Angels – Weekend (11th May 1976)

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Three separate plotlines run throughout Weekend. Pat and Maureen (but especially Pat) are tired of living in at the hospital and so decide to go flat hunting, Miss Windrup makes a new friend whom she invites around for tea and Jo takes decisive action in order to convince Mr Paton (Duncan Lamont) that he should visit his hospital-bound sister.

The Pat/Maureen relationship has always seemed a slightly uneasy one, given their totally different backgrounds and outlooks.  Pat’s privileged and pampered life prior to becoming a nurse is touched upon during the scene where she’s ticked off about the untidy state of her room.  Being told that the cleaners are giving it a wide berth until it’s more presentable clearly doesn’t please her – the notion of Pat tidying up her own mess a little bit is plainly anathema to the girl (surely that’s what the cleaners are employed for).

This is the sort of petty rule which makes her very keen to find her own space.  The placid Maureen is perfectly content with her lot, but (as always) is happy to go along with her friend.  At this point the Pat/Maureen dynamic is operating along previously defined lines (Pat dominant, Maureen submissive) although later on the roles are switched around somewhat.

Maureen, her puritanical Irish upbringing brought to the fore, is shocked to discover that one potential flat share would see them thrown together with three men.  Pat’s quite unruffled (and indeed pleasantly curious) about this but Maureen dismisses the notion straight away. What would her mammy say? This scene might be played for laughs but it still helps to reiterate that they live in very different worlds.

The comic tone continues when they meet a representative (Carolyn Hudson) from the gloriously named ‘Fix A Pad’.  Pat and Maureen are now finding it difficult to agree on anything – for example, Pat wants to live far away from the hospital whilst Maureen would prefer to be close. And when Pat mentions that she’d like two bedrooms, Maureen is surprised since she’d assumed they’d be sharing.  Pat reacts to this with scorn (“what happens to my love life?”). Mind you, Maureen does bat this back quite effectively with “what love life?”

Following this awkward meeting, Pat decides that “the only thing we really had in common was that we were new together” and the pair then go their seperater ways. But although it looks for a while as if their friendship has indeed come to an end, it’s not too surprising to learn that by the end of the episode they’re pals once again. They may have many different interests but Pat comes to realise (thanks to a third party) that this is precisely why their friendship works. Maureen’s opinion on this goes unrecorded (which does tend to reinforce the notion that she’s very much the junior partner here).

It’s interesting how Miss Windrup manages to laser in on Nora Eden (Nancie Jackson). It’s true that she was sitting by herself in the canteen, but it does imply that Miss Windrup has a sixth sense which allows her to sniff out lonely souls like herself.  Of a similar age to Miss Windrup, Nora has come back into medical teaching after her offspring moved abroad.

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Their initial conversation is quite revealing, not least for the way in which it restates the hollowness of Miss Windrup’s existence away from the hospital.  She may bravely agree that her job keeps her busy and fulfilled, but we’re still left with the sense that she really doesn’t have much of a life (later she admits this herself).  Her air of sadness and melancholy is reinforced when we see her out shopping, picking up some choice delicacies for her visitor.  These establishing scenes leave us with a question – will there be a sting in the tale when Miss Windrup and Nora take afternoon tea?

The answer to that is yes, but it’s a fairly mild one. Nora doesn’t appear at the appointed time, leaving a crestfallen Miss Windrup to clear away the uneaten food. But there’s recompense the next day when Nora shows up with profuse apologies for having missed the date.  We then see a pathetically eager Miss Windrup invite her in for a cup of coffee and another heart-to-heart.

As for Jo’s plotline, Elsie Clegg (Maggie Flint) isn’t seriously ill but she becomes increasingly depressed about the fact that her brother never visits her.  He’s not too far away, but claims – via a letter – that he simply can’t spare the time to pop in.

This excuse isn’t good enough for Jo and she decides to pay him a visit.  Everybody else – Sita, Sandra – thinks this is a bad idea, but she’s adamant.  After a bit of a lull, this plotline gives Julie Dawn Cole something to get her teeth into.  She plays Jo’s apprehension (when she’s invited into Mr Paton’s house) very nicely.  Of course, having Duncan Lamont in the role of Len Paton doesn’t hurt.  Always the most solid of actors, the first scene between Jo and Len is quite absorbing.  A mystery is also established here.  Is Len really too busy to visit the hospital or is there another reason why he can’t bring himself to see his sister?

