Angels – Arrival (1st September 1975)

Trainee nurses Patricia Rutherford (Fiona Fullerton) and Maureen Morahan (Erin Geraghty) arrive at St. Angela’s Hospital ….

Given that the viewer is discovering St Angela’s for the first time in this debut episode, it makes dramatic sense to follow Pat and Maureen on the same journey. The differences between the two are made abundantly clear during the first few minutes – Pat comes from an affluent English family whilst Maureen hails from humbler Irish farming stock.

Pat has the air of a dilettante – she could do almost anything she wished (provided she’ll allow her indulgent father to pull a few strings) but has decided on nursing. Partly this is because she believes it might be a “laugh” although she’s also aware of both the grimmer realities and the rewarding aspects. Her father, Lawrence (Geoffrey Palmer), is exasperated by her choice, but is ultimately supportive. The conflict between the two seems mainly designed to articulate the reason for Pat’s choice (the same sort of mild familial strife applies to Maureen).

Maureen lives in the bucolic Irish countryside, but has her heart set on moving to England in order to qualify as a nurse (she could do this in Ireland, but it would be a longer process). Leaving for England is the source of divergence between Maureen and her mother (played by Ronnie Masterson). Maureen is shown in various ways to be a quieter, more repressed and innocent character than the outgoing Pat (her reluctance to take a drink, for example). This is presumably why her mother is convinced that Maureen’s sojourn in England will change and corrupt her.

Both travel to St Angela’s by themselves, although Maureen’s is obviously the longer and much more arduous journey. Another obvious difference between their mindsets can be seen after they embark from the train on the last leg of their trip. Pat, with her natural air of authority, finds a guard to help carry her bags but Maureen is forced to struggle on alone. Pat then hops into a taxi in order to travel to St Angela’s in comfort whilst Maureen makes her way via public transport.

Once they both finally arrive, they – along with the rest of the new intake – are introduced to the intimidating Sister Broomstock (Elspeth MacNaughton) who lays down some of the groundrules. Sister Broomstock (“Broomstock not Broomstick” she helpfully tells them) is the archetypical battle-axe figure (easy to imagine Hattie Jacques in the same role). These scenes are interesting mainly for the way we learn exactly what amenities are available to the budding nurses – a shampoo and set for a handful of pennies sounds very good value ….

Their induction continues later at a slightly awkward coffee evening. There’s plenty of polite laughter as the slightly overawed new starters begin to take stock of their surroundings and the training schedule which lies ahead of them. The number of lines on a nurses’s hat (one for a first year trainee, two for two years, three for three years, no lines for a fully qualified nurse) is another interesting little touch.

Given all we’ve seen so far, it’s fair to say that Pat and Maureen have little in common. But – partly because they’re rooming next to each other – they find a friendship developing (initiated by Pat who, as per everything else we’ve witnessed so far, is clearly the proactive one).

Whilst Maureen, Pat and the others are adjusting to their new lives, work on the wards continues. Jo Longhurst (Julie Dawn Cole) would seem to be the ideal that they’re all seeking to emulate. Endlessly patient and cheerful, she corrals her ward with good humour and understanding. Effortlessly able to bat off some of the (good natured?) sexist banter from the patients, Jo makes an immediate impression.

A solid opening episode then. True, it’s a little stilted in places but all the building blocks of the series are in place. We know what sort of people Pat and Maureen are, the question is how they will change and adapt once the training process begins in earnest.

Angels – Initiation (8th September 1975)

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Training begins in earnest. Angels doesn’t shy away from the routine and mundane aspects of nursing (we’re treated to a demonstration of bed-making) but rather than being dull, these scenes help to create a sense of reality.

Whilst the new intake are learning the ropes under the tutelage of Miss Heather Windrup (Faith Brook), there’s more time to get to know the more experienced student nurses. Jo had already featured strongly in the previous episode, but today we meet her best friend and confidant, Ruth Fullman (Lesley Dunlop), for the first time. Both are also friendly with Sita Patel (Karan David), who is less well defined than either Jo or Ruth (her main character trait here is that she rarely uses speech contractions).

