It’s a momentous day for Pat and Maureen as they’re let loose on the wards for the first time. Meanwhile, Staff Nurse Linda Hollis finds that juggling her career and her marriage is becoming increasingly impossible ….
The second script by Deborah Mortimer, it’s also the second (and apparently last) to feature Janina Faye as Linda (possibly she was Mortimer’s creation). Long-term viewers who had already witnessed the first part of her story from episode four will be rewarded here, since the already established theme – her husband’s intolerance towards her career – is considerably developed.
Our first sight of Brian Hollis (Christopher Strauli) isn’t an encouraging one. He’s been forced to entertain their friends at the pub (Linda is working late) and whilst he clearly possesses a light charm, it’s also fairly brittle. These early scenes set the tone – Brian, having resigned from his job in order to study architecture, is reliant on the money Linda brings in but resents both this and the fact that she isn’t always available on tap.
The real flashpoint occurs when Linda agrees to work a split shift, with the result that she won’t be able to accompany Brian to a party. Intriguingly, the possibility is floated that she could have declined (Linda was asked if she’d already made plans) but the implication is that she elected to prioritise the hospital over her husband. If so, was it the right choice? Had Linda declined to work late then possibly somebody else could have done it, but we’ll never know for sure.
It’s hard to sympathise with Brian though, mainly because he’s so whiny and petulant. When, after one particularly blazing row, Linda suggests he leaves their basement flat, it’s notable how his face crumples like a child.
Nursing and marriage. It seems to be that you can do one but not both. Linda’s mother (played by Jessie Evans) makes this point very forcibly, but it’s also commented upon by Maureen and Pat. Pat, after observing that not many nurses are married, wonders if the point is significant (Maureen thinks not, but then it has been established that she’s maybe not the deepest thinker).
There’s an intriguing callback to Off Duty when Pat muses that the pair of them might end up as a couple of old spinsters stuck in a flat (like Sister Easby, agrees Maureen). Sister Easby’s relationship with Beryl in Off Duty could easily be taken as a lesbian coupling – but the tone of the exchange here suggests that neither Maureen or Pat have considered this. An example of their naivety maybe? Although the general theme of this episode does suggest that the spectre of middle-aged nurses married to their careers isn’t uncommon.
The histrionics between Linda and Brian might be today’s major plotline, but Pat and Maureen’s first faltering steps as nurses are also of considerable interest. Luckily they’ve got the capable Jo to keep an eye on them – instructing a slightly nonplussed Pat about the best way to deal with a bedpan, for example.
Patient interaction is fairly minimal today, although the formidable Rita Webb as Mrs White certainly makes an impression. From the opening few seconds it’s plain that Mrs White is a character (she loudly decides that tomorrow she’d rather enjoy toad in the hole for dinner). A quaking Maureen has to later give her a bed bath. After learning that it’s her first day Mrs White has a little cackle, but also reveals herself to be a friendly sort, putting the nervous Maureen at her ease.
George Tovey, as Mr White, has even less screentime but still manages to vividly bring his character to life (I love the way that Mr White chomps his way through a bunch of grapes, which he presuambly brought for his wife!) But Tovey’s major contribution occurs when Mr White asks Linda how long it’ll be before his wife is able to come home. He tells her that’s where she should be (he’s finding it increasingly difficult to cope by himself). It’s fairly obvious that this exchange exists in order to add a little more fuel to the Linda/Brian fire.
That’s resolved by Brian moving out – for the moment – and Linda electing to take a midwifery course, thereby embedding herself even further into her career. So the question about whether a happy balance between nursing and marriage can be struck remains unresolved – Linda chooses to pursue her job at the expense of her personal relationship.
Possibly this is only temporary or it might be that she has doomed herself to a life of spinsterhood. Thirteen episodes in, it does seem significant that she’s the only married nurse we’ve encountered so far (and whilst her marriage isn’t quite dead, it’s certainly on the critical list).