The knife is twisted just a little more after he finally makes an appearance at St Angela’s, only to promptly vanish before seeing Elsie (leaving behind a pot-plant flower as the only proof that he’d been there at all).  Elsie’s already burst into tears several times and when she does so again (after her puppy-like joy at learning that Len has finally come to visit her is dashed) it feels rather affecting.  Jo continues to dig away at this puzzle, despite the fact that it’s really nothing to do with her (it’s true that visiting Len late at night to demand answers does feel somewhat unwise).

The resolution to this mystery is an excellent showcase for Lamont and is the dramatic highpoint of an episode that overall still feels quite low-key. But possibly Weekend isn’t the worse for that, as even in a hospital it can’t always be a matter of life and death.

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Angels – Vocation (13th April 1976)

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A suicide attempt … Miss Windrup’s 30th anniversary … both disturb Nurse Sandra Ling … (Radio Times Listing).

The series opener, Round The Clock, concentrated on reintroducing the regulars from series one.  There would be one absentee though (Lesley Dunlop declined to return for this second run) which meant that Angela Bruce (as Sandra Ling) would now feature as a new regular (the character had appeared in a single first series episode).

Given how busy Round The Clock was, it made sense to hold Sandra back until this second episode.  She features strongly in the “A” plot (a young woman clings to life following a suicide attempt) with a “B” plot (Miss Windrup celebrating thirty years at St Angela’s) running alongside it. Although Paula Milne does manage the feat of tying both of these plot-threads together towards the end of the episode ….

Attentive first series viewers would have been able to pick up various unspoken touches which reinforce Miss Windrup’s previously established loneliness.  Some are quite subtle (switching off No Regrets by the Walker Brothers on the radio) although others are much more explicit – such as the way Miss Windrup’s face falls for a split second after Joan White (Sheila Keith) announces her intention to retire.

A contemporary of Miss Windrup, Joan has clearly had enough of trying to teach classes of disinterested students.  Although Miss Windrup attempts to dissuade her by declaring that she’ll be bored within a matter of weeks, it seems that Joan (presumably also single) has no such fears about finding activities to fill her days with.  Presumably Miss Windrup is most concerned about losing a friend, confidant and lunchtime companion.

This is interesting enough, but most of the drama today is occurring in the intensive care ward. The first sight we have of Sarah Carter (Lois Ward) is stark enough and things only get bleaker as the episode progresses.  For a series that was pre-watershed (this episode went out at 8.10 pm) Sarah’s later resuscitation attempt feels quite harrowing.

Derek Martinus’ direction throughout is noteworthy. For example, when we cut to Sarah’s resuscitation, the camera lingers on the flat-lining monitor for the first few seconds.  No dialogue is required, the visual image provides the viewer with all the information they need.

Martinus also favours framing shots of characters peering through glass doors – beginning with Mrs Carter (Josie Kidd) observing the work of the intensive care unit from the outside.  The mute, slightly distorted picture Mrs Carter sees is effectively disorientating.  Later, Sandra is pictured on the outside looking in at Mrs Carter (in the waiting room).

When Sandra does enter the room on one occasion, the scene begins with the camera still outside for a while, leaving the viewer voyeuristically witnessing Mrs Carter’s upset countenance but unable to hear any words.  A later, also mute, scene (the Doctor explaining how Sarah died to Mrs Carter, whilst Mr Carter rocks back and forward in his chair, obviously unable to process the news) also stands out.

Mrs Carter simply can’t understand why her daughter would have taken an overdose of sleeping tablets and since Sarah never wakes up we’re denied the answer to this question.  Her estranged husband (played by Bill Treacher) only features briefly, but his pleading final question to Sandra (wondering if Sarah could have taken the overdose by accident) is heartrending. After several beats, Sandra does confirm this might be true but it’s pretty clear that neither she or Mrs Carter believes it.  But it does give Mr Carter a faint hope to cling to.

Sarah’s death occurs offscreen, but I think this is a plus not a minus.  There’s something more powerful about the sight of Sandra observing the now quiet room than there would be in the cliché of a failed life-saving attempt.

Sandra’s bottled-up anguish following Sarah’s death comes spilling out on two separate occasions. The Intensive Care Ward Sister (played by Marcia King) is the first to clash with her.  Sandra’s hurt contrasts sharply to the Sister’s icy-cold control.  This is a theme familiar from countless hospital dramas – there’s simply no time to wallow in self-pity about the demise of one patient as there are always others who require care and attention.  King is so good in this pivotal scene that it’s surprising to see that she only has a handful of television credits to her name.

This opening skirmish merely sets us up for the grand finale – as Sandra finds herself a fairly unwilling attendee at an informal party held to celebrate Miss Windrup’s thirty years at St Angela’s.  The other nurses are indulgent, if occasionally mocking, towards ‘Windy’ although it’s no surprise that Shirley is the one who appreciates Miss Windrup’s efforts the most.

