Undermind – The New Dimension (22nd May 1965)

Drew Heriot (Jeremy Wilkin) and his sister-in-law, Anne (Rosemary Nichols), continue their quest to locate the “underminds” – brainwashed individuals intent on destabilising the country by whatever means necessary ….

A somewhat forgotten series (despite the fact it’s been available on DVD for a few years) Undermind certainly has some points of interest – not least the fact that it’s nice to see Wilkin (one of those actors who spent most of his career in supporting roles) take the lead for a change. Rosemary Nichols (later to play the third banana in Department S) also gets plenty to do, today’s episode especially.

The series’ writing team was a strong one. It was created (or evolved, according to the credits) by Robert Banks Stewart, with the likes David Whitaker, Bill Strutton, Hugh Leonard and Robert Holmes supplying episodes.

In this episode, Drew’s name is discovered on the client list of a murdered prostitute (along with the names of a great many influential men). Given that the Profumo affair would have been very fresh in the memory at this time, the character of Mr Beymer MP (Derek Francis) has an obvious satiric touch. He may profess to be an upright public servant, but it’s plain that there are some skeletons lurking in his closet. Francis gives a nice performance, although his stick on beard is a little distracting.

Best turn of the episode comes from Patrick Allen as Fenway, a shadowy type who gives Drew an intense grilling. At first it looks as if Fenway might be part of the undermind conspiracy, but he’s simply doing his job – ensuring that public confidence in the establishment isn’t destroyed. This is certainly a theme that’s as topical today as it’s ever been. Garfield Morgan, as Fenway’s no 2 (the suspiciously named Smith) also catches the eye, due to his habit of wearing dark glasses indoors.

Anne is very proactive today, posing as a former call girl in order to investigate a shady employment agency. She does pretty well, although it’s an initial shock to see the previously straight-laced Anne transformed into a short-skirted woman of easy virtue.

David Whitaker’s script does drag a little, so I can only give The New Dimension a cautious thumbs up. And that’s similar to my feelings of the series to date – three episodes in and whilst I’m happy to return for another installment next week, the series has yet to really grip me.

Angels – Commitment (8th December 1975)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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