Their interlocking friendship excludes (either consciously or unconsciously) another student nurse – Shirley Brent (Clare Clifford). We saw Shirley briefly in the last episode, but today she really begins to emerge as a character in her own right. Due to sickness, Shirley has temporally taken over the duties of a staff nurse – something which the ebullient Jo is less than happy about.

The conflict between Jo and Shirley is easily the most engaging part of the episode. Jo might paint Shirley as humourless and petty, but it’s plain that she’s more than a little overwhelmed at suddenly being thrust into this position of authority. What she needs is support from her colleagues, but in Jo’s case there’s only a mild sense of hostility.

It’s good to be presented with a situation where neither Jo or Shirley are wholly right or wrong. The main flashpoint – they clash over whether a small child should be allowed onto the ward to visit their grandfather (Shirley says no, Jo says yes) – is especially instructive since it enables Shirley to be gently lectured by Miss Windrup. Jo may have overridden Shirley’s authority, but the net result is that the patient was cheered up (so it’s an instance where disregarding the rules and the chain of command had a positive impact). But how do you know when to break the rules? This is a sticky question …

It may not surprise you to learn that Miss Windrup is referred to as “Windbag” out of her earshot!

Pat and Maureen head out to see the sights of London. Once again, Maureen is reluctant to do anything that might be construed as fun, but Pat is eventually able to persuade her and both have an enjoyable day. There’s a sting in the tail though, as Maureen returns to find an ominous message has been left for her – she needs to ring home urgently.

A low-level of anxiety is created after she learns that her mother, still pining for her, is in a bad way. Will Maureen have to put her nursing plans on hold and return home to Ireland? No is the answer to that as no sooner is this thread established than we’re told that Maureen’s mother has now pulled herself together. This slightly anti-climatic storyline is a bit odd, but it’s the only misstep in a strong epiaode.

Jo’s faint pangs of remorse after her clash with Shirley then leads her to attempt to apologise. But when it comes to the crunch she simply can’t – leaving Shirley to walk off with her dinner to a table all by herself whilst Jo, Ruth and Sita continue to sit together. Unspoken though it is, Shirley’s isolation from the others is made quite plain.

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Angels – Appraisal (15th September 1975)

It’s quite pleasing that the opening scene switches focus from Jo walking down to the corridor one way to Pat heading in the opposite direction. The pair don’t have any direct contact in this episode, but both – in their different ways – are later shown to be chafing against authority.

Pat’s only been in the hospital a few weeks, but already has fallen foul of Miss Windrup. Miss Windrup has tagged her as someone who is more than capable, but is also inclined to be lazy and unfocused. Pat later admits as much – she’d much sooner spend her free time enjoying herself than studying in the library with Maureen.

Incidentally, it’s notable how cosy and comfortable Pat’s room now is (compare it to the bleak chamber from the opening episode). Pictures on the wall, a record player, plants and a portable television are just some of the trinkets she’s now surrounded herself with. This is a reminder that she’s more than comfortably well off, whilst Maureen’s comment that she can’t join her friend (since she has to make her meagre money last the week) reinforces the point that in contrast Maureen has to live under more straightened circumstances.

Pat’s main bugbear is that she considers the majority of the training they receive to be pointless. But if Pat is keen to get stuck in on the wards straight away, the more diligent and cautious Maureen is more than happy to soak up every last minute of the exercises. The fact that Pat later does well in a training exercise (gaining praise from Miss Windrup) suggests that the natural order has been restored – Pat briefly struggled against the system, but is now compliant. At least for the moment.

But this plot-thread is very much secondary to the continuing travails of Jo. The previous episodes have already established her main strength – she’s excellent with the patients – but Appraisal lays bare the faults in her professional character. Today she has more patient interaction – Jo becomes friendly with Nigel (Keith Jayne), a teenager who’s desperate to go home – but as we’ll see, Nigel’s presence in the episode is mainly to generate the latest crisis point for her.

