Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Nine

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Avril’s gone back abroad for another business meeting. Where she could be …. I wonder if it might just be Malta? I wasn’t expecting to see a topless Tom sipping an orange juice though. Whilst it’s nice that the actors weren’t stuck in England, pretending that it was a lovely sunny day, from the fluttering umbrellas it’s clear that the weather in Malta wasn’t terribly balmy either. But Colbourne and Gilmore – troopers that they are – do their best to convince us that it’s not at all cold.

Leo’s a bit touchy at present, snapping at Kate when she discusses the forthcoming baby. As for Kate herself, it seems that romance might just be in the air, although Jan is baffled as to who her suitor might be. Regular HW watchers are probably better informed – which means that the reappearance of Admiral Francis Redfern (Michael Denison) shouldn’t really come as a surprise to many.

If Kate’s back than that means we go back to the races. But Kate’s got more than horsey business on her mind as she wants Francis to photocopy (or photostat as she says) several documents from the Planning Comittee he sits on. The upright Admiral Redfern doesn’t seem too put out by this, so clearly he’s deeply smitten by Kate. What’s it all about? All will be revealed later (although how Kate got to learn about it in the first place I’m not entirely sure).

Charles has to fend off a gaggle of reporters, well three to be precise. Either they’d blown the budget on the Malta filming or the continuing travails of Frere Holdings wasn’t really a big story (although this seems unlikely as it’s front page news in the Southern Indepdent – with a banner headline reading Frere Holding’s Prosecuted on Fraud Charges). Mmm, isn’t that apostrophe in the wrong place?

Anyway, back to Charles. Wearing a pair of dark glasses, despite the total lack of sunshine, he offers brief replies to the hyperactive barrage of questions lobbed his way from the two, dictaphone waving, reporters. With a photographer hovering in the background, it’s quite nicely shot although a few film cameramen would have ramped up the pressure a little.

Jack, a two-fingered typist if ever there was one, is preparing a history of a Mermaid Yard. Vanessa asks him how far he’s got amd after a minute he sheepishly has to admit that he’s sorted out the title!

Laura comes calling on James. It’s not a convivvial meeting though, as she continues to turn the screws. And with the death of someone called Nicola still preying on his concisence, it seems that Laura has plenty of material to torture him with. Cue James looking very down in the mouth. And after making James’ day, Laura then moves over to the Mermaid to give Jack an equally hard time. Her initial seemingly sweet nature seems to have evaporated totally.

Angela Down makes the first of two appearances as Charles’ defence counsel, Lee Simons. She’s a tough cookie that’s for sure, speaking sharply to Charles in a way that few people previously have. And due to his current situation he has no option but to listen carefully. Interesting for 1989 that they decided to go with a female character rather than a male one. HW does have a few female regulars (Avril, etc) in executive positions, but most of the other executive characters who pop in and out tend to be male.

After Ms Simons begins to chip away at some of the more suspect areas of Frere Holdings, it’s clear that Charles and Gerald are facing challenging times. There’s a lovely moment when she asks them quite boldy if they’re guilty! A wonderful way to close the scene.

Ken’s a little discomforted to have been called as a witness to Charles and Gerald’s upcoming hearing. Vicki offers him the benefit of her advice – initially he’s not terribly interested in anything she has to say but he perks up when he learns that she’s discussed it with her uncle, Sir Alan Rockwell, chairman of Confederated Industries. Slightly hard to believe that Ken – a man who likes to cover all the angles – didn’t realise that Vicki had such poweful connections. But it’s lovely how his expression changes from contempteous to calculating after he realises that she has relatives in high places ….

Avril and Tom are in Malta to meet the smooth-talking Sabio Fernandez. Well I say smooth-talking but the actor, Franco Rey, is the victim of a rather slipshod spot of dubbing. Rey doesn’t have that many credits to his name but they’re mostly English language roles, so I wouldn’t have thought his real accent was that strong.

Sir John’s back! He has a convivvial business lunch with Jan, who’s always keen to expand her empire. Jan’s already been giving the increasingly flaky James some hard stares in the office, but when she learns that Sir John appears to remember doing businees with him in the past, she gets rather concerned (the incidental music hammers the point home with a menacing note). I’m not quite sure why this should worry Jan though – it’s not as if Sir John remembered anything bad about him.

Ken and Laura later have an entertaining, if all too brief, argument. This leads on to Ken asking Vicki if she has any plans for the evening. She does, a drink with her boyfriend, but he asks her if she can cancel it and go out to dinner with him instead. By the expression on her face it seems that she’s quite pleased to be asked. And how was it telegraphed that Ken was interested in Vicki? Why, by the way the camera kept tight focus on her shapely backside of course. Not subtle, but it made the point.

Ken and Vicki run into Jack and Kate at the Jolly Sailor. Jack’s delighted to shake the hand of the mini-skirted Vicki whilst Kate looks on with a face like fury. Partly this is because she believes Vicki is (ahem) something more than a secretary but mainly it’s because she loathes Ken Masters with a passion. It’s nice that eventually Jan and Kate have come to agree on this. Also, nobody does a scowl like Dulcie Gray. It’s simply wonderful.

