Angels – Saturday Night (3rd November 1975)

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Following directly on from the previous episode, Saturday Night centres around a party attended by Jo and Shirley. As you might expect it’s something of an exercise in awkwardness for Shirley – although the uncomfortable feeling starts long before she reaches the party.

At home, picking out the clothes she’s going to wear, there’s a strong sense of just how out of practice she is with this social interaction lark. Her eventual choice – pretty formal – confirms this (especially after we observe how casually Jo is attired).

When we first see the party flat – all groovy posters and copyright-free library music – it’s totally bereft of party-goers, which is something that concerns the three friends who’ve organised the shindig (they include Elizabeth Adare, best known for The Tomorrow People). They needn’t have worried though, as soon the joint is jumping ….

Across the course of the episode we meet three men – Brad (Brian Anthony), Gordon (Colin Higgins) and Mark (Graham Faulkner) – all of whom might be potential partners for three of our Angels. Are any of them suitable? Hmm, let’s see.

Brad rates highest on the irritant scale. Lasering in on Jo like a heat-seeking missile, he’s monumentally rude to everyone else – especially Gordon (who like most of the party-goers is training to be a nurse). One of the few non-medical staff at the party, Brad expresses incredulity that a man could want to be a nurse (jokes about having to wear stockings and homosexuality then follow).

Although Jo is quick to spring to Gordon’s defence, she does later admit that male nurses can be a bit off-putting. Her example – their hands seem so large when handling babies – is a little odd though.

Gordon couldn’t be more different from Brad. Quiet and reserved, he seems like the ideal companion for Shirley. It would at least save her from hovering around the fringes of other people’s conversations, looking lonely and left out. Shirley attempts to make conversation with Gordon, but it’s hard going at first. But then he’s in a pretty depressed state, having just returned from a funeral, so the jolly atmosphere of a party isn’t probably the ideal place for him. The two misfits do eventually bond though, united in their outsider status.

Meanwhile back at the hospital, Sita finds herself being chatted up by Dr Mark. Eschewing the party, Sita plans to spend a quiet night writing a letter home to her parents and relaxing by herself in the common room. But Mark has other ideas ….

If the sight of Shirley at the party generates a feeling of awkardness then so does the initial meeting between Sita and Mark. As previously seen, Sita is a nice, courteous and placid girl who therefore is totally unable to tell Mark to buzz off. He’s not downhearted by her initial lack of response though and ploughs on regardless. My favourite line of his has to be “has anyone ever told you what fabulous hair you’ve got?”

During Mark’s cross-examination we learn something of Sita’s background (she arrived with her family four years ago from Uganda). The revelation that Sita has never been to a party astounds Mark (by this point I was beginning to warm to him. Pushy he might be, but he also seemed genuinely interested in Sita as a person). This era of drama often featured young ethnic characters prevented from sampling the delights of Western civilisation by their parents, but it’s much more unusual for the youngster to be self-regulating, as Sita is.

Pat and Maureen attempt to get to the party, but it’s a cursed journey for them. They arrive at the train station, leave to get a bottle for the party, come back to the train station, leave again to go back to the off licence where Pat left her purse, come back to the train station, realise they’ve lost the address, wander about for ages, etc, etc.

Both Jo and Shirley receive knock-backs. Jo’s clearly well shot of the loathsome Brad but Gordon’s decision to pretend that his evening’s heart to heart with Shirley never happened feels much more significant. For Shirley, who rarely finds herself with male company, it’s obvious why. Her initial tears and later stony face (as she observes the newly arrived Sita and Mark) hammers this point home.

With no hospital action (we do see some beds, but no patients) Saturday Night continues to develop the characters of the regulars. Shirley and Sita benefit the most – since both are reserved and private people there’s obviously more to work with. Jo enjoys a decent slice of the narrative even if we don’t learn anything new about her, whilst poor Maureen and Pat, relegated to the comedy subplot, mainly reinforce their already established personas.

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Angels – Model Patient (27th October 1975)

Three storylines – all about loneliness – form the backbone of this episode. The most substantial concerns Norman Pettit (Ron Pember), the seemingly model patient of the title. Following a hospital stay of some three and a half months he’s now due to leave, but the thought of this clearly terrifies him ….