The boy reacts badly to the news that he has to stay in hospital for a few more days and Jo does her best to cheer him up. A piece of cake, left in his locker by his mother, might do the trick – but Jo is well aware that he’s not allowed any food containing wheat products. That she elects to turn a blind eye to this is simply asking for trouble ….

But that’s only one of the negative comments which Sister Easby (June Watson) directs Jo’s way during her appraisal. The lengthy scene between the pair is this episode’s undoubted highlight. Given that visually there’s not a lot to work with – one small office, two actors – director Derek Martinus nevertheless manages to make this long scene flow nicely by employing a variety of camera angles. Close-ups are always effective – especially after Jo has been reduced to tears – but side-on shots (moving from Sister Easby to Jo) also work well.

Of course, most of the heavy lifting has to be done by the actors and neither disappoints. Last episode we’d had evidence that Jo wasn’t really a team player and today Sister Easby spells it out to her (Jo’s the sort of nurse who loves to chat to patients, but this means her colleagues are forced to do most of the mundane, routine chores). Jo doesn’t react well to this criticism (she considers the hospital to be a dehumanising place and that she’s one of the few who puts the patients first). Unsurprisingly, Sister Easby pours cold water on these idealistic comments.

But just like Pat, Jo is eventually brought back into the fold (although her teary impassioned diatribe is much more dramatic than Pat’s low-key griping). That Sister Easby sends Jo off to do what she does best – holding the hand of a newly arrived and deeply confused patient – suggests that the senior nurse knows where Jo’s strengths lie. The question is whether, over time, she can learn to become a team player ….

Angels – Staff (22nd September 1975)

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Four episodes in, Staff offers something of a change of pace. With Pat, Maureen and the other new trainees absent, the episode is solely centered around one of the women’s wards. This too is a departure as up until now we’ve only observed the male patients.

There’s also more of a sense of just how tiring and frustrating nursing can be – the night shift swopping notes with their day replacements, commenting on how hectic their shift has been – whilst the character of Staff Nurse Linda Hollis (Janina Faye) helps to illustrate the difficulties faced when attempting to juggle a career and a marriage. This is shown via a handful of fairly terse phone calls with her husband – from the tone of the one-sided conversation it’s plain that he expects her to be home bang on time ….

Previously we’d seen how Shirley, operating as a temporary Staff Nurse, sowed discord – thanks in part to her own inexperience (although the intransigence of Jo didn’t help). Linda runs quite a different ship though. All the nurses under her charge are made to feel part of a team and despite the hectic pace, Linda’s good humour and positive nature never flags.

No sooner does Jo transfer to this female ward, then Shirley also appears to lend a hand. This inevitably leads to the same sort of clashes observed in previous episodes. One of Jo’s fellow nurses – Elaine Fitzgerald (Taiwo Ajai) – suggests that she should make more of an effort and try to find some common ground with Shirley.

Up until now Clare Clifford’s been called upon to be mainly strict, hectoring and disapproving (with only a brief hint of vunerability). But Jo’s friendly overtures towards Shirley gives Clifford rather more to work with – for the first time we realise just how lonely and isolated Shirley is.

Most nurses who don’t live on site share rooms, but Shirley lives alone. Jo, attempting to find the positives, comments that it must be nice to have a bit of peace of quiet, but the truth is that nobody has offered to share with her. Jo, continuing to build bridges, tells her that she knows somebody who’s looking to share and suggests a meeting.

This one positive act causes Shirley to blossom – she allows Elaine to do up her hair and swops her severe glasses for contact lenses. But when Jo is forced to cancel the visit, the status quo is restored. This is marked by Shirley removing her contact lenses and putting her glasses back on. Back to square one.

The patients are a diverse group of individuals. They’re easily the most substantial characters we’ve seen so far (in the first episode the patients did little except add a spot of colour to proceedings). Mrs Wilson (Rosalind Elliot), having miscarried, is in a highly depressed state and the arrival of her mother (played by Hilary Wilson) simply makes her feel worse. Wilson, a highly distinctive actress who specialised in playing disapproving types, makes an impact with her brief scene. Mrs Wilson Snr’s parting words for her daughter, delivered via Linda (“tell her I love her”) is a rather heart-breaking moment.

