Angels – Walkabout (29th June 1976)

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Paula Milne’s Walkabout wastes no time in repositioning Maureen as both judgemental and close-minded.  In the first scene, which sees Pat tossing a few pennies towards a street busker (as she does every day), the division between Maureen and her closest friend is marked.  Despite previously being depicted as an open and embracing person, Maureen has now morphed into a much harsher character (for example, telling Pat that people living on the streets have made their own choice).

The new Maureen is discussed by Pat and Jo in a later scene. Pat is of the opinion that her friend has now become the perfect nurse (which isn’t a compliment – Pat contending that her responses to the patients are now mechanical rather than honest).

The reason for this set-up becomes obvious when we observe Maureen spending the majority of the episode shadowing community health nurse June Morris (Miriam Margolyes).  June is everything that Maureen isn’t – a freewheeling, impulsive person who thrives outside of the regimented hospital set-up (describing it as an isolating cocoon).

In the wide world there’s no doctor or senior nurse to turn to, meaning that the community nurse has to operate autonomously – June revels in this, but looks as if it’ll come harder to Maureen. June then explains that the patient/nurse dynamic is totally different when making a home visit – in hospital the patients are rather dependent whilst at home they’re in their own environment and therefore more confident.

Maureen, continuing to be written in a somewhat negative light, wonders why they simply aren’t all shipped off into care homes. This is a somewhat unfeeling attitude and is the type of comment that later causes Pat, in a moment of anger, to label her a bigot.

The first notable patient on June’s round is Mrs Faulkener (Natalie Kent).  Her health may be failing but she’s still gloriously combative.  As June gives her a bath, Mrs Faulkener reflects on old age and the poor quality of presents she receives. “That’s what happens when you’re older, people think all you want is lavender, talcum powder and manicure sets”.

Mind you, she has had an impressive present recently – a plant which is currently taking pride of place in the bathroom. A gift from her son, who otherwise apparently rarely seems to visit, Mrs Faulkener has elected to coat the leaves in nail varnish. When an appalled Maureen tells her that this will cause the plant to die, the old lady counters with the observation that at least it’ll look nice for a while. This is impeccable logic.

The lion’s share of the episode revolves around today’s major guest star, Maurice Denham (as Jack Knight). A former academic and a current alcoholic, Jack is gifted several well-written monologues by Milne as well as numerous other sharp lines. Here, he’s reflecting on the difference between his imaginary picture of nurses and what he actually discovered when he spent some time at St Angela’s.

On the one hand, the Florence Nightingale variety – a silent gowned figure gliding in and out of a dimly-lit ward, bearing a lamp to symbolise the virtue of her calling. And then there’s the other sort – the type depicted in low-budget comedy films with skirts up their backsides and a knowledge of the male anatomy gained through practical research, rather in the classroom.

But what did I find in reality? Heavy-legged girls, white with ferocious vocation, or off-hand creatures with one eye on the clock and the other on their unfortunate patient’s grapes.

Maureen, left alone with him for a while, crosses verbal swords with the combative Jack. No doubt by the end of their time together, as she witnesses Jack in all his many guises (from articulate to broken), she’s learnt something of value.  Denham is as good as you’d expect whilst Erin Geraghty more than holds her own.  The sight of a subdued Maureen, returning to the hospital to join the others in wishing a safe passage to Sita (who’s heading off to India), shows us that some of her dogmatic views have taken a knock.

This is the point of the story of course and whilst it could have come across as a little contrived, the fact that Denham was given so much material (and delivered it so well) proves to be a major plus.  And it was pleasing to close series two with a story centered around Maureen, a character who tended to be sidelined during most of this run.

Building on the groundwork of the first series, Angels continued to impress during this second series. That it’s not better appreciated is a shame, as the fusion of actors, writers and directors certainly produced something rather special. Maybe one day Simply will relent and release series three on DVD ….

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Angels – Celebration (22nd June 1976)

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Shirley amongst her psychiatric patients – who has the problems? (Radio Times Listing)

A P.J. Hammond script set in a psychiatric unit? This probably isn’t going to be average then ….