Pat is quite perceptive though – the fact that Miss Windrup’s office is decorated with the portraits of so many of her students but not her friends or family speaks volumes.  Miss Windrup has fully embraced the vocation of nursing, but at what personal cost?

Unlike Joan White, it seems that Miss Windrup simply can’t contemplate retirement (despite having to deal with giggly and irritating students). Her life is her job.  Sandra feels quite differently though, declaring that the vocation of nursing is little more than a “con”, designed to keep them compliant.  The intelligent nurses are the ones who walk away ….

She doesn’t find a great deal of support amongst her colleagues though and eventually the status quo is restored.  Sandra and Jo make their way home, with Jo promising something entertaining for tea.  But the cracks remain on both sides, meaning there’s the sense another eruption could happen again in the future.

Impressively uncompromising, Vocation is far removed from the cosy, soapy image that Angels sometimes conjures up (indeed, when it conjures up any image at all). A promising early series two instalment, this sort of quality bodes well for the stories to come.

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Angels – Commitment (8th December 1975)

Commitment is split between the action on a female ward and the end of episode prize-giving, where two of our Angels – Ruth and Shirley – are receiving their SRN badges following three long years of study. And as the episode title implies, several of the regulars are considering their futures ….

Today’s ward activity is very bustling, with numerous patients all jostling for position. Chief amongst these is Mrs Ennis (Susan Field), a remarkably cantankerous type. Her highly objectionable personality clashes with Pat’s no-nonsense attitude and it isn’t long before the sparks start to fly in an entertaining fashion.

The chief flashpoint occurs when Mrs Ennis accuses Maureen of stealing her sponge bag. Maureen later finds it, but Mrs Ennis is far from convinced (declaring that Maureen simply had a crisis of confidence and returned it). This is the final straw for Pat who then gives Mrs Ennis both barrels.

Never the diplomat, Pat tells Mrs Ennis that she’s “really the most ungreateful, diabolical old bitch it’s ever been my misfortunate to meet”. Mrs Ennis, understandably, reacts in horror to this – but mainly because she’s been called old!

This one incident is enough to convince Pat that nursing isn’t for her, but the affable and tolerant chief tutor, Mr Farrar (Jeremy Wilkin), is able to talk her back from making any hasty moves. As touched upon before with other guest actors, it’s a pity he didn’t feature on a regular basis. Farrar’s lengthy one-on-one meeting with Pat (albeit broken up with a brief cutaway between Sister Young and Miss Windrup) places Pat in the centre of the action for once.

To begin with, I wondered why Miss Windrup wasn’t the one discussing Pat’s future with her. But the cutaway makes it plain that she continues to have a very low opinion of Pat (although she’s very much in the minority). The clash between tradition and modernity is another episode theme – as you might expect, Miss Windrup favours order and method (a loose cannon like Pat is anathema to her) whilst Mr Farrar is more understanding and therefore able to see that once the rough edges have been rubbed off there might be a more than decent nurse underneath.

If Mrs Ennis exists in the narrative mainly to generate a reason for Pat to question her future, then another patient provides a similar service for Maureen (although in not such a dramatic way). This other encounter makes Maureen consider the possibilities of becoming a home visitor, although as Miss Windrup tells her, she’s got years ahead of her to consider all the possibilities.

The contrast between Maureen (deeply committed to nursing) and Pat (deeply ambivalent) couldn’t be more striking. With Pat still looking unhappy as the episode closes, at this point you might have laid money on the fact that – out of the six – she’d be the one least likely to return for the second series.

With the two youngest Angels both considering their future, what of the older ones? There’s no movement from either Jo and Sita (although Jo is wistfully regretful that she’s yet to receive her SRN badge). Shirley is fully committed – her desire to work a split shift on Christmas Day speaks volumes for the fact that outside of nursing her life remains very undeveloped.

Although Ruth declares that she could earn much more as a secretary, her desire to remain a nurse seems strong. But since Lesley Dunlop decided against returning for the second series, Ruth’s story has come to an end. Was this known at the time the episode was scripted? Possibly not, as things seem very open-ended for her, with no suggestion that she wouldn’t be remaining at St Angela’s.

Sister Hammond (Pamela Duncan) is another who favours tradition (bunting in the prize-giving hall very much appeals to her). However, once she and Miss Windrup have partaken of a few sherries, both are able to turn back the clock and reminisce about their younger, more care-free days. Especially Miss Windrup (with a gobsmacked Jo looking on!).

