Angels – Interim (17th November 1975)

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Many of the third year students are eagerly awaiting their exam results. But not Shirley. Is this because she’s afraid of failure or is there another, darker reason?

Although best known for creating and writing the majority of Sapphire and Steel (five out of the six serials), P.J. Hammond also contributed to a number of long-running series (Z Cars and The Bill being two of the most notable). A Hammond script is always a item of interest – whatever the series, his unique style always comes through loud and clear.

Interim is a good case in point. Since it revolves around Shirley, you might expect it to be a little chilly (which it certainly is), but the emotional coldness stretches further than her. It’s very disconcerting to see Ruth, up until now positioned as a cheerful and positive character, acting so abusively towards her.

After Ruth witnesses Shirley repremanding a first year student (played by Chris Range), she reacts with uncharacteristic fury. “It’s the same old problem, with background. You middle-class bitches, it’s ingrained”. This seems especially unfair as Ruth only walked in on the end of the conversation whilst the audience were able to gain a fuller picture – no doubt most would have concluded that Shirley was in the right.

The first year (not even granted a name) continues to be a mocking presence throughout the episode, occassionly appearing (or heard laughing in the distance) in order to disconcert Shirley a little further.

The episode isn’t as heavy on dialogue as some. The opening few minutes – Shirley breakfasting at home with only an inane DJ on the radio for company – begins proceedings in a low-key way. These early scenes aren’t just filler though.

A hurried conversation on the phone with her father, an equally hurried conversation with her landlady (who gently attempts to find out a little more about the painfully shy girl) and then a trip into work with the voluble Mr Wilkins (Lane Meddick) are all character developing moments. The encounter with Mr Wilkins is the most entertaining. He clearly has his eye on her (witness his obvious disappointment when he realises that she’s working a late shift the next day and so won’t need a lift).

In some respects he’s the perfect companion for Shirley – since he speaks so much (chuntering on about parking and the inconsiderate nature of other drivers) this means she doesn’t feel under any pressure to add much to the conversation. When he later mentions that she’s especially quiet this morning, it’s a little baffling. It’s hard to imagine that Shirley’s usually more voluble (or indeed that Mr Wilkins ever shuts up!)

A late scene, where Shirley invites him into her flat, provides the episode with a rare moment of levity. Clearly Mr Wilkins believes that his luck is in, but she’d only wanted him to open her results letter and tell her the news. Once he’d done that (she’d passed) the very disappointed man is wished a good evening ….

Given Shirley’s swot-like nature, it seemed unlikely she would have failed, so even though the episode doesn’t reveal her result until the end that’s not the main point of tension. Instead, the audience is slowly invited to understand how – just for today – Shirley is questioning her vocation.

“I can’t take death. I associate it with loneliness, my own loneliness. I can’t seperate the two means of thought”. Many of Interim‘s scenes are two handers – such as this pivotal encounter between Shirley and Miss Windrup. A terminal patient, Mr Allen (Roy Spencer), has provided the trigger for this outpouring. It’s nicely played, like the rest of the episode, although it does feel like the sort of thing you’d only find in a Hammond script.

Mrs Allen (Mela White) shares a brief scene with Shirley later on (yet another good two hander). Having played a patient a few episodes back, it was a little surprising to see Keith Jayne again so soon (this time as the Allen’s son). Although he doesn’t have any dialogue, he still makes an impression. Mr Allen’s reluctance to see his son (he doesn’t want the boy to witness him in such a feeble state) means that the lad is forced to take up a watching brief in the corridor. One memorable camera move opens on him before pulling back to observe the bustle occurring elsewhere.

An unusual episode then, and one that stands out from the more routine instalments.

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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 – Nights (13th October 1975)

Having previously mostly acted as Jo’s confidant and sounding board, Nights is the first time that Ruth’s character has been placed centre-stage. Given the night-time setting, there’s a very different feel to this episode than previous ones – the subdued lighting and the general peace and quiet of the ward contrasts sharply with the bustle of the daytime environment.

Ambient noise is used effectively to reinforce this difference. The regular stream of traffic outside (presumably St Angela’s is close to a main road) is a good example – no doubt during the day it would be drowned out by the general hubbub of hospital life.

We check in on several patients (considerately they all wake up at different times, meaning that Ruth can attend to each of them in turn). All of these encounters – bar one – add a little extra colour to the episode but aren’t key. Mr Summers (Ken Parry) is first. Complaining of being hot (and also the fact that he’s hooked up to a very bulky looking monitor) he’s fairly easily dealt with. His mildly cantankerous nature does give Ruth an early opportunity to demonstrate her winning personality skills though.

When Mr Pointer (Richard Butler) heads out of the ward at one thirty in the morning (a regular occurrence for him) it seems that the audience is being invited to assume it’s a toilet related issue. But in fact he’s just nipping off to make a cup of tea – since his working life has been spent working the night shift, his body clock now operates differently from everyone else.

The arrival of Mr Wallace (Anthony Dawes) is an interesting moment. The only brief film insert during the episode occurs during the first few minutes when we see an ambulance pull up with yet another patient (presumably Wallace). This subconsciously suggests that Wallace is going to be a key figure, but it doesn’t turn out that way. Once he’s been loaded into bed he’s pretty much forgotten about.

The conflict in today’s episode is generated by Ruth and Audrey Steiner (Myra Francis). Audrey might be the senior, but Ruth is contemptuous of the fact that she’s an agency nurse. Ruth believes that her experience of the ward should trump Audrey’s greater knowledge of nursing (she also has a simmering resentment because Audrey is paid more). Nothing that Audrey does is particularly terrible, but decent drama is generated via her clashes with Ruth. Another plus of the night setting is the fact that even when they have an argument it has to be done sotto voce in order not to wake the patients.

During her break, Ruth discusses the dreaded Audrey with Sita and Sandra Ling (Angela Bruce, making her Angels debut). Sandra makes most of the running here – disagreeing with Ruth by pointing out the difficulties that an agency worker has to face (mainly the fact that they’re never in one place long enough to make friends). But this flashpoint is brief and there’s a later short scene which makes it plain that their friendship is unaffected.

The arrival of Dr Frank Crozier (John Duttine) breaks the routine. Duttine is another of those Angels performers who could have easily returned again as the same character, but sadly didn’t. Something of a letch (Crozier’s first action is to squeeze Ruth’s bottom) he’s obviously used to wrapping the nurses around his little finger. He later asks Ruth to rustle him up an omelette, even though he knows that nurses are strictly forbidden to cook (because of this she later fouls foul of the formidable sister). But Ruth’s not upset and her weekend date with Crozier remains unaffected.

The death of Mr Marshall (John Stuart) ends the episode on a bleak and reflective note. An elderly man with severe breathing problems, his poor health is stated throughout, but it still comes as a shock when he suddenly expires. Angels‘ first patient death, it’s all the more effective for the matter of fact way it’s handled. The pain felt by Ruth is obvious (losing a patient is always hard) but as Crozier tells her, you simply have to develop a hard shell and move on.

The travails of this particular night shift is one reason why Ruth and Audrey find some common ground by the end of it (Audrey’s offer of a cup of tea is something of an olive branch). Like Duttine, it’s a shame that Francis’ character was just a one-off.

Alan Janes’ script is economical with its dialogue (understandable during an episode set at night). Another strong episode though, and I look forward to seeing what he does with his next (Accident, from series two).

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 – 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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