Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Six

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Tom’s out for an early morning jog – doing his best Steve Austin impression. This isn’t a regular occurance, so something must be about to happen. And it does. He spies a mysterious balaclaved man (all dressed in black of course) mucking about with Spring. Tom rushes over to remonstrate, but alas he’s felled with a single punch as the masked man makes a speedy escape.

If this isn’t exciting enough (interesting that – for once – there was no incidental music during this mild action scene) then there’s better to come. A topless Leo (well, better for some people I guess) and a disheveled Abby emerge from Spring‘s cabin. The plot thickens when it’s revealed that the thief had left behind plans of Sir Edward Frere’s design for the America’s Cup.

Gerald and Charles continue to glance at their teeny-tiny monitor, worrying about their share price (the VDU display looks a little Ceefax-like. Possibly it could be Prestel, wich was still active in the late 80’s). Charles is keen to buy Ken’s Relton shares but Ken isn’t inclined to sell. Meanwhile Laura continues to scheme away – as Gerald notes, Ms Wilde is only interested in one person (herself).

Jan and James (she’s dressed stylishly in black, he’s wearing a pair of braces) clash yet again. Given what James is wearing today, I’m not entirely sure I’d trust his judgement as a fashion designer ….

Jan – fretting about Leo’s problems – finds that James is a sympathetic listener. A little more backstory about his characer is shaded in when we learn that he has, or rather had, children. It’s left dangling for the moment as to exactly what this means.

They’ve been arguing so much recently, it surely must mean that love is in the air. Our first inkling of this comes when Jan invites him to dinner. He agrees (and comes armed with a bunch of roses). Mind you, he seems surprised that Leo’s not there, so presumably he was expecting a family meal. Possibly he hasn’t dated too much recently.

He finally explains what happened to his family. His wife left him, took his children, and moved in with an estate agent from Guildford. Thank goodness! I was expecting much bleaker news – a car crash, say. Jan has a little chuckle at this, which seems a bit mean. Is it the estate agent part or the Guildford part which tickles her fancy?

And then they lock lips, only for Jan to break away to tell him that “I fired Mark this afternoon”. I’m not sure whether this was a tongue in cheek moment or if Christopher Green (today’s writer) was being serious. We know that Jan is an obsessive businesswoman, but surely even she can stop thinking about business for a few minutes?

Still, the way that they embrace again and slowly sink down out of sight whilst the camera coyly moves over to the stereo (which is pumping out a selection of light classics) makes it plain what’s going to happen next. I also love the notion that a night with passion with Jan fires James’ creative juices so much that the first thing he does next morning is to sketch out a new design. And shortly afterwards he’s created a whole new portfolio. Wow!

Following the departure of Davy a while back we haven’t, apart from Bill, had any regulars in the yard. Kelly George (as Ted) has lurked about in the background for a few episodes this year and today gets a few lines. But this is the last we’ll see of him (a year or two later he’ll pop up in Grange Hill as Ray).

Jack’s disappeared, annoyed that Vanessa’s been buying up Relton shares in order to shore up Avril’s position. “I could cheerfully strangle him” mutters Tom, after Vanessa tells him all. There are various HW‘s staples and Jack going walkabout is one. Cue several scenes of Tom and Bill anxiously standing around, waiting for news.

Given the number of times he’s done this before, it’s difficult to be too concerned about this latest vanishing act though. And so it proves as Jack’s eventually tracked down (to a boat, obviously). He looks rather good in full-on stubbly mode. Glyn Owen and Lana Morris share another nicely written two-handed scene.

Leo’s clearly not himself, as a trainee under his supervision badly injures himself lifting an engine. It’s another odd moment, since we don’t actually see the accident, only hear about it later when it’s discussed by Leo and Avril. Budget saving or an attempt to streamline the storytelling?

Last episode’s cliffhanger (will Abby stay or will she go?) is answered in an oblique way. She tells Leo that she gave him her answer the other night on Spring. His self-satisifed smirk should be all the information we need to fill in the blanks. Abby has been on the verge of confiding something important to Leo on more than one occassion this year, but just before she’s about to speak each time something distracts her. Today it’s the sight of Gerald and Laura having a meal. It’s suggested that Gerald has his eye on Laura, or is it purely business?

The thick plottens when it’s revealed that Orrin(!) was the masked man who planted the America’s Cup designs on Leo. You’d have assumed he would have been able to delegate this sort of thing to a minion, but clearly not. The killer blow is delivered when Orrin (off-screen, annoyingly) tells Tom that it was all Polly’s idea.

Gerald and Polly confront each other. He tells her that “you suck the marrow out of people’s bones and spit it out when it’s no further use to you”. Abby – stuck in the middle of their bickering – then delivers her bombshell … she’s pregnant. That Gerald immediately embraces her whilst Polly keeps her distance is highly characteristic (although Abby does make it plain that she doesn’t want her mother to touch her).

No doubt this is the important news she’s attempted to tell Leo on several occassions. Polly has a lovely deadpan comment. “Well done. Another baby to give away”.

This is easily her best line from what turns out to be her final episode. Given the way that characters tend to come and go, viewers at the time might have expected her to reappear later on, but it wasn’t to be. So it’s a slightly low-key way for Polly to exit, especially since most of the dramatic lines are coming from Gerald (he picks up a phone, rings for a taxi and tells her she has to leave the house within an hour).

Was this always intended to be her final appearance or did they hope that Patricia Shakesby would return? It feels pretty open-ended – and the fact that Polly barely featured in this episode does lead me to suppose that it wasn’t suposed to be the final end. After all, had this been planned as her last hurrah you’d have expected they would have given her something more dramatic to work with.

Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Five

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Leo’s come up in the world since he was a motorbike riding, petrol pump attendant during series one. Now (as a thrusting young executive at Relton, with a seat on the board beckoning) he owns an open top sports car. But his leisurely drive through a series of winding country lanes is interrupted by a honking Range Rover behind him.

This then develops into a moderately exciting action scene as the pair pull up at a crossroads and Orrin – for it is he – smirks at Leo from the opposing drivers seat. They then set off again and a (fairly) high speed chase ensues, with the incidental music being set to “exciting”. All the clichés you’d expect to see are present and correct – a lorry blocking the road (check), a rural type observing proceedings with bucolic indifference (check).

This brief game of chicken only serves to splatter Leo’s car with mud. “Orrin Bloody Hudson” he mutters. Although it’s slightly hard to reconcile this new, ultra-cocky Orrin to the more pliant man we’ve previously seen, it’s not totally unbelievable. A few years back he was something of a blank canvas who seemed to be easily manipulated by his father. Today we could be seeing the result of that manipulation.
Leo loses several credibility points for listening to Chris De Burgh on his car stereo, but at least it was the slightly rocky Don’t Pay The Ferryman rather than The Lady In Red.

Ken doesn’t change. Vicki, dressed in a tight skirt, is on the hunt for a file. Ken, delighted at eyeing up her shapely form, is keen to suggest that the file may be in various places (which are all locations designed to make her stretch just a little bit more).

Although Jack was initially sceptical of Vanessa’s suggestion that they should assemble a photofile of the Mermaid Yard, now he’s warming to the idea. He confides to Tom that he could have been a male model! Lovely stuff, as is Jack’s continuing laissez faire attitude to the Mermaid – he’d much sooner be swanning off, buying flowers, than be stuck at the yard worrying about boats. Tom, facing an ever mounting list of problems, isn’t too chuffed at this, but surprisingly he doesn’t protest too much.

Fair to say that Jan and James aren’t getting along (he’s annoyed that she’s been rifling through his private papers – although it was an accident). Jan’s astonished to discover that James was a designer, but his one and only collection was savaged by the critics and now he’s given up on the possibility of ever designing again. Jan thinks his designs are wonderful (although since all the critics disagreed, this casts some doubt on her judgement).

Interesting that Vanessa’s living room was shot on film and on location rather than at the studio. It’s unusual, but possibly it was intended as a once off location – hence it would have been cheaper to shoot it this way, rather than go to the expense of creating a studio set. But it works out for the best in a visual sense, as their fireside chat – Jack musing over Charles and Avril – looks very good on film.

Vanessa is keen for Jack to spend the night but he – due to an early start tomorrow – isn’t interested. Or is it more to do with his commitment issues? Even though he treated his late wife abominably, he still shows a tremendous degree of loyalty towards her.

This episode confirms for the first time that Vanessa’s house is next door to Relton. Makes sense in one way, since Relton had previously been in Vanessa’s family (at one point it looked as if she might have inherited it). Although given this, it seems slightly odd that she’d decide to pitch up so close and run the risk of stirring up bitter memories.

Polly had arranged a dinner with her, Gerald, Abby and Orrin but Abby throws a spoke into this by deciding to go out with Leo instead. But Polly doesn’t give up easily, so she and Orrin hotfoot it to the restaurant where Abby and Leo are eating (easy to do remember, Tarrant’s not overflowing with restaurants). There then follows a tense scene where Orrin tells Leo to butt out as “this is none of your business”. But Leo takes charge, leaving Orrin frustrated.

There are plenty of late night heart to hearts in this episode. Jack, after leaving Vanessa, visits Avril at Relton whilst Polly and Gerald have a straightforward conversation for the first time in a long while. Polly’s insistent on returning to America and Sir Edward (but is her relationship with him purely business?) and would like Gerald to join her. He doesn’t wish to do so, which pretty much brings their tottering relationship to an end.

Leo and Jan also have a late night chit chat, but theirs is brief and to the point. She does ask about Abby, which for Jan (often self obsessed) is a point in her favour, but the scene’s much more about Leo declaring that whilst James’ designs might not have been fashionable fifteen years ago, they could be now. This triggers off a lightbulb moment in Jan (or possibly a poundsign moment!) as she mulls the concept over. It’s another good example of Leo’s perceptive nature, although it’s slightly hard to believe that a bunch of designs laughed at in 1974 would be a hit in 1989. Still, stranger things have happened.

The next day, Avril and Tom have a heart to heart about Jack and Vanessa. They’re clearly so engrossed that they don’t notice Jack lurking by the door.

After acting incredibly arrogantly for the last few episodes, Orrin’s now in a conciliatory mood – asking Abby to come home for William’s sake. But it’s more for the sake of his political career of course. And then things liven up nicely when Orrin and Leo plunge into the dock. In a way, this is a re-enactment of Leo and Abby from the start of the first series – only this time, Leo’s rescuing Orrin from the water rather than Abby.

Everything really kicks off when Abby jumps into a small boat and rows across to them. All the time this has been happening nobody else seems to have noticed (well that’s not strictly true, people do point fingers and talk into walkie-talkies, but that’s about all they do).

We close on a rather decent cliffhanger as a very damp Leo and Abby confront each other over Orrin’s water filled and insensible body. “He’ll live” mutters Leo with the minimum of concern. Leo’s much more concerned about the fact that he didn’t hear Abby’s response to Orrin’s offer that they should try again as a family ….

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Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Four

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This episode opens on a sombre note as Laura’s father, Jimmy, is laid to rest. It’s an impressively mounted crane shot – beginning high up before zooming into the graveside, where, one by one, the other mourners leave until just Laura – dressed in purple with a black headscarf – remains. No words are spoken until Laura has left the churchyard (and then, Laura only briefly pauses to thank Jack and Avril for coming) but the expression of pain on Laura’s face tells its own story.

The unusual camera angles continue in the next scene, as we cross to Gerald and Polly’s house. The initial shot is taken from the first floor, as a silent Polly observes her daughter. The soundtrack (and Polly’s expression) helps to give this brief moment a sense of menace. Although when Polly comes down to talk to Abby, she seems more like her old self.

Polly wants Abby to come to America with her and start a new life (interestingly, Polly also claims that she has no plans to divorce Gerald – but unless he moves out to Americs as well it’s hard to reconcile this). Long-term Leo and Abby watchers will no doubt have picked up on Abby’s comment to her mother about Leo, as she refers to him as “the man I’m going to spend the rest of my life with. He doesn’t know that, but that’s how it’s going to be”.

This is a fascinating little moment. Abby may appear on the surface to be a more relaxed character than her mother, but this autocratic statement suggests otherwise. What Abby wants, Abby tends to get.

To date, James has been a very passive character, content to let Jan lead the way, but today he makes his first stab for independence. He introduces her to Sophie Westbrook (Fran Lima). Sophie is a talented designer and Howard Brooke need a new designer, so a meeting seems logical. But since it wasn’t Jan’s idea, she’s very resistant. This is a good example of Jan’s control-freakery. If she’s the one giving the orders then all is fine, but when somebody else dares to suggest anything, things don’t run so smoothly ….

Jan’s not keen on her designs. Is this because she really didn’t like them or was it more to do with the fact that she didn’t choose her? True, Sophie’s portfolio contained a few topless dresses(!) but the rest of the (unseen) designs seemed to be decent. Jan complains that James is attempting to steamroller her, only for James (at last) to snap back that Jan’s already done more than a little steamrollering of her own. After the last few episodes I was beginning to wonder if James would ever spark into life – happily, it’s eventually happened.

Charles and Avril clash again. Returning from the funeral, Avril is more than a little put out to find Charles lounging in her office.

Orrin (Jeff Harding) arrives back in Tarrant. He’s colder and more arrogant than before (no doubt in part due to the fact that he’s now being played by a different actor). Whatever else he’s here for, a tearful reunion with Abby doesn’t seem to be on the cards.