Tradition continues to be upheld at the prize-giving, with the national anthem played prior to proceedings whilst the arrival of Ruth and Shirley’s parents serves as another character-defining moment. Only Shirley’s mother is present (the absence of her father clearly causes her some hurt) and whilst the pair converse politely, they don’t seem to have an especially warm relationship (although to be fair, Mrs Brent does seem pleased after Shirley receives her badge and certificate). Conversely, Ruth’s parents are both present and correct and are obviously incredibly proud of their daughter’s achievement.

An interesting nugget of trivia (thank you, the 1977 Angels annual) is that Shirley’s mother was played by Clare Clifford’s real mother, Nancy Gower.

With Michael E. Briant throwing in some unusual camera shots, Commitment closes the first series strongly. Coming to this run of episodes fresh, what’s remarkable is just how consistent they’ve been, with only a few minor dips along the way. This bodes well for series two.

Angels – Interim (17th November 1975)

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Many of the third year students are eagerly awaiting their exam results. But not Shirley. Is this because she’s afraid of failure or is there another, darker reason?

Although best known for creating and writing the majority of Sapphire and Steel (five out of the six serials), P.J. Hammond also contributed to a number of long-running series (Z Cars and The Bill being two of the most notable). A Hammond script is always a item of interest – whatever the series, his unique style always comes through loud and clear.

Interim is a good case in point. Since it revolves around Shirley, you might expect it to be a little chilly (which it certainly is), but the emotional coldness stretches further than her. It’s very disconcerting to see Ruth, up until now positioned as a cheerful and positive character, acting so abusively towards her.

After Ruth witnesses Shirley repremanding a first year student (played by Chris Range), she reacts with uncharacteristic fury. “It’s the same old problem, with background. You middle-class bitches, it’s ingrained”. This seems especially unfair since Ruth only walked in on the end of the conversation, whereas the audience were able to gain a fuller picture and no doubt most would have concluded that Shirley was in the right.

The first year (not even granted a name) continues to be a mocking presence throughout the episode, occassionly appearing (or heard laughing in the distance) in order to disconcert Shirley a little further.

The episode isn’t as heavy on dialogue as some. The opening few minutes – Shirley breakfasting at home with only an inane DJ on the radio for company – begins proceedings in a low-key way. These early scenes aren’t just filler though.

A hurried conversation on the phone with her father, an equally hurried conversation with her landlady (who gently attempts to find out a little more about the painfully shy girl) and then a trip into work with the voluble Mr Wilkins (Lane Meddick) are all character developing moments. The encounter with Mr Wilkins is the most entertaining. He clearly has his eye on her (witness his obvious disappointment when he realises that she’s working a late shift the next day and so won’t need a lift).

In some respects he’s the perfect companion for Shirley – since he speaks so much (chuntering on about parking and the inconsiderate nature of other drivers) this means she doesn’t feel under any pressure to add much to the conversation. When he later mentions that she’s especially quiet this morning, it’s a little baffling. It’s hard to imagine that Shirley’s usually more voluble (or indeed that Mr Wilkins ever shuts up!)

A late scene, where Shirley invites him into her flat, provides the episode with a rare moment of levity. Clearly Mr Wilkins believes that his luck is in, but she’d only wanted him to open her results letter and tell her the news. Once he’d done that (she’d passed) the very disappointed man is wished a good evening ….

Given Shirley’s swot-like nature, it seemed unlikely she would have failed, so even though the episode doesn’t reveal her result until the end that’s not the main point of tension. Instead, the audience is slowly invited to understand how – just for today – Shirley is questioning her vocation.

“I can’t take death. I associate it with loneliness, my own loneliness. I can’t seperate the two means of thought”. Many of Interim‘s scenes are two handers – such as this pivotal encounter between Shirley and Miss Windrup. A terminal patient, Mr Allen (Roy Spencer), has provided the trigger for this outpouring. It’s nicely played, like the rest of the episode, although it does feel like the sort of thing you’d only find in a Hammond script.

Mrs Allen (Mela White) shares a brief scene with Shirley later on (yet another good two hander). Having played a patient a few episodes back, it was a little surprising to see Keith Jayne again so soon (this time as the Allen’s son). Although he doesn’t have any dialogue, he still makes an impression. Mr Allen’s reluctance to see his son (he doesn’t want the boy to witness him in such a feeble state) means that the lad is forced to take up a watching brief in the corridor. One memorable camera move opens on him before pulling back to observe the bustle occurring elsewhere.

An unusual episode then, and one that stands out from the more routine instalments.

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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.