Angels – Saturday Night (3rd November 1975)

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Following directly on from the previous episode, Saturday Night centres around a party attended by Jo and Shirley. As you might expect it’s something of an exercise in awkwardness for Shirley – although the uncomfortable feeling starts long before she reaches the party.

At home, picking out the clothes she’s going to wear, there’s a strong sense of just how out of practice she is with this social interaction lark. Her eventual choice – pretty formal – confirms this (especially after we observe how casually Jo is attired).

When we first see the party flat – all groovy posters and copyright-free library music – it’s totally bereft of party-goers, which is something that concerns the three friends who’ve organised the shindig (they include Elizabeth Adare, best known for The Tomorrow People). They needn’t have worried though, as soon the joint is jumping ….

Across the course of the episode we meet three men – Brad (Brian Anthony), Gordon (Colin Higgins) and Mark (Graham Faulkner) – all of whom might be potential partners for three of our Angels. Are any of them suitable? Hmm, let’s see.

Brad rates highest on the irritant scale. Lasering in on Jo like a heat-seeking missile, he’s monumentally rude to everyone else – especially Gordon (who like most of the party-goers is training to be a nurse). One of the few non-medical staff at the party, Brad expresses incredulity that a man could want to be a nurse (jokes about having to wear stockings and homosexuality then follow).

Although Jo is quick to spring to Gordon’s defence, she does later admit that male nurses can be a bit off-putting. Her example – their hands seem so large when handling babies – is a little odd though.

Gordon couldn’t be more different from Brad. Quiet and reserved, he seems like the ideal companion for Shirley. It would at least save her from hovering around the fringes of other people’s conversations, looking lonely and left out. Shirley attempts to make conversation with Gordon, but it’s hard going at first. But then he’s in a pretty depressed state, having just returned from a funeral, so the jolly atmosphere of a party isn’t probably the ideal place for him. The two misfits do eventually bond though, united in their outsider status.

Meanwhile back at the hospital, Sita finds herself being chatted up by Dr Mark. Eschewing the party, Sita plans to spend a quiet night writing a letter home to her parents and relaxing by herself in the common room. But Mark has other ideas ….

If the sight of Shirley at the party generates a feeling of awkardness then so does the initial meeting between Sita and Mark. As previously seen, Sita is a nice, courteous and placid girl who therefore is totally unable to tell Mark to buzz off. He’s not downhearted by her initial lack of response though and ploughs on regardless. My favourite line of his has to be “has anyone ever told you what fabulous hair you’ve got?”

During Mark’s cross-examination we learn something of Sita’s background (she arrived with her family four years ago from Uganda). The revelation that Sita has never been to a party astounds Mark (by this point I was beginning to warm to him. Pushy he might be, but he also seemed genuinely interested in Sita as a person). This era of drama often featured young ethnic characters prevented from sampling the delights of Western civilisation by their parents, but it’s much more unusual for the youngster to be self-regulating, as Sita is.

Pat and Maureen attempt to get to the party, but it’s a cursed journey for them. They arrive at the train station, leave to get a bottle for the party, come back to the train station, leave again to go back to the off licence where Pat left her purse, come back to the train station, realise they’ve lost the address, wander about for ages, etc, etc.

Both Jo and Shirley receive knock-backs. Jo’s clearly well shot of the loathsome Brad but Gordon’s decision to pretend that his evening’s heart to heart with Shirley never happened feels much more significant. For Shirley, who rarely finds herself with male company, it’s obvious why. Her initial tears and later stony face (as she observes the newly arrived Sita and Mark) hammers this point home.

With no hospital action (we do see some beds, but no patients) Saturday Night continues to develop the characters of the regulars. Shirley and Sita benefit the most – since both are reserved and private people there’s obviously more to work with. Jo enjoys a decent slice of the narrative even if we don’t learn anything new about her, whilst poor Maureen and Pat, relegated to the comedy subplot, mainly reinforce their already established personas.

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Angels – Model Patient (27th October 1975)

Three storylines – all about loneliness – form the backbone of this episode. The most substantial concerns Norman Pettit (Ron Pember), the seemingly model patient of the title. Following a hospital stay of some three and a half months he’s now due to leave, but the thought of this clearly terrifies him ….

With hundreds of credits to his name, Pember was one of those instantly recognisable actors. Often to be found playing chirpy types, the deeply disturbed Pettit offered him the chance to flex his acting muscles somewhat. It’s a excellent performance which begins slowly before working up to a final point of revelation.

Having locked himself into a toilet cubicle, it takes a little while before we first see him (those toilet doors were built to last). Once extracted, Pettit is totally uncommunicative, which results in Sita calling for social worker Sarah Tuddenham (Anne Kidd). To begin with this is a painfully slow exercise as Pettit is almost comatose (even the simple act of picking up a cup of tea requires considerable effort).

But over time Sarah is able to coax him back to life and he begins to confirm what the audience had possibly already guessed. It’s previously been established that he lives alone, so discovering that Pettit has become totally institutionalised (and therefore can’t bear the thought of leaving the bustle of the hospital behind to return to his empty house) shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. There is a later revelation which is a little more unexpected though.

Pettit’s story is one from which it’s hard to gain much solace or hope for the future. Pember’s dialled-down economical playing is simply devastating and whilst I’ve appreciated him in many other quality programmes (Secret Army, say) I can’t recall many other performances from him quite as impressive as this one.

Also deeply lonely is Miss Windrup, although unlike Petitt she doesn’t have the chance to articulate her feelings. One of the notable things about this first series is the way that certain plotlines have been seeded well in advance. An earlier episode gently suggested Miss Windrup’s isolation, but Model Patient is where the theme is really developed.

Miss Windrup opens the episode via a dialogue-free scene. There’s a nice shot from outside her office, which has the camera positioned behind a bannister. Either by accident or design this gives the fleeting impression that her office is a prison with bars. Something that was scripted or simply a directorial choice by Ken Hannam?

The way that Miss Windrup lingers in her conversations with several colleagues, obviously hopeful that a more substantial dialogue will emerge, is an one example of how friendless she is. Visiting the wards to talk to the patients and nurses simply hammers the point home.

Her formidable training persona might turn out good nurses, but it doesn’t help to build up friendships. The moment when she invites Ruth, yet to begin her shift, round to her flat (only to immediatly realise that young Ruth would sooner be anywhere else) is a good example of this. The awkwardness of the scene is compounded by the fact that Ruth either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care that Miss Windrup, in her own way, had been making a cry for help.

Fair to say this episode is a bleak one. Apart from the plotlines of Mr Petitt and Miss Windrup, it’s also mentioned that a briefly seen patient is terminally ill (although neither he or his wife knows this yet).

The closest to light relief we get comes when Ruth playfully suggests to Jo that she should invite Shirley to an upcoming party. Ruth, stuck on the night shift, can’t go, but she seems to take great delight at the thought of Jo being lumbered with Shirley! This is the third of the three loneliness storylines – it’s already been established that Shirley is friendless – but at least this one gives us a sliver of hope for the future. Shirley’s eagereness to attend (after a brief moment of hesitation) provides a chilly episode with a rare moment of warmth.

With the scenes between Ruth, Jo and Shirley confined to the canteen and corridors, it’s Sita who’s required to carry the ward scenes today. She’s assisted by the cynical Antipodian Val James (Ginette McDonald) who contrasts nicely with Sita’s ingenious kindness and consideration.

Depressing it might be, but there’s no denying the quality of Model Patient, with Ron Pember’s performance lingering long in the memory.

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 – 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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