More unusual camera angles are on display when Orrin and his entourage pull up at Leisure Cruise. With the camera placed very low on the ground, shooting upwards as Orrin gets out of his car, it helps to give him a sense of stature. Orrin’s meeting with Ken is something of a treat (with Ken on the one side gently mocking Orrin and Orrin on the other, implacable and cold) even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense.

The Hudsons are keen to bring down Charles (fair enough) but have decided that Ken is the only one who can help them (by passing on Eckhardt Sahnn’s name to the police). Are we really to suppose that they couldn’t have tipped off the police themselves?

Polly and Jan meet. It starts off in an extremely chilly fashion, before suddenly they have a good giggle and become much more convivial. A slight contrivance maybe, but a necessary one, since Polly needed somebody to explain the ins and outs of of the plot to.

Ken and Laura are now partners. Whilst you should never underestimate Ken’s underhand dealing, at present it seems that Laura holds the upper hand. She’s quickly able to connect the earlier presence of the Fraud Squad at Leisure Cruise with their investigation into Charles. Of course, Charles has been chomping at the bit to find out who shopped him – Laura doesn’t intend to do so (or so she says) it’s simply that she wants Ken to know that she knows. Fifteen love to Laura.

Avril’s gone on a little foreign jaunt, to meet a smooth type called Sabio Fernandez (Franco Rey). Funnily enough, it looks a lot like Malta ….

This episode has a bit of racing action, but it’s so intercut with the other plot threads that it tends to get lost. Good news though, Tom wins his class in Barracuda as does Leo in Spring. But the main point of interest during these scenes is that Abby, crewing with Leo, felt suddenly sick and had to return to shore. Hmm, since she never gets seasick, I wonder what this could be. I wonder.

Charles and Gerald are slightly irked to be called to a meeting with Orrin, but they go anyway. This is a good indication that Charles’ position isn’t quite as secure as it used to be. Gerald is once again uncharacteristically forceful – telling Orrin in no uncertain terms that he wants her out of Abby’s life once and for all. Gerald’s come a long way from S1, when it appeared that he only ever saw Abby on a handful of occasions each year.

Later, Charles and Orrin face off in secret as Sahnn’s murky dealings with Charles are brought to the surface. We close the scene with Charles looking slightly perturbed – something which we rarely see. And since Orrin was secretly recording the meeting it appears that he, at present, is in the driving seat ….

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Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Three

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Jack’s in a reflective mood. “My daughter. The worse Charlie Frere treats her, the better she likes it”. This doesn’t seem like an accurate reading of the situation (I’ve never really thought that Avril’s Relton struggles with Charles were some sort of elaborate foreplay) but then Jack has often mused on the unpredictability of women, so he’d probably agree that he may not have read the situation correctly.

As if to hammer this point home (re Jack and his inability to read the moods of the opposite sex) he offers to take Vanessa out for a sail on her new purchase The Proud Lady (one of Jack’s old boats) but she recoils with terror on her face. This is something of an overplayed moment (the very dramatic music doesn’t help) although it does suggest, none too subtly, that something’s troubling her.

Later they do go out, but when the weather gets a bit choppy Vanessa goes very wonky. It’s not really Lana Morris’ fault (this sort of scene is very hard to play) but she doesn’t really convince during this scene. She’s much better later on when Vanessa confides to Jack that ever since her husband, Klaus, was killed in a boating accident she’s been somewhat apprehensive about taking to the water. This is a nicely played two-hander between Owen and Morris.

Vanessa later has a chance to beat her fear of the water after a dinghy overturns in a small lake and a youngster pitifully screams for “help, help”. Several points spring to mind here – firstly that the submerged mariner seems to be pretty close to the bank (and if they can’t swim that short distance to safety, surely they shouldn’t have been out on the water in the first place). The extra in front of Vanessa (an old boy with a cap and binoculars) slightly amuses me. Presumably he rushes off in a panic as Vanessa seems to be the only one left to help – as she eyes a small sailboat and sets off on a rescue mission.

This isn’t the most dynamically directed of scenes it has to be said. We cut away before Vanessa actually ventures out, which seems to be a bit of a cheat. And if this one action has cured her fear of the water then we can chalk it down as yet another instance of the series setting up an interesting plot point, only to resolve it almost straightaway. Which is a little odd.

Leo seems to have clicked back into being the dutiful son (we see him doing the wiping up at home). He’s curious about his mother’s new business partner, James Brooke, which is understandable since some of Jan’s previous liaisons have mixed business with pleasure. “Is he married?” he enquires. And then James pops up and Leo exits. One in, one out.

I wonder what Jan and James will call their new, merged business. Oh, what about Howard Brooke. That’s quite snappy. James doesn’t seem to query this (Brooke Howard would sound just as good) and he also doesn’t seem too concerned when Jan steamrollers ahead with her plans for redecoration, branding, etc. At the moment, Jan seems to be very much the dominant partner.

The dramatic music makes a return when Tom tells Laura that Ken might use her the health of her ailing father, Jimmy (Walter Sparrow), in order to gain a business advantage. Once again, it’s a pity that the incidentals are rather strident at the moment.

Avril’s looking lovely again today, dressed in a tight skirt which seems to be designed purely to show off her slim waist. Her meeting with Leo (it’s almost as if he’s the only other person who works for Relton) is interrupted by a phone call from Ken. Feet up on the desk, his casual manner belies the fact that he clearly feels he has a trump card to play.  He’s able to convince Avril that a meeting is in her best interests. With Avril’s position at Relton somewhat shaky thanks to Charles, this possibly isn’t too surprising.

Lord Runswick (Harry Beety) is the sort of blunt Northern salt of the earth type made good who is so much of a cliché that it’s impossible to take him seriously. His parting comment to Charles (he declines to join his crusade to oust Avril) deserves quoting. “But you start playing this sort of game for revenge, you’ll wind up searching for tanners in your turn-ups”. Happen as maybe he’s right, by gum.

Ken continues to be haunted by Laura. The ever-loyal Vicki attempts to cover for him, pretending to Laura (who’s on the phone) that he’s not in the office. But as she’s sat outside in her car and can see his car, this isn’t a very convincing lie. Poor Ken. A minute later we see him looking plaintively out of the Leisure Cruise office window at Ms Wilde.

Sir John Stevens doesn’t appear in person until episode nine, but even offscreen his presence is still felt. Here, he’s the buffer between Ken and Laura. She’s miffed that Ken’s already told Sir John that the purchase of Wilde Mouldings is a done deal when that’s not the case at all. Even if Laura agrees, the ultimate decision will have to come from her father (although he does seem keen to sell).  But since he doesn’t seem long for this world, it might end up as her decision after all.

Jack, back at the Mermaid, chats to Tom about Vanessa. What begins as a two-handed scene quickly focuses on Jack, as he begins to look backwards – at how he decided to “marry the yard” when he married his late wife Eileen. The way that the camera slowly closes in on Glyn Owen’s face as he delivers his monologue is such a simple trick, but it’s so effective. Owen, whenever he’s given a dramatic scene, never fails to deliver.

Do you know, sometimes I walk through that yard, I turn … expecting her to be there, looking at me. And asking the same old question, why I let her down. And I did, you know.

Apart from taking a few snaps, we don’t see Abby until we’re thirty minutes in. She and Leo are in a very affectionate mood (their on/off/on/off/on relationship is somewhat confusing to keep track of) but after a minute the real reason for their sofa canoodling becomes obvious – it’s so Polly (yes she’s back) can stroll into the living room and shake her head in dismay. “I hope I’m not disturbing you” she mutters icily ….

Abby and Polly have regressed to their S1 relationship (in other words, not good). Their brief moments of rapprochement from more recent times seem to have vanished as Abby (Cindy Shelley looking rather lovely when she’s angry) rails against her mother for apparently leaving her father. But Polly’s gloriously unrepentant.

Given that the major reason for Polly going to America was in order to try and intercede with the Hudson family over William, it’s slightly surprising that Abby doesn’t bring this up. But there is a possible explanation –  after she declines to view a series of new photographs of her son (dashing them out of her mother’s hand) it might be that her disdain for Polly’s actions are stronger than her maternal instincts. Or has she finally accepted that William is out of reach? That’s a moot point at the moment, but two and a half episodes in it’s noticeable that Abby’s hardly mentioned William.

Polly’s gleeful, mocking expression after Abby leaves the room is slightly disturbing. In the past, Polly has been thoughtless, snobbish and self-obsessed but this is something new. Evil Polly seems to have arrived ….

The reunion between Polly and Gerald is just as dramatic. At present it seems that Gerald has recovered his faith in Charles and lost his faith in his wife. The way that Gerald shouts at Polly – demanding to know whether she’s having an affair with Sir Edward – is a notable moment. Sadly, we’re now into the endgame with Polly (after episode six she’ll be gone for good).

Another year, another Marina development for Charles to obsess about. This necessitates more meetings with humourless foreign types, today it’s the impressively named Eckhardt Sahnn (Carl Rigg). And fancy that, they’ve gone all the way to Malta just for this meeting.  HW clearly had a decent budget this year.  This Marina development has a bonus for Mr Frere, since it will enable Sahnn to force Avril out of Relton.

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Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Two

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Tom, out in the Flying Fish, is looking a little down in the dumps. You know what he needs? A chortling Jack to turn up alongside, offering to cheer him up. “You look bloody awful” is Jack’s opening gambit. I love Jack ….

Tom’s rejoinder (“Jack, will you belt up?”) is delivered by Maurice Colbourne with a chuckle. Was this as scripted, or was some of Colbourne’s real character breaking through? It doesn’t really matter either way, as it works very well.

Charles and Gerald’s lawyer, Thornton (Andrew Burt), seems confident that they have no case to answer. It’s a sunny day in Tarrant when the three have their breakfast meeting (which makes the scene an attractive one). It’s rather disconcerting that the brief exterior shot of the court is on videotape (virtually all of HW‘s location work was done on film) but this makes sense when we see that the court interiors were also shot on videotape at the location and not in the studio.

Gerald continues to twitch whilst Charles is gloriously unconcerned. Will they ramp up the tension and keep us hanging on for a verdict? No, not really. Thirteen minutes in and the case in thrown out. We don’t see inside the courtroom, so once again a dramatic moment is missed (but on the plus side, it saved the production some money). The dogged Inspector Daniel Morris (Kenneth Lodge) vows to continue the fight, but as this is Lodge’s final episode he’d better hurry up.

This plotline is mainly interesting for exposing the cracks in the professional relationship between Charles and Gerald. Once, Gerald would have trusted Charles without a second thought, but not any more. The way that Gerald firmly tells Charles that he can’t work tonight (he’s arranged a dinner with Abby and Leo) is striking. The worm has turned.

Gerald is very merry when he, Abby and Leo return home. This is good to see, as it’s been a while since Gerald’s been able to relax. His melancholy is never far from the surface though. He tells Abby that he’s really sorry that Polly isn’t here (Abby tells him to thank his lucky stars she isn’t!).

James Brooke (Andrew Bicknell) is a major rival of Jan’s (with a string of boutiques) but Jan seems drawn towards him. Mind you, he’s a bit slow on the uptake – at first he doesn’t have a clue who she is! Or does he actually know more than he’s letting on? Time will tell ….

He also doesn’t seem aware that Jan – like a predatory fish – is eyeing up his business hungrily. She wants to expand, he’s got financial problems, so a merger might be in both their interests. That Jan’s considering this mere minutes after meeting him is slightly hard to take – at present, HW seems to be rattling through various storylines.

The convivial lunch between Jan and James comes to an abrupt end when Tom pops by. Tom doesn’t express any overt jealousy, but James seems to be able to sense straight away that Tom and Jan still have a very strong connection. Tom’s not convinced that this merger is wise (or maybe he’s slightly disconcerted by James’ good looks).

Avril continues to look rather foxy (today, in a red dress) as she and a sharply-suited Leo settle down to discuss their powerboat racing strategy (now that Leo’s retired from racing he’s moved up to an executive level). Their meeting is cut short when Charles comes calling though. Personal and professional bitterness causes this short scene to crackle. This is one plotline that looks to have some legs.

Charles wants to regain Relton, Avril isn’t prepared to give an inch, so I think we should settle back and enjoy the battles to come. “If I have to break you in the process, believe me I will” he tells her.

Glyn Owen’s marvously expressive face is put to good use during a scene when Vanessa ponders on the road not taken (in another life, someone like Avril could have been her daughter). Jack, of course, doesn’t have a great deal of time for this sort of talk, it’s just not in his nature.

Today’s random observation. Somebody coughs very audibly at 43:46, at the start of the scene with Charles. Was it the off-camera Gerald or a member of the camera crew?

We end this episode with the unforgettable sight of a topless Ken and the equally impressive visage of Laura squeezed into a teeny-tiny leopardskin bathing costume. Crickey, that’s something you don’t see every day. Moored on a yacht at sea with (of course) plenty of champagne, they have a bit of a smooch. Laura’s still not selling her company though (even though Ken’s turning on the charm) but she wouldn’t be adverse to a merger.

She then elects to leave Ken, who’s gone for a swim, all alone, whilst she toddles off in the yacht for a while. Poor Ken, it’s not his day ….

Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode One

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Oh, I say! HW has ventured abroad in the past, but those jaunts were always something of a cheat – a quick flash of stock footage and then we’d cut to a chilly part of England dressed with a few palm trees in order to create an exotic illusion.

But not today. We open in Malta with Charles exiting the airport whilst a bearded stranger follows his every move (his face a study in concentration). The incidental music is turned up to the max as well, just to hammer the point home that this is a significant moment. And if you needed a reminder that we’re in 1989, then the ginormous brick-like mobile phone that the beardy man pulls out of his pocket should give you a clue.

Malta will feature in a number of episodes this year, so it’s obvious that the production team took the opportunity to shoot material for several episodes at the same time. This does give the slightly unfortunate impression that the inhabitants of Tarrant only visit Malta when they venture abroad, but I’m not one to carp ….

You might remember that we left Leo at the end of series four in something of a bad way. Badly mangled after his speedboat crash, it wasn’t clear how serious his injuries were. Would he ever walk again? His opening scene here (jogging furiously on a treadmill) answers that question, so clearly it was decided not to spin his incapacity out for any length of time.

But it’s also plain that not all’s well with the lad. Chided for running on the treadmill when he should have been walking, this exercise is then revealed to be part of his rehabilitation. And when it’s suggested that he should then take a dip in the pool, he snarls “stuff the swimming pool” before storming off. Whatever happened to the nice young Leo we used to know and love?

Possibly he’s a little irritated that he’s still not 100% (his dramatic limp makes that clear, although he doesn’t keep up the limping for long). When Abby comes to pick him up, he complains that he’s not recovering as quickly as he’d like. But the real reason for his angst seems to be that Avril’s told him he won’t be racing speedboats again. By the expression on Abby’s face it seems that he’s been giving her a rough time recently.

If these few opening scenes are a little disconcerting, then we’re on firmer ground when we check in at the Mermaid. Jack’s just strolled in (for him it’s still early – around noon) and he begins to cross swords with Emma. He then berates Bill quite forcibly before exiting. Jack’s looking very dapper today, it has to be said. Clearly he’s not dressed for the office ….

We then get our first sight of Jan and Ken this year. They’re having a bite to eat in Tarrant’s ever popular restaurant (I wonder how many times it’ll turn up this year?) with Ken – white jacket, rolled-up sleeves – still attempting to woo Jan (in a business sense anyway). Does Jan – nice purple jacket – want to pump a great deal of money into Ken’s business? Hmm, no, not really.

Avril – looking rather lovely today in a shortish skirt – and Gerald have a frank exchange of views. He knows where Charles is, but isn’t prepared to pass that information on. Gerald – who earlier had clucked down the phone to Charles – is a little frantic that his employer is swanning around in Malta whilst he’s back in the UK, fending off numerous interested parties (all interested in the continuing fraud case). When Charles suggests he hops on a plane to Malta he’s only slightly mollified.

With Polly absent (she’s still in America attempting to get William back) Gerald is even more isolated than usual. He cuts a rather forlorn figure and although Abby attempts to bolster his flagging confidence, she doesn’t have any success. It seems that he’s already picturing life behind bars.

I love the fact that when Gerald later clambers aboard Charles’ yacht he’s wearing his suit and tie and clutching his briefcase! His tie is slightly askew though, which seems to be his sole concession to the fact he’s in sunny Malta. Charles, cool as a cucumber, tells him to drink his drink and not worry, everything’s going to be fine. You do get the feeling though that Charles is in for a nasty shock later.

It seems to be business as usual with Tom and Emma – he’s unable to make their dinner date because he has to see Jan (although it’s more about providing Leo with moral support). But it turns out that their relationship is very much on borrowed time. By the end of this episode she’ll be gone forever ….

But for every departure, there’s usually a new arrival. Victoria Burgoyne makes her debut as Vicki Rockwell. With Sarah having left at the end of S4, Vicki (as Ken’s assistant) operates as his new business confidant – although since she’s got a boyfriend, she’s not interested in anything else. Which slightly takes the wind out of his sails.

The next new arrival is rather more significant. Kate O’Mara had previously appeared in another Gerard Glaister series, The Brothers, back in the 1970’s, but it was her 1980’s American adventure in Dynasty which really cemented her soap credentials (there was also Triangle, but funnily enough nobody ever talks about that now). Laura Wilde, owner of the impressively named Wilde Mouldings, is an old friend of Avril’s, but it’s plain from their first meeting that her destiny is going to be intertwined with Ken’s.

There’s an early highlight of the joys to come when Laura comes sniffing around Leisure Cruise. Ken approaches her from behind, but without turning round she senses that he’s there. When he wonders whether she’s got eyes in the back of her head, she tells him that “no, I just happened to be downwind of your aftershave”. Kate O’Mara’s also sporting the most wonderful pair of sunglasses during this scene.

Laura later demonstrates that she’s no pushover, easily being able to see through Ken’s transparent desire to buy her company. Random observation – Ken obviously likes the colour red. In his office, his chair, in-tray, desk phone, mobile phone and desk lamp are all red. It makes the scene at his desk rather striking.

Strictly speaking, Vanessa Andenberg (Lana Morris), isn’t a new character (she’d appeared in a couple of series three episodes) but she’s now back as a regular. Recently widowed, it seems that finally she and Jack will be able to get together. Their initial meeting, in her new Tarrant home overlooking the marina, is nicely shot – it’s just a pity that the day was so overcast (had the sun had come out it would have looked spectacular). Jack’s downcast face when Vanessa, toying with him, doesn’t instantly accept his dinner invitation suggests that there will be some scope in this plotline – Jack in Love – as a way to show a radically different side to the blustering man we know and love.

I wonder where have Jack and Vanessa go to eat? Hmm, three guesses …..

It’s slightly odd that we never actually see Jan and Tom’s uncomfortable dinner with Leo. Instead, we have to learn second-hand from Tom that Leo (still operating in full headstrong mode) wasn’t prepared to listen to their advice. A dramatic possibility missed.

Tom and Jan, post divorce, continue to enjoy a very cordial relationship. Tom’s now become her sounding board, the one person she knows will give her honest advice. Had Maurice Colbourne lived, would Tom and Jan have remarried? Many believe so, but it’s interesting to ponder how that would have affected the dramatic impetus of the series.

But if Tom’s managed to rebuild bridges with his ex-wife, then his other relationship seems to be built on rockier foundations. As has been seen time and again, tact is something that Tom Howard has never really possessed. His opening gambit to Emma (“I suppose you realise how ridiculous you’re being?”) probably wasn’t his wisest move.

Tom’s closeness to Jan is the reason why Emma’s upset but his next offering (“if you can’t accept that, then tough”) is another example of Tom’s incredible stubbornness. It’s Tom’s way or no way (as per the series’ title maybe). But it’s possible that this side of his character was ramped up here in order to provide a good reason for Emma to depart.

Although she’d been with the series for a while, had Emma not returned for series five I don’t think too many people would have particularly noticed or been too concerned. No slight intended to Sian Webber, but Emma was never really anything more than an Avril substitute (both at the Mermaid and in Tom’s life).

Leo continues to be a concern to everybody. Despite not being fit, he elects to take a speedboat out in order to prove that he hasn’t lost his nerve. Whilst Tom, Jan and Avril look on, the soundtrack steps up a gear as Leo begins to have flashbacks about the last time he tangled with a marker buoy. This time he manages to make it though (“I’ve cracked it!”) but since it wasn’t under race conditions (or with a pack of other boats in the water) it seems – at best – a hollow victory.

Charles and Gerald touch down in Tarrant, only for them to then be carted off to the local police station. For Charles, earlier so confident that his lawyers had found all the answers, it’s something of a rude awakening. He lowers his sunglasses to look at the officer, then raises them again as the pair are escorted away ….

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Howards’ Way – Series Four, Episode Thirteen

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If the final episode of series four has a theme then it seems to be shattered/shifting allegiances.  Sir John Stevens is up first, telling Sir Edward that he’s managed to hang onto his position at the bank (although he forgot to mention that he’ll have to resign in six months time).  So although it’s something of a hollow victory, it’s a victory nonetheless – but no thanks to Sir Edward, who threw him to the wolves without a second thought.  But his partial triumph does allow Sir John to waggle his eyebrows in trademark fashion whilst telling Sir Edward that they probably won’t meet again.

The swooping camera movement, as Sir John’s car moves away, helps to isolate Sir Edward (who’s still reeling from Jan’s absolutely final refusal).  But maybe he spies a kindred spirit in Polly.  Or is their relationship purely business-related?  Hmm, a little of both maybe.  Polly might appear to primarily motivated by a desire to help William and Abby, but it’s plain that she’s also interested in helping herself.  The last we see of them, they’re heading off to America in Sir Edward’s jet (with Polly looking very chic, compete with a stylish little hat).

But whilst Polly and Sir Edward are a new pairing, Polly and Jan have finally split up.  They have a cracking little ding-dong, with Jan taking great pleasure in firing her.  With Sir Edward as her new backer though, she’s probably not going to be down for long though ….

Ken’s on the up and up.  Not even another visit from the menacing Roy (a wonderfully melodramatic scene) can dampen his enthusiasm for long.  He’s got his eye on Sir Edward’s country pile (Sir Edward seems to want to sell – thereby excising his ghosts maybe) and (now that she’s free again) possibly Jan too.  I’ve said it before, but surely Jan’s not silly enough to fall for his feckless charm?  Maybe or maybe not.  She certainly enjoys his company, so it seems that the fire still burns between them.

But the fire between Charles and Avril has long gone out.  I think we’re meant to identify with Avril, but there’s not much to choose between them.  Avril’s certainly gone on a journey since the start of series one – over time she’s changed from an idealist into a hard-bitten businesswoman, virtually Charles’ mirror image.  He makes this observation to her – she’s just as much addicted to power as he is – and it’s telling that she doesn’t deny it.  They have one last meal – at Tarrant’s ever popular eatery – where she delights in telling him that (via some share juggling) she’s now gained control of Relton Marine.

So Charles has been bested in business.  But he’s not downhearted – Avril may have a majority shareholding, but she doesn’t have complete control.  Expect this plotline to pick up again during series five.

Charles and Avril are history, but what about Abby and Leo?  Prior to the big race in Guernsey, they have a quiet lock of the lips, but it does seem that once again Abby sees her future in America (where the saga of William continues to rumble on).  As for Leo, he seems to be something of a loose cannon.  Avril’s concerned that he’s being unduly reckless during his powerboat trials, although she isn’t able to convince him of this (not that she tries too hard).  Avril and Leo do have a nice pouting scene as he glowers at the suggestion he’s pushing too hard.

Or maybe Avril’s simply mistaken.  Jan doesn’t notice that anything’s wrong with him (although this could just be another example of Jan’s lack of interest/empathy in her son).  Maybe Leo’s trying to prove something to Abby.  Or does he just want to win the big race?

We’re in Guernsey.  There’s a host of boats on the start line, but it quickly boils down to a head-to-head between Ken and Leo.  Things drag on a bit, but eventually Ken crosses the line first.  And then it’s revealed that this is only the first race, so we’ll have to go through the whole rigmarole again.  Boo!

But the second race is rather more dramatic as Leo’s boat overturns and Abby – snapping from a helicopter – reacts with horror.  It doesn’t look good for Leo’s co-pilot (taken away in a bodybag) whilst Leo himself is conscious, but immobile.  This means that we’re in cliff-hanger territory – will Leo walk again?  Tune in next series to find out.

Gerald’s problems also look set to run and run.  I thought it was out of character for him to indulge in a spot of insider dealing – mainly because he’s (for a businessman anyway) so transparently honest. When the police come a calling, poor Gerald folds like a pack of cards.  And they’re interested in Charles too!

The final scene is one of the most celebrated HW‘s moments.  Ken, having won the race after Leo self destructed, finds himself alone on the quayside.  Alone, that is, apart from Avril.  His opening gambit (“why, Miss Avril Rolfe”) merely softens us up for an amazing scene from Stephen Yardley as Ken boasts that he’s beaten them all (ha, ha, ha).  The sight of Ken, now all alone after Avril flounces off, toasting his success is a sublime touch and, like all the other dangling plot threads, sets us up nicely for series five.

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Howards’ Way – Series Four, Episode Twelve

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There’s a few strangers round Tarrant way this week. First to pop up is Roy Johnson (Pip Miller), an old buddy of Ken’s. Although perhaps “buddy” is stretching it a bit far (the fact that the soundtrack is set to ominous and threatening makes this rather obvious). Johnson has an absent brother (if you think of the Piranha brothers then you won’t be too far off the mark) although it’s the present Roy who helps to shine more light on Ken’s dodgy earlier life.

A more convivial and real buddy is Scott Benson (Paul Maxwell) who gives Jack the surprise of his life. They were old war comrades back in Korea and Scott explains to a slightly rapt Abby and Leo just how much of a hero Jack Rolfe was back then. Scott’s story seems to be such a cliché (Jack saved his life under heavy enemy fire) that it’s slightly hard to take seriously, but it is presented dead straight.

Jack Rolfe as a military hero, complete with medals, takes a little processing – although Scott, still mourning the recent death of his wife, hasn’t returned to publicise his old friend’s former gung-ho ways. Instead, his presence adds to the general reflective nature of the episode, as many of the regular characters – not just Jack – seem to be at something of a crossroads in their lives.

