Angels – Celebration (22nd June 1976)

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Shirley amongst her psychiatric patients – who has the problems? (Radio Times Listing)

A P.J. Hammond script set in a psychiatric unit? This probably isn’t going to be average then ….

It’s worth remembering that Angels was a pre-watershed series (this one went out at 8.10 pm). There’s nothing graphically violent about the episode, but the elliptical conversations, allied to a feeling that something bad could happen at any moment, makes for an uncomfortable – if bracing – fifty minutes.

An initial group therapy scene with Shirley and a collection of disparate patients sets the tone.  Over the course of the episode they’re all allowed at least one moment which illuminates their character, but to begin with their interplay is so fractured that – as Hammond intended no doubt – the viewer is left slightly confused and breathless.

Familiar actors, such as Alan Lake and Joseph Brady, tend to catch the eye first.  Lake (as Tony) plays to type as an individual who can change from charming to threatening at the drop of a hat.  His antipathy towards Shirley (as someone who’s been institutionalised all his life, he believes that he’s better placed than her to pass judgement on his fellow patients) is a theme that’s teased out as the episode progresses.  Given Lake’s life and death, it’s very easy to wonder about which facets of Tony’s character were close to his own.

Joseph Brady (Jock) doesn’t have a great deal of dialogue but the sight of the perpetually rocking Jock, softly babbling away to himself, helps to deepen the already building sense of unease.  As does Arnold (Jack Chissick), who is plagued by murder thoughts and has now taken to jotting them down in a book whenever a new one arrives.  That he immediately reaches for his book after seeing Jo for the first time is an interesting little moment.

Angels was never averse to bleak stories, but most episodes with dark themes would also drop in another plot with a lighter tone.  There’s not a great deal of respite in Celebration, although the wrong-footing ending (we’re primed to expect a crisis which doesn’t occur) does at least enable the story to conclude with a sliver of hope.

There is humour in the episode, although it’s of a rather dark nature.  Jo and Pat, corralled into helping Shirley organise a party for one of the patients, stumble into the room to find everybody dressed in party hats but sitting completely immobile.  It’s both comic and tragic, a feeling which is heightened when the two girls – neither of whom were terribly keen to attend – are forced to make excruciating small talk.

Shirley seems quite at home in the unit and treats the patients in a logical and rigorous manner.  Given that they can often act in deeply illogical ways this seems to be a risky policy.  Her style is commented upon by two people – first an Auxiliary nurse (Anne Ridler) and then Dr Fraser (Willie Jonah).

Both discussions are illuminating, especially the one with Dr Fraser. “We can’t just ask people,where does it hurt? The kind of wounds we’re looking for, they don’t show up on x-rays”. He then goes on to say that 90 percent of the work has to be done by the patients themselves with the remainder (“you and me and ECT and pills and Christian names and pots of paint and pictures”) supplied by the hospital staff

It’s slightly strange to see Pat and Jo teamed up (rather than one of the more usual combinations of Pat and Maureen or Jo and Sandra).  Pat seems to be acting slightly out of character (not unusual for a Hammond script, which often retooled the thoughts and views of the regulars) as she’s much more negative about Shirley’s work with the “loonies” than you might have expected.

It’s not totally out of character for her though and whilst she’s not central today, Pat is still gifted some fascinating moments – for example, the fact she so vehemently draws attention to her own complete normalness. Does the lady protest too much?

The episode is dotted with many items of interest, like George (George Waring) and Dianne (Mitzi Rogers).  Both day patients, they seem a good deal more “normal” than the others, although George’s cheerful and uncomplaining façade is brutally picked apart by Dianne.  But maybe this will prove to be beneficial for him in the long run – knocked to pieces so he can be rebuilt.

David Maloney’s direction is as assured as ever. There’s no particularly fancy shots, but in scenes – such as group therapy – where there’s around ten people present (and all contributing) it’s vital to be able to cut quickly and at the right time, otherwise you’re liable to lose a vital reaction shot.

Celebration is typical P.J. Hammond and therefore unmissable.