It’s worth remembering that Angels was a pre-watershed series (this one went out at 8.10 pm). There’s nothing graphically violent about the episode, but the elliptical conversations, allied to a feeling that something bad could happen at any moment, makes for an uncomfortable – if bracing – fifty minutes.

An initial group therapy scene with Shirley and a collection of disparate patients sets the tone.  Over the course of the episode they’re all allowed at least one moment which illuminates their character, but to begin with their interplay is so fractured that – as Hammond intended no doubt – the viewer is left slightly confused and breathless.

Familiar actors, such as Alan Lake and Joseph Brady, tend to catch the eye first.  Lake (as Tony) plays to type as an individual who can change from charming to threatening at the drop of a hat.  His antipathy towards Shirley (as someone who’s been institutionalised all his life, he believes that he’s better placed than her to pass judgement on his fellow patients) is a theme that’s teased out as the episode progresses.  Given Lake’s life and death, it’s very easy to wonder about which facets of Tony’s character were close to his own.

Joseph Brady (Jock) doesn’t have a great deal of dialogue but the sight of the perpetually rocking Jock, softly babbling away to himself, helps to deepen the already building sense of unease.  As does Arnold (Jack Chissick), who is plagued by murder thoughts and has now taken to jotting them down in a book whenever a new one arrives.  That he immediately reaches for his book after seeing Jo for the first time is an interesting little moment.

Angels was never averse to bleak stories, but most episodes with dark themes would also drop in another plot with a lighter tone.  There’s not a great deal of respite in Celebration, although the wrong-footing ending (we’re primed to expect a crisis which doesn’t occur) does at least enable the story to conclude with a sliver of hope.

There is humour in the episode, although it’s of a rather dark nature.  Jo and Pat, corralled into helping Shirley organise a party for one of the patients, stumble into the room to find everybody dressed in party hats but sitting completely immobile.  It’s both comic and tragic, a feeling which is heightened when the two girls – neither of whom were terribly keen to attend – are forced to make excruciating small talk.

Shirley seems quite at home in the unit and treats the patients in a logical and rigorous manner.  Given that they can often act in deeply illogical ways this seems to be a risky policy.  Her style is commented upon by two people – first an Auxiliary nurse (Anne Ridler) and then Dr Fraser (Willie Jonah).

Both discussions are illuminating, especially the one with Dr Fraser. “We can’t just ask people,where does it hurt? The kind of wounds we’re looking for, they don’t show up on x-rays”. He then goes on to say that 90 percent of the work has to be done by the patients themselves with the remainder (“you and me and ECT and pills and Christian names and pots of paint and pictures”) supplied by the hospital staff

It’s slightly strange to see Pat and Jo teamed up (rather than one of the more usual combinations of Pat and Maureen or Jo and Sandra).  Pat seems to be acting slightly out of character (not unusual for a Hammond script, which often retooled the thoughts and views of the regulars) as she’s much more negative about Shirley’s work with the “loonies” than you might have expected.

It’s not totally out of character for her though and whilst she’s not central today, Pat is still gifted some fascinating moments – for example, the fact she so vehemently draws attention to her own complete normalness. Does the lady protest too much?

The episode is dotted with many items of interest, like George (George Waring) and Dianne (Mitzi Rogers).  Both day patients, they seem a good deal more “normal” than the others, although George’s cheerful and uncomplaining façade is brutally picked apart by Dianne.  But maybe this will prove to be beneficial for him in the long run – knocked to pieces so he can be rebuilt.

David Maloney’s direction is as assured as ever. There’s no particularly fancy shots, but in scenes – such as group therapy – where there’s around ten people present (and all contributing) it’s vital to be able to cut quickly and at the right time, otherwise you’re liable to lose a vital reaction shot.

Celebration is typical P.J. Hammond and therefore unmissable.

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Angels – Coming To Terms (15th June 1976)

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Having shared equal screentime in the previous episode, it’s a slight shame that Pat and Maureen have now reverted to type – Pat driving the main storyline with Maureen relegated to the role of observer and confidant.