Leo is bluntness personified with Abby, telling her that any court would probably decide that William would be better off with his American family.  After all, what can a penniless Abby offer in return?  Leo seems rather to be ignoring the wealth and influence of both Charles and Sir Edward, but maybe he was deliberately being harsh in order to try and snap Abby back to reality.  Telling that that he’s prepared to walk away from her might be part of the same plan …..

Now that the story about Sir John Stevens’ financial mismanagement has been made public, he needs friends.  He’ll always be able to rely on good old Sir Edward won’t he?  Nigel Davenport flashes a wide crocodile grin that should give you the first inkling that poor Sir John’s going to be thrown to the wolves.  They might be old, old friends, but there’s clearly no room for sentiment in business.  This may appear to be the end of Sir John’s story, but not so – he remains a regular in the series right up until the end, although – as with many characters – his allegiances shift over time.

Avril – disgusted at the way Charles fires Sarah – is still considering a take-over of Relton.  Remember when Charles didn’t want any truck with business, instead he was content to potter around the art galleries, operating as a bountiful benefactor?  That all seems an awfully long time ago, as we see him and Avril enter yet another round of sniping and name-calling.  There still something of a spark between them (Charles optimistically considers that they have a relationship still worth saving) but maybe it’s just the last flickering embers ….

Sir Edward’s latest cosy chat with Jan is one of his most fascinating.  We learn for the first time that (contrary to the picture painted by his PR people) his family haven’t owned Highfield for generations, instead his grandfather sold coal from a market barrow.  That Sir Edward had such a combative relationship with his father seems, possibly unconsciously, to have affected the way he’s always treated his son.  Even though Sir Edward can still recall the only time his father struck him, no lesson seems to have been learned from this moment.  Instead, he was as equally distant to Charles when he was growing up, resulting in their current, frozen, relationship.

Rather uncharacteristically, Gerald indulges in a spot of insider-trader to make a tidy profit.  The way he explains this to Polly (in a slightly shamefacedly way) does rather make the point that – despite his protestations – he knows he’s been a little naughty.  An odd thing for Gerald to have done, as he’s always seemed to be above that sort of thing (so either we don’t know him as well as we think we do, or the scriptwriters have suddenly decide to spice him up a little).

Tom and Jack start the episode all smiles.  Tom finally tells Jack that he thinks his Orkadian design is first-rate – which pleases Jack no end (Tom might not be a designer of wooden boats, but his opinion is still worth something).  The long-term HW watcher will probably be asking themselves exactly what Jack will do to break this fragile entente cordiale.  Why, he offers the American rights of the Orkadian to Scott of course, managing the neat trick of irritating both Tom and Avril at the same time.  I love Jack.

How many times has Jan refused to marry Sir Edward?  I almost wish now I’d kept a tally as I worked my way through these episodes, but this most recent one (“I am not for sale”) must surely be her last word on the matter.  Mind you, I did think that last time.

Ken and Avril form a potentially unholy alliance. All business of course, but the possibility that they might start a relationship is so mind-bogglingly bizarre that I’d love to see it. They’re hanging out in what I’ve now decided must be Tarrant’s only restaurant, and when Ken spies Sir Edward and Jan close by (of course, remember what I said about the lack of eating facilities elsewhere) he tells Avril that his own designs on Jan are all in the past. So was the end of the previous episode just a false cliffhanger or is Ken lying again? Time will tell.

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Howards’ Way – Series Four, Episode Eleven

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The Barracuda pulls into harbour and Robert Hudson (Bruce Boa) emerges.  Abby’s father-in-law, he instantly casts an imposing presence (we’d previously seen him back in series two and he hasn’t changed since then).  He’s a genial chap on the surface, but it’s plain that underneath there’s an even more ruthless and implacable type than Sir Edward or Charles put together.  And this is the man who Abby hopes will meekly hand William back to her?  The omens don’t look good ….

Hudson’s come complete with a small entourage – a female secretary whom he quickly dispatches to London and a male assistant who seems to be multi-skilled (does one of his attributes include functioning as a bodyguard?).  Sir Edward is on hand to welcome him and for the moment it’s all smiles.

Later, the pair have a horseback chat.  I have to say that Bruce Boa doesn’t look terribly comfortable in the saddle – he rather wobbles around from side to side, even though the horse is barely clip-clopping along.  Nigel Davenport, by contrast, looks much more secure.

The soundtrack for this episode is a little different from the norm – with no sailing scenes to speak of, the usual score – honking saxophones – isn’t called for.  Instead (and reflecting the tone of this instalment) there’s a subdued, twanging guitar feel – which compliments the anxious feeling generated by Hudson’s presence.

A good example of the thorough way Hudson operates is demonstrated when a photographer (hiding in the bushes) snaps Abby and Leo, mid-embrace.  Previously we’ve seen how Leo was offended by Sir Edward’s suggestion that he should steer clear of Abby (at least until the question of William’s custody has been decided) but moments like this make it plain that he knew what he was talking about.

The meal between Hudson, Sir Edward, Jan and Abby is as monumentally awkward and awful as you might expect.  Abby’s gone to some trouble – cooking Hudson’s favourite food, doing her hair, popping on a nice dress – but none of that is going to cut any ice with him.  And when Abby impatiently wonders why they’re sitting around chit-chatting, rather than discussing William, the fragile peace shatters.

Hudson’s not interested in negotiation and decides that Abby – especially now he has evidence of her canoodling with Leo – doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on.  And what does Sir Edward do?  Not a lot really.  It’s strange to see him so impotent and unable to respond, but as he later admits to Jan, there was nothing he could do.  Both he and Charles had independently attempted to find some chink in Hudson’s armour – a way (via business) to bring him to heel, but there was nothing doing.

And so it’s goodbye to Bruce Boa again (until the twelfth episode of series six). Hudson’s appearance here may be brief, but the discord he sows lingers for some time.

Elsewhere in Tarrant, the question of Sarah Foster’s position at Relton is causing friction between Charles and Avril.  First their personal relationship ruptured, now it looks as if their business relationship might go the same way.  Charles wants Sarah fired, Avril doesn’t.  If Charles pushes, then Avril threatens to resign – although she won’t stop there.  She’s mulling over the possibility of launching a bid to take over Relton herself.

She discusses this with Jack over dinner (where else? At our favourite restaurant of course).  Now that I’ve started to notice how often the great and good of Tarrant use the same very small restaurant each episode, I can’t un-notice it.  Michael and Sarah were in there earlier on, although at least they did sit by the teeny-tiny bar (which isn’t seen too often).

Jack continues to be on fine form.  There’s a lovely scene in the Jolly Sailor where – yet again – he’s extoling the virtues of orange juice.  Kate eyes him suspiciously,  meaning that you can possibly guess the punchline.  She takes a sip and it turns out to be practically neat vodka!  This is just one of a number of occasions when Jack’s called upon to give us a hangdog look.

The dinner-party from hell seems to signify the end of the teetering relationship between Jan and Sir Edward.  She returns his gift – the flashy sports car – and sets off on the long walk home.  But then Ken happens to drive by and she gladly accepts a lift.  Even though she knows that Ken can’t be trusted an inch, there’s a little frisson between them.  Could they hook up again?  Surely Jan wouldn’t be that stupid.

The day after the night before, Abby ends up on the dockside, rather the worse for wear.  She’s tired and emotional, telling Leo that the chances of her regaining William seem remote.  Wailing that she hasn’t got a friend in the world, it’s the cue for the ever-loyal Leo to her that she’s got at least one ….

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Howards’ Way – Series Four, Episode Ten

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Ace journalist Michael Hanley, now working for Ken at Leisure Cruise, is beavering away on his latest scoop – an expose of Sir John Stevens.   This is another example of Ken’s deviousness – having had his business ventures scuppered once too often by Sir John, he’s now out for revenge.  But rather than do it himself, he’s decided to get Michael to do his dirty work for him.

Michael’s an up-to-date sort of guy, as he’s typing his words of wisdom on a word processor.  The camera briefly lingers on the screen (allowing us to see that he can’t spell whizz kid ….).

This is another example of a HW plot oddity.  If the scandal they’ve unearthed, from 1963, has been buried so deeply, how exactly has Ken been able to piece it together?  Or if the information has been available in the public domain for some time, why has nobody else broken the story?

Another plot weakness occurs after Tom learns that their proposed new yard has already been sold (Sir Edward gazumping his son).  Emma believes this may be a blessing in disguise – since being tied too closely to Charles might inhibit them.  She suggests they buy a new yard with their own money (possibly asking Jack to join them).

But Charles – via Relton Marine – has been involved closely in the day-to-day financial operation of the Mermaid Yard for several years, so it’s not clear exactly why working at a new yard, backed by Charles’ money, would be any different from their current situation.  Remember that the Mermaid was dependent on Relton manufacturing the Barracuda, etc.  Without their support surely the Mermaid would have gone to the wall year ago?

But whilst Tom, Emma and even Jack (who now sees the logic of a second yard) are considering their future, there’s a diversion to enjoy.  Jack’s organised a marine treasure hunt – although he’s a little upset that some (Leo & Abby, Michael & Sarah) aren’t taking it terribly seriously.  Mmm, that’s another thing – at the end of the previous episode Michael and Sarah were established as a couple, but unless I’ve forgotten it, I don’t remember this ever being a plotline previously.  Oh, and Sarah looks really rather lovely when she and Michael are out and about on the treasure hunt.

Sir Edward and Jan have lunch (that restaurant set is getting used an awful lot this year).  He wants Jan to join him and Abby when Hudson Snr comes calling from America.  His reason?  Hudson might be more inclined to let William go if he knew that Abby’s family was extensive – i.e. Jan making an appearance as the Lady Frere to be.  Yes, this seems like just another bare-faced attempt by Sir Edward to force Jan into accepting his marriage proposal, but even he – after she refuses – seems finally to realise that she’s slipping away from him.

They’re all very mature types down Tarrant way.  Later, Jan returns to the restaurant for a drink and a meal with Emma.  Tom is naturally enough the topic of their conversation, with Emma firmly of the opinion that Jan remains the most important woman in his life.  Jan modestly demurs, telling Emma that she’s exactly the sort of person Tom needed years ago – somebody who shares his interest in boats (it was established right from the first episode, this has never been Jan’s forte).  It’s hard to imagine Jan and Avril having such a convivial chat a few years back (or indeed Tom and Ken – the mind positively boggles on that ever happening.  Pity, as it would have been entertaining).

Jan and Polly continue to enjoy an icy relationship.  Jan’s still smarting over the fact that her exclusive haute couture range has been sullied with cheap, mail-order stuff (it’s selling very well and therefore making a tidy profit, but that seems to be by the by).  Poor Polly keeps attempting to build bridges, but Jan’s content to keep twisting the knife – although she eventually proposes a solution.  Polly buys the franchise from Periplus and she can therefore go into business herself (it also means that Jan’ll be shot of Polly, so everyone’s a winner).

This is a great episode for Ken, with two scenes standing out especially.  The first occurs after he disturbs a late night intruder at Leisure Cruise – it’s Sarah, come to find the file about Sir John that Michael’s been working on.  Although she too has an interest in ruining Sir John (it would help to solidify her position at Relton) she has scruples – unlike Ken – so isn’t here for that reason.  She’s more interested in protecting him (and Michael’s reputation too).

Ken’s in full alpha-male mood – grabbing her roughly (by the throat at one point) and generally being incredibly unpleasant.  These are the moments when the real Ken Masters surfaces.

He may be smartly suited the next day, when he and Sir John meet for lunch (yes, once again we’re back in the same restaurant – one day I’m going to add up exactly how many times it featured this year) but scratch under the surface and nasty old Ken’s still there.  Sir John is his usual affable self and is little more than mildly amused at Ken’s attempt to blackmail him (Willoughby Gray plays the scene excellently).

If Ken was expecting his dinner guest to be cowed into submission then he’s disappointed – Sir John tells him to “publish and be dammed” leaving Ken with much to ponder (and a decent end of episode close-up for Stephen Yardley).

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Howards’ Way – Series Four, Episode Nine

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Jack’s still hopping about on the quayside (“somebody’s nicked my bloody boat”) although it quickly becomes clear that it hasn’t been stolen – Emma, smarting after her tiff with Tom, has taken it out for a test run.

But since she should have been back by now, Tom’s worried that she’s run into trouble. So it’s Jack and Tom to the rescue, with Jack piloting a motorised dingy at high speed. Glyn Owen was clearly a decent sailor, since he – rather than a stuntman – was at the wheel. Oh, and I like Jack’s white bobble hat too.

It doesn’t take long before they find her – repairing a minor fault – so everyone can breathe a sigh of relief.  Tom is the most relieved and he admits this to Emma.  This moment of crisis helps him to finally admit his feelings for her, although he goes on to explain his commitment issues (he’s got twenty years of marriage and two children to consider).   But this didn’t seem to be an issue when he had an affair with Avril, so I’m not entirely sure that his protestations hold water.

Poly’s continuing to avoid Jan.  Jan is getting very, very annoyed with her (former?) friend’s shenanigans.  Tip-tapping on her high heels, Jan is clearly out for vengeance whilst Polly seeks solace with Ken, of all people.  I love the fact that Polly refers to Jan as a snob! (this is Polly we’re talking about, remember).  Although to be fair to Polly for just one second, there may be some truth in her suggestion that Jan’s not keen on her range of German leisurewear solely because it’s a tad downmarket.