Elsewhere, Mrs Joylon suffers a nasty nosebleed whilst Miss Beatty (Margaret Boyd) faces the prospect of moving into a nursing home. Having suffered a stroke she’s unable to speak, but is still able to express her feelings plainly enough. As ever, it’s Jo who’s the positive one – telling her that the place she’s going to is first rate – even if her later private thoughts are rather more pessimistic.

Toni Palmer, as Mrs Jones, offers a wonderfully vivid performance. Mrs Jones is a regular visitor to the hospital – thanks to a series of suicide attempts. She’s remarkably cheerful though, since none of the attempts have been serious (they’re simply designed to elicit some attention from her husband). Mr Jones has always rallied around in the past, but not this time. When she learns that he won’t be coming to visit, her collapse is dramatic. Like Hilary Wilson, Palmer was a very recognisable televison face, and is good value during all of her scenes (especially the last few).

If we can believe IMDB, then Staff was the first of only four Angels scripts penned by Anne Valery. That’s very surprising if so, since this episode is a very strong one. It may lack any major plotlines, but it’s rich in smaller character moments.

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Angels – Off Duty (29th September 1975)

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There’s a strong school vibe to the opening scene (the trainees are performing various exercises under the eagle eye of Miss Windrup). Maureen is her blue-eyed girl – making a bed with consumate ease – whilst Pat continues to be a problem pupil (her attempts at bandaging aren’t terribly impressive).

The school feel continues when Pat realises that they’ve gone past their allotted time by several minutes. Miss Windrup makes the point that if this was real life they wouldn’t just down tools and let their patient bleed to death. So the less than impressed Pat is told to have another go. But then neither is Sarah Regan (Debbie Ash) who’s forced by Miss Windrup to clean the blackboard ….

Once we get past this scene, the hospital is left behind as Pat and Maureen go out for the evening, with the end result that their friendship is severely tested. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise though – ever since they encountered each other for the first time it’s seemed plain that their relationship – due to their totally different characters and outlooks – is a rather brittle one.

To begin with, their differences are teased out in an amusing way. Maureen is an incurable optimist (remarking that it’s a lovely evening) whilst Pat is an equal and opposite pessimist (she replies that it’s just started to rain). The girls are heading out to see Maureen’s aunt, Mrs Riley (Sheila Manahan). Although it’s a bit of a trek to reach her – she lives on the other side of London – Maureen assures Pat that it’ll be well worth it. The lovely food, the warm welcome they’re going to receive …

This exuberant build up suggests that the reality will fall somewhat short. And so it proves. The food appears to be average at best whilst Mrs Riley is a fairly dour conversationalist. These are nice scenes, with Maureen’s awkwardness and Pat’s irritation both being palpable.

Things look up when Mrs Riley’s son, Barney (Karl Howman), returns home. Barney is something of a proto-Jacko (it only takes him a few seconds to laser in on Pat). It seems plain that Pat quickly organises a secret assignation with him (although we have to wait a while for this to be confirmed). But whilst the audience would have already picked up the vibes though (Pat’s keen to pop in to a pub on the way home, but doesn’t really want Maureen around) it takes much, much longer for the penny to drop with Maureen.

Her painful lack of life experience is laid bare over the course of the lengthy pub scene, which lasts for the remainder of the episode. This is manifested in various ways (not realising that the singer is a man dressed as a woman, say). Another example is the fact that the strictly teetotal Maureen is later plied with alcohol by Pat and the recently arrived Barney in an attempt to get rid of her. A rather cruel act on Pat’s part (despite the fact she later tries to laugh it off as a joke) considering she knew that Maureen was abstaining on religious grounds.