With hundreds of credits to his name, Pember was one of those instantly recognisable actors. Often to be found playing chirpy types, the deeply disturbed Pettit offered him the chance to flex his acting muscles somewhat. It’s a excellent performance which begins slowly before working up to a final point of revelation.

Having locked himself into a toilet cubicle, it takes a little while before we first see him (those toilet doors were built to last). Once extracted, Pettit is totally uncommunicative, which results in Sita calling for social worker Sarah Tuddenham (Anne Kidd). To begin with this is a painfully slow exercise as Pettit is almost comatose (even the simple act of picking up a cup of tea requires considerable effort).

But over time Sarah is able to coax him back to life and he begins to confirm what the audience had possibly already guessed. It’s previously been established that he lives alone, so discovering that Pettit has become totally institutionalised (and therefore can’t bear the thought of leaving the bustle of the hospital behind to return to his empty house) shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. There is a later revelation which is a little more unexpected though.

Pettit’s story is one from which it’s hard to gain much solace or hope for the future. Pember’s dialled-down economical playing is simply devastating and whilst I’ve appreciated him in many other quality programmes (Secret Army, say) I can’t recall many other performances from him quite as impressive as this one.

Also deeply lonely is Miss Windrup, although unlike Petitt she doesn’t have the chance to articulate her feelings. One of the notable things about this first series is the way that certain plotlines have been seeded well in advance. An earlier episode gently suggested Miss Windrup’s isolation, but Model Patient is where the theme is really developed.

Miss Windrup opens the episode via a dialogue-free scene. There’s a nice shot from outside her office, which has the camera positioned behind a bannister. Either by accident or design this gives the fleeting impression that her office is a prison with bars. Something that was scripted or simply a directorial choice by Ken Hannam?

The way that Miss Windrup lingers in her conversations with several colleagues, obviously hopeful that a more substantial dialogue will emerge, is an one example of how friendless she is. Visiting the wards to talk to the patients and nurses simply hammers the point home.

Her formidable training persona might turn out good nurses, but it doesn’t help to build up friendships. The moment when she invites Ruth, yet to begin her shift, round to her flat (only to immediatly realise that young Ruth would sooner be anywhere else) is a good example of this. The awkwardness of the scene is compounded by the fact that Ruth either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care that Miss Windrup, in her own way, had been making a cry for help.

Fair to say this episode is a bleak one. Apart from the plotlines of Mr Petitt and Miss Windrup, it’s also mentioned that a briefly seen patient is terminally ill (although neither he or his wife knows this yet).

The closest to light relief we get comes when Ruth playfully suggests to Jo that she should invite Shirley to an upcoming party. Ruth, stuck on the night shift, can’t go, but she seems to take great delight at the thought of Jo being lumbered with Shirley! This is the third of the three loneliness storylines – it’s already been established that Shirley is friendless – but at least this one gives us a sliver of hope for the future. Shirley’s eagereness to attend (after a brief moment of hesitation) provides a chilly episode with a rare moment of warmth.

With the scenes between Ruth, Jo and Shirley confined to the canteen and corridors, it’s Sita who’s required to carry the ward scenes today. She’s assisted by the cynical Antipodian Val James (Ginette McDonald) who contrasts nicely with Sita’s ingenious kindness and consideration.

Depressing it might be, but there’s no denying the quality of Model Patient, with Ron Pember’s performance lingering long in the memory.

Angels – On The Mat (20th October 1975)

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On The Mat opens at Jo and Ruth’s flat. As before, it’s a delightfully dishevelled environment (the attentive viewer can amuse themselves by observing the various knick knacks and posters scattered about). Their conversation ranges from the cruelty of keeping houseplants, Ruth’s infatuation with Dr Crozier (we may not actually see him again, but it’s a nice callback to the previous episode) to her old friendship with Clare Truman (Cheryl Hall). Clare is a former nurse who – post pregnancy – is now a patient at St Angela’s.

The way the camera lingers over a picture of Ruth and Clare (although we didn’t know who she was at that point) suggests she may turn out to be important. That’s the case and Len Rush’s script then proceeds to spell it out. Ruth has fond memories of her former flatmate (telling Jo she was the life and soul of every party, as well as a radical supporter of nurse’s rights). Ruth goes on to say that Clare’s still a cheerful type, but we then cross to the hospital to observe a very unhappy-looking Clare.