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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 – Concert (18th May 1976)

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The second of Susan Pleat’s two scripts set in and around the geriatric ward, Concert, like Day Hospital before it, is an OB VT production shot on location.  As previously touched upon, this helps to make the story seem just that bit more real.  Sylvia Coleridge and Irene Handl return (the ranks of familiar senior actors is supplemented with the appearance of Leslie Dwyer) but it’s some of the background elderly players who, along with the location, are key to the documentary-like feel of the production.

They clearly are infirm and so don’t have to act the part.  We see Shirley attend to them via a series of brief vignettes – fulsomely praising one lady after she walks a handful of steps to the table, gently cajoling another into taking a bite of food – and these moments spark mixed emotions.  Shirley’s ever-growing connection to all her regulars is plain which makes her quick to react with anger when quizzed about the futility of looking after people who are clearly never going to get better.

This theme is developed when Jo, curious about the regular musical concerts organised in the hospital, decides to drop by and lend a hand.  Jo’s reluctance to get involved with the geriatric side of nursing has been mentioned in previous episodes and is put into words today by another character. “Feed ’em and clean ’em and that’s your lot. They’ll addle your brains and break your back”.

That seems to be a commonly held view and it’s the reason why many nurses elect to give geriatrics a miss.  Concert, aiming to challenge this opinion, is helped by the fact that both Annie (Handl) and Patrick (Dwyer) are still mentally sharp, even if physically they’re beginning to fail.  Their quick wits ensures that the viewer isn’t always dwelling on the frailer and more hopeless-looking cases.

But a feeling of melancholy is never far from the surface. At the same time that most of the old folks are having a jolly singalong at the concert (My Old Man being amongst the highlights) Ailsa, back in the ward, is being told by her son that they simply couldn’t cope with her at home.  She, naturally enough, descends into bitter tears whilst elsewhere Jim Murphy (Colin Higgins) lectures Jo about the growing population of old people and the issues with caring for them.

The series didn’t often take the opportunity to revisit one-off characters.  They do today though, with Gordon Massey (Colin Higgins) making a return (he’d previously featured in the series one episode Saturday Night). He doesn’t have a great deal to do in this episode (and there’s no particular link back to his previous appearance) but it’s still a nice touch.  Like Shirley, he’s passionate about his work on the geriatric ward – for him it’s because he knows what it’s like to be abandoned and therefore is adamant that it’s not going to happen to any of his charges.

No doubt Shirley would have loved to have been at the concert as well, but instead she’s sharing an evening from hell with the drippy Roland (Norman Tipton). Quite what their previous relationship has been isn’t too clear, but Roland – shortly to depart for a lengthy trip abroad – is keen to demonstrate to Shirley just how much he cares for her.  However it’s pretty obvious that the sooner he packs his bags and leaves, the better off she’ll be.  Shirley may usually be bereft of male company, but you have to draw the line somewhere ….

It’s bad enough when he’s attempting to force wine on her at the restaurant, but things get even more toe-curling when he decides that playing a deep and meaningful record on her Dansette is the way to go.  Not a good move. He may feel unfulfilled due to a lack of personal contact, but Shirley doesn’t.  She has her work, and that is her life.

When they can’t talk very much, or even talk at all, they can’t hear you, well then you really have to look at them. Because people’s eyes are really where they are. And if I have to talk to them in that way, then I can. But, say with you or my mother then I can’t do that at all. Or with a lot of people. But there I just get on with things. It’s me and it’s right somehow.

This is a nicely delivered monologue by Clare Clifford, which sees Derek Martinus flicking back between close-ups of her and Norman Tipton (an ironic touch, given Shirley’s comment about people’s eyes).

Concert may have a lecturing tone, but it isn’t done in a heavy-handed way. Jo, like the audience, is pitched into a strange new world and by the end she seems to have learnt something, although there’s still a sense that she’s reluctant to get too involved, unlike Shirley.  The episode doesn’t offer any pat solutions (given how complex the issues are, how could it?) but plenty of food for thought is generated.

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Angels – Day Hospital (4th May 1976)

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The fact that Day Hospital was shot on OB VT in real locations helps to give the episode a totally different feel to what we’ve seen before.  As good as the studio sets always were, there’s just something more immersive and satisfying about the fact that you can look out of a window and see real life outside.

