Angels – Accident (1st June 1976)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Angels – Facing Up (25th May 1976)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Angels – Legacies (27th April 1976)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Angels – Ambition (20th April 1976)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Angels – Vocation (13th April 1976)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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