So within the first few minutes the disconnect between Ruth’s impression of her old friend and the reality is made plain. Another observation about this first scene, minor though it is, is that both Jo and Ruth look quite different with their hair down. Anyway, pressing on …

The pair elect to walk to work. Their journey takes them past the Thames with Julia Smith’s direction at this point being rather noteworthy. A film insert like this (which doesn’t advance the story) might be seen as an indulgence, but so is the fact that Smith elected to use some type of crane for a swooping tracking shot. Double indulgence maybe, but it helps to give the scene a little extra gloss.

Clare’s the ideal that Ruth aspires to – marriage, a baby, loving husband, nice house – except the audience knows that the cracks are already showing. She’s clearly a woman of means, demonstrated by the fact she has a private room. Different times, but the way Clare casually lights up a cigarette – with her baby only a few feet away – was slightly jarring.

The contrast between Clare’s room (with its air of angst) and the main ward is marked. There, everyone’s smiling: the patients, the nurses and maybe also – when they stop crying – the babies.

It seems odd that Ruth doesn’t seem to have picked up on the fact that Clare’s so unhappy, especially since her colleagues – Sita for example – have. It doesn’t really say much for her skills as a nurse (this is addressed towards the end of the episode). As for Sita herself, she has a very uncomfortable encounter with Clare (who wonders if she’s a man-hater). This is the first time that the normally placid Sita has been flustered and provides her with a welcome spot of character development.

Given the restrictions placed on the use of children and babies during studio sessions, the production could have taken the easy way out and used dummies, but luckily they didn’t. Indeed, Clare’s baby was clearly a talented little actor as they lustily cried throughout several scenes. My first thought was that these screams might have beem dubbed on, but I do think they were genuine.

After being absent for the last few episodes, Pat and Maureen reappear midway through. Maureen’s distracted and rather snippy towards Pat, but this isn’t connected to their falling out at the pub. It’s to do with Maureen’s money problems. Sensible Pat tells her they should go to the office and sort it out – possibly too much is being deducted from her pay packet.

These scenes are very incidental to the main plotline, but since both nurses haven’t featured recently they help to remind the viewers that they are still around. Given that their training is ongoing, I daresay there was only so much dramatic capital which could be mined from their current experiences. Hence the reason why the series has recently been concentrating on the likes of Ruth and Jo.

Bill Owen makes the first of two appearances as Harry Jameson, the head porter. His appearance here is quite brief though, it’s the second – Confrontation – where he really features.

Clare’s husband, Bob (Robert Gary) arrives to visit his wife. I’m afraid I was mesmermised by his moustache, which looks patently false. But musings about his apparently fake face fungus have to be put to one side after Clare disappears ….

It turns out that Clare’s not too far away, so her sudden absence only generates a few minutes of panic. It’s the following scene – when she tells Ruth exactly how unhappy she is – which is more interesting. Ruth’s comment (“if the doctor prescribes pills, then for god’s sake use your loaf and take the bloody things”) is an eye-opener.

The second Ruth-centric episode (Jo only tops and tails this one) is another strong vehicle for Lesley Dunlop. Concentrating mainly on Clare, On The Mat does appear to be inferring – either by design or accident – that her sort of post natal blues is fairly uncommon. The other mothers (only seen in passing) all appear to be quite jolly and well adjusted whilst Clare’s treatment – a handful of pills and an entreaty to pull herself together – implies that a non-physical illness isn’t really an illness at all.

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Angels – Case History (6th October 1975)

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Case History opens with Jo and Ruth making their way to work in something of a freewheeling style. It comes complete with an encounter on the bus with an old woman who presents them both with an orange and then praises the work they do! This early scene reaffirms their tight bond (it’s almost them against the rest of the world) and the lighthearted attitude to life that they share.

There’s some familar faces lurking on the men’s ward today. Mr Collins (Lewis Fiander) is a bitter man – angry at his illness and all those around him. Even Jo – who can charm most people – isn’t immune to the sharp edge of his tongue. The irrepressible Mr Slingsby (Richard Davies) also causes Collins some irritation, but it’s all water off a duck’s back for the voluble Welshman.