The evening from hell then careers downhill a little more with the arrival of Beryl (Jane Lowe). A middle-aged nurse who trained at St Angela’s but now works at another hospital, she pours out her relationship woes to Maureen. This revolve around her friendship with someone called Alex, who does work at St Angela’s. The inference is that Alex is a married man, but the fact that Beryl never refers to them as “he” is more than suggestive.

When Alex turns up, we discover that it’s the formidable Sister Easby. The precise nature of their relationship remains nebulous though – are they still sharing rooms because that’s what nurses tend to do or is there a stronger bond? We’ve already seen with Shirley that certain nurses can find themselves isolated from their peers, so it wouldn’t be unusual if two such unloved people continued to huddle together for companionship.

If Maureen acts rather dimly for the duration of this episode, then Pat matches her by being boorish and insentive (the highlight being when she teases Maureen that all her family must be members of the IRA) . So whilst neither emerges with distinction from this one, possibly the showdown in the pub will help Maureen to toughen up and be a little less trusting. Time will tell.

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Angels – Case History (6th October 1975)

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Case History opens with Jo and Ruth making their way to work in something of a freewheeling style. It comes complete with an encounter on the bus with an old woman who presents them both with an orange and then praises the work they do! This early scene reaffirms their tight bond (it’s almost them against the rest of the world) and the lighthearted attitude to life that they share.

There’s some familar faces lurking on the men’s ward today. Mr Collins (Lewis Fiander) is a bitter man – angry at his illness and all those around him. Even Jo – who can charm most people – isn’t immune to the sharp edge of his tongue. The irrepressible Mr Slingsby (Richard Davies) also causes Collins some irritation, but it’s all water off a duck’s back for the voluble Welshman.

You know what you’re going to get with Davies. Slingsby is a loudmouthed joker, eager to share the delights of the page three lady with his fellow patients (and also Jo, who delightfully tells him that she’s just as well equipped as the paper lady is!). He also loves to discuss the gory details of his illness with the others. They’re not so keen ….

They clearly move Jo around the hospital on a regular basis. First she was on a male ward, then a female ward and now she’s back on a male ward. And for the first time Ruth is on the same ward as her. Given the rapport which has been established between them, this makes sense.

I’m afraid to say that my knowledge of Lewis Fiander doesn’t really extend beyond his idiosyncratic turn in the Doctor Who story Nightmare of Eden. Collins is a very different sort of character (he doesn’t have a silly accent, for a start). With Jo having selected him as one of her case studies, she makes an effort to get to know him, although his extreme reticence and hostility doesn’t make this easy.

The arrival of Mr Cooper (James Grout) is a major event. A great shame this was just a one-off appearance as he’s excellent as a traditional force of nature consultant. Breezing from bed to bed, dispensing the odd encouraging word, Grout is in his element. But he can also switch to serious in a heartbeat – witness the murmered conversation he has with Dr Khan (Tariq Unis) after they’ve seen Slingsby. It’s plain that (despite his cheerful front) Slingsby is far from well.

Collins’ bleak mood is seen again when he tells Mr Cooper that he’d be better off dead. Jo and Slingsby (both listening in) are given silent reaction shots. He’s still the topic of conversation when Jo and Ruth head off to the park for lunch. This is a nice little scene – it gets us away from the claustrophobic feel of the hospital and also allows the two girls to indulge in a spot of good natured bickering (Jo’s latest boyfriend and Ruth’s bunions are amongst the hot topics).

Coronation Street and Z Cars were the two series where writer Leslie Duxbury mainly plied his trade. His first Angels script is a decent character piece, with Collins’ fraying state of mind the centrepoint. Jo’s desire to find out why he’s so unhappy is also a major theme – for her, sending the patients home happy is just as important as sending them home cured.

Sister Easby takes the opposite view. Getting too involved with the patients is always a bad move since it’ll eventually wear your soul down. Much better, she tells Jo, to keep your distance. Once again we see the emotional Jo reduced to tears, although in this episode it’s only a brief sob which occurs in the privacy of the locker room.

