). First up there’s a meeting with Sir John. These encounters are always entertaining, not least for that way that Sir John (unique amongst Tarrant residents) always refers to him as “Kenneth”. Since the bank seems disinclined to help him raise some working capital, Ken then moves onto Sir Edward. This is also great fun, as he brazenly attempts to blackmail Sir Edward! You suspect he’s dicing with danger there.

Later, there’s more personal matters on hand as he invites Jenny out for a drink. Ken making a move on the prettier members of his staff isn’t a new thing, but Jenny (at present) isn’t prepared to give him more than a shoulder to cry on. It’s a fascinating few moments nonetheless, as Ken opens up about his childhood (his first racket was reselling school milk!) and the fractious relationship he enjoyed with his father. It’s a pity that we haven’t really looked before at what makes Ken tick, but better late than never.

He didn’t want to know anything about me, thought I was the black sheep of the family. Said if I didn’t sort myself out I’d end up going to prison. What did he know? Nothing. By the time I was eighteen I had my own business. It was a garage business. Do you know something? He was one of my first customers. He drove around in a used car when I drove around in a brand new one. I earned more in a week than he earned in a year.

Nice Orrin from a few episodes ago now seems to have been replaced with the more familiar Nasty Orrin. He continues to harass Abby whilst also making his presence felt at both Leisurecruise and Relton. Oh, and his braces are impressive as well.

The seasoned HW watcher should know never to believe what people say (they’re more than likely to do the exact opposite). So when Lynne declared in episode two that she had no interest in returning to England, I wasn’t convinced. And so it came to pass that she rather improbably hitched a lift on the Xanadu. Jan and Kate are absolutely delighted of course and there’s an awful lot of cooing as the pair welcome the young chick back into the fold. A rare moment of happiness, although how long everybody stays happy remains to be seen ….

Gerald and Laura have an awkward meeting. He’s still bitter and hurt over the way their seemingly close personal relationship simply evaporated. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Ivor Danvers was one of HW‘s most underrated performers and whenever he was given something dramatic to get his teeth into (sadly not very often, as most of the time he existed to line feed Charles) he never disappointed. Danvers deftly captures Gerald’s conflicted emotions whilst O’Mara also plays the scene well – Laura’s self-satisfied smirk after Gerald leaves is a sign that her contrite statements were valueless.

Vanessa eventually accepts Jack’s offer of marriage (I love the way he takes an extra gulp of whisky just before she delivers her answer!) whilst Jan continues to have a rocky relationship with Robert. In all the excitement of welcoming Lynne home, Jan totally forgot about the meeting he’d arrived with the bank’s solicitors. Cue a couple of grumpy looking extras looking at their watches and sighing. She may be apologetic, but it’s obvious from the expressions she pulls that Jan really doesn’t like anybody telling her what she should do.

The major revelations in this episode are left for the closing minutes (at least this is a cliffhanger which will be difficult to reverse). Sir Edward has gathered all his friends, family and business associates together for a garden party. Slightly surprising that Charles accepted the offer, but in plot terms all will become clear shortly.

Revelation one is that Sir Edward has married Polly. There’s a faint ripple of applause whilst various folk (notably Jan and Gerald) look rather ashen faced. But whilst we’re all still reeling from that, he drops another bombshell – he’s not a well man and has returned to Highfield for the last time. The camera seeks out Charles, who slowly begins to process precisely what this new information means ….

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Three

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Another episode, another surprise return. Today it’s Sir Edward. First he pays a visit to his country seat, where his faithful retainers are all lined up to greet him (his dogs look the most pleased). Later he gives Jan a fright by suddenly popping up. His car window swooshes down, he looks out and says “hello Jan”. Not the most devastating opening gambit, that’s for sure ….

Both Jan and Gerald independently wonder what Polly’s up to (sadly she didn’t make the trip over). Genial Sir Edward twists the knife when he tells Jan that Polly is now running a dozen boutiques. Jan’s glazed expression makes it plain that she’s not exactly delighted to learn of her oldest friend’s success. Whereas poor Gerald still seems to be slightly pining for her – one obvious plotline for series six would have been Polly’s return, but this never happened (presumably Patricia Shakesby was otherwise engaged).