You know what you’re going to get with Davies. Slingsby is a loudmouthed joker, eager to share the delights of the page three lady with his fellow patients (and also Jo, who delightfully tells him that she’s just as well equipped as the paper lady is!). He also loves to discuss the gory details of his illness with the others. They’re not so keen ….

They clearly move Jo around the hospital on a regular basis. First she was on a male ward, then a female ward and now she’s back on a male ward. And for the first time Ruth is on the same ward as her. Given the rapport which has been established between them, this makes sense.

I’m afraid to say that my knowledge of Lewis Fiander doesn’t really extend beyond his idiosyncratic turn in the Doctor Who story Nightmare of Eden. Collins is a very different sort of character (he doesn’t have a silly accent, for a start). With Jo having selected him as one of her case studies, she makes an effort to get to know him, although his extreme reticence and hostility doesn’t make this easy.

The arrival of Mr Cooper (James Grout) is a major event. A great shame this was just a one-off appearance as he’s excellent as a traditional force of nature consultant. Breezing from bed to bed, dispensing the odd encouraging word, Grout is in his element. But he can also switch to serious in a heartbeat – witness the murmered conversation he has with Dr Khan (Tariq Unis) after they’ve seen Slingsby. It’s plain that (despite his cheerful front) Slingsby is far from well.

Collins’ bleak mood is seen again when he tells Mr Cooper that he’d be better off dead. Jo and Slingsby (both listening in) are given silent reaction shots. He’s still the topic of conversation when Jo and Ruth head off to the park for lunch. This is a nice little scene – it gets us away from the claustrophobic feel of the hospital and also allows the two girls to indulge in a spot of good natured bickering (Jo’s latest boyfriend and Ruth’s bunions are amongst the hot topics).

Coronation Street and Z Cars were the two series where writer Leslie Duxbury mainly plied his trade. His first Angels script is a decent character piece, with Collins’ fraying state of mind the centrepoint. Jo’s desire to find out why he’s so unhappy is also a major theme – for her, sending the patients home happy is just as important as sending them home cured.

Sister Easby takes the opposite view. Getting too involved with the patients is always a bad move since it’ll eventually wear your soul down. Much better, she tells Jo, to keep your distance. Once again we see the emotional Jo reduced to tears, although in this episode it’s only a brief sob which occurs in the privacy of the locker room.

And despite her previous words, it’s eventually Sister Easby who gets to the bottom of Collins’ angst. Across the episode Fiander is gifted some verbose speeches which he handles very well. And although this means that Case History is a little florid in places, it’s still a very engaging watch.

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Angels – Staff (22nd September 1975)

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Four episodes in, Staff offers something of a change of pace. With Pat, Maureen and the other new trainees absent, the episode is solely centered around one of the women’s wards. This too is a departure as up until now we’ve only observed the male patients.

There’s also more of a sense of just how tiring and frustrating nursing can be – the night shift swopping notes with their day replacements, commenting on how hectic their shift has been – whilst the character of Staff Nurse Linda Hollis (Janina Faye) helps to illustrate the difficulties faced when attempting to juggle a career and a marriage. This is shown via a handful of fairly terse phone calls with her husband – from the tone of the one-sided conversation it’s plain that he expects her to be home bang on time ….

Previously we’d seen how Shirley, operating as a temporary Staff Nurse, sowed discord – thanks in part to her own inexperience (although the intransigence of Jo didn’t help). Linda runs quite a different ship though. All the nurses under her charge are made to feel part of a team and despite the hectic pace, Linda’s good humour and positive nature never flags.

No sooner does Jo transfer to this female ward, then Shirley also appears to lend a hand. This inevitably leads to the same sort of clashes observed in previous episodes. One of Jo’s fellow nurses – Elaine Fitzgerald (Taiwo Ajai) – suggests that she should make more of an effort and try to find some common ground with Shirley.

Up until now Clare Clifford’s been called upon to be mainly strict, hectoring and disapproving (with only a brief hint of vunerability). But Jo’s friendly overtures towards Shirley gives Clifford rather more to work with – for the first time we realise just how lonely and isolated Shirley is.