Ken’s very devious in this episode.  In fact, he’s so devious and calculating that it seems rather out of character – usually Ken’s not as subtle as this.  He tells Polly that Sarah is secretly working for Sir John, knowing that she will tell Gerald who in turn will tell Charles.  Both Gerald and Charles (although not Avril, interestingly) then believe that Sarah could be a spy, although there’s one fatal flaw conerning these machinations.  Gerald knew full well that this information came from Ken, so why would he believe it?  That two such astute businessman as Charles and Gerald would be prepared to believe this unsubstantiated rumour seems a little hard to believe.

Sir Edward and Jan are currently estranged (he’s even stopped leaving messages on her answering machine) but he’s keeping it in the family by entertaining Kate to dinner. No, he hasn’t decided to move up the family tree with someone more his own age – he wants to sound Kate out to see if she knows whether Jan will change her mind about marrying him.  Kate, of course, isn’t backwards about speaking her mind and so is bluntness personified (naturally, her opinions aren’t really what Sir Edward wants to hear).

Michael comes in second in the transatlantic race – a good result, although Tom – ever the perfectionist – was a little ticked off he didn’t win.   Michael quickly returns home (by plane) and, with Tom’s agreement, allows a chap called Hudson to sail the Barracuda back to the UK.  Hang on, Hudson?  It would be a remarkable coincidence if this was a member of Abby’s estranged American family ….

As for Abby herself, it’s the day of her exhibition but she’s not looking forward to it.  On the one hand, she wants to make a career out of photography (therefore it’s important that she demonstrates what she’s capable of) but on the other, too many negative vibes are swishing around her head.  As always, it’s sensible Leo who’s on hand to offer her support and gently guide her through the minefield.  With his assistance she’s able to mix and mingle with the great and good of Tarrant society (she was all set to slip out quietly and go straight home).

But for long-term Leo/Abby watchers, it’s the aftermath which is the key moment.  Everybody else has left, leaving them alone in the gallery.  She tells him that “all that matters to me is that the three of us are going to be together. You and me and William”.  She may be jumping the gun a little here since William’s future hasn’t been decided.  It’s also a little unexpected (given their recent fractured relationship) that she’s decided that the pair of them have a future – which they seal with a long and very loving kiss …..

Since everybody who’s anybody in Tarrant is at the gallery, there’s a few awkward meetings.  Leo and Ken bump into each other (and then quickly move away) but even better is the encounter between Sir Edward and Charles.  It’s the first time that they’ve been in the same room since Sir Edward visited his son in hospital and it’s plain that their relationship is still on the critical list.  They do have a brief conversation, although Charles pointedly turns his back on his father and instead speaks to the other side of the room.

Tom breaks the news to Jack that he’s thinking of leaving the Mermaid for larger premises.  He wants Jack to come with him, but it’s hardly going to come as a surprise to learn that Jack isn’t interested – the Mermaid is in his lifeblood.  Surprisingly, Jack doesn’t erupt with fury when Tom tells him, instead he’s quite sanguine about it all.  These scenes have some lovely Tom/Jack byplay – Maurice Colbourne and Glyn Owen both seemingly relishing the material they’ve been given.

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Howards’ Way – Series Four, Episode Eight

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The crane operator was clearly working overtime this episode, as there’s a couple of nice swooping shots – at the Mermaid Yard and over at Polly and Gerald’s house – both of which allows the action to pause for a second.

Tom, Emma and Bill decide – in Jack’s absence – to fit a new engine into Jack’s newly designed boat.  What will the typically fiery Jack make of this tinkering?  He’s aware of it, since he’s observing proceedings – with a telescope! – close by, but he seems remarkably mellow at present.

Meanwhile, Gerald is less than enthused to discover that his house is filled with boxes, many, many boxes.  It’s been a while since Polly and Gerald shared a decent comedy scene (last year their plotline was sombre, to say the least) so this makes for a welcome change.  Polly has decided to launch a new mail order line (German casual wear) under the Periplus banner.  Unfortunately she hasn’t mentioned this to Jan ….

Gerald’s patient reaction to this house invasion is a delight, as is his nonplussed reaction when Polly holds up a puffy jacket for his inspection.  A pity that Polly didn’t insist he try it on – that would have made a good scene even better.

That Polly has decided not to tell Jan, but then goes ahead with newspaper advertising is a little bizarre.  Surely this would mean that Jan would eventually find out anyway?  As it is, it’s Abby – of all people – who tips Jan off, which leaves her hurt and wounded.  Polly’s supposed to be her oldest friend, so how could she do this?  Everything’s set up for a confrontation next episode.

Tom and Jan’s relationship continues to intrigue.  They have another convivial lunch which sees Tom reject Jan’s cheque (she borrowed a hefty sum from him during Periplus’ recent business traumas).  Instead he asks if he can have shares in her company (since she owns a stake in the Mermaid it seems only fair).  And although Jan has jealously guarded control of her empire (it still irks her that Ken has a small shareholding and she blocked Polly’s attempt to grab a stake) she quickly and happily agrees.

I’m not quite sure what Jan’s feelings for Tom are (we know that she’s still very uncertain about Sir Edward’s proposal, so is she contemplating a reunion with her ex-husband?).  On the other hand, Tom’s status seems much more clear-cut.  He’s happy in his relationship with Emma (although maybe she’s not – more on that in a minute) with the result that he treats his ex-wife with indulgence and more like a sister than a former partner.

This is demonstrated after Jan shows him her new present from Sir Edward – the flashy sports car.  Tom jocularly tells her that “you need a bit of a talking-to, my girl” and is prepared to skip a meeting with Charles in order to do so.

Emma isn’t pleased when she later learns that Tom cancelled the meeting for a spot of quality time with Jan and is even less chuffed when he later asks her to step out of the office for a moment after Jan brings round the paperwork relating to his new shareholding in Periplus.  Tom seems not to display the slightest hint of jealousy about the relationship between Jan and Sir Edward, but Emma clearly finds it harder not be irked whenever Tom and Jan spend time together.

A more empathic man would understand this, but as we’ve seen so often, Tom – for all his good qualities – is somewhat lacking in this department.  The way he raises his eyebrows after Emma storms out of the office makes it plain that he doesn’t really understand that he’s treading on very thin ice at present.

Ken’s boat continues to sink and Leo is the next rat to leave it.  That’s a tad unfair of course, but Leo’s loyalties are definitely split.  He’s desperate to race in the world powerboat championship but if he stays at Leisure Cruise will he get the chance?

This is another of those plot oddities which creep up in HW from time to time.  It only seems like a few days ago when Leo raced a powerboat for the first time and now he’s good enough to contest the world championship?  Either the championship field is very small or he’s become very good very quickly.

But whilst he does have loyalty towards Ken, racing powerboats is now his life (apparently) so the chance of a guaranteed seat in the race if he goes to Relton is just too good an opportunity to pass up.  So he bids farewell to Ken in a scene which sees both of them raise their voices – nothing new for Ken of course, but it’s always nice to see a touch more animation from Leo.

Leo and Abby have minimal contact in this episode.  When she hears that Sarah paid him an evening visit (to discuss jumping ship to Relton) there was maybe just a twinge of jealousy from her, but Leo didn’t rise to the bait and both were prepared to laugh it off.

Charles dangles a carrot in front of Tom – a new yard, with much better facilities than the Mermaid.  With these resources behind him, the possibilities are endless – although Tom’s still convinced that, since it’s Charles, there must be a catch.

Elsewhere, Sir Edward continues to sniff around Jan (he’s taken to popping up in the least expected places and frightening the life out of her), the saga of William continues to rumble on, Michael Hanley’s doing rather well in the transatlantic race whilst Jack is doing less well at the bookies.  Surely by now he’s realised that he shouldn’t back his own hunches – instead he needs to rely on Kate’s tips.

Jack’s return to the Mermaid doesn’t quite go the way he planned.  The others have completed the Orkadian in his absence, but there’s just one question – where is it?  Bill points “there she is” as he, Tom and Jack watch it sailing away.  This leaves Glyn Owen with a classic end of episode line.  “Somebody’s nicked my bloody boat!”

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Howard’s Way – Series Four, Episode Seven

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This episode pretty much picks up where the previous one finished, so we see Barracuda pulling into port with an ambulance crew waiting for Jack. Although the incidental music is still set on “sinister and anxious” at least he’s awake and is his usual cantankerous self (which is a good sign). “Where are you guys taking me? I’m not going to St Hilda’s. I had a wisdom tooth out there”.  Three guesses which hospital he ends up at …

I like the way that Tom later insists that Leo should stay with Jack at the hospital (Tom never seems to stop and consider that maybe he should stay). Leo is slightly whiny (“why me?”) but you know that since he’s such a good natured-soul he’ll be happy to do so. And so he does.

The way that the episode deals with Avril’s reaction to the news is very interesting. Tom calls her (she’s at Jan’s house – helping to investigate the saga of the stolen designs) and when she takes the receiver we see her face suddenly fall. But then we cut to Tom (“oh, no, no, Avril, it’s all right”) and we don’t cut back to Avril again.

What’s very notable is that after this moment Avril doesn’t mention her father for the remainder of the episode. All of her scenes are business related – jousting with Charles and Gerald, wining and dining new recruit Sarah – meaning that her father seems to be low on her list of priorities. Harsh? Maybe, but whilst we’re told that she does visit Jack in hospital, we don’t actually see it (whereas we are witness to Kate’s visit – where she dishes out a typical dollop of good old-fashioned common sense, much to Jack’s disgust!)

This foregrounding of Avril-as-businesswoman may have been intentional or it could just be the way the scripting turned out – but it does seem odd that we never learn what she thinks about her father’s hospitalisation (even Polly – hardly Jack’s biggest fan – is given a moment to react with dismay at the news).

Jack, you’ll be glad to hear, isn’t too bad at all. He does have an ulcer, but as long as he lays off the booze, cigars and adopts a healthy diet then all will be well. Yes, I can see three things wrong with that picture too.

Dr Bishop (Alexandra Mathie) is something of a tarter, but the fact she’s a woman (something which Jack can’t help but blurt out) seems to stun him the most. Has he not visited many hospitals recently? When she quizzes him about his habits, can you guess what he says when she asks him about drink?

“Oh that’s very kind of you, I’ll have a small scotch please”.

Predictable, yes. But it still raised a smile.

I can’t help but be intrigued by the fact that Alexandra Mathie’s fairly limited cv includes the film Paper Mask (set in a hospital) and television series such as Doctors, Casualty and Coronation Street (where she played a doctor). Was it just coincidence that she seemed to so often play roles which were medically based?

Abby and Polly are continuing to get on well, something which is slightly surprising (I’d have thought by now they’d have regressed to their usual habits). The question of William does slightly divide them, but once again Polly’s attempting to help, as seen when she later visits Charles and asks if he can intercede. This he’s disinclined to do – whatever else he thinks of his father, he knows that he’s more than capable of wresting William away from the Hudsons.  Although he does advise that if William arrives in the UK it would be advisable to prise him out of Sir Edward’s clutches. Abby doesn’t seem to have appreciated that Sir Edward may have an agenda for his grandson which is different from hers.

Things are not going well for Ken. He asks Sir John if the bank will front for him on Guernsey since he can’t apply for trading status directly. As he bitterly admits, he doesn’t wear the old school tie (an ironic comment, especially as he wasn’t allowed into Sir John’s club straightaway since he wasn’t wearing a tie). Ken’s status as an outsider – barely tolerated but never accepted by those he wishes to emulate – is never clearer than in this episode.

There are some fine cardigans on display in this episode. One is worn by John Reddings (Stephen Greif). Yay, Travis Mk1! He may lack the eyepatch, artificial hand and psychopathic tendencies of Travis, but Reddings is still dangerous in his own way.

Ken employs him to recover Jan’s stolen templates and we learn here that it was Ken who paid for them to be pinched in the first place. The rotter. But he’d intended that the designs would be destroyed, not taken to Taiwan and copied, which suggests that Ken wanted to ruin Jan a little, but not too much.  That sort of makes sense I guess (since he wanted to buy back into her company).

Reddings does the job, but at a price. He has a tape-recording of Ken’s admission he organised the theft and is unabashed at requesting hush money. A pity that Reddings doesn’t reappear, since an actor as good as Stephen Greif shouldn’t be wasted with just a handful of scenes.

Here’s something I never thought I’d see – Tom and Charles all pally. They too are sporting nice cardigans as they head off to Charles’ tennis court for a quick game. Charles is still attempting to woo Tom to accept the design job so it’s not entirely a pleasure trip, but the fact that Tom accepted shows that he’s mellowed (or that despite himself he’s interested in the offer). We only see the first point of the game – Charles thunders an ace past Tom – but it may serve not only as an indication of who won, but also Charles’ desire to win everything at any cost.

We don’t see much of Sir Edward. Apart from leaving yet another plaintive message on Jan’s answering machine, he doesn’t pop up until the last ten minutes or so. Am I the only one to find his constant endearments (“hello, my love”) slightly intimidating? The man’s not taking Jan’s “no I won’t marry you” as an answer, so has bought her a flashy sports car as a blatant bribe. Jan initially pulls a face (she’s standing by the sink, filling the kettle whilst he’s waggling the car keys behind her back!) but we don’t see her categorically refuse the present ….