And despite her previous words, it’s eventually Sister Easby who gets to the bottom of Collins’ angst. Across the episode Fiander is gifted some verbose speeches which he handles very well. And although this means that Case History is a little florid in places, it’s still a very engaging watch.

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Angels – Nights (13th October 1975)

Having previously mostly acted as Jo’s confidant and sounding board, Nights is the first time that Ruth’s character has been placed centre-stage. Given the night-time setting, there’s a very different feel to this episode than previous ones – the subdued lighting and the general peace and quiet of the ward contrasts sharply with the bustle of the daytime environment.

Ambient noise is used effectively to reinforce this difference. The regular stream of traffic outside (presumably St Angela’s is close to a main road) is a good example – no doubt during the day it would be drowned out by the general hubbub of hospital life.

We check in on several patients (considerately they all wake up at different times, meaning that Ruth can attend to each of them in turn). All of these encounters – bar one – add a little extra colour to the episode but aren’t key. Mr Summers (Ken Parry) is first. Complaining of being hot (and also the fact that he’s hooked up to a very bulky looking monitor) he’s fairly easily dealt with. His mildly cantankerous nature does give Ruth an early opportunity to demonstrate her winning personality skills though.

When Mr Pointer (Richard Butler) heads out of the ward at one thirty in the morning (a regular occurrence for him) it seems that the audience is being invited to assume it’s a toilet related issue. But in fact he’s just nipping off to make a cup of tea – since his working life has been spent working the night shift, his body clock now operates differently from everyone else.

The arrival of Mr Wallace (Anthony Dawes) is an interesting moment. The only brief film insert during the episode occurs during the first few minutes when we see an ambulance pull up with yet another patient (presumably Wallace). This subconsciously suggests that Wallace is going to be a key figure, but it doesn’t turn out that way. Once he’s been loaded into bed he’s pretty much forgotten about.

The conflict in today’s episode is generated by Ruth and Audrey Steiner (Myra Francis). Audrey might be the senior, but Ruth is contemptuous of the fact that she’s an agency nurse. Ruth believes that her experience of the ward should trump Audrey’s greater knowledge of nursing (she also has a simmering resentment because Audrey is paid more). Nothing that Audrey does is particularly terrible, but decent drama is generated via her clashes with Ruth. Another plus of the night setting is the fact that even when they have an argument it has to be done sotto voce in order not to wake the patients.

During her break, Ruth discusses the dreaded Audrey with Sita and Sandra Ling (Angela Bruce, making her Angels debut). Sandra makes most of the running here – disagreeing with Ruth by pointing out the difficulties that an agency worker has to face (mainly the fact that they’re never in one place long enough to make friends). But this flashpoint is brief and there’s a later short scene which makes it plain that their friendship is unaffected.

The arrival of Dr Frank Crozier (John Duttine) breaks the routine. Duttine is another of those Angels performers who could have easily returned again as the same character, but sadly didn’t. Something of a letch (Crozier’s first action is to squeeze Ruth’s bottom) he’s obviously used to wrapping the nurses around his little finger. He later asks Ruth to rustle him up an omelette, even though he knows that nurses are strictly forbidden to cook (because of this she later fouls foul of the formidable sister). But Ruth’s not upset and her weekend date with Crozier remains unaffected.

The death of Mr Marshall (John Stuart) ends the episode on a bleak and reflective note. An elderly man with severe breathing problems, his poor health is stated throughout, but it still comes as a shock when he suddenly expires. Angels‘ first patient death, it’s all the more effective for the matter of fact way it’s handled. The pain felt by Ruth is obvious (losing a patient is always hard) but as Crozier tells her, you simply have to develop a hard shell and move on.

The travails of this particular night shift is one reason why Ruth and Audrey find some common ground by the end of it (Audrey’s offer of a cup of tea is something of an olive branch). Like Duttine, it’s a shame that Francis’ character was just a one-off.

Alan Janes’ script is economical with its dialogue (understandable during an episode set at night). Another strong episode though, and I look forward to seeing what he does with his next (Accident, from series two).