Coming To Terms wastes no time in establishing the fact that Pat has bonded with a patient called Mrs Shepherd (Kathleen Byron).  For example, the way that Pat refers to her as “Shep”.  Their early scenes have a vague sense of foreboding – despite Pat’s bright and bubbly attitude, the seeds are already being sown about Mrs Shepherd’s terminal condition.

Mrs Shepherd is concerned how her son (referred to, but never seen) will react when he discovers that his mother and father never married. Pat’s decision to try and arrange a civil ceremony in the hospital then becomes the focal point of the episode.  There are various logistical hurdles to overcome as well as the thorny question of gaining the consent of Mr Shepherd (John Dearth).

Dearth only appears in a couple of scenes, but his imposing presence – both physically and vocally – creates an instant impression.  In his later career Dearth was cast on several occasions by Michael E. Briant (who directed this episode).

Rumours about Dearth’s issues with alcohol have made the rounds for decades and it’s hard not to think of that when watching his turn here. He does slur his words a little, but that sort of fits with Mr Shepherd’s character – who, after all, has just received the devastating news that his common-law wife is dying.

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Kathleen Byron also doesn’t have that many lines, but she makes the most of every moment.  A heavyweight actress (first in films, most notably Black Narcissus, and then later in a slew of television programmes) she gives Mrs Shepherd a sense of dignity and weary resignation. Although there are also moments of black despair and hopelessness.

By speaking to a social worker,  Pat kickstarts a chain of events which leads to an angry Mr Shepherd venting his frustration at the medical team.  This is a theme familiar from several previous episodes, just how involved should the nurses become with the patients? Other times it’s been more cloudy, but here there’s a definite feeling that Pat meddled for the good of all.

So this part of the story has a happy ending of sorts, with Mr Shepherd reconciled and happy to take part in the ceremony.  The wedding manages to close the episode on a positive note despite Mrs Shepherd’s terminal condition (which is an interesting trick).

Elsewhere, the other main plotline of Coming To Terms feels like it’s recycling a large chunk of the series one episode Case History. Both featured two male patients – one unfriendly (both to his fellow patients and the nurses) and the other voluble and somewhat irritating.

Today, the studious Keith Aldiss (Edward Wilson) is driven to distraction by a cheery and down-to-earth Northerner called Mr Kilshaw (Paul Luty).  Both were familiar faces (Wilson primarily from Rockcliffe’s Babies and Luty from All Creatures Great and Small and a host of other guest roles).  Mr Kilshaw’s good natured banter (telling Aldiss with grim enjoyment that he’s probably going to be sliced up!) helps to lighten the tone of an otherwise fairly sombre instalment.

The way they interact with Jo and Sita is the other reason why they’re present.  Both nurses clash with Aldiss, but whilst Jo is able to shrug it off, Sita reacts with anger.  As Sita’s been rather neglected recently, this episode goes some way to redressing the balance. She’s fretting about her upcoming exams and so hasn’t been eating or sleeping properly, which is beginning to impact her work on the wards.

It might have been nice to sow the seeds of this across a few episodes, as it all feels a little sudden (although it’s possible this might explain why she was so snippy at the start of series two).  Jo being temporarily put in charge of the ward causes a little friction between them, compounded after Sita makes an elementary blunder when treating Mr Kilshaw.

This is all good dramatic stuff for both Sita and Jo, although with Mrs Shepherd’s story dominating it feels a little rushed.

Apart from a brief film insert, Coming To Terms is studio-bound.  But Michael E. Briant keeps the interest up with a series of unusual shots.  He clearly liked shooting from behind the beds – this creates a bar-like, prison feel.

Easily the most notable sequence occurs when a stressed Pat staggers over to the rest room, only to find no succour there.  Thanks to an ever-increasing series of quick cuts (from one chattering nurse to another, over to the blaring television and then back to Pat) a nightmarish vision is deftly created.

Another very solid episode, Coming To Terms maintains the high standard of the second series.

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Angels – Accident (1st June 1976)

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An accident in a chemical factory … Nurses Sandra Ling, Jo Longhurst and Shirley Brent all have a part to play in what follows (Radio Times Listing).

