Angels – Casualty (10th November 1975)

cas 1

The new intake are approaching the end of their initial twelve week training period – which means they’ll soon be free to roam the wards and face real patients. This, suggests Miss Windrup, will come as a shock to some and their lack of life experience will turn out to be a problem. It’s certainly true that when we first drop in on them today, many are larking about like schoolkids.

But although the training room is the scene of high jinks, there are a few quiet corners. In one, Pat and Maureen are debating the future. Pat is chomping at the bit to get onto the wards whilst Maureen is more cautious. Both have expressed these viewpoints previously, so the training regime doesn’t appear to have changed their initial positions at all. Pat regards most of their training as pointless and simply wants to get stuck in whilst Maureen is keen to check and recheck every step of the way. Incidentally, Miss Windrup has a new nickname (Windy). Fairly obvious really, but it makes a change from Windbag.

Casualty gives us an insight into areas of the hospital we haven’t seen before. The Casualty department for one – although the familar face of Sita makes it a welcoming environment (I’m not sure why, but there’s something mildly amusing about the way she cheerfully speaks to a chap on crutches).

Another first is the fact that we ride out with an ambulance. A film sequence on the high street (featuring an RTA) gives us the opportunity to see the ambulance men at work. It’s notable that when they’re dealing with the patient they don’t speak at all. Also, one of them isn’t at all interested in conversing with the well spoken lady who witnessed the accident and phoned for the ambulance. The clear inference is that how the accident happened isn’t of interest to them (that’s a police matter) wheras dealing with the result of the crash is.

A few familar faces pop up in the Casualty department, such as Angela Crow as Miss Pritchett. She provides a breathing space between the more serious cases (she’s got a dicky ankle) whilst Christopher Coll’s brusque, questioning doctor is a perfect example of the way a doctor in that environment works (where an immediate diagnosis is the order of the day).

Another spot of light relief is provided by Mr Dooley (Allan McClelland). A drunken Irishman who fell into the fire and burnt his backside, he arrives at St Angela’s smeared with an ointment for burns which his landlady had kept since the Blitz ….

The episode intercuts between the realities of the Casualty department with the training room, where the stakes are obviously much lower. The sight of Pat enthusiastically bandaging up Maureen has a comic feel, add this to Miss Windrup’s school-marmish attitude (she reacts in horror at Pat’s stylish shoes) and it’s easy to see why some of the intake find it hard to take things too seriously.

The RTA victim, Mr Morton (Michael Burrell), eventually comes around. Physically he doesn’t appear to be too bad, but the fact he takes angina tablets is a concern. The doctors want to keep an eye on him for a while but he’s far from keen (he has a business to look after). Up to this point Casualty has flitted between several patients who provide a little dash of colour but little else, before the episode settles on Mr Morton. His case feels much more substantial, especially since there’s a mystery at the heart of it (just why did he crash his car?)

The ever-cheerful Sita (the only one of the ward students to feature in this episode) attempts to convince him that a stay in hospital is something of a treat. “You’ll have your meals served for you, hot drinks, televison, everything”. Sounds enticing!

Mr Morton’s decision to ignore the advice of the doctors and go home is the late dramatic highlight of the episode, especially since he collapses with a cardiac arrest as soon as he leaves.

Several later scenes with him in the resus room are played in complete silence. These are striking and help to effectively close an episode that, whilst not the strongest from the first run, still contains a fair few points of interest.

cas 2

Angels – Saturday Night (3rd November 1975)

night 01

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.

night 02

Angels – On The Mat (20th October 1975)

a1

On The Mat opens at Jo and Ruth’s flat. As before, it’s a delightfully dishevelled environment (the attentive viewer can amuse themselves by observing the various knick knacks and posters scattered about). Their conversation ranges from the cruelty of keeping houseplants, Ruth’s infatuation with Dr Crozier (we may not actually see him again, but it’s a nice callback to the previous episode) to her old friendship with Clare Truman (Cheryl Hall). Clare is a former nurse who – post pregnancy – is now a patient at St Angela’s.