The dinner date between Jan and Sir Edward is cordial but guarded – elsewhere though we see more strained relations. Leo and Abby have a brief, but utterly furious argument. Both have been angry before, but I’ve never seen them quite so out of control in each other’s company. Even the calming presence of Gerald isn’t able to cool Leo’s temper.

Leo and Abby do later make up before he, Jack and Bill head off for Gibraltar, but there’s definite fractures showing in their relationship. This is exacerbated when Orrin comes calling – his friendly peck on her cheek develops into something more and (at least to begin with) Abby doesn’t put up a struggle. Orrin can’t see anything wrong – after all, Gerald’s at the office and Leo’s away – but eventually Abby comes to her senses. Just in time! I was beginning to get a little worried.

Abby’s almost infidelity apart, there’s a nice quiet moment between her and Gerald. Although the first series often stated that Gerald was an absentee father, things now seem to have changed (or the information we had then wasn’t entirely accurate). The affectionate bond between them is obvious, whilst it’s also fascinating to learn how he looked after the infant Abby. Of course this may be because Polly had other fish to fry.

As ever, the interlapping business affairs have now become even more complicated. Orrin has bought Ken’s Relton shares and expresses a desire to work with Kate who’s keen to strengthen her ties with Charles. Meanwhile Charles is concentrating on his latest marina development whilst fretting about why his father has suddenly reappeared in Tarrant.

In the first episode, Jan’s business had suffered a serious hit after James borrowed deeply from company funds. This difficulty now seems to have been brushed aside as she’s keen to expand her empire even further with the perfume designed by Claude. Sir John is guardedly interested, but decides it has to be a joint venture between the House of Howard and the bank. And this is where Sir John’s nephew, Robert Hastings (Paul Jerricho), comes in.

You may know Jerricho as nasty Mr Hicks (the malevolent games master from Grange Hill who received summary justice at the hands of Mr Baxter. “Slip on the wet floor did you?”). Or possibly as the Castellan from Doctor Who (“no, not the mind probe”). Truly, that was an unforgettable performance. And believe me I’ve tried ….

In a way it’s surprising that we haven’t seen the bank take a closer interest in Jan’s business before – it certainly brings to mind the storyline which drove the action for several years in The Brothers (the arrival of merchant banker Paul Merroney and his desire to remould Hammond Transport).

The most interesting nugget of information from these scenes is Jan’s statement that she’s now the sole designer of her clothing line. No, really. It’s hard enough to swallow the notion that Jan could have built up a burgeoning fashion empire by stumbling across several world class designers (who all just happened to be unemployed) but the idea that Jan is now knocking out the designs herself (although we’ve never seen this happen) simply takes the breath away.

Moving on ….

It’s a windy day in Gibraltar (with poor Jack’s hair suffering somewhat). But after a brief drink and a quick view of the sights, it’s down to business as the trio prepare to sail the Xanadu back to England. Jack’s been blithely confident – shrugging off Vanessa’s entreaty not to go – but now it seems that she might have had a point, as they run into filthy weather in the middle of the ocean.

This was a major (and no doubt expensive) sequence. Shot in the controlled environment of a film studio tank and utilising a full-sized boat, it’s a memorable couple of minutes. The feeling of dread only increases when Leo is swept overboard just before the credits roll. An impressive cliffhanger, but I hope they don’t negate the impact by simply dismissing the events next time.

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Two

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The episode opens with a slow car pursuit – Ken chasing Avril (he has a very weedy sounding horn, it has to be said). He’s desperate to convince her that he’s the one who owns the trailer design. Will Avril believe him or will she come down on Laura’s side? She might be Laura’s friend, but since this is business, friendship counts for little. Avril’s therefore content to wait for one of them to come up with some concrete evidence.

Ken should be able to provide this – after all, Jack developed the trailer and surely would have kept a paper trail, wouldn’t he? No, of course not, this is Jack Rolfe we’re talking about – a man who loves taking cash in hand and not putting it through the books. Having already confronted Avril and then Laura, Ken’s next quarry is Jack.  Ken’s certainly covering a good deal of ground today.

Jack puts on his most concerned face, but doesn’t see what he can do. Now that Relton owns the Mermaid, he simply can’t magic a receipt out of thin air (Relton’s accountants have been through the Mermaid’s books with a fine tooth comb, so a retrospective receipt would stick out a mile). This is a plot point that doesn’t really make sense. Jack only agreed to sell out in the previous episode and the events today follow on almost directly. So when exactly did the Relton accountants find the time to undertake a forensic study of Jack’s books? Only a small niggle, but a niggle nonetheless.

Never mind, onwards and upwards. Last year Malta was the HW foreign destination of choice – this time it looks like it’s going to be Gibraltar. Jan’s headed out to open another House of Howard boutique whilst also arranging a joyful reunion with Lynn.

Lynne’s back! Having been absent for three years, her sudden reappearance came as something of a surprise (it hadn’t been trailed in the previous episode). The Gibraltar scenes have a lovely, summer feel to them (with plenty of apes thrown in). Pure travelogue padding it has to be said, but it does give the series a little extra gloss.

The late, unlamented Claude might be long gone, but his memory lives on. Not only was he a talented clothes designer (so they say) he was also a dab hand at creating perfumes. Lynne, trawling through his papers, recently came across one of his formulas and now she plans to go into business with her mother. Jan’s initially hesitant, but once she has a quick sniff she’s bowled over. As the smell doesn’t come through the screen we’ll just have to take her word for it.

Charles has his eye on a Marina development (just for a change) in Southampton. He also takes the opportunity to wine and dine Laura and begins by dropping a number of coded references to sailing at night. These heavy handed metaphors are easily deciphered – he wants Relton, she wants Leisurecruise, so there shouldn’t be a conflict of interest (they won’t be ships that bump in the night then).

Had the series gone to a seventh series and beyond, it’s tempting to wonder if Leo would have begun to move more into Tom’s position. As the new liaison man between Relton and the Mermaid, he’s already much more of a fixture at the yard than he used to be (powerboats now seem to be a thing of the past) and he’s also keen to see one of Tom’s old designs brought off the drawing board. This he achieves via a slightly tense deal between Avril and Laura. A nice gesture to honour his father’s memory or is he simply eyeing a decent commercial prospect? A little of both maybe.

Orrin reappears. Not very surprising, since he has a habit of popping up at regular intervals, but what’s new is the way he behaves. The arrogant Orrin seems to be a thing of the past and in his place is a humble, reflective man. I think we’ll have to wait and see how long this lasts, but Abby seems prepared to listen.

This meeting naturally causes discord between her and Leo. Even before he knew that Abby’s dinner date was with Orrin he was already in a bit of a mood. So learning that the father of Abby’s first-born is back in Tarrant (and apparently for good) didn’t improve his temper much! His body language makes it plain just how ticked off he is (at one point he seems to fashion his hand into a gun which he points at Abby’s head – or maybe he’s just pointing in a very emphatic fashion).

It’s not surprising that he reacts so negatively to the news that Orrin’s sniffing around Abby again, but his body language prior to this revelation (when he was simply irked that Abby had stayed out late) is slightly more revealing.  Is this a subtle reminder that Leo is very much his father’s son?  Tom, for all his good qualities, was very old fashioned when it came to male/female relationships.  Or it might be I’m reading too much into this moment.

Possibly a change of scene is what the boy needs. Jack’s had a bright idea – over in Gibraltar the Mermaid’s latest job (the Xanadu) is waiting. So it makes sense that he, Leo and Bill pop over to Gib and sail her back home. As with Malta last year, the attentive viewer will already have picked up on the curious coincidence that the boat just happens to be moored in the same place where Jan and Lynne have recently been.

How does Vanessa respond to Jack’s brilliant scheme? I think you can probably guess ….

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