It’s something I’ve touched on before, but Howards’ Way – despite the fact it was sometimes labelled as a show which embraced Thatcherite ideals – often took pains to spell out that business success counted for nothing without personal happiness. And that’s very much a theme of this final episode as three characters – Jan, Abby and Charles – discover.
Jan’s not had the most interesting things to do this year, but finally things pick up. For the first time in ages there’s a fashion show, which means there’s plenty of attractive models flouncing about whilst Jan (armed with a walkie talkie) prowls around looking stressed. Her single-minded focus on ensuring that the show goes off without a hitch means that she has no time to speak to Lynne, which is spelled out by the way she shuts her down on more than one occasion.
The fact that Lynne had important news – her pregnancy – to impart is a weapon later used by Kate. She tells Jan that it’s no use being a successful businesswoman if you neglect your family. With Leