Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode One

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Long term HW watchers will be aware that the series often set up storylines only to somewhat annoyingly abandon them. There’s a prime example right at the start of the opening episode of the sixth and final series – last time, we left Abby on life support and fighting for her life, whereas today she looks perfectly chipper as she and Leo (plus friends and family) arrive in church to baptise their son.

The way this cliffhanger was so casually tossed away is a little baffling, but the decision to have already buried Tom prior to the start of series six (his death occurring sometime after the end of series five) is much more understandable. Given the way that Maurice Colbourne’s sudden death had already destabilised the cast, keeping up the pretence that Tom was alive and well would have no doubt felt increasingly painful.

Emotions run high in the early part of this episode, not only for Jan and Leo, but also for the viewers as well. Abby and Leo’s decision to christen their son Thomas Leo was an obvious move, but it’s still a lump in the throat moment. Later, both Jan and Leo are seen to shed a tear for Tom – although interestingly, they don’t do it together. When Jan weeps at the christening party, Leo is by her side and totally supportive. But when he and Abby are alone his own feelings bubble to the surface. Real tears from Edward Highmore? Possibly, and though his performance through the years was sometimes mocked, this moment feels very genuine.

Melancholy though the news of Tom’s death is, we’ve a whole new season of wheeler-dealing and skulduggery to enjoy, so it’s not surprising that soon the focus shifts to the ever-changing alliances and conflicts of our regulars. The peace and quiet of the christening party was clearly just a tentative truce.

To bring everybody back up to speed ….

Having acquired Leisurecruise, Laura is now in a triumphant mood. But Ken, despite this knockback, is also remarkably chipper. Entering into a partnership with Avril at Relton, his new office (a portacabin) might be modest, but he clearly feels he’s on the way back. Hmm. Let’s wait and see.

Laura and Avril might be old friends, but the prospect of Avril and Ken doing business together doesn’t please Laura. I love the way that Laura, driving along the road, suddenly spies Avril and Ken out on the water. To confirm this, she picks up a pair of binoculars from the front seat of her car. No, I don’t know why she’s driving around with a pair of binoculars so close at hand either. And just in case we hadn’t picked up on the fact this was an ominous moment, the soundtrack suddenly goes all discordant.

James might be long gone, but before he went he took a large loan out of Periplus (so not for the first time Jan’s facing financial difficulties). This is the cue for Jan Harvey to look anguished (she had plenty of practice over the years). Sir John suggests that Jan should find a new partner, but given how badly things have gone in the past with her previous partners you can’t blame her for not being too keen. Later there’s a brief bitchfest moment when Laura comes calling (telling Jan they should team up, somewhat improbably). Sadly, their meeting doesn’t come to blows ….

Jack’s continuing to mull over whether to sell the Mermaid to Charles. Eventually (hurrah!) he makes his mind up – but instead of Charles, he sells out to Relton. This means he gets a block of Relton shares, some cash in hand plus he stays in charge. Not a bad deal, although Charles (as you might expect) is incandescent with rage. With his marina development (it’s always a marina development) blocked by Relton’s purchase of the Mermaid Yard, there’s now only one option – he’ll have to take over Relton Marine.

So with three main plotlines – Ken/Laura, Jan, Charles/Avril – all bubbling away, the sixth and final series has hit the ground running. Plus you can throw in the delightful sight of Kate as young Thomas’ nanny (she seems to have appointed herself) and Charles already phoning around all the best schools, looking for somewhere to send his grandson.

Given all this, it’s maybe not surprising that new arrivals are kept to a minimum. We do see Jenny Richards (Charmian Gradwell) though – a local sailing enthusiast who joins the newly refloated Ken Masters organisation. Like Sarah Lam, Gradwell had previously appeared as a regular on The Adventure Game. Either this was an enormous coincidence, or somebody on the HW production team was an Adventure Game fan.

As I’ve said, this episode clips by at a rate of knots and the cliffhanger – Laura, popping up like a wicked witch to tell Ken that the design of the boat he’s been selling belongs to her – is a suitably juicy one. Poor Ken’s woebegone face is a picture (as is Jack’s). We may be nearing the end of the voyage, but it’s a more than promising first lap.

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Crown Court – Regina v Bryant (November 1972)

I’ve recently been dipping in and out of some selected Crown Court cases. To date Network have released eight volumes on DVD, although this only scratches the surface of a series which ran for over a decade and racked up close to 900 episodes. Luckily, good quality copies of many editions not yet commercially available are on YouTube.

This one, Regina v Bryant, is available on DVD (it can be found on volume one). As with most of the cases, it’s not only of considerable interest due to the quality of the cast (most episodes contain line ups which would surely gladden the heart of any archive television fan) but the story still stands up today as a satisfying piece of drama. Crown Court may have been a low budget daytime series, but there’s evidence to suggest that it was crafted with some care.

Tony Hoare (1938 – 2008) was someone very much at home in the worlds of crime and detection (not least because he spent a lengthy spell in prison prior to becoming a writer). He penned many of Minder‘s best remembered episodes as well as contributing to series such as Villains, New Scotland Yard, The Sweeney, Target, Hazell, The Gentle Touch and Bergerac. So knowing his writing background, especially his work on Minder, it’s not unreasonable to assume that he was fully on the side of the defendant.

Harry Bryant (Mark McManus) claims to be innocent of the charges of armed robbery and assaulting a police officer. Bryant doesn’t attempt to hide his criminal past, instead he contends that this is precisely why he’s been fitted up by several corrupt officers, led by Inspector Collins (Glynn Edwards).

McManus dominates the three episodes. Even though (for some reason) he was forced to adopt a cockney accent, McManus is excellent value throughout – especially since Bryant elected to dispense with the services of his counsel, Helen Tate (Dorothy Vernon), at the outset of the trial (he decides to defend himself). Ms Tate seems to have taken exception to this, as her last action was to angrily slam the courtroom door on her way out!

The obvious plus point for the viewer is that McManus therefore takes centre stage, with Bryant’s articulate but unorthodox approach certainly differing from the rank and file barristers we normally see.

In 1972 British society was still at the point where the average man or woman in the street would tend to believe in the general honesty of the police. Had a similar Crown Court story been undertaken a decade later, the mood might have been somewhat different. But this is where the series is often so fascinating – no matter where the writer’s sympathies might lie, the question of guilt or innocence would always be decided by eleven ordinary members of the public, plus one actor playing the foreman (since they had to speak at the end, an Equity member was required).

Rewatching Crown Court I often find myself shaking my head at the decisions of the Fulchester juries. Defendants I was convinced were innocent are found guilty whilst those I’ve decided were obvious wrong ‘uns are allowed to walk free. This can sometimes be infuriating, but it’s also instructive – the 21st century viewer is gifted a brief snapshot into the attitudes and morals of a different age.

Bryant was happy, despite being a career criminal, to have his numerous previous convictions read out in court. Indeed, it was his criminal experience which formed the crux of his defence. Would he really have been so naive as to keep hold of an incriminating balaclava, which Collins alleges he found in Bryant’s house? (Bryant maintains it was planted). And although a bottle of ammonia was also discovered (a similar substance was used in the attack) there was nothing to suggest it hadn’t been bought for normal household duties, as claimed by Mrs Bryant.

The eyewitness identification was also open to comment, with Collins (either by accident or design) allowing a witness to see a photograph of Bryant before he was picked out of the identification parade.

With such thin evidence my own personal decision would have been to aquit. Bryant may very well have been guilty, but for me the evidence simply wasn’t there. However, would Bryant’s decision to attack the integrity of the police at every opportunity have gone down well with the jury? I won’t spoil the verdict ….

As touched upon, McManus is very good and he’s matched by Glynn Edwards, who enjoys (if that’s the right word) a lengthy spell in the witness box. Another familar face, Diane Keen (as Mrs Bryant), has less screentime but still makes quite a telling contribution. Richard Warner, as the Hon. Mr Justice Waddington, stumbles over his lines during the early stages of the trial but eventually settles down. Like most editions, it’s directed solidly enough (at least there were no Mandrels in court to distract Alan Bromly) although the final few minutes of the third episode does feature some very audible talkback from the studio gallery.

Many editions of Crown Court still have considerable replay value today, but the central theme of Regina v Bryant (should the police automatically be trusted?) and the way that Bryant very effectively handles his own defence easily makes this one of the standouts from the earliest crop of cases.

Longford – Simply Media DVD Review

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Lord Longford was a tireless supporter of prisoner’s rights. He believed that nobody was beyond redemption, but his dogged campaign to secure Myra Hindley’s release only served to bring him savage public vilification ….

Even after all these years, the Moors Murders remains a dark stain on the British psyche. And if this horrifying legacy still resonates today, how much more powerful must it have been in the late 1960’s, when Lord Longford visited Myra Hindley for the first time? But despite being dubbed by the tabloids as “Lord Wrongford” he wouldn’t be swayed and carried on tirelessly pleading her case for decades.

Even though he had to submit to several hours of prosthetic make-up each day, Jim Broadbent’s beautifully nuanced performance as Longford is nothing less than quietly stunning. It’s left to the audience to decide whether Longford was a good, innocent man or simply a gullible fool (or a little of both possibly). Broadbent certainly deserved all the plaudits and awards which came his way.

No less compelling and fascinating is Samantha Morton’s performance as Myra Hindley. As much of a victim as the murdered children, or an equal complicit partner with Ian Brady? She certainly seemed like a reformed character in Longford’s presence, but was that simply a ruse to gain his trust? As the film continues we begin to get an idea of the truth and Morton’s quiet, unshowy playing becomes increasingly more memorable.

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Ian Brady’s evil is palpable though. Andy Serkis’ screentime might have been limited but he is still able to create a deeply unsettling atmosphere which lingers even after he’s left the screen. Brady’s first meeting with Longford is a typical snapshot of the short time they spent together. “How good of you not to disappoint! Wonderful, isn’t it, when people look exactly as you imagined? So this is my competition? This is what I’m up against? Myra’s new boyfriend? She certainly picks them, doesn’t she? I did a little research before our first meeting. I’d say there’s great evidence of mental instability in your past and mine”.

Brady’s contention that Hindley destroyed ‘him’ is intriguing. An example of Brady’s manipulative skill, or does the comment contain a kernel of truth? “Take my advice. Go back to your other prisoners. Nice, uncomplicated ones with broken noses and knuckle tattoos. Stay clear of Myra, because she will destroy you. Certainly destroyed me. That’s a thought you’ve not had before – that Myra egged me on”. Before Brady’s furnace of hatred, the affable and kindly Longford could do little but wilt.

Later events, such as Hindley’s confession to several subsequent murders (which she did in order to trump Brady’s own pending confession) wasn’t enough to totally destroy Longford’s faith in her, nor was her description of the first murder. “I’m trying to know the God that you know. But if you had been there, on the moors, in the moonlight, when we did the first one, you’d know that evil can be a spiritual experience too”.

Scripted by Peter Morgan (also responsible for The Last King of Scotland, The Queen, Frost/Nixon and The Damned United) Longford is a concise ninety minute teleplay which doesn’t contain an ounce of fat. Strong supporting performances help (most notably Lindsey Duncan as Lady Longford) as does the inclusion of genuine archive television reportage. In certain clips (for example, where the real Lord Longford appeared alongside David Frost and Lord Hailsham) a skilful spot of editing ensures that Broadbent replies to the archival comments of Frost and Hailsham.

Posing the difficult, if not insoluble, question as to whether forgiveness should be extended to everyone, regardless of their crimes, Longford offers no easy answers but plenty of food for thought and therefore stands as an absorbing drama which repays repeated viewings. Highly recommended.

Longford is released today by Simply Media, RRP £14.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here – quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount.

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Angels – Commitment (8th December 1975)

Commitment is split between the action on a female ward and the end of episode prize-giving, where two of our Angels – Ruth and Shirley – are receiving their SRN badges following three long years of study. And as the episode title implies, several of the regulars are considering their futures ….

Today’s ward activity is very bustling, with numerous patients all jostling for position. Chief amongst these is Mrs Ennis (Susan Field), a remarkably cantankerous type. Her highly objectionable personality clashes with Pat’s no-nonsense attitude and it isn’t long before the sparks start to fly in an entertaining fashion.

The chief flashpoint occurs when Mrs Ennis accuses Maureen of stealing her sponge bag. Maureen later finds it, but Mrs Ennis is far from convinced (declaring that Maureen simply had a crisis of confidence and returned it). This is the final straw for Pat who then gives Mrs Ennis both barrels.

Never the diplomat, Pat tells Mrs Ennis that she’s “really the most ungreateful, diabolical old bitch it’s ever been my misfortunate to meet”. Mrs Ennis, understandably, reacts in horror to this – but mainly because she’s been called old!

This one incident is enough to convince Pat that nursing isn’t for her, but the affable and tolerant chief tutor, Mr Farrar (Jeremy Wilkin), is able to talk her back from making any hasty moves. As touched upon before with other guest actors, it’s a pity he didn’t feature on a regular basis. Farrar’s lengthy one-on-one meeting with Pat (albeit broken up with a brief cutaway between Sister Young and Miss Windrup) places Pat in the centre of the action for once.

To begin with, I wondered why Miss Windrup wasn’t the one discussing Pat’s future with her. But the cutaway makes it plain that she continues to have a very low opinion of Pat (although she’s very much in the minority). The clash between tradition and modernity is another episode theme – as you might expect, Miss Windrup favours order and method (a loose cannon like Pat is anathema to her) whilst Mr Farrar is more understanding and therefore able to see that once the rough edges have been rubbed off there might be a more than decent nurse underneath.

If Mrs Ennis exists in the narrative mainly to generate a reason for Pat to question her future, then another patient provides a similar service for Maureen (although in not such a dramatic way). This other encounter makes Maureen consider the possibilities of becoming a home visitor, although as Miss Windrup tells her, she’s got years ahead of her to consider all the possibilities.

The contrast between Maureen (deeply committed to nursing) and Pat (deeply ambivalent) couldn’t be more striking. With Pat still looking unhappy as the episode closes, at this point you might have laid money on the fact that – out of the six – she’d be the one least likely to return for the second series.

With the two youngest Angels both considering their future, what of the older ones? There’s no movement from either Jo and Sita (although Jo is wistfully regretful that she’s yet to receive her SRN badge). Shirley is fully committed – her desire to work a split shift on Christmas Day speaks volumes for the fact that outside of nursing her life remains very undeveloped.

Although Ruth declares that she could earn much more as a secretary, her desire to remain a nurse seems strong. But since Lesley Dunlop decided against returning for the second series, Ruth’s story has come to an end. Was this known at the time the episode was scripted? Possibly not, as things seem very open-ended for her, with no suggestion that she wouldn’t be remaining at St Angela’s.

Sister Hammond (Pamela Duncan) is another who favours tradition (bunting in the prize-giving hall very much appeals to her). However, once she and Miss Windrup have partaken of a few sherries, both are able to turn back the clock and reminisce about their younger, more care-free days. Especially Miss Windrup (with a gobsmacked Jo looking on!).

Tradition continues to be upheld at the prize-giving, with the national anthem played prior to proceedings whilst the arrival of Ruth and Shirley’s parents serves as another character-defining moment. Only Shirley’s mother is present (the absence of her father clearly causes her some hurt) and whilst the pair converse politely, they don’t seem to have an especially warm relationship (although to be fair, Mrs Brent does seem pleased after Shirley receives her badge and certificate). Conversely, Ruth’s parents are both present and correct and are obviously incredibly proud of their daughter’s achievement.

An interesting nugget of trivia (thank you, the 1977 Angels annual) is that Shirley’s mother was played by Clare Clifford’s real mother, Nancy Gower.

With Michael E. Briant throwing in some unusual camera shots, Commitment closes the first series strongly. Coming to this run of episodes fresh, what’s remarkable is just how consistent they’ve been, with only a few minor dips along the way. This bodes well for series two.

Angels – Confrontation (1st December 1975)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brond – Simply Media DVD Review

Out for an early morning jog, Robert (John Hannah) witnesses a shocking murder. A man later identified as Brond (Stratford Johns) casually pushes a young boy over a bridge. But this sudden act of violence is only the beginning as Robert finds himself embroiled in Brond’s scheme to trap an IRA killer ….

Adapted by Frederic Lindsay from his own novel and broadcast in 1987, Brond is one of those 1980’s thriller serials (along with the likes of Edge of Darkness and Dead Head) which eschew narrative clarity in favour of something much more non-linear. But given that Lindsay’s novel was rather baffling in places, it’s no surprise that his television adaptation was also opaque.

Brond’s first appearance is ridiculously memorable. Pushing the boy over the bridge without a second thought, Brond then casually winks at Robert as he passes by.  What’s especially interesting about this scene is that until the incident is revisited towards the end of the serial, it’s possible to believe that Robert was hallucinating and that there was no murder.

Brond might have been John Hannah’s television debut (a major role for such a newcomer) but Alan Stratford Johns was an old hand. He’ll always be best remembered for playing Charles Barlow in a string of BBC police series (Z Cars, Softly Softly, Softly Softly: Task Force, Barlow) but he had a rich and diverse career before and after his time with the police force.

Brond was one of his later signature roles though – it certainly made a considerable impact at the time and it’s not difficult to see why. It’s a peach of a part which offers Johns a number of wonderfully constructed monologues and set piece scenes. The first occurs at a university party, where an increasingly disconnected Robert views Brond in a mirror. The framing is so non-naturalistic that the exact reality of the situation seems to be in doubt (as with the boy’s murder).

Satan must be defeated. But never is quite. So we owe red roses and sunsets to Satan’s joy in being master.

Brond’s materialisation by Robert’s hospital bed is another peculiar and jolting moment. Why the whole ward is suddenly bathed in an unearthly red light is a mystery which is never explained. And yet again Brond’s elliptical, gnomic utterances don’t help to make the situation any clearer.

I remember Paris, young men, far from home. The story was written to make a little money, concerning a lady and her victim who was quite willing – eager to suffer and obey. She did terrible things to him, she might have killed him. But it was all innocent daydreams, some wonder drug of science fiction. So when it was over, no blood, no regrets, just a man and woman and a warm summer evening. Wasn’t that a better world to live in?

In the wrong hands, this sort of florid material could easily fall flat, but it’s testimony to Johns’ skill that he makes moments such as these utterly compelling.

Aside from Johns and Hannah, there’s a strong supporting cast. James Cosmo, as Primo, looms menacingly throughout. Although connected to Brond, he also latches himself onto Robert. Louise Beatty (Margaret) also impresses whilst it’s always a pleasure to see Christopher Ellison. A number of other familiar faces, such as Russell Hunter, pop up in minor roles.

As we proceed to the second episode, the plot only becomes more labyrinth. Robert’s mysterious landlord, Kennedy (Ian McElhinney), casts a menacing shadow whilst the murder of a fellow lodger, Kilpatrick (Laurie Ventry), and Robert’s discovery of a gun wrapped in a blood-soaked cloth are further pieces of the disorienting puzzle. Robert’s later police cell conversation with a gardner (Phil McCall) is another of those strange Brand moments.

Charged with the murder of Kilpatrick, Robert is interrogated by Frew (Christopher Ellison) a character who could be a close cousin of Frank Burnside. But the murder of Kilpatrick is clearly only a sideshow – the assassination of Sir Colin Fraser seems to be much more key ….

The final episode sees Robert released into Brond’s care. Stratford Johns is on fine form, espeically when in interrogation mode. Things then go very strange after the pair pay a visit to high class brothel. Brond has some peculiar ideas about entertainment (and isn’t fussy about who might be looking in). There’s also an intriguing callback to the murder of the boy from episode one, whilst some of the loose ends are tied up. Other aspects of the story (notably why Brond latches onto Robert) remain open to interpretation.

Critical reaction at the time was pretty positive.  The Stage (14th May 1987) reviewing the first episode, declared it to be “a jigsaw thriller, in which you are not expected to see the picture until most of the pieces have slotted into place”.  Johns’ performance (“Brond isn’t the sort of man you would want as a babysitter. He speaks in a calm, measured voice, at once chilling and reassuring”) drew praise as did John Hannah (“a likeable dupe, whose jokes always seemed to fall on deaf ears”).

The three episodes (each approx. 50 minutes) are contained on a single DVD.  The all-film production is unrestored, but for a thirty year old serial is in pretty good shape with no major picture issues.  There’s no special features and, as per Simply’s other recent C4 releases, no subtitles (it appears that Channel 4, unlike the BBC, don’t require subtitles to be added).

Featuring a haunting title theme by Bill Nelson and Daryl Brunswick, Brond lingers long in the memory. The lack of a clear narrative means it won’t appeal to all, but since there’s so much of interest – notably the performances of John Hannah and Stratford Johns – it’s hard not to be drawn into this dark, twisted world.

Brond is released by Simply Media on the 30th of July 2018, RRP £14.99. It can be ordered from Simply here, quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount.

Angels – Linda (24th November 1975)

It’s a momentous day for Pat and Maureen as they’re let loose on the wards for the first time. Meanwhile, Staff Nurse Linda Hollis finds that juggling her career and her marriage is becoming increasingly impossible ….

The second script by Deborah Mortimer, it’s also the second (and apparently last) to feature Janina Faye as Linda (possibly she was Mortimer’s creation). Long-term viewers who had already witnessed the first part of her story from episode four will be rewarded here, since the already established theme – her husband’s intolerance towards her career – is considerably developed.

Our first sight of Brian Hollis (Christopher Strauli) isn’t an encouraging one. He’s been forced to entertain their friends at the pub (Linda is working late) and whilst he clearly possesses a light charm, it’s also fairly brittle. These early scenes set the tone – Brian, having resigned from his job in order to study architecture, is reliant on the money Linda brings in but resents both this and the fact that she isn’t always available on tap.

The real flashpoint occurs when Linda agrees to work a split shift, with the result that she won’t be able to accompany Brian to a party. Intriguingly, the possibility is floated that she could have declined (Linda was asked if she’d already made plans) but the implication is that she elected to prioritise the hospital over her husband. If so, was it the right choice? Had Linda declined to work late then possibly somebody else could have done it, but we’ll never know for sure.

It’s hard to sympathise with Brian though, mainly because he’s so whiny and petulant. When, after one particularly blazing row, Linda suggests he leaves their basement flat, it’s notable how his face crumples like a child.

Nursing and marriage. It seems to be that you can do one but not both. Linda’s mother (played by Jessie Evans) makes this point very forcibly, but it’s also commented upon by Maureen and Pat. Pat, after observing that not many nurses are married, wonders if the point is significant (Maureen thinks not, but then it has been established that she’s maybe not the deepest thinker).

There’s an intriguing callback to Off Duty when Pat muses that the pair of them might end up as a couple of old spinsters stuck in a flat (like Sister Easby, agrees Maureen). Sister Easby’s relationship with Beryl in Off Duty could easily be taken as a lesbian coupling – but the tone of the exchange here suggests that neither Maureen or Pat have considered this. An example of their naivety maybe? Although the general theme of this episode does suggest that the spectre of middle-aged nurses married to their careers isn’t uncommon.

The histrionics between Linda and Brian might be today’s major plotline, but Pat and Maureen’s first faltering steps as nurses are also of considerable interest. Luckily they’ve got the capable Jo to keep an eye on them – instructing a slightly nonplussed Pat about the best way to deal with a bedpan, for example.

Patient interaction is fairly minimal today, although the formidable Rita Webb as Mrs White certainly makes an impression. From the opening few seconds it’s plain that Mrs White is a character (she loudly decides that tomorrow she’d rather enjoy toad in the hole for dinner). A quaking Maureen has to later give her a bed bath. After learning that it’s her first day Mrs White has a little cackle, but also reveals herself to be a friendly sort, putting the nervous Maureen at her ease.

George Tovey, as Mr White, has even less screentime but still manages to vividly bring his character to life (I love the way that Mr White chomps his way through a bunch of grapes, which he presuambly brought for his wife!) But Tovey’s major contribution occurs when Mr White asks Linda how long it’ll be before his wife is able to come home. He tells her that’s where she should be (he’s finding it increasingly difficult to cope by himself). It’s fairly obvious that this exchange exists in order to add a little more fuel to the Linda/Brian fire.

That’s resolved by Brian moving out – for the moment – and Linda electing to take a midwifery course, thereby embedding herself even further into her career. So the question about whether a happy balance between nursing and marriage can be struck remains unresolved – Linda chooses to pursue her job at the expense of her personal relationship.

Possibly this is only temporary or it might be that she has doomed herself to a life of spinsterhood. Thirteen episodes in, it does seem significant that she’s the only married nurse we’ve encountered so far (and whilst her marriage isn’t quite dead, it’s certainly on the critical list).