Kate then drops the bombshell to Jack that a proposed Marina development (not another Marina development?) intends to bulldoze the Mermaid. Crickey, this is what they call a packed episode.

James is becoming increasingly torturted. He tells Ken that “Jan has become very important to me and I do not want to anything that will hurt her”. Hmm, he probably should have thought about that before, shouldn’t he. As you might expect, Ken offers him not a shred of sympathy.

Later, James confesses all to Jan. His wife didn’t leave him for an estate agent, instead it was his affair with a model called Nicola Hind which caused the break-up. But the main problem was a late-night jaunt on the water with Nicola (which resulted in her death). And then he tells her that he owes an awful lot of money to Ken, who’s been blackmailing him ever since. Cue tinkling piano incidental music and a wobbly lip from Jan as she realises that Ken’s been pulling everyone’s strings.

The whole of series five, but especially this episode, has a tangible air of melancholy. Maurice Colbourne died on the 4th of August 1989 aged just 49. He’d completed work on nine of the thirteen episodes from this series, which meant that his sudden and unexpected death caused a flurry of frantic rewriting to explain his absence from the remainder of the run. The Malta footage might not have been the last material he shot for the programme (filming tended to be done at the start of the production block, prior to the studio work) but it serves as a decent, if wholly unintentional, coda to Tom’s story. Walking around Malta in the sunshine with Avril as they pick out a toy for Abby and Leo’s baby is a touching, if bittersweet, moment.

Although Tom hadn’t really featured terribly heavily in any of the main series five plotlines, the mere fact of his presence was still key. Whilst he’s been shown to be obessive and blinkered down the years, Tom Howard was also the voice and conscience of the programme. Whether he would have moved more into the forefront during series six is a moot point, but now he’s gone there will be a tangible air of loss.

Nearly thirty years later his absence from now on is still something which I find affects me, but on a positive note that can be put down to Maurice Colbourne’s sheer skill as an actor. Making Tom Howard such a compelling character is a type of immortality and it’s pleasing to think that the performances of Colbourne and his colleagues are still entertaining us, three or more decades later.

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Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Eight

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We open with a nicely tanned Charles taking a dip in his outdoor pool (for once in Tarrant, it’s a sunny day). But there are, ahem, storm clouds brewing elsewhere. He spies the arrival of the police (who are also at Relton, removing paperwork by the boxfull). From this unsettling opening we switch to a taciturn Ken, who’s taken matters into his own hands by having a bonfire with his paperwork ….

There’s a lovely moment later when Ken and Laura discuss Charles’ problems. Ken tells her that since any business dealings he had with Charles never really came to anything, he has nothing to hide. “Yes, I see that the incinerator’s been working overtime” she archly comments! How does she do it? She seems to be everywhere and knows everything. It’s very unnerving.

It’s business as usual at the Mermaid. Bill’s fretting that they’re falling behind schedule whilst Jack remains blissfully unconcerned. Tom, as ever, is caught in the middle and so decides to launch a broadside attack on Jack. When Tom and Jack lock horns it’s always a joy.

There’s not been a great deal of screentime this year shared by Jan and Leo. Possibly this was just the way the storylines fell, or maybe it was a deliberate move – since it does enable Leo here to express his disapproval that his mother seems to be shutting him out. Once again, the impression is given that Jan is more interested in her business than her family.

Jan doesn’t have time at the moment to think about Leo, Abby or the baby’s upcoming scan – she’s something much more important to deal with (the launch of James’ new fashion line). If you like hats, then you’ve come to the right place as even before we discuss what the models are wearing there’s Vanessa’s (a white one, worn at jaunty angle) and Laura’s (black with a veil).

Here’s a new nugget of information (unless it’s been mentioned before and I was asleep at the time). James and Laura have a past. When she turns up it wipes the smile off his face and the same happens to Jan’s countenance after she spies Laura giving an unwilling James a long, lingering kiss. This is further evidence that beneath her friendly surface there’s an arch manipulator just waiting to get loose.

Compared to some of Jan’s previous fashion shows, this latest one is rather more upmarket. Less pop music and more classical as the models strut their stuff. I’m no expert, but the clothes don’t seem to be the sort of thing that would set the fashion world alight.

Last time the police came calling Gerald was frantic and Charles was cool. This time the positions are reversed as Charles is beginning to crack under the pressure. It’s very unusual to see him under such stress – but I guess we’ve waited the best part of five years in order to witness his unflappable persona breeched in this way.

Abby’s scan is chiefly interesting for the way that the doctor (Angus MacKay) interogates both Abby and Leo afterwards. He’s very interested to know whether Abby plans to divorce Orrin and marry Leo. Eh? His job is to check the health of Abby’s unborn child, why does he need to know all of this? I guess it’s simply a rather clumsy way of making the pair of them discuss the idea of marriage later.

This was one of MacKay’s final credits. One of those instantly recongisable actors, he was often to be found playing laywers or bank manangers (or occasionaly Time Lords, as in the Doctor Who story The Deadly Assassin). It’s only a brief scene, but it’s a pleasure to see him.