Most nurses who don’t live on site share rooms, but Shirley lives alone. Jo, attempting to find the positives, comments that it must be nice to have a bit of peace of quiet, but the truth is that nobody has offered to share with her. Jo, continuing to build bridges, tells her that she knows somebody who’s looking to share and suggests a meeting.

This one positive act causes Shirley to blossom – she allows Elaine to do up her hair and swops her severe glasses for contact lenses. But when Jo is forced to cancel the visit, the status quo is restored. This is marked by Shirley removing her contact lenses and putting her glasses back on. Back to square one.

The patients are a diverse group of individuals. They’re easily the most substantial characters we’ve seen so far (in the first episode the patients did little except add a spot of colour to proceedings). Mrs Wilson (Rosalind Elliot), having miscarried, is in a highly depressed state and the arrival of her mother (played by Hilary Wilson) simply makes her feel worse. Wilson, a highly distinctive actress who specialised in playing disapproving types, makes an impact with her brief scene. Mrs Wilson Snr’s parting words for her daughter, delivered via Linda (“tell her I love her”) is a rather heart-breaking moment.

Elsewhere, Mrs Joylon suffers a nasty nosebleed whilst Miss Beatty (Margaret Boyd) faces the prospect of moving into a nursing home. Having suffered a stroke she’s unable to speak, but is still able to express her feelings plainly enough. As ever, it’s Jo who’s the positive one – telling her that the place she’s going to is first rate – even if her later private thoughts are rather more pessimistic.

Toni Palmer, as Mrs Jones, offers a wonderfully vivid performance. Mrs Jones is a regular visitor to the hospital – thanks to a series of suicide attempts. She’s remarkably cheerful though, since none of the attempts have been serious (they’re simply designed to elicit some attention from her husband). Mr Jones has always rallied around in the past, but not this time. When she learns that he won’t be coming to visit, her collapse is dramatic. Like Hilary Wilson, Palmer was a very recognisable televison face, and is good value during all of her scenes (especially the last few).

If we can believe IMDB, then Staff was the first of only four Angels scripts penned by Anne Valery. That’s very surprising if so, since this episode is a very strong one. It may lack any major plotlines, but it’s rich in smaller character moments.

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Angels – Appraisal (15th September 1975)

It’s quite pleasing that the opening scene switches focus from Jo walking down to the corridor one way to Pat heading in the opposite direction. The pair don’t have any direct contact in this episode, but both – in their different ways – are later shown to be chafing against authority.

Pat’s only been in the hospital a few weeks, but already has fallen foul of Miss Windrup. Miss Windrup has tagged her as someone who is more than capable, but is also inclined to be lazy and unfocused. Pat later admits as much – she’d much sooner spend her free time enjoying herself than studying in the library with Maureen.

Incidentally, it’s notable how cosy and comfortable Pat’s room now is (compare it to the bleak chamber from the opening episode). Pictures on the wall, a record player, plants and a portable television are just some of the trinkets she’s now surrounded herself with. This is a reminder that she’s more than comfortably well off, whilst Maureen’s comment that she can’t join her friend (since she has to make her meagre money last the week) reinforces the point that in contrast Maureen has to live under more straightened circumstances.

Pat’s main bugbear is that she considers the majority of the training they receive to be pointless. But if Pat is keen to get stuck in on the wards straight away, the more diligent and cautious Maureen is more than happy to soak up every last minute of the exercises. The fact that Pat later does well in a training exercise (gaining praise from Miss Windrup) suggests that the natural order has been restored – Pat briefly struggled against the system, but is now compliant. At least for the moment.

But this plot-thread is very much secondary to the continuing travails of Jo. The previous episodes have already established her main strength – she’s excellent with the patients – but Appraisal lays bare the faults in her professional character. Today she has more patient interaction – Jo becomes friendly with Nigel (Keith Jayne), a teenager who’s desperate to go home – but as we’ll see, Nigel’s presence in the episode is mainly to generate the latest crisis point for her.

The boy reacts badly to the news that he has to stay in hospital for a few more days and Jo does her best to cheer him up. A piece of cake, left in his locker by his mother, might do the trick – but Jo is well aware that he’s not allowed any food containing wheat products. That she elects to turn a blind eye to this is simply asking for trouble ….

