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.

Angels – Casualty (10th November 1975)

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The new intake are approaching the end of their initial twelve week training period – which means they’ll soon be free to roam the wards and face real patients. This, suggests Miss Windrup, will come as a shock to some and their lack of life experience will turn out to be a problem. It’s certainly true that when we first drop in on them today, many are larking about like schoolkids.

But although the training room is the scene of high jinks, there are a few quiet corners. In one, Pat and Maureen are debating the future. Pat is chomping at the bit to get onto the wards whilst Maureen is more cautious. Both have expressed these viewpoints previously, so the training regime doesn’t appear to have changed their initial positions at all. Pat regards most of their training as pointless and simply wants to get stuck in whilst Maureen is keen to check and recheck every step of the way. Incidentally, Miss Windrup has a new nickname (Windy). Fairly obvious really, but it makes a change from Windbag.

Casualty gives us an insight into areas of the hospital we haven’t seen before. The Casualty department for one – although the familar face of Sita makes it a welcoming environment (I’m not sure why, but there’s something mildly amusing about the way she cheerfully speaks to a chap on crutches).

Another first is the fact that we ride out with an ambulance. A film sequence on the high street (featuring an RTA) gives us the opportunity to see the ambulance men at work. It’s notable that when they’re dealing with the patient they don’t speak at all. Also, one of them isn’t at all interested in conversing with the well spoken lady who witnessed the accident and phoned for the ambulance. The clear inference is that how the accident happened isn’t of interest to them (that’s a police matter) wheras dealing with the result of the crash is.

A few familar faces pop up in the Casualty department, such as Angela Crow as Miss Pritchett. She provides a breathing space between the more serious cases (she’s got a dicky ankle) whilst Christopher Coll’s brusque, questioning doctor is a perfect example of the way a doctor in that environment works (where an immediate diagnosis is the order of the day).

Another spot of light relief is provided by Mr Dooley (Allan McClelland). A drunken Irishman who fell into the fire and burnt his backside, he arrives at St Angela’s smeared with an ointment for burns which his landlady had kept since the Blitz ….

The episode intercuts between the realities of the Casualty department with the training room, where the stakes are obviously much lower. The sight of Pat enthusiastically bandaging up Maureen has a comic feel, add this to Miss Windrup’s school-marmish attitude (she reacts in horror at Pat’s stylish shoes) and it’s easy to see why some of the intake find it hard to take things too seriously.

The RTA victim, Mr Morton (Michael Burrell), eventually comes around. Physically he doesn’t appear to be too bad, but the fact he takes angina tablets is a concern. The doctors want to keep an eye on him for a while but he’s far from keen (he has a business to look after). Up to this point Casualty has flitted between several patients who provide a little dash of colour but little else, before the episode settles on Mr Morton. His case feels much more substantial, especially since there’s a mystery at the heart of it (just why did he crash his car?)

The ever-cheerful Sita (the only one of the ward students to feature in this episode) attempts to convince him that a stay in hospital is something of a treat. “You’ll have your meals served for you, hot drinks, televison, everything”. Sounds enticing!

Mr Morton’s decision to ignore the advice of the doctors and go home is the late dramatic highlight of the episode, especially since he collapses with a cardiac arrest as soon as he leaves.

Several later scenes with him in the resus room are played in complete silence. These are striking and help to effectively close an episode that, whilst not the strongest from the first run, still contains a fair few points of interest.

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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.