Michael sets off in the Barracuda – one of a score of boats making a solo transatlantic crossing.

Sarah breaks the news to Ken that she’s leaving to take a plumb job at Relton. He doesn’t take it well. “That bitch doesn’t let the grass grow under her feet, does she?” he mutters, referring to Avril. And he doesn’t seem to rate Sarah herself any higher. “What the hell does Charles Frere want with deadwood like you?”

He then roughly prevents her from slapping him (holding firmly onto her arm) but although he’s physically stronger, it’s Sarah who seems to have won the business battle. He does tell her not to come crawling back to him for a job when Relton have no further use for her, but this just seems to be a case of Ken trying to keep his own spirits up. This year hasn’t been a good one for Ken, will his luck change anytime soon?

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Howards’ Way – Series Four, Episode Six

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Jan’s business woes move up a notch as she discovers that all her major suppliers now regard her to be a bad credit risk.  She spies the evil hand of John Soames at work – miffed that she wouldn’t share his big bed – but is disinclined to ask Sir Edward for help.  So Jan faces having empty shops with nothing to sell unless she can find a solution ….

Meanwhile, interest in the marina at L’Ancesse over on Gurnsey is hotting up.  Ken is keen to buy it as it’ll provide him with a nice little tax haven and so has persuaded Sarah to put a bid in (Ken’s, ahem, colourful past means that he has to stay in the shadows).  But Charles wants it too as Sir John explains to Sir Edward.  “Well, she wants it because Masters wants it. Masters wants it because Charles wants it. And god alone knows why Charles wants it”.

Charles’ reasons quickly becomes clear.  The America’s Cup, he says, is not the showpiece event it once was (thanks to the way that the Americans have excluded many top performers) so he plans to establish his own world class race – to rival, or even surpass it.  And where better to start the race from than the picturesque L’Ancresse?

Charles wants to assemble a team to build a world class boat too, which means he needs the very best designer – so naturally he approaches Tom.  Mmm, I know what you’re probably thinking – since Charles could pick just about any designer in the world, why would he choose Tom?  Lest we forget, they’re not exactly the closest of friends.  In story terms it makes perfect sense, but in the real world it’s slightly harder to swallow.  But as I’ve said before, there’s no point in equating HW with real life.

And as it happens, Tom’s at a loose end as he’s just angrily resigned from Sir Edward’s America’s Cup team.  The final straw came when Tom received a package which was full of photographs of their rival’s boats.  Sir Edward sees nothing wrong in this – all’s fair in business – but Tom, always a moral man, won’t have any truck with stealing.  So in a rather good little scene, Tom and Sir Edward face off.  Tom’s implacable whilst Sir Edward, radiating menace, murmurs that not many people cross him.  Watch this space, as I daresay Sir Edward has a long memory.

It’s a remarkable coincidence that Charles happens to ask Tom (via Emma – Charles isn’t foolish enough to approach Tom direct) to be a part of his team on the very day that he walks out on Sir Edward …..

Tom’s yet to agree, but another personnel movement seems much more likely.  Avril offers Sarah a job – helming Relton Power.  This serves several purposes – as Sarah’s already been negotiating for the L’Ancresse site, having her at Relton would strengthen Charles’ bid, and as a bonus it’ll tick Ken off.  And Ken’s been in a filthy temper today, shouting at Sarah and generally treating her like dirt.  So she’s more than keen to jump ship, question is will Leo join her?

Jack’s still in a good mood, although he’s been getting a few twinges which are worrying him.  With a sense of the dramatic, he tells Kate that he’s not long for this world, although Kate – sensible as ever – takes no nonsense from him, telling him to see a doctor and pull himself together.  It doesn’t seem to be too serious, but as we’ll see things take a dramatic turn later.

But before that happens there’s one of my favourite Jack scenes from all of the six series.  Jan, desperate for clothes to sell, elects to send Kate out to buy up stock from other shops.  She persuades Jack to help her and this leads to the wonderful sight of a bashful Jack – arms full of ladies clothes – desperately attempting to reach the car before anybody spots him.

Unsurprisingly he doesn’t make it as Bill happens to ride past on his bike (Tarrant’s a very small place) and despite Jack’s best attempts to hide, the terrible truth about Jack Rolfe and women’s clothing comes to light!  Glorious stuff.

Abby and Leo continue to have a distant relationship.  Although they agree to call a truce, they’re finding it increasingly difficult these days to connect in the same way that they used to.  Possibly this is because Leo now has his own interests and responsibilities and is no longer able (or willing?) to always be on call.  This is demonstrated when he’s unable to stay in and watch a video of William (Sarah’s invited him to dinner).

It’s difficult to blame him – Sarah’s one of his bosses after all – but it leaves an emotionally fragile Abby alone with only her memories of her son.  Luckily, Kate later pops up to hear Abby’s story and wipe away her tears.

Tom and Jan have another meal.  As Leo tells Sarah (they’re sitting a stone’s throw away in the same restaurant – remember, Tarrant’s a very small place) it’s slightly strange to see – they couldn’t live together and now they can’t seem to live apart.  Sarah drops her bombshell about leaving, forcing Leo to contemplate his own future.

Another series, another top fashion designer.  In this episode Jan confirms what the audience had probably already suspected – Anna won’t be returning.  So Jan needs another young, gifted (and cheap!) world class designer to fall in her lap.  Does Julian Fitzsimons (Jamie Roberts) fit the bill?  The fact that he only appears in this episode suggests that from now on Jan’s designers may be talked about, but they’ll rarely be seen.

If Jan’s business finally seems to be picking up (Sir Edward, much to Jan’s irritation, deals with her credit problem), then her personal life is still somewhat messy.  She finally plucks up the courage to tell Sir Edward that she can’t marry him.  He’s quite calm about this – mainly because he’s confident that over time he’ll be able to change her mind.  Sir Edward is not a man who takes no for an answer (a cliché I know, but it’s absolutely true).

The episode concludes in a highly dramatic fashion as Jack suffers an attack whilst he, Tom, Leo, Abby and Michael are out on the water.  Heart attack?  Testament to Glyn Owen’s quality as an actor, but seeing Jack – someone we’ve grown to love – in such distress is uncomfortable.  No doubt he’ll bounce back, but it’s a very unsettling scene.

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Howards’ Way – Series Four, Episode Five

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Whatever happened to all the environmentalists down Tarrant way?  A few years back the proposed Marina development had them out in droves, but Ken’s new plan to turn a bird sanctuary into an oil field doesn’t attract even a murmur of protest.

Not even Leo, once upon a time the Earth’s friend, seems bothered.  Although it may be that he doesn’t know that Ken has earmarked the sanctuary (and presumably most of the birds) for destruction, even though he is aware that Ken’s interested in oil.

Another episode, another argument between Leo and Abby.  This one takes place at Leisure Cruise and only the sudden arrival of Ken puts an end to hostilities.  I do like the way that Ken mutters “don’t mind me” and then daintily walks past them.  A little bit of Stephen Yardley business maybe?

Ken’s feeling very pleased with himself.  If Gerald and Sir Edward decide to join him in his oil venture then he’s convinced they’ll all make a great deal of money.  And even though he’s yet to get their signatures on the dotted line, he’s already eyeing up ways to spend his new fortune.  Do you get an inkling that this is all going to come crashing down very soon?

Avril and Gerald are also having a humdinger of an argument, although this is business, not personal.  The arrival of Charles, in a natty blue suit, gives them pause – although both are a little disappointed that he’s not returned to take over the reigns.  But Charles does say he will be back “sometime” which is something of a change from the previous episodes, where he seemed to have retired for good.  A slight inconsistency in the scripting or is it more that we should never believe everything Charles says?  Like his father, Charles Frere can be a devious man.

Jack’s in a jolly mood today.  A very jolly mood.  Singing Yellow Submarine, he’s a little ray of sunshine (something which isn’t appreciated by everybody – especially Emma).  Sir Edward pops by the Mermaid and although he’s disappointed that Tom isn’t there, decides not to waste his time and asks Jack to dinner at Highfield.  Bill may not have any lines during this unexpected invitation, but Robert Vahey steals the scene anyway – mainly due to the way his eyes dart from Jack to Sir Edward and then back again.  Those eyes speak a thousand words.

By rights Jack should be a little down in the dumps, since Gerald has rejected his new boat proposal.  But he’s not at all downhearted and decides to raise the money via a three horse accumulator.  Kate, of course, is the racing expert, so he heads off to the boutique to seek her advice.  Jack/Kate scenes are always a joy and this one is no exception – plus we have the added bonus of Polly in the middle (who clearly regards Jack as the lowest form of life imaginable).  When he ever-so-politely asks Polly if he can use their phone, she tells him that no, he can’t.  “This is a boutique, Mr Rolfe. It is not the tap room of a pub, or the billiard hall”.

Jan’s in Italy (although the production clearly never left the UK).  Quick stock shots of the colosseum and a policeman do their best to create a continental atmosphere.  Jan’s popped over to speak to Anna and we later learn that they had a good conflab, although we never actually see her (she’s not a character who returned this year).

Jan then encounters John Soames (David Saville), an English accountant working for a top Italian fashion house.  He’s smooth (very, very smooth) and Jan is happy to accept his invitation to lunch.  Soames quizzes her about her marital status – Jan tells him that she’s divorced and admits that it’s something she regrets (was this the first gentle step to paving the way for an eventual Jan/Tom reconciliation?).  It’s telling that she doesn’t mention Sir Edward …..

Everything’s going swimmingly until Soames casually tells her that he’s got a company flat with a very large bed.  Would she like to stay over for a couple of days?  Uh oh.  She tells him not to be so silly and in an instant he switches from convivial to menacing, muttering that he’s going to ruin her company (given the already perilous state it’s in, he may not have to bother).  A little hard to believe that Jan, already with more than her share of bad luck, would instantly make such an implacable enemy, but this is Howards’ Way, not real life.

Sir Edward’s rather jealous when Jan, back in Blighty, tells him about Soames although their argument (today’s episode is a very combative one) is cut short when Tom arrives.  It’s all a bit awkward, Tom walking in on a tiff between his ex-wife and her (possible) new beau, but Tom’s more concerned with Sir Edward’s autocratic handling of the America’s Cup team.  Earlier he told Emma that Sir Edward was “a madman” and this meeting doesn’t do anything to ally his fears.  Tom wants to pick the people he works with, but Sir Edward isn’t having it.  Not at all.  Something’s got to give here.

Avril seems quite recovered after her funny turns last time, but now that her memory has returned in full she tells Charles she can’t marry him after all.  Like everything else these days, he takes it well.  Will nothing shake him out of his torpor?  Ah, maybe ….

And it’s all quite clever.  Sir John (on Sir Edward’s urging) lets Charles know that Gerald is considering a joint venture between Frere Holdings, Sir Edward’s company and Ken Masters.  What does Charles think of this?  “Ken Masters and my father? It’s a perfect description of hell on earth”. So this serves as the trigger to bring Charles back to his senses.  Gerald’s gratefully back to being a dutiful second in command, whilst Charles regains the hotseat.

What’s clever about this is that Sir Edward had no interest in Ken’s plan, but he knew exactly how Charles would react once he learnt that a joint venture was in the offing.  So it was Sir Edward who was able to manipulate Charles back into business (something which he’s blissfully unaware of at present).

This leaves Ken holding the baby.  With the clock ticking, he’s sitting in the bank waiting for his partners to show up.  They don’t of course, and since he can’t afford to seal the deal by himself, it’s all off.  Poor Ken – used and then tossed aside by Sir Edward.  For a brief few minutes he had the taste of the high life (expensive yachts, bikini-clad totty) but now he’s been brought back to earth with a bump.

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Howards’ Way – Series Four, Episode Four

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The start of this episode sees Avril trying – and failing – to reach Charles.  He’s out for an early morning jog, meaning that she’s forced to leave (another?) message on his answering machine.  But they’re not only separated by distance as they now hold very different outlooks and philosophies.

Compare and contrast to when we first met them.  Back then Charles was a hard-bitten businessman, interested in little else but the profit margin, whilst Avril, working at the Mermaid, was content to idle away her time.  Post accident, both have reacted in very different ways.  Avril has been keen to get back into business mode (in some ways she’s as focused now as Charles was then) whilst Charles himself has completely rejected his old life.

Referring to it as a cage, he now cuts a relaxed figure, pottering about in his new house or down at his new arts centre.  This is so completely unlike the Charles Frere we’ve come to know that it’s no doubt as incredibly jarring for the audience as it is for Avril.  It’s hard not to imagine that he’ll suddenly snap back into being a ruthless tycoon sometime, but at present there’s no sign of it.

Avril later makes a flying visit to the Mermaid, where she finds Bill manning the office.  This is a nice two-handed scene which gives Bill a little more material than usual to work with.  Generally Bill’s not called upon to do much else than act as a foil for Jack or feed the others with the occasional line.  But here he gets a little character time, as he tells Avril that he “can remember the day you were born. And Jack’s face. Like he’d finally seen a mermaid”.