Set in a geriatric ward and attached day care unit, the episode manages to strike a good balance as it’s neither too maudlin (although there’s bleakness towards the end) or too superficial.  Shirley had mentioned previously that the infirm and elderly are similar in many ways to children – today it’s Ailsa (Sylvia Coleridge) who fits that description the closest.

If you wanted someone to play an eccentric, then you couldn’t really do better than Coleridge. Petulant and deeply irritating at times, Ailsa exists in part to try Shirley’s patience through a series of wheezes (smashing plates, pouring water from a vase onto the floor to try and fool Shirley into believing that one of the other patients has wet themselves, etc).  But she’s also given a few moments of pain and anguish, which enables the viewer to see the more complex person hiding beneath the dotty surface.

Dodi (Aimée Delamain) and Annie (Irene Handl) enjoy the best of the script though. Dodi is initially presented as an autocratic and imposing individual.  Living alone (albeit with nursing support) in a big house, she views the prospect of making regular trips to the day hospital with dismay and disdain.  But after one visit she’s quite won over.

Annie is a salt of the earth, speak as you find, type of person.  A hospital regular, along with Ailsa (whom she has a love/hate relationship with), she also finds the idea of going to the day hospital daunting (although at least she only has to travel down the corridor to reach it). Like Dodi though, she becomes a firm fan very quickly.

At first, Dodi seems to be a rather broadly drawn character, but as the episode wears on she’s shaded in very effectively.  The scene with Dodi and Annie in the day centre is beautifully played by both Delamain and Handl.  Dodi’s lonely, spinsterish existence, allied to the early deaths of her brothers (due to WW1 and its aftermath), is teased out in a heartbreaking way. Derek Martinus, as he does elsewhere, elects for close-ups during these dramatic moments, which is a simple but effective touch.

Even though Annie’s tale is also shot through with suffering (she lay undiscovered in her house for three days after suffering a stroke) there’s something about Handl’s delivery of these lines which still manages to create a sense of warmth.  No doubt residual affection from her long comic career is playing a part here.

With the guest actors featured heavily, the regulars are slightly pushed into the background, but those featured – Shirley, Maureen, Pat – still benefit from some decent character development throughout Susan Pleat’s script.  After suffering run-ins with both Ailsa and Annie, Shirley has to work hard to retain her self control (even more so after another patient suffers a broken leg and Shirley finds herself accused of negligence by her relatives).

Shirley’s slightly stunted personal development may be the reason why she finds all one-on-one interactions to be somewhat trying, although nobody could blame her for getting a little irritated with either Annie or (especially) Ailsa.  But by the end of the episode she’s definitely gone through something of a learning curve, leaving us with the impression that piece by piece she’s becoming more of a rounded person.

Although Shirley is having a trying time in the ward, Maureen (working in the day unit) appears to be having a much easier experience.  Maybe this is just down to the luck of the draw, or possibly Maureen’s more placid nature just fits in well with the atmosphere of the place.

Pat’s place in this story is very interesting.  She’s someone who we haven’t really explored in any great depth for a while, which makes this episode a very welcome one.  With Pat’s mother being a friend of Dodi, Pat is instantly drawn to her – she may be occasionally tetchy, but Dodi also has the aura of a wise sage.

Pat finds herself telling Dodi things – about her strained relationship with her mother and her doubts about nursing as a vocation – which she claims she’s never shared with her friends.  Given how close Pat and Maureen seem to be, this is a little surprising, but on reflection maybe not.  It’s a nice character beat either way though, as it helps to show that the outwardly confident Pat is just as riddled with insecurities as, say, the socially awkward Shirley.

Dodi’s death at the end of the episode therefore comes as a jarring blow, not only to the audience (who no doubt would have grown to appreciate her as the story wore on) but also to Pat, who tells Maureen that she’s lost her new-found confidant.  This seems to be a slightly selfish point of view, but it also feels quite truthful. Pat’s final visit to Dodi’s house – now covered in dustsheets and empty of all life – is nicely played, especially the moment when she picks up the small bell that Dodi was fond of ringing whenever she required attention.

The fact that Dodi died in a late-night fall down the stairs is a bleakly ironic twist.  Previously pretty much bed-bound, the strong inference is that her new-found confidence after attending the day hospital was a contributory factor in her death.  Maureen is quick to scotch Pat’s suggestion, but this lingering notion is left hanging in the air.