But that’s only one of the negative comments which Sister Easby (June Watson) directs Jo’s way during her appraisal. The lengthy scene between the pair is this episode’s undoubted highlight. Given that visually there’s not a lot to work with – one small office, two actors – director Derek Martinus nevertheless manages to make this long scene flow nicely by employing a variety of camera angles. Close-ups are always effective – especially after Jo has been reduced to tears – but side-on shots (moving from Sister Easby to Jo) also work well.

Of course, most of the heavy lifting has to be done by the actors and neither disappoints. Last episode we’d had evidence that Jo wasn’t really a team player and today Sister Easby spells it out to her (Jo’s the sort of nurse who loves to chat to patients, but this means her colleagues are forced to do most of the mundane, routine chores). Jo doesn’t react well to this criticism (she considers the hospital to be a dehumanising place and that she’s one of the few who puts the patients first). Unsurprisingly, Sister Easby pours cold water on these idealistic comments.

But just like Pat, Jo is eventually brought back into the fold (although her teary impassioned diatribe is much more dramatic than Pat’s low-key griping). That Sister Easby sends Jo off to do what she does best – holding the hand of a newly arrived and deeply confused patient – suggests that the senior nurse knows where Jo’s strengths lie. The question is whether, over time, she can learn to become a team player ….

Angels – Initiation (8th September 1975)

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Training begins in earnest. Angels doesn’t shy away from the routine and mundane aspects of nursing (we’re treated to a demonstration of bed-making) but rather than being dull, these scenes help to create a sense of reality.

Whilst the new intake are learning the ropes under the tutelage of Miss Heather Windrup (Faith Brook), there’s more time to get to know the more experienced student nurses. Jo had already featured strongly in the previous episode, but today we meet her best friend and confidant, Ruth Fullman (Lesley Dunlop), for the first time. Both are also friendly with Sita Patel (Karan David), who is less well defined than either Jo or Ruth (her main character trait here is that she rarely uses speech contractions).

Their interlocking friendship excludes (either consciously or unconsciously) another student nurse – Shirley Brent (Clare Clifford). We saw Shirley briefly in the last episode, but today she really begins to emerge as a character in her own right. Due to sickness, Shirley has temporally taken over the duties of a staff nurse – something which the ebullient Jo is less than happy about.

The conflict between Jo and Shirley is easily the most engaging part of the episode. Jo might paint Shirley as humourless and petty, but it’s plain that she’s more than a little overwhelmed at suddenly being thrust into this position of authority. What she needs is support from her colleagues, but in Jo’s case there’s only a mild sense of hostility.

It’s good to be presented with a situation where neither Jo or Shirley are wholly right or wrong. The main flashpoint – they clash over whether a small child should be allowed onto the ward to visit their grandfather (Shirley says no, Jo says yes) – is especially instructive since it enables Shirley to be gently lectured by Miss Windrup. Jo may have overridden Shirley’s authority, but the net result is that the patient was cheered up (so it’s an instance where disregarding the rules and the chain of command had a positive impact). But how do you know when to break the rules? This is a sticky question …

It may not surprise you to learn that Miss Windrup is referred to as “Windbag” out of her earshot!

Pat and Maureen head out to see the sights of London. Once again, Maureen is reluctant to do anything that might be construed as fun, but Pat is eventually able to persuade her and both have an enjoyable day. There’s a sting in the tail though, as Maureen returns to find an ominous message has been left for her – she needs to ring home urgently.

A low-level of anxiety is created after she learns that her mother, still pining for her, is in a bad way. Will Maureen have to put her nursing plans on hold and return home to Ireland? No is the answer to that as no sooner is this thread established than we’re told that Maureen’s mother has now pulled herself together. This slightly anti-climatic storyline is a bit odd, but it’s the only misstep in a strong epiaode.

Jo’s faint pangs of remorse after her clash with Shirley then leads her to attempt to apologise. But when it comes to the crunch she simply can’t – leaving Shirley to walk off with her dinner to a table all by herself whilst Jo, Ruth and Sita continue to sit together. Unspoken though it is, Shirley’s isolation from the others is made quite plain.

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