Tom and Emma are heading off to see Ian Cartwright (Michael Simkin).  Ian’s another member of Sir Charles’ America’s Cup team and he and Tom instantly seem to be on the same page.   They launch into some technical talk.  “I reckon we’ve reduced the drag coefficient on the keel by 2% at least”.  No, me neither.  But luckily there’s not too much of this chat, human drama is much more to the fore.

Ian’s a talented designer but by his own admission is no politician.  The innocent and trusting Tom doesn’t think that’s a problem though – Ian’s keel design is a winner and he tells Sir Edward so.  Sir Edward smiles his usual crocodile smile and all seems well.  At least until later when Tom learns that Ian’s been fired.  Sir Edward Frere is not a predictable man ….

It’s notable that just before their meeting with Ian, Tom mentioned to Emma that he was a little concerned about Leo’s new career as a powerboat racer.  Conversely, Jan doesn’t seem to have registered that her son is now risking his life – no doubt her own business traumas are occupying all of her time.  This is also a characteristic touch, since we’ve seen before that Jan tends to be rather blinkered and, dare I say it, self-centered.

Polly makes another attempt to persuade Jan that she should buy into the business and once again she’s rebuffed.  Jan then mentions the “vultures” circling round, making it clear that she considers Polly to be one of them.  They’re supposed to be old friends, but it’s plain that Jan doesn’t trust her one little bit – which is possibly quite wise ….

Abby seeks out Charles.  Partly to thank him for the gift of a camera (Abby’s become quite the budding photographer) but mainly to try and establish a connection.  This is another fascinating scene in which the human side of Charles, so often buried, is now firmly out in the open.  Their parting is particularly nice – he holds out his hand for a formal handshake, but seconds later both laugh at this and embrace instead.

Ken’s on the up and up.  Gerald and Sir Edward are considering going into partnership with him, and if they do then all three will be hoping to strike black gold on the coast.  This is bad news for Sarah, who – having rejected a lucrative deal with some Russian clients – finds herself facing the full wrath of Ken.  She’d hoped that it would prove to him that she still had a voice in the company, but Ken – stripped of his thin veneer of politeness – makes it quite clear that she’s made a bad mistake.

Leo goes powerboat racing.  Cue an up-tempo soundtrack with plenty of honking saxophones and a very lengthy film sequence with a score of boats which obviously took a while to film (and also didn’t come cheap).  Truth be told, it’s ever so slightly dull (when you’ve watched one boat chop through the waves, you’ve watched them all) and by the time the chequered flag was waved, I was past caring whether Leo was first or second.

He’s second.  And he’s not happy about it, so he congratulates the winning driver by punching him!  Wouldn’t you know it, he turns out to be Michael Hanley, the Aussie journalist now turned powerboat racer.   This isn’t the first time they’ve come to blows (previously it was over Amanda) but any differences are soon buried as they crack open a bottle of champagne or two.

Prior to Leo’s race he’d had another Jolly Sailor bust up with Abby (this is getting to be something of a regular occurrence).  Once again it’s centered around Abby’s desire not to rock the boat (she’s not bothered that Sir Edward had told Leo to leave Abby alone, since Sir Edward is her best chance to regain custody of William).  We’ve previously heard from Leo that he’d hoped they’d be able to get together and now Abby seems to agree.  “I thought you and I were made for each other, that we’d end up living together, and I still do”.  This is promising, but Leo immediately shuts her down and rushes off to do battle on the waves.  So yet again their relationship, such as it is, will have to be deferred for another time.

Last time we saw Jack decide to walk away from the Mermaid Yard for good.  And now he’s back.  What did I say?!  It’s an interesting touch that it was Emma (not exactly his favourite person) who was able to coax him back, by suggesting that he design a new boat (made in wood, naturally).  There suddenly seems to be a market in wooden boats, although if this is so, why hasn’t Jack already designed one?  Still, ignoring the fact that this doesn’t make a lick of sense, it’s nice to have Jack back.  Now how long will it be before he has another tantrum?

Until now, Avril’s intermittent loss of memory hasn’t played a part in the story.  But at the end of this episode it’s featured with a vengeance.  First we see a very sweaty Avril tossing and turning in bed, haunted by the image of herself and Charles getting married.  With the incidental music tuned to “menacing” it seems to end with Avril in the water, post-crash, which would explain why she told Charles that was what her nightmare was about.  But it’s very significant that she doesn’t mention anything about wedding bells.

The next day she’s sitting in her office when she has another flashback.  This time she and Charles are on the plane and he’s just asked her to marry him.  Presumably before the events of the previous night, Avril hadn’t remembered this. So is she delighted to be reminded of his happy moment?  Um, not really – as she uses her paperknife to gouge a jagged line in her desk.

The way that the camera quickly pulls back (and also moves upwards) serves as a visual cue that all’s not well with her at present …..

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Howards’ Way – Series Four, Episode Three

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Jan’s not a happy bunny.  Sir Edward announcing their engagement without asking her was annoying enough, but it’s the continuing problems with the stolen designs that’s really ramping up the pressure.  It’s made the newspapers (complete with the most unflattering picture of Jan ever) which is one of the reasons why she’s somewhat flaky today (because it’s in the papers I mean, not because the picture of her isn’t terribly good).

Tom’s installed a new computer at the Mermaid.  It’s pretty advanced – able to communicate with other computers up and down the country – but it’s only the first step in Tom’s America’s Cup plans.  He’s also ramping up the security at the yard (including an alarm system linked to the local police station).  Has Tom spoken to Jack first?  Of course not.  And what do you imagine Jack’s reaction will be?  Yes, that’s right, he goes through the roof.  Jack might be highly predictable, but that’s part of the fun.

Jack storms off and gets very drunk.  His later reappearance at the Mermaid, late at night, triggers off the new alarm which results in the police arriving.  Tom and Emma arrive just in time to see him being poured into a squad car.   Rather wonderfully he croons “I just called to say I love you” at them before disappearing.  It’s another of those hardy Howards’ Way perennials – Jack staggering around drunk – but it never fails to entertain.

When Jack’s not legless, he’s eyeing up one of his old boats, now owned by a man called Harry Sellers (Conrad Phillips).  Jack later buys the boat – The Grecian Lady – off Harry.

Abby and Charles meet.  He’s still a changed man, uninterested in business and happy to help Abby any way he can.  He’s aware that Sir Edward is also attempting to assist her with her battle to regain custody of William, but knows that his father has ulterior motives (whereas Charles seems only to want what’s best for Abby).  But for the moment Abby is content to remain with Sir Edward and doesn’t particularly want to get to know Charles any better.  Charles doesn’t seem to mind though, he’s content to wait ….

Leo and Abby have an argument.  He’s convinced that she’s simply using people (Sir Edward especially) in order to win custody of William.  She reacts angrily to this, taunting Leo that his life is an empty one (consisting of racing powerboats and little more).  They laugh and make up after this, but later Leo – with Sarah and Abby watching on – goes hell for leather when testing the powerboat.

And then the throttle jams, so Leo seems set on a one-way collision course with some very large rocks.  Eek!  For Sarah, looking on, there’s no doubt a nasty flashback to her husband’s death.  With the incidental music ramping up, things look sticky for a few seconds but then the throttle unsticks itself and all is well.  This moment serves as an indication that Leo’s thought processes might be a little cloudy at present – was it simply an accident, or was he racing with something to prove?

Ken and the cigarette-toting Antonia continue to scheme.  He’s keen to weaken Jan’s business so that he can buy back into it (“you’re going to need me soon, my darling, I’m going to make very sure of that”).  He and Antonia also frolic in the pool (at different times though).

The next day, the pair decide to have a canoodle in one of the Leisure Cruise boats.  With screaming inevitability Sarah stumbles across them.  She’s already spent the rest of the episode with a disapproving expression painted across her face – partly at Ken and partly at Leo’s reckless attitude on the water – and this latest escapade of Ken’s only serves to irritate her even more.  But she’s far too well-bred to make a scene, she simply proclaims that from now they operate on a strictly business level, before exiting.

Sir John is keen to join forces with Gerald and – joy of joys – Ken approaches both of them with a new business venture.  Oil.  You wouldn’t have thought that the coastline was full of oil, but Ken is convinced.  Is Howards’ Way going to turn into Dallas?  This is such a bonkers idea (any scheme that Ken Masters thinks is a sure fire hit has to be approached with caution) that I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Having previously restricted her scheming purely for her numerous extra-martial affairs, Polly’s now demonstrating that she’s got a keen eye for a business chance.  She continues to be desperate to pour her money into Jan’s business (and has visions of taking it over completely in due course – after all, once Jan and Sir Edward marry, surely he won’t allow her to work?).  But Jan, despite the fact her back’s right up against the wall, tells Polly and Kate that she intends to stand and fight.  The disappointment on Polly’s face is palpable.

Jack drops a bombshell.  He’s quitting the Mermaid Yard with immediate effect.  This is Jack Rolfe remember, a man who’s consistently inconsistent, so it’s hard to believe him – even when he sets sail in The Grecian Lady, seemingly content never to darken the Mermaid’s door again.  I’ll give him an episode before he comes back (two at the most).

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Howards’ Way – Series Four, Episode Two

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Last time we were left on a dramatic cliffhanger – would Avril live or die? That question is resolved rather speedily at the start of this episode as she opens her eyes and we’re told that she’ll make a full recovery.  This can’t help but feel like something of a let-down (if you’re going to ramp up the tension then it’s rather a cheat to let it dissipate so quickly) but we do later learn that Avril’s suffering from periodic memory blackouts, so it may be that her road to recovery won’t quite be as straightforward as it first appeared.

Jan’s still fretting about her stolen designs, worried they could be on their way to Taiwan by now (and then later appearing on a market stall near you).  She’s pinning her hopes on getting the chain-smoking Antonia Rogers (Annie Lambert) to buy her some time by stalling the distributors.

Antonia is a hoot. I love the fact that she’s organising a fashion show in what appears to be the foyer of a posh office block.  No catwalk for her models then, instead some are traipsing up and down the stairs whilst two unfortunate girls have to attempt to walk a few paces within the confines of a cramped lift.  Well, it’s certainly different.  A pity that Antonia only appears in this episode and the next.

Jan’s mulling over who could have tipped the crooks off.  Only a handful of people knew – Kate and Polly, for example.  It’s hard to imagine sensible Kate as a hard-bitten criminal but Polly … hmm.  Polly’s very keen to inject some of her capital into the business, making it’s plain that just running a boutique won’t satisfy her requirements, she wants a piece of the action as well.

Whilst Jan’s on something of a downward professional curve at present, the Urquharts are on the up and up.  Polly’s new job is one of the reasons why – and this new-found independence may explain why for the first time she’s been able to connect with Abby.  But there’s more to their new-found relationship than that.  Abby’s grown up since she’s been away and – also for the first time – has come to understand precisely how much work is involved in rearing a child (it’s easy to believe that Abby wasn’t the most docile of babies).  But given that this is HW, one shouldn’t be too surprised if the current air of détente doesn’t last too long ….

Shock news!  Charles announces at a press conference that he’s resigning as Chief Executive of Frere Holdings with immediate effect and has appointed Gerald as his replacement.  As we saw last time, the accident has deeply affected him and he’s come to realise that business is not the most important thing in his life (slightly hard to believe, but never mind).  He wants to spend more time with Avril and the daughter (Abby) he’s only just realised he has.

That won’t be easy though, as Abby’s ensconced with Sir Edward and he’s attempting to prevent her from contacting his son.  This episode there’s much less of the contrite Sir Edward and a good deal more of the ruthless tycoon.  This is also demonstrated when he discusses his possible forthcoming marriage to Jan.  Sir John tells him that financially (if not personally) he’ll be fine in the event of a divorce, provided Jan signs the appropriate pre-nuptial papers.  The way that Sir Edward confidently tells him that this won’t be a problem is a telling one – Sir Edward always gets what he wants, so why should this be any different?

Sir Edward’s tentacles are beginning to spread.  He’s behind the consortium designing a boat for the America’s Cup and Tom is delighted to accept a place on the team.  Emma, his current squeeze, will be his assistant, although Jack’s not happy.  Howards Way wouldn’t be Howards Way if Jack wasn’t sulking about something, so it’s reassuring to know that things are back to normal.  He’s concerned that Tom’s involvement in the America’s Cup will have a negative impact on the Mermaid whilst he’s never taken to Emma and her computers.  Expect sparks to fly in the traditional manner.

Sarah and Sir Edward have a meeting.  She’s been less than thrilled about Ken’s attitude of late (he rarely seems to consult her before plunging ahead with his schemes) so wants Sir Edward – who organised a bridging loan for Leisure Cruise – to clip his wings.  Sarah tries to spice things up by telling Sir Edward that Ken is still interested in Jan.  This is another of those layered plotlines which is simmering away nicely.

Amanda might be long gone, but her father’s still around.  Given that he was never keen for Leo to marry his daughter in the first place it seems a little unlikely that now he’d have so dramatically reversed his opinion – offering Leo a tidy sum if they get back together.  Leo’s not interested and eventually Mr Parker seems to get the picture.

Leo’s not downhearted at the thought of his failed marriage for long though as he and Ken head out for a spot of powerboat racing.  Leo’s thinking of a career change – rather than selling boats he wants to race them.  Whatever happened to the young lad who was so keen on the environment and righting wrongs?  Ken and Leo do look rather sweet in their matching overalls though.