Ken – like a big flappy octopus – is extending his tentacles everywhere. He’s keen to buy Tom’s stake in Howard Brooke whilst he’s also interested in snapping up some Frere Holdings shares (given their recent problems it’s the ideal time to buy). And with Laura and Gerald very pally, maybe she could winkle some inside information out of him.

An extra layer of complexity is added to Jan’s plotline after it’s revealed that James and Ken have been seen togehter. Jan’s paranoia that Ken is scheming to destroy her (as we’ll later see, not unfounded) ensures that she and James have an entertaining ding-dong confrontation as she desperately tries to get at the truth. It starts slowly, but by the end they’ve really built up a nice head of steam. Both Jan Harvey and Andrew Bicknell aren’t holding anything back here.

What’s interesting is that it’s also another scene where Jan is painted as a totally obessive businesswoman, something which is clearly seen as a bad thing. James tells her that “if business is all you care about then you might suceed. But at what price?” Charles, Tom and Jack might all be driven by their business interests, but it’s never suggested that they’ve sacrificed anything. Jan, as a woman and a mother, is clearly held to a different standard.

But as we’ll see later, you can’t necessarily trust what James is saying.

Leo and Jan have a late night conversation. This is presumably after James has stormed out, since Jan’s looking a little the worse for wear. For the first time in a while they’re able to talk, which is clearly what Leo needs. As usual, he’s tended to keep his feelings intensly bottled up (is this the reason why he found powerboat racing so diverting – as a way to banish the negative thoughts he was unable to articulate?).

Given that it’s always been so hard to really understand what he thinks or feels, after he reveals that he doesn’t know whether Abby loves him or not (he also believes she got pregnant on purpose, rather than accidentally as she claims) it comes as something of a surprise. This scene offers Edward Highmore something a little dramatic to get his teeth into – as opposed to Leo’s more usual fare, which tends to see him reacting to others rather than forcing the narrative himself.

Unexpectedly, Kate turns up out of the blue (her first appearance this year). Although she’s been mentioned in passing, the casual viewer could have been fogiven for thinking that she’d gone for good. Her reapperance is good fun – she finds her way blocked by James, who is disinclined to let this strange woman into Jan’s house. Kate is equally perplexed as to why James is blocking her way and also why he’s got a key to her house ….

There’s a stormy Mermaid meeting. It’s obviously symbolic that Tom and Avril are sitting on one side, Jack and Vanessa are on the other with Jan somewhere in the middle. Jack suggests they develop closer ties with Ken, something which goes down like a cup of cold sick with Jan. “I don’t trust him” she mutters, a sentinment which Avril agrees with. This is a very shouty episode with Jan – once again – raising the roof. Tom, Avril and Jan vote against, so Jack’s motion is defeated 3-2. How do you think he takes it? Yes, not very well at all.

Easily my favourite moment of this episode comes when, having stormed out of the office, he spies a looming Kate. He looks mournfully as the oncoming storm approaches. “Oh, they’re bringing in reinforcements. She’s back. My headmistress”!

Following that treat, we then get confirmation that Ken and James are in cahoots. Interesting …..

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Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Seven

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Jack’s suddenly enthused with a whole new work ethic – which causes raised eyebrows from Tom and Bill. But this is only a small skirmish compared to the fireworks ahead – Tom learns that Jack’s decided to employ Vanessa as the Mermaid’s PR agent. “It’ll put us on the map” says a confident Jack. Maybe it’s the mark of a good PR woman that although Jack and Tom were at complete loggerheads, after Tom exchanged a few words with Vanessa he backed down …

Gerald seems convinced that his relationship with Polly is over. He tells Charles that after twenty five years of marriage he’s going to miss her. “Mm hmm” says Charles. Well, not much else he could have said really. As touched upon before, it’s slightly odd they didn’t make a little more of this – Gerald mentions that Polly should be boarding her flight for America about now, but we don’t actually see it.

The main point of this scene comes a little later, after Gerald inadvertanly lets it slip that Abby’s pregnant. Given that they’ve had no (on-screen) contact this series, it’s not too surprsing that – as yet – she hasn’t confided the news to her natural father. Plus she’s yet to tell Leo either.

It’s full steam ahead in the fashion world, although James continues to fret about his new designs. I can’t take my eye of the model he’s using though (just before the twelve minute mark for those who want to check it out). This extra certainly knows how to steal a scene – just marvel at her wide range of facial expressions – so much so that I found it hard to concentrate on what Jan and James were talking about.

Orrin – sporting the yellow sweater draped around the shoulders look – is in a concilliatory mood. But Abby (not for the first time) isn’t having any of it. Do you get the feeling we’ve been here before? This is one of those plotlines that seems to have been going round and around for ages without any resolution. For now though, Orrin’s reached the end of the road (he disappears for the rest of series five, but features heavily throughout the sixth and final series).

So how long do you think it will take Leo to realise what Abby’s news is? She drops an early hint (ordering a bottle of champagne, but telling him that she shouldn’t drink any) but the penny doesn’t drop. He then has a guess (“you’ve got a new job?”) which falls slightly wide of the mark. His next guess (“you’re pregnant”) hits the bullesye, but it was clear that he was joking. Poor Leo, for all his recent sophisticated upward-mobility, at heart it seems he’s still something of a naive young lad. Or that’s how he’s being written at present.