A fair chunk of Accident, the first fifteen minutes especially, takes place outside of the environs of St Angela’s.  To begin with we’re back on the beat with Sandra (who’s continuing her occupational therapy placement).  Last time I commented about how everybody seemed just a little too nice to her, but today things are a tad more realistic – on the way into work she’s confronted by the leering Geoff Fenton (Graham Fenton) who declares that he needs a touch of massage.  Sandra’s fiery expression leaves us in no doubt about what she thinks of him ….

Fenton’s the rather lackadaisical safety manager at a local chemical factory which will prove to be central to today’s story.  Indeed, the fact that we’ve already been told that things are a bit slack there might explain why Bob Hubbard (Barry Lowe) was left to tend the machines all by himself.

So whilst Bob is getting squirted with a dangerous chemical called phenol, his number two – Charlie Masters (Andy Bradford) – and seemingly eveybody else are getting the once over from Sandra. It does slightly beggar belief that Bob’s left to suffer all by himself. Surely it would have been a good idea for someone else to be in the factory with him?

Despite the episode title, this was no accident – it was deliberate sabotage.  The sight of a twitchy David Troughton (playing John Overton) tinkering with the machines earlier on had already set us up to expect something bad to happen, but another plot niggle is the later reveal that Overton was deliberately targeting Bob. How could he have known that Bob would be tending that particular machine at the precise moment it blew?

Jo is currently working in the intensive care unit which puts her in a more subservient role than usual. On the wards she and the other nurses tend to pretty much rule the roost, but here she’s very much down the pecking order. First comes Dr Miles (Terence Conoley), then Sister Ashton (Marcia King) and then finally Jo.  Dr Miles tends to give Sister Ashton the rough edge of his tongue and Sister Ashton is equally snippy with Jo. Poor Jo, on the lowest rung of the ladder, has no one beneath her she can be horrid to ….

The relationship between Jo and Sister Ashton (presumably playing the same character as the unnamed intensive care Sister from Vocation) isn’t explored in any great depth.  We know that Jo loathes her (she calls her a “bitch” out of earsbot) although Vocation did suggest that Sister Ashton’s dispassionate nature was simply a coping device. When dealing with a never-ending stream of seriously ill patients, this seems reasonable.

The anxious Mrs Hubbard (Patricia Lawrence), waiting for news of her husband, is a type familiar to regular Angels watchers, although Lawrence still manages to tease some interesting nuances from what could otherwise be a fairly stock character.

The fact that Bob was having an affair with John Overton’s mother (played by Barbara Young) is something of a twist. It helps to explain why Overton, already presented as a disturbed type even before we learn that he’s attending the psychiatric clinic, decided to attack Bob. Young’s performance is somewhat broad – indeed, during the scene where Mrs Overton confronts her son it teeters over the edge somewhat.

Another slightly odd turn comes from Andy Bradford as Charlie.  He seems so hyperactive and annoying that you’d assume he would be the last person (apart from the homicidal Overton) who should be let loose on dangerous machinery. Although to be fair, he’s much more subdued after Bob’s had his accident.

Troughton is much more restrained than either Young or Bradford.  Overton is easily able to function normally on a surface level (Sandra doesn’t pick up that anything is wrong when she gives him a routine check-up) and he only starts to devolve later on when the (unseen) police begin to close in on him. Overton’s child-like nature (reinforced by the fact that comics are his favourite reading matter) is played well by Troughton, who’s as good as you’d expect.

Shirley has decided that she’s interested in combining geriatrics and psychiatry, which helps to explain why she’s currently working with Dr Berry in the psychiatric unit.  This feels slightly contrived, but it does allow the impressively bearded Dr Berry (Roy Holder) to question Shirley’s reasons for being there.  It’s previously been suggested that working in geriatrics was something of a retreat for her and psychiatrics might be even more so (especially if she’s using it to work out her own unresolved issues).

This is an intriguing possibility, although given that the story is quite busy there’s not a great deal of time to develop it.  Indeed, this is one reason why Accident doesn’t quite gel for me – there’s plenty of story potential in the various issues raised, but the script would probably have benefited from having a narrower focus.  It’s still perfectly watchable, but does feel somewhat bitty.