It’s pleasing to know that we’ll encounter Ailsa and Annie in another episode shortly.  Thanks to the nuanced performances of all three senior actresses, Day Hospital is a thought-provoking and memorable episode.

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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 later becomes clear, 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 – Round The Clock (6th April 1976)

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The opening episode of series two, Round The Clock reintroduces us to all the S1 regulars quickly and effectively.  Within the first few minutes we see Pat and Maureen preparing for another working day (with Maureen also looking forward to a party in the evening), the effervescent Jo freewheeling down the corridor, poor Shirley enjoying a solitary lunchtime drink and Sita dishing out a dollop of sympathy to Mrs Andrews (Norma Andrews).

As the episode progresses, various threads are developed although two – Sita/Mrs Andrews and Shirley – dominate.  From her first scene, there’s a tense brittleness to Mrs Andrews, which is understandable after we learn that her young son, Ian (Stefan Gates), has been rushed to hospital with suspected meningitis.  Red-eyed and frantic with worry, she demands to have all the facts as quickly as possible.  But Sita prefers to be quite non-committal with her comments.

The unfortunate upshot is that Ian initially seems to be making a recovery, but this is only a temporary respite as he then takes a turn for the worse.  One of the interesting aspects of Round The Clock is observing which Angels have changed from series one.  Sita certainly seems to be a little different from the passive character she was then – when confronted about her behaviour, she remains fairly unrepentant (although her colleagues, such as Pat, are quick to pass unfavourable judgement out of her earshot).

It’s an interesting talking point – was Sita protecting Mrs Andrews by not telling her everything or simply making her agony (when she finally learnt the truth about Ian’s condition) even more painful?  There’s no definite answer to this, and Adele Rose’s script – to its credit – doesn’t plump for either side. Indeed, later on Mrs Andrews decides that Sita wasn’t at fault anyway, so this dramatic flashpoint is resolved in a low-key manner.

Mrs Andrews’ scenes in the children’s ward are quite haunting. Although we see the odd jolly child (with nothing worse than a broken leg) there’s something quite melancholy about this area, despite the bright posters and collection of toys. This plotline has no closure – although we’re told that most children make a full recovery, there’s the possibility that Ian may not.

Elsewhere, Shirley is working on a busy female ward.  Some of the patients, such as Mrs McCartney (Peggy Aitchison) are simply there for a spot of colour (she likes to scoff chocolates and call everyone “ducks”).  Mrs Fitch (June Brown) is also quite peripheral, but the way she clashes with Shirley is used to highlight the fact that Staff Nurse Brent isn’t her normal, efficient self.

Brown plays to type as a complaining sort (complete with her trademark droning voice) whilst it’s amusing that Mr Fitch (Alec Linstead) also has a similar tone. Being attacked by them on both sides means it’s not surprising that Shirley eventually loses her patience. Mild though her outburst is, this moment of crisis allows Sister Young to step in and have a heart to heart with her.

If Sita has changed since series one, then at this point it doesn’t appear there’s been any progress with Shirley.  In the pub she was as isolated as ever, sitting by herself whilst the rest of the world seemed to having a much better time.  She confesses to Sister Young that she still has no social life and no friends (although she does at least share a table in the canteen with Jo and Sita without the other two recoiling, so there’s been some progress there).

Shirley’s despair seeps out of the screen yet again, but there is a positive outcome, professionally at least, as she’s encouraged to take a geriatrics course.  This would seem to be something that most nurses (such as Jo) would avoid, but Shirley is very keen.  We’ll see this theme developed later in the season.

Jo isn’t given a great deal of screentime in this opening episode. Mainly she’s present to serve as a cool counsel for the unusually hot-headed Sita.  As for Pat and Maureen, Maureen’s suddenly become something of a party animal (closing the episode jiving with a George Best lookalike in the pub) whilst the previously flighty Pat has gained a dollop of common sense.

I liked the scene with Pat and an unnamed student nurse in the canteen.  The young nurse confided that she was on the verge of quitting, so Pat – who nearly did the same thing last year – gave her a pep talk.  Amusingly, the young nurse wasn’t at all convinced by Pat’s impassioned speech! That’s a nice touch, which shows that the series wasn’t always content to take the obvious or neat route.

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