Gerald – once again – is homing in on Laura. She’s sporting big hair today and seems very pleased to see him. Whilst Gerald and Laura are chuckling away like nobody’s business, Charles is ensonsed with Julian Burridge (John Line) – all part of his scheme to oust Avril from Relton.

Once Laura and Gerald have stopped chuckling, they discuss Charles. Gerald admits that he’s “demanding, exhausting and I wouldn’t be content working with anybody else”. Following their early series wobble, Gerald and Charles seem back on firmer ground (but nothing lasts forever). Charles meets Laura for the first time and then hotfoots over to see Abby.

I love how Charles tells her that he made extra sure the flowers he selected turned up on time (by asking with his secretary to confirm with the florist). It’s an unconcious thing no doubt, but clearly he would never think of soiling his hands by going into a florist and actually buying the flowers himself.

It’s not the most convivial of chats though – Abby’s still bitter about William and the fact that Charles hasn’t been able to help. This seems a little unfair to Charles though. From the point of view of showing a vunerable and human side to Charles’ nature, this is a good scene. So far this year, Charles has been cast in his more familar ruthless tycoon persona (so a change of pace, even for just a moment, is welcome).

Charles and Orrin later have another brief, but unappy meeting. “You’re going to regret this” mutters Orrin after Charles tells him that unless he hands over all copies of the secret recordng of their previous meeting he’ll destroy him. Quite how Charles would do this isn’t made clear, but he sounds confident. But Orrin – later sharing a beer with Ken – sounds equally confident that he’s going to squash Charles like a grape. They both can’t be right, hmm ….

Gerald (complete with flowers – you can bet he actually bought them himself) pops round to see Laura. She’s still sporting the big hair and has now squeezed herself into a little black number. It’s a gloriously sunny day in Tarrant (the sun is shining, the birds are singing). How can this be? We’re in the studio of course. This is rather apparent when Laura opens her front door and we see Gerald standing by some very fake-looking greenery.

Gerald hasn’t discussed his sexuality (or indeed been seen to have any sort of relationship other than with Polly) for some time. There seems to be something of a retcon of his character here, after he tells Laura that he used to think he was gay but he actually isn’t (he loved a man he tells her, but not in the physical way that the other man wanted).

Ivor Danvers is remarkably good in this scene, managing to make Gerald touching, tender and vunerable all at the same time. Danvers is possibly one of HW‘s less celebrated stars, but given the material he never fails to deliver.

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Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Six

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Tom’s out for an early morning jog – doing his best Steve Austin impression. This isn’t a regular occurance, so something must be about to happen. And it does. He spies a mysterious balaclaved man (all dressed in black of course) mucking about with Spring. Tom rushes over to remonstrate, but alas he’s felled with a single punch as the masked man makes a speedy escape.

If this isn’t exciting enough (interesting that – for once – there was no incidental music during this mild action scene) then there’s better to come. A topless Leo (well, better for some people I guess) and a disheveled Abby emerge from Spring‘s cabin. The plot thickens when it’s revealed that the thief had left behind plans of Sir Edward Frere’s design for the America’s Cup.

Gerald and Charles continue to glance at their teeny-tiny monitor, worrying about their share price (the VDU display looks a little Ceefax-like. Possibly it could be Prestel, wich was still active in the late 80’s). Charles is keen to buy Ken’s Relton shares but Ken isn’t inclined to sell. Meanwhile Laura continues to scheme away – as Gerald notes, Ms Wilde is only interested in one person (herself).

Jan and James (she’s dressed stylishly in black, he’s wearing a pair of braces) clash yet again. Given what James is wearing today, I’m not entirely sure I’d trust his judgement as a fashion designer ….

Jan – fretting about Leo’s problems – finds that James is a sympathetic listener. A little more backstory about his characer is shaded in when we learn that he has, or rather had, children. It’s left dangling for the moment as to exactly what this means.

They’ve been arguing so much recently, it surely must mean that love is in the air. Our first inkling of this comes when Jan invites him to dinner. He agrees (and comes armed with a bunch of roses). Mind you, he seems surprised that Leo’s not there, so presumably he was expecting a family meal. Possibly he hasn’t dated too much recently.

He finally explains what happened to his family. His wife left him, took his children, and moved in with an estate agent from Guildford. Thank goodness! I was expecting much bleaker news – a car crash, say. Jan has a little chuckle at this, which seems a bit mean. Is it the estate agent part or the Guildford part which tickles her fancy?

And then they lock lips, only for Jan to break away to tell him that “I fired Mark this afternoon”. I’m not sure whether this was a tongue in cheek moment or if Christopher Green (today’s writer) was being serious. We know that Jan is an obsessive businesswoman, but surely even she can stop thinking about business for a few minutes?

Still, the way that they embrace again and slowly sink down out of sight whilst the camera coyly moves over to the stereo (which is pumping out a selection of light classics) makes it plain what’s going to happen next. I also love the notion that a night with passion with Jan fires James’ creative juices so much that the first thing he does next morning is to sketch out a new design. And shortly afterwards he’s created a whole new portfolio. Wow!