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Angels – Concert (18th May 1976)

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The second of Susan Pleat’s two scripts set in and around the geriatric ward, Concert, like Day Hospital before it, is an OB VT production shot on location.  As previously touched upon, this helps to make the story seem just that bit more real.  Sylvia Coleridge and Irene Handl return (the ranks of familiar senior actors is supplemented with the appearance of Leslie Dwyer) but it’s some of the background elderly players who, along with the location, are key to the documentary-like feel of the production.

They clearly are infirm and so don’t have to act the part.  We see Shirley attend to them via a series of brief vignettes – fulsomely praising one lady after she walks a handful of steps to the table, gently cajoling another into taking a bite of food – and these moments spark mixed emotions.  Shirley’s ever-growing connection to all her regulars is plain which makes her quick to react with anger when quizzed about the futility of looking after people who are clearly never going to get better.

This theme is developed when Jo, curious about the regular musical concerts organised in the hospital, decides to drop by and lend a hand.  Jo’s reluctance to get involved with the geriatric side of nursing has been mentioned in previous episodes and is put into words today by another character. “Feed ’em and clean ’em and that’s your lot. They’ll addle your brains and break your back”.

That seems to be a commonly held view and it’s the reason why many nurses elect to give geriatrics a miss.  Concert, aiming to challenge this opinion, is helped by the fact that both Annie (Handl) and Patrick (Dwyer) are still mentally sharp, even if physically they’re beginning to fail.  Their quick wits ensures that the viewer isn’t always dwelling on the frailer and more hopeless-looking cases.

But a feeling of melancholy is never far from the surface. At the same time that most of the old folks are having a jolly singalong at the concert (My Old Man being amongst the highlights) Ailsa, back in the ward, is being told by her son that they simply couldn’t cope with her at home.  She, naturally enough, descends into bitter tears whilst elsewhere Jim Murphy (Colin Higgins) lectures Jo about the growing population of old people and the issues with caring for them.

The series didn’t often take the opportunity to revisit one-off characters.  They do today though, with Gordon Massey (Colin Higgins) making a return (he’d previously featured in the series one episode Saturday Night). He doesn’t have a great deal to do in this episode (and there’s no particular link back to his previous appearance) but it’s still a nice touch.  Like Shirley, he’s passionate about his work on the geriatric ward – for him it’s because he knows what it’s like to be abandoned and therefore is adamant that it’s not going to happen to any of his charges.

No doubt Shirley would have loved to have been at the concert as well, but instead she’s sharing an evening from hell with the drippy Roland (Norman Tipton). Quite what their previous relationship has been isn’t too clear, but Roland – shortly to depart for a lengthy trip abroad – is keen to demonstrate to Shirley just how much he cares for her.  However it’s pretty obvious that the sooner he packs his bags and leaves, the better off she’ll be.  Shirley may usually be bereft of male company, but you have to draw the line somewhere ….

It’s bad enough when he’s attempting to force wine on her at the restaurant, but things get even more toe-curling when he decides that playing a deep and meaningful record on her Dansette is the way to go.  Not a good move. He may feel unfulfilled due to a lack of personal contact, but Shirley doesn’t.  She has her work, and that is her life.

When they can’t talk very much, or even talk at all, they can’t hear you, well then you really have to look at them. Because people’s eyes are really where they are. And if I have to talk to them in that way, then I can. But, say with you or my mother then I can’t do that at all. Or with a lot of people. But there I just get on with things. It’s me and it’s right somehow.

This is a nicely delivered monologue by Clare Clifford, which sees Derek Martinus flicking back between close-ups of her and Norman Tipton (an ironic touch, given Shirley’s comment about people’s eyes).

Concert may have a lecturing tone, but it isn’t done in a heavy-handed way. Jo, like the audience, is pitched into a strange new world and by the end she seems to have learnt something, although there’s still a sense that she’s reluctant to get too involved, unlike Shirley.  The episode doesn’t offer any pat solutions (given how complex the issues are, how could it?) but plenty of food for thought is generated.