Jan and Tom have a candlelit dinner.  As with most of their meetings since their divorce, it’s a polite and respectful affair.  Tom gently tells her that she doesn’t need his blessing to marry Sir Edward but Jan responds that she’d still like it.  These days Tom is understanding and kindness personified.

If episode one’s cliffhanger turned out to be something of a damp squib, then this one is much more promising.  Ken meets up with Antonia, who confirms that Jan’s in serious trouble and once Antonia (on Ken’s urging) leaks the news to the international press then her problems will only intensify.  “I want Jan Howard to be taught a very expensive lesson, Antonia, one she’ll never forget”.

Even this early on, things are shaping up nicely – especially when Sir Edward introduces Jan as his future wife.  Just a pity she hasn’t said yes yet ….

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Howards Way – Series Four, Episode One

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For those who hadn’t seen – or had forgotten – the series three finale, there’s a helpful recap here as a news report brings us back up to speed.  Charles and Avril are feared lost at sea, somewhere off the coast of Ireland.  Stock footage of Royal Navy ships is intercut with shots of a reporter called Andrew Chater (Michael Walker), clutching a very large microphone and advancing towards the camera in a slightly menacing fashion.

The opening few minutes are film heavy as we cut from the over-enthusiastic reporter to Sir Edward at Highfield (being comforted by Jan) and then to Gerald, who finds himself doorstepped by a whole posse of reporters.  Some of them are quite well dressed (one’s even wearing a black bow tie).  And though it’s obviously sad that Charles and Avril are missing, they seem more interested in the stability of Frere Holdings, given Charles’ absence.

Jack is barely holding himself together.  Eyeing a portrait of Avril on his office desk, he refuses to move (despite the entreaties of both Tom and Kate) until he receives news.

Not everybody’s paralysed by grief though.  Ken is quite chipper, organising a photoshoot for a sales brochure (this involves cheesy music and a swimsuit clad model, who he delights in, ahem, touching up).  “That’s it! That’s better. Beautiful!” Ken beams, as he unzips her just a fraction more.  Good old Ken.

He’s also not adverse to scooping up some business which might have gone Relton’s way, but now – due to the uncertainty surrounding the company’s stability – now lands in his lap.  “I’m very sorry for them, but … life has to go on”.  Ken Masters = heartless.

Leo and Sarah later discuss him.  “He’s got a taste for success and is hungry for more and he’ll use you, me, anyone to get it. Just wait and see” she says.  Oh good, I think we’re going to have some fun with Ken this year.

He continues to sniff around Jan, although she remains cool.  Is it me, or does Ken sound slightly different during this scene?  Less rough and tumble and more refined.  Is Kenneth attempting to assimilate himself with his social betters by mimicking them?

The series clearly had a fairly decent budget by this point as they were able to afford hiring a rescue helicopter.  It’s possibly a little surprising that Charles and Avril are found so quickly (some ten minutes in) but their exact conditions aren’t clear at first (only that Avril is unconscious) so there’s still there’s still a lingering sense of uncertainty for a while.  Given Jack’s face (Glyn Owen was always so expressive) I hope he receives good news soon, otherwise I can foresee him keeling over.

Oh dear.  Avril’s sustained head injuries and is still unconscious.  With the constant beeping of the life support machine, Jack holds onto her hand and hopes for the best.  It’s better news about Charles as he’s young and strong and so should make a full recovery, but Sir Edward is still melancholy.  He confides to Jan that he was never much of a father.  Does this mean that he really intends to turn over a new leaf, and even if he does will the equally stubborn Charles be prepared to meet him half way?  If S3 saw Sir Edward attempting to reconcile with his son via the business route, it looks as if here he’s going to try the personal touch.

Father and son are reunited and as you might expect it’s not a joyful encounter.  Charles is hardly in the best shape (bruised and bandaged up) but even had he been A1 it’s doubtful that things would have turned out differently.  If Sir Edward really does want to reconcile with his son then it’s long to be a long, hard road.

The fact that Sir Edward paid for Abby’s passage back home and is putting her up at Highfield is an interesting wrinkle.  Maybe if his relationship with Charles doesn’t work out then he’ll simply transfer his attentions up a generation or two – granddaughter Abby and great-grandson William.

It’s interesting to see how the dynamic between Bill and Tom has changed over the years.  During the early part of S1, Bill had little time for Tom (especially his well meaning attempts to streamline the running of the yard).  This has all changed now, as Bill specifically asks Tom, in Jack’s absence, to have a word with the lads, who are still unsettled (reporters are sniffing around).  It’s a pity that, following the departure of Davy a while back, the lads have become little more than a group of extras, but it’s always good to see them every so often as it helps to remind the viewers that there’s more to life at the Mermaid than just what takes place inside the office.

Leo’s looking rather sharp today.  White suit, blue shirt, black and red tie.  He’s off to meet Abby, but that’s not the reason why he’s smartly dressed (at this point he’s still a thrusting young powerboat salesman).  They’re at one of their favourite locations – the ruined Abbey – where she tells him that her mother has changed.  Polly now genuinely seems to care.

She then drops the bombshell that Charles Frere is her real father.  I’d have liked the camera to linger on Edward Highmore for a few more second whilst he digested this news, but there’s a lot to pack into this opening episode, so time was very clearly of the essence.  If Jan and Sir Edward do decide to tie the knot that will result in some interesting familial links between Leo and Abby.

Poor Leo now realises that Abby didn’t come home to be with him, instead she’s still working out whether or not she has a future with Orrin.  “I’m not even in the picture at all, except as a friend. Reliable old Leo”.  Aww.

A late-night meeting between Charles and Jack (Charles has been able to extract himself from his hospital bed, Jack is in the hospital chapel) is an awkward one.  Charles is conciliatory (unusual to see) whilst Jack wears a face like thunder.  What’s notable about this scene is that whilst Jack intensely disapproves of Charles, it’s less about the accident and more to do with the way Charles hurt Avril when they broke up for the first time.

Glyn Owen – as ever – is wonderful.  Jack tells Charles that “I held that girl in my arms when she was one hour old. Watched her grow into a woman. So don’t tell me anything about loving my daughter, Mr Frere”.

It’s clear that the accident has affected Charles, as the arrival of Gerald to talk business isn’t entirely welcome for him.  Gerald might be concerned about the shareholders but Charles is fixated on the death of the pilot (“how do I assess that kind of profit and loss?”).

The soundtrack suddenly goes all dramatic as Jan realises that someone’s pinched all of her designs and Jack’s told that Avril’s condition has taken a turn for the worse.  Slightly odd that both of these moments are scored the same way as I know the one I think is the more serious (and it doesn’t involve clothes).

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Howards’ Way – Series Three, Episode Thirteen

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As Ken arrives at Highfield, Sir Edward’s sumptuous country pile, the incidental music is erring towards “moody and sinister”, so that gives us fair warning that the upcoming meeting might eventually turn out to be a sticky one for Mr Masters.

Sir Edward is in full country squire mode – flat cap, old jacket and shotgun (shooting some unfortunate clay pigeons to within an inch of their life).  Ken, on the other hand, is favouring white trousers, a yellowish shirt and a chequered jacket (complete with rolled-up sleeves).  Not quite Sir Edward’s style I feel ….

When Ken confides that he’s always imagined one day owning a place like Highfield, Sir Edward shows considerable restraint by not laughing in his face (the viewers at home might not have been so restrained).  Sir Edward – with the smile of a friendly shark – is Ken’s best new friend.  He’s happy to bankroll Leisure Cruise and with his money maybe one day Ken might be in a position to take over Relton Marine.  Ken Masters as a major player, crossing swords with Charles at Relton?  Difficult to see, but it’s an intriguing image.

Ken’s happy to get into bed with Sir Edward, but Sarah isn’t so sure.  He agrees with her that Sir Edward is using them but is also confident that they’ll be able to emerge on top if they just hold their nerve. “There’s a whole world out there waiting for us Sarah. Sir Edward holds the key”.

Tom and Jack are discussing their potential design for the America’s Cup.  Well, Tom’s discussing it and Jack’s shouting.  Jack doesn’t take Tom’s suggestion that they bring Emma on board terribly well (a woman helping to design a boat?).  Although it’s easy to argue that Tom has a vested interest – he and Emma have become closer over the last few episodes – it’s also undeniable that her skills would be an undeniable asset.  And at the moment when Jack’s really going off the scale about Emma, she walks in.  Timing – in soaps as well as sitcoms – always tends to be immaculate.

Jan’s hosting a fashion show.  Rather daringly, considering that Tarrant’s weather tends to veer from the awful to the miserable, it’s being held outdoors.  As a parade of models traipse up and down wearing a selection of interesting togs (I admit I’m no fashion expert) Jan’s on the microphone, giving us a running commentary.  Jan’s wearing a nice hat it must be said.  Given that all the models have to parade by a pool I was waiting for one of them to fall in – no such luck I’m afraid (an opportunity missed).

The show is a success and a journalist tells Jan and Anna (sporting some very impressive shoulder pads) that Anna’s designs should see her go far.  “Today, an unknown designer, tomorrow Europe. Before too long I’m sure your designs will be known throughout the world”.  Just don’t let her go anywhere near a speedboat and everything will be fine.

Charles and Mr Serozawa are examining the latest piece of barren land which Charles believes could be transformed.  He promises that it will boast “sporting and recreational facilities”.  In other words, a golf course which will enable Mr Serozawa and his chums to get a quick eighteen holes in whenever they decide to visit.  Given that Charles has been buying areas of land for redevelopment since the start of series one, I’m a little amazed that there’s anything left in the Tarrant area he hasn’t built on.  And where are the environmentalists, protesting that the natural beauty of the area is being spoilt?  Nowhere to be found it seems.

Charles is getting concerned.  He knows that his father is up to something, but what? Gerald assures him that a full takeover would be impossible, but could Sir Edward be targeting Charles’ American subsidiaries? Charles isn’t interested in calling a truce though, he believes that with Serozawa’s help he can force his father out of the business park.  So a quick trip to New York is in order.

Reconciliation’s in the air between Charles and Avril.  It’s rare to hear him speak of personal priorities, but his relationship with Avril this year has humanised him just a little (not as much as Paul Merroney’s marriage to April in The Brothers though).  He asks Avril to come with him to America, so they can combine business with pleasure.

Kate and Sir Edward enjoy another day at the races.  He drops her off home where he meets Leo for the first time.  Both are polite, although once again the incidental music (downbeat) is rather obviously underscoring the mood we should feel.

A glammed-up Anna invites Leo to join her and her friends for a night out.  It looks as if he’s sooner spend the evening at home, alone with his thoughts and the television (although there’s nothing on).  But at the last minute he changes his mind (incidental music = happy, just to hammer the point home that this was a good move) which suggests he’s begun the process of moving on from his ruptured marriage.  It’s interesting that the last we ever see of Amanda was in the previous episode where she exited in a very low-key way.  Possibly she deserved a little better, but as we’ll shortly see her presence was no longer required.

Cindy Shelly had been absent from series three in order to concentrate on stage work.  But now Abby’s makes a most unexpected return.  It would have been just as easy to hold her back to the start of the fourth series, but her wordless appearance here is a masterstroke as it provides us with another strong hook into the next batch of episodes.

Presumably if Shelly hadn’t decided to return then Amanda and Leo might have got back together.  That would have been an interesting plotline to develop, but sadly it wasn’t to be.  Anyway, who’s the first person that Abby goes to see?  Need you ask? She looks at Leo, Leo looks at her, their eyes fill with tears (probably a large section of the audience gets a little misty-eyed too) and they hug.  Aww.

I like the way that Sir Edward looks just a little shifty when Jan asks him about his links with Ken.  If Sir Edward, through Ken, destroys Relton then the Mermaid (including Jan) will end up as collateral damage.  He’s a smooth one, that Sir Edward, especially since his next move is to proffer her a rather impressive piece of jewellery.  “Yes, my darling, I am proposing to you. You would do me a very great honour if you would consider being my wife”. Crikey!

As we reach the end of the series, let’s summarise.  The state of play between Sir Edward and Charles still isn’t clear.  Leisure Cruise are now a public company, making Ken and Sarah paper millionaires (they celebrate – how else? – by quaffing champagne).  Leo and Abby are reunited.  Jan’s considering whether Sir Edward is the right man to make an honest woman out of her. Ken’s Mermaid-designed boat, the Puma, is launched (he takes the opportunity to grab some more champagne).  Anna looks set to become an internationally renowned designer.

Everything’s going swimmingly then, but there has to be a sting in the tail somewhere.  Tom, Bill and Emma have a heated inaudible discussion, making it plain that something’s up.  And just as Sir Edward and Jack are meeting for the first time, Tom sidles over.  “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. There’s been a message from the coastguard. An aircraft went down in the early hours of this morning. Avril was on board. And so was your son.”

It’s more than a little convenient that Jack and Sir Edward were together when Tom had to break this unhappy news, but nobody said HW was ever connected to real life.  Closing on a piece of wreckage floating in the middle of the sea, it’s a strong image to end on and with so many intriguing plotlines unresolved there’s no doubt that the opening episodes of series four will be very interesting indeed.  There was very little flab in the third series of HW and I wonder if the standard will be maintained?  Shortly we’ll find out.

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