Following the departure of Davy a while back we haven’t, apart from Bill, had any regulars in the yard. Kelly George (as Ted) has lurked about in the background for a few episodes this year and today gets a few lines. But this is the last we’ll see of him (a year or two later he’ll pop up in Grange Hill as Ray).

Jack’s disappeared, annoyed that Vanessa’s been buying up Relton shares in order to shore up Avril’s position. “I could cheerfully strangle him” mutters Tom, after Vanessa tells him all. There are various HW‘s staples and Jack going walkabout is one. Cue several scenes of Tom and Bill anxiously standing around, waiting for news.

Given the number of times he’s done this before, it’s difficult to be too concerned about this latest vanishing act though. And so it proves as Jack’s eventually tracked down (to a boat, obviously). He looks rather good in full-on stubbly mode. Glyn Owen and Lana Morris share another nicely written two-handed scene.

Leo’s clearly not himself, as a trainee under his supervision badly injures himself lifting an engine. It’s another odd moment, since we don’t actually see the accident, only hear about it later when it’s discussed by Leo and Avril. Budget saving or an attempt to streamline the storytelling?

Last episode’s cliffhanger (will Abby stay or will she go?) is answered in an oblique way. She tells Leo that she gave him her answer the other night on Spring. His self-satisifed smirk should be all the information we need to fill in the blanks. Abby has been on the verge of confiding something important to Leo on more than one occassion this year, but just before she’s about to speak each time something distracts her. Today it’s the sight of Gerald and Laura having a meal. It’s suggested that Gerald has his eye on Laura, or is it purely business?

The thick plottens when it’s revealed that Orrin(!) was the masked man who planted the America’s Cup designs on Leo. You’d have assumed he would have been able to delegate this sort of thing to a minion, but clearly not. The killer blow is delivered when Orrin (off-screen, annoyingly) tells Tom that it was all Polly’s idea.

Gerald and Polly confront each other. He tells her that “you suck the marrow out of people’s bones and spit it out when it’s no further use to you”. Abby – stuck in the middle of their bickering – then delivers her bombshell … she’s pregnant. That Gerald immediately embraces her whilst Polly keeps her distance is highly characteristic (although Abby does make it plain that she doesn’t want her mother to touch her).

No doubt this is the important news she’s attempted to tell Leo on several occassions. Polly has a lovely deadpan comment. “Well done. Another baby to give away”.

This is easily her best line from what turns out to be her final episode. Given the way that characters tend to come and go, viewers at the time might have expected her to reappear later on, but it wasn’t to be. So it’s a slightly low-key way for Polly to exit, especially since most of the dramatic lines are coming from Gerald (he picks up a phone, rings for a taxi and tells her she has to leave the house within an hour).

Was this always intended to be her final appearance or did they hope that Patricia Shakesby would return? It feels pretty open-ended – and the fact that Polly barely featured in this episode does lead me to suppose that it wasn’t suposed to be the final end. After all, had this been planned as her last hurrah you’d have expected they would have given her something more dramatic to work with.

Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Five

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Leo’s come up in the world since he was a motorbike riding, petrol pump attendant during series one. Now (as a thrusting young executive at Relton, with a seat on the board beckoning) he owns an open top sports car. But his leisurely drive through a series of winding country lanes is interrupted by a honking Range Rover behind him.

This then develops into a moderately exciting action scene as the pair pull up at a crossroads and Orrin – for it is he – smirks at Leo from the opposing drivers seat. They then set off again and a (fairly) high speed chase ensues, with the incidental music being set to “exciting”. All the clichés you’d expect to see are present and correct – a lorry blocking the road (check), a rural type observing proceedings with bucolic indifference (check).

This brief game of chicken only serves to splatter Leo’s car with mud. “Orrin Bloody Hudson” he mutters. Although it’s slightly hard to reconcile this new, ultra-cocky Orrin to the more pliant man we’ve previously seen, it’s not totally unbelievable. A few years back he was something of a blank canvas who seemed to be easily manipulated by his father. Today we could be seeing the result of that manipulation.
Leo loses several credibility points for listening to Chris De Burgh on his car stereo, but at least it was the slightly rocky Don’t Pay The Ferryman rather than The Lady In Red.

Ken doesn’t change. Vicki, dressed in a tight skirt, is on the hunt for a file. Ken, delighted at eyeing up her shapely form, is keen to suggest that the file may be in various places (which are all locations designed to make her stretch just a little bit more).

Although Jack was initially sceptical of Vanessa’s suggestion that they should assemble a photofile of the Mermaid Yard, now he’s warming to the idea. He confides to Tom that he could have been a male model! Lovely stuff, as is Jack’s continuing laissez faire attitude to the Mermaid – he’d much sooner be swanning off, buying flowers, than be stuck at the yard worrying about boats. Tom, facing an ever mounting list of problems, isn’t too chuffed at this, but surprisingly he doesn’t protest too much.

