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.