The way the camera lingers over a picture of Ruth and Clare (although we didn’t know who she was at that point) suggests she may turn out to be important. That’s the case and Len Rush’s script then proceeds to spell it out. Ruth has fond memories of her former flatmate (telling Jo she was the life and soul of every party, as well as a radical supporter of nurse’s rights). Ruth goes on to say that Clare’s still a cheerful type, but we then cross to the hospital to observe a very unhappy-looking Clare.

So within the first few minutes the disconnect between Ruth’s impression of her old friend and the reality is made plain. Another observation about this first scene, minor though it is, is that both Jo and Ruth look quite different with their hair down. Anyway, pressing on …

The pair elect to walk to work. Their journey takes them past the Thames with Julia Smith’s direction at this point being rather noteworthy. A film insert like this (which doesn’t advance the story) might be seen as an indulgence, but so is the fact that Smith elected to use some type of crane for a swooping tracking shot. Double indulgence maybe, but it helps to give the scene a little extra gloss.

Clare’s the ideal that Ruth aspires to – marriage, a baby, loving husband, nice house – except the audience knows that the cracks are already showing. She’s clearly a woman of means, demonstrated by the fact she has a private room. Different times, but the way Clare casually lights up a cigarette – with her baby only a few feet away – was slightly jarring.

The contrast between Clare’s room (with its air of angst) and the main ward is marked. There, everyone’s smiling: the patients, the nurses and maybe also – when they stop crying – the babies.

It seems odd that Ruth doesn’t seem to have picked up on the fact that Clare’s so unhappy, especially since her colleagues – Sita for example – have. It doesn’t really say much for her skills as a nurse (this is addressed towards the end of the episode). As for Sita herself, she has a very uncomfortable encounter with Clare (who wonders if she’s a man-hater). This is the first time that the normally placid Sita has been flustered and provides her with a welcome spot of character development.

Given the restrictions placed on the use of children and babies during studio sessions, the production could have taken the easy way out and used dummies, but luckily they didn’t. Indeed, Clare’s baby was clearly a talented little actor as they lustily cried throughout several scenes. My first thought was that these screams might have beem dubbed on, but I do think they were genuine.

After being absent for the last few episodes, Pat and Maureen reappear midway through. Maureen’s distracted and rather snippy towards Pat, but this isn’t connected to their falling out at the pub. It’s to do with Maureen’s money problems. Sensible Pat tells her they should go to the office and sort it out – possibly too much is being deducted from her pay packet.

These scenes are very incidental to the main plotline, but since both nurses haven’t featured recently they help to remind the viewers that they are still around. Given that their training is ongoing, I daresay there was only so much dramatic capital which could be mined from their current experiences. Hence the reason why the series has recently been concentrating on the likes of Ruth and Jo.

Bill Owen makes the first of two appearances as Harry Jameson, the head porter. His appearance here is quite brief though, it’s the second – Confrontation – where he really features.

Clare’s husband, Bob (Robert Gary) arrives to visit his wife. I’m afraid I was mesmermised by his moustache, which looks patently false. But musings about his apparently fake face fungus have to be put to one side after Clare disappears ….

It turns out that Clare’s not too far away, so her sudden absence only generates a few minutes of panic. It’s the following scene – when she tells Ruth exactly how unhappy she is – which is more interesting. Ruth’s comment (“if the doctor prescribes pills, then for god’s sake use your loaf and take the bloody things”) is an eye-opener.

The second Ruth-centric episode (Jo only tops and tails this one) is another strong vehicle for Lesley Dunlop. Concentrating mainly on Clare, On The Mat does appear to be inferring – either by design or accident – that her sort of post natal blues is fairly uncommon. The other mothers (only seen in passing) all appear to be quite jolly and well adjusted whilst Clare’s treatment – a handful of pills and an entreaty to pull herself together – implies that a non-physical illness isn’t really an illness at all.

a15

Angels – Off Duty (29th September 1975)

n1.jpg

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.

n4.jpg

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.