Fair to say that Jan and James aren’t getting along (he’s annoyed that she’s been rifling through his private papers – although it was an accident). Jan’s astonished to discover that James was a designer, but his one and only collection was savaged by the critics and now he’s given up on the possibility of ever designing again. Jan thinks his designs are wonderful (although since all the critics disagreed, this casts some doubt on her judgement).

Interesting that Vanessa’s living room was shot on film and on location rather than at the studio. It’s unusual, but possibly it was intended as a once off location – hence it would have been cheaper to shoot it this way, rather than go to the expense of creating a studio set. But it works out for the best in a visual sense, as their fireside chat – Jack musing over Charles and Avril – looks very good on film.

Vanessa is keen for Jack to spend the night but he – due to an early start tomorrow – isn’t interested. Or is it more to do with his commitment issues? Even though he treated his late wife abominably, he still shows a tremendous degree of loyalty towards her.

This episode confirms for the first time that Vanessa’s house is next door to Relton. Makes sense in one way, since Relton had previously been in Vanessa’s family (at one point it looked as if she might have inherited it). Although given this, it seems slightly odd that she’d decide to pitch up so close and run the risk of stirring up bitter memories.

Polly had arranged a dinner with her, Gerald, Abby and Orrin but Abby throws a spoke into this by deciding to go out with Leo instead. But Polly doesn’t give up easily, so she and Orrin hotfoot it to the restaurant where Abby and Leo are eating (easy to do remember, Tarrant’s not overflowing with restaurants). There then follows a tense scene where Orrin tells Leo to butt out as “this is none of your business”. But Leo takes charge, leaving Orrin frustrated.

There are plenty of late night heart to hearts in this episode. Jack, after leaving Vanessa, visits Avril at Relton whilst Polly and Gerald have a straightforward conversation for the first time in a long while. Polly’s insistent on returning to America and Sir Edward (but is her relationship with him purely business?) and would like Gerald to join her. He doesn’t wish to do so, which pretty much brings their tottering relationship to an end.

Leo and Jan also have a late night chit chat, but theirs is brief and to the point. She does ask about Abby, which for Jan (often self obsessed) is a point in her favour, but the scene’s much more about Leo declaring that whilst James’ designs might not have been fashionable fifteen years ago, they could be now. This triggers off a lightbulb moment in Jan (or possibly a poundsign moment!) as she mulls the concept over. It’s another good example of Leo’s perceptive nature, although it’s slightly hard to believe that a bunch of designs laughed at in 1974 would be a hit in 1989. Still, stranger things have happened.

The next day, Avril and Tom have a heart to heart about Jack and Vanessa. They’re clearly so engrossed that they don’t notice Jack lurking by the door.

After acting incredibly arrogantly for the last few episodes, Orrin’s now in a conciliatory mood – asking Abby to come home for William’s sake. But it’s more for the sake of his political career of course. And then things liven up nicely when Orrin and Leo plunge into the dock. In a way, this is a re-enactment of Leo and Abby from the start of the first series – only this time, Leo’s rescuing Orrin from the water rather than Abby.

Everything really kicks off when Abby jumps into a small boat and rows across to them. All the time this has been happening nobody else seems to have noticed (well that’s not strictly true, people do point fingers and talk into walkie-talkies, but that’s about all they do).

We close on a rather decent cliffhanger as a very damp Leo and Abby confront each other over Orrin’s water filled and insensible body. “He’ll live” mutters Leo with the minimum of concern. Leo’s much more concerned about the fact that he didn’t hear Abby’s response to Orrin’s offer that they should try again as a family ….

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Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Four

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This episode opens on a sombre note as Laura’s father, Jimmy, is laid to rest. It’s an impressively mounted crane shot – beginning high up before zooming into the graveside, where, one by one, the other mourners leave until just Laura – dressed in purple with a black headscarf – remains. No words are spoken until Laura has left the churchyard (and then, Laura only briefly pauses to thank Jack and Avril for coming) but the expression of pain on Laura’s face tells its own story.

The unusual camera angles continue in the next scene, as we cross to Gerald and Polly’s house. The initial shot is taken from the first floor, as a silent Polly observes her daughter. The soundtrack (and Polly’s expression) helps to give this brief moment a sense of menace. Although when Polly comes down to talk to Abby, she seems more like her old self.

Polly wants Abby to come to America with her and start a new life (interestingly, Polly also claims that she has no plans to divorce Gerald – but unless he moves out to Americs as well it’s hard to reconcile this). Long-term Leo and Abby watchers will no doubt have picked up on Abby’s comment to her mother about Leo, as she refers to him as “the man I’m going to spend the rest of my life with. He doesn’t know that, but that’s how it’s going to be”.

This is a fascinating little moment. Abby may appear on the surface to be a more relaxed character than her mother, but this autocratic statement suggests otherwise. What Abby wants, Abby tends to get.

To date, James has been a very passive character, content to let Jan lead the way, but today he makes his first stab for independence. He introduces her to Sophie Westbrook (Fran Lima). Sophie is a talented designer and Howard Brooke need a new designer, so a meeting seems logical. But since it wasn’t Jan’s idea, she’s very resistant. This is a good example of Jan’s control-freakery. If she’s the one giving the orders then all is fine, but when somebody else dares to suggest anything, things don’t run so smoothly ….

Jan’s not keen on her designs. Is this because she really didn’t like them or was it more to do with the fact that she didn’t choose her? True, Sophie’s portfolio contained a few topless dresses(!) but the rest of the (unseen) designs seemed to be decent. Jan complains that James is attempting to steamroller her, only for James (at last) to snap back that Jan’s already done more than a little steamrollering of her own. After the last few episodes I was beginning to wonder if James would ever spark into life – happily, it’s eventually happened.

Charles and Avril clash again. Returning from the funeral, Avril is more than a little put out to find Charles lounging in her office.

Orrin (Jeff Harding) arrives back in Tarrant. He’s colder and more arrogant than before (no doubt in part due to the fact that he’s now being played by a different actor). Whatever else he’s here for, a tearful reunion with Abby doesn’t seem to be on the cards.

More unusual camera angles are on display when Orrin and his entourage pull up at Leisure Cruise. With the camera placed very low on the ground, shooting upwards as Orrin gets out of his car, it helps to give him a sense of stature. Orrin’s meeting with Ken is something of a treat (with Ken on the one side gently mocking Orrin and Orrin on the other, implacable and cold) even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense.

The Hudsons are keen to bring down Charles (fair enough) but have decided that Ken is the only one who can help them (by passing on Eckhardt Sahnn’s name to the police). Are we really to suppose that they couldn’t have tipped off the police themselves?

Polly and Jan meet. It starts off in an extremely chilly fashion, before suddenly they have a good giggle and become much more convivial. A slight contrivance maybe, but a necessary one, since Polly needed somebody to explain the ins and outs of of the plot to.

Ken and Laura are now partners. Whilst you should never underestimate Ken’s underhand dealing, at present it seems that Laura holds the upper hand. She’s quickly able to connect the earlier presence of the Fraud Squad at Leisure Cruise with their investigation into Charles. Of course, Charles has been chomping at the bit to find out who shopped him – Laura doesn’t intend to do so (or so she says) it’s simply that she wants Ken to know that she knows. Fifteen love to Laura.

Avril’s gone on a little foreign jaunt, to meet a smooth type called Sabio Fernandez (Franco Rey). Funnily enough, it looks a lot like Malta ….

This episode has a bit of racing action, but it’s so intercut with the other plot threads that it tends to get lost. Good news though, Tom wins his class in Barracuda as does Leo in Spring. But the main point of interest during these scenes is that Abby, crewing with Leo, felt suddenly sick and had to return to shore. Hmm, since she never gets seasick, I wonder what this could be. I wonder.

Charles and Gerald are slightly irked to be called to a meeting with Orrin, but they go anyway. This is a good indication that Charles’ position isn’t quite as secure as it used to be. Gerald is once again uncharacteristically forceful – telling Orrin in no uncertain terms that he wants her out of Abby’s life once and for all. Gerald’s come a long way from S1, when it appeared that he only ever saw Abby on a handful of occasions each year.

Later, Charles and Orrin face off in secret as Sahnn’s murky dealings with Charles are brought to the surface. We close the scene with Charles looking slightly perturbed – something which we rarely see. And since Orrin was secretly recording the meeting it appears that he, at present, is in the driving seat ….

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Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Three

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Jack’s in a reflective mood. “My daughter. The worse Charlie Frere treats her, the better she likes it”. This doesn’t seem like an accurate reading of the situation (I’ve never really thought that Avril’s Relton struggles with Charles were some sort of elaborate foreplay) but then Jack has often mused on the unpredictability of women, so he’d probably agree that he may not have read the situation correctly.

As if to hammer this point home (re Jack and his inability to read the moods of the opposite sex) he offers to take Vanessa out for a sail on her new purchase The Proud Lady (one of Jack’s old boats) but she recoils with terror on her face. This is something of an overplayed moment (the very dramatic music doesn’t help) although it does suggest, none too subtly, that something’s troubling her.

Later they do go out, but when the weather gets a bit choppy Vanessa goes very wonky. It’s not really Lana Morris’ fault (this sort of scene is very hard to play) but she doesn’t really convince during this scene. She’s much better later on when Vanessa confides to Jack that ever since her husband, Klaus, was killed in a boating accident she’s been somewhat apprehensive about taking to the water. This is a nicely played two-hander between Owen and Morris.

Vanessa later has a chance to beat her fear of the water after a dinghy overturns in a small lake and a youngster pitifully screams for “help, help”. Several points spring to mind here – firstly that the submerged mariner seems to be pretty close to the bank (and if they can’t swim that short distance to safety, surely they shouldn’t have been out on the water in the first place). The extra in front of Vanessa (an old boy with a cap and binoculars) slightly amuses me. Presumably he rushes off in a panic as Vanessa seems to be the only one left to help – as she eyes a small sailboat and sets off on a rescue mission.

This isn’t the most dynamically directed of scenes it has to be said. We cut away before Vanessa actually ventures out, which seems to be a bit of a cheat. And if this one action has cured her fear of the water then we can chalk it down as yet another instance of the series setting up an interesting plot point, only to resolve it almost straightaway. Which is a little odd.

Leo seems to have clicked back into being the dutiful son (we see him doing the wiping up at home). He’s curious about his mother’s new business partner, James Brooke, which is understandable since some of Jan’s previous liaisons have mixed business with pleasure. “Is he married?” he enquires. And then James pops up and Leo exits. One in, one out.

I wonder what Jan and James will call their new, merged business. Oh, what about Howard Brooke. That’s quite snappy. James doesn’t seem to query this (Brooke Howard would sound just as good) and he also doesn’t seem too concerned when Jan steamrollers ahead with her plans for redecoration, branding, etc. At the moment, Jan seems to be very much the dominant partner.

The dramatic music makes a return when Tom tells Laura that Ken might use her the health of her ailing father, Jimmy (Walter Sparrow), in order to gain a business advantage. Once again, it’s a pity that the incidentals are rather strident at the moment.

Avril’s looking lovely again today, dressed in a tight skirt which seems to be designed purely to show off her slim waist. Her meeting with Leo (it’s almost as if he’s the only other person who works for Relton) is interrupted by a phone call from Ken. Feet up on the desk, his casual manner belies the fact that he clearly feels he has a trump card to play.  He’s able to convince Avril that a meeting is in her best interests. With Avril’s position at Relton somewhat shaky thanks to Charles, this possibly isn’t too surprising.

Lord Runswick (Harry Beety) is the sort of blunt Northern salt of the earth type made good who is so much of a cliché that it’s impossible to take him seriously. His parting comment to Charles (he declines to join his crusade to oust Avril) deserves quoting. “But you start playing this sort of game for revenge, you’ll wind up searching for tanners in your turn-ups”. Happen as maybe he’s right, by gum.

Ken continues to be haunted by Laura. The ever-loyal Vicki attempts to cover for him, pretending to Laura (who’s on the phone) that he’s not in the office. But as she’s sat outside in her car and can see his car, this isn’t a very convincing lie. Poor Ken. A minute later we see him looking plaintively out of the Leisure Cruise office window at Ms Wilde.

Sir John Stevens doesn’t appear in person until episode nine, but even offscreen his presence is still felt. Here, he’s the buffer between Ken and Laura. She’s miffed that Ken’s already told Sir John that the purchase of Wilde Mouldings is a done deal when that’s not the case at all. Even if Laura agrees, the ultimate decision will have to come from her father (although he does seem keen to sell).  But since he doesn’t seem long for this world, it might end up as her decision after all.

Jack, back at the Mermaid, chats to Tom about Vanessa. What begins as a two-handed scene quickly focuses on Jack, as he begins to look backwards – at how he decided to “marry the yard” when he married his late wife Eileen. The way that the camera slowly closes in on Glyn Owen’s face as he delivers his monologue is such a simple trick, but it’s so effective. Owen, whenever he’s given a dramatic scene, never fails to deliver.

Do you know, sometimes I walk through that yard, I turn … expecting her to be there, looking at me. And asking the same old question, why I let her down. And I did, you know.

Apart from taking a few snaps, we don’t see Abby until we’re thirty minutes in. She and Leo are in a very affectionate mood (their on/off/on/off/on relationship is somewhat confusing to keep track of) but after a minute the real reason for their sofa canoodling becomes obvious – it’s so Polly (yes she’s back) can stroll into the living room and shake her head in dismay. “I hope I’m not disturbing you” she mutters icily ….

Abby and Polly have regressed to their S1 relationship (in other words, not good). Their brief moments of rapprochement from more recent times seem to have vanished as Abby (Cindy Shelley looking rather lovely when she’s angry) rails against her mother for apparently leaving her father. But Polly’s gloriously unrepentant.

Given that the major reason for Polly going to America was in order to try and intercede with the Hudson family over William, it’s slightly surprising that Abby doesn’t bring this up. But there is a possible explanation –  after she declines to view a series of new photographs of her son (dashing them out of her mother’s hand) it might be that her disdain for Polly’s actions are stronger than her maternal instincts. Or has she finally accepted that William is out of reach? That’s a moot point at the moment, but two and a half episodes in it’s noticeable that Abby’s hardly mentioned William.

Polly’s gleeful, mocking expression after Abby leaves the room is slightly disturbing. In the past, Polly has been thoughtless, snobbish and self-obsessed but this is something new. Evil Polly seems to have arrived ….

The reunion between Polly and Gerald is just as dramatic. At present it seems that Gerald has recovered his faith in Charles and lost his faith in his wife. The way that Gerald shouts at Polly – demanding to know whether she’s having an affair with Sir Edward – is a notable moment. Sadly, we’re now into the endgame with Polly (after episode six she’ll be gone for good).

Another year, another Marina development for Charles to obsess about. This necessitates more meetings with humourless foreign types, today it’s the impressively named Eckhardt Sahnn (Carl Rigg). And fancy that, they’ve gone all the way to Malta just for this meeting.  HW clearly had a decent budget this year.  This Marina development has a bonus for Mr Frere, since it will enable Sahnn to force Avril out of Relton.

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