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 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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