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Angels – Weekend (11th May 1976)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Angels – Ambition (20th April 1976)

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Up until now, Alison Salter (Cheryl Branker) has been an exemplary student nurse, which makes her recent erratic and tardy behaviour all the more puzzling. Both Shirley and Sister Easby attempt to discover what’s troubling her – but the fiercely private Alison is reluctant to divulge her secrets ….

There’s plenty of interest in Ambition, although unlike the previous episode it’s not a matter of life and death (unless you count Alison’s career).  One slight drawback with this one is the fact that Alison’s purely a one-shot character (never seen before, never seen again) which does mean that her background and character has to be verbally sketched in by the others very rapidly.

The problem with this approach is that we only ever witness the fraying and irritable Alison and not the remarkably efficient nurse destined for great things (according to Jo, she’s sure to be another Barbara Castle).

Leslie Duxbury’s script does its best to wrong-foot the viewer.  It opens with Alison dropping two pre-school children off for the day (either with a neighbour or a paid carer – this isn’t quite clear).  The inference is that they are her children, but they turn out to be her sisters. Equally, it’s easy to believe at first that Frank Salter (Oscar James) is Alison’s husband – and not, as he turns out, her father.

Throughout, Alison is quite effectively portrayed as an isolated figure in the hospital.  As the other nurses bustle into the locker area – chock full of gossip and rushing to get themselves together – Alison is always shown to be in her own self-contained bubble.  Presumably this is a change from her usual personality, although as previously stated the audience doesn’t really know what is usual for her.

I do like these scenes though. Shirley, Sita, Jo and Sandra are mixed in with a group of four or so minor players, with the result that there’s a fair amount of hubbub as they arrive and then later depart each day.   These scenes – and others throughout the episode – are also helpful as they solidify the attitudes of the regulars.

Sandra and Jo, rather like Maureen and Pat, really do seem to be chalk and cheese.  Sandra’s already planning her future (occupational nursing) whilst Jo doesn’t seem to have any ambitions at all.  Whilst Sandra rifles through the library looking for job opportunities, Jo is content to quote love poetry and dream of what might be ….

Shirley’s desire to work with geriatrics is teased out a little more. Indeed, the solid “b” plot of today’s episode concerns Shirley’s relationship with a cantankerous elderly patient, Mrs Cosgrove (Betty Romaine).  I did wonder whether there was going to be some sort of twist in this tale – but no, the storyline proceeds along a fairly predictable route.  Mrs Cosgrove doesn’t have a good word for anyone (she decides that Alison should get on the next banana boat home, for example) but most of her ire is directed towards the woman in the bed opposite her.  She’s a non-speaking extra though, so we’re denied any verbal contretemps between them.

Instead, Mrs Cosgrove crosses swords with Shirley who eventually manages to pierce her shell to discover the more approachable woman underneath.  Shirley’s patient, steely but jocular approach is a revelation compared to her more by-the-book nursing from series one and serves not only to demonstrate her growth as a nurse but also as a person.

Also lurking on this ward is Sister Easby.  The slipshod Alison receives a few hard stares whilst her interactions with Shirley are also noteworthy.  Sister Easby isn’t someone who dishes out praise that often, so Shirley isn’t sure whether her success with drawing out Mrs Cosgrove is being applauded by Sister Easby or mocked.  What’s interesting though is that when Sister Easby later joins Shirley and the others for lunch she’s quite affable and willing to chat.  Clearly she’s a very different person depending on whether she’s on or off duty.

Miss Windrup, making a late appearance, is the one who finally gets to the bottom of Alison’s issues (following failed attempts by both Shirley and Sister Easby).  It’s a nicely played scene, directed well by Derek Martinus.  Martinus maybe doesn’t throw in quite so many directorial flourishes throughout as in his previous episode, but there’s still some unusual low-angle studio camera angles and a couple of surprisingly panoramic film shots (a bit wobbly it’s true, but still effective).

Ambition doesn’t provide us with closure on Alison’s story, but it seems more than likely that she’ll be forced to leave nursing, much to Miss Windrup’s regret.  As has been seen before, Angels didn’t always go in for pat and happy endings – it would have been easy enough to leave the viewers with a sliver of hope, but real life is often untidy and unsatisfactory and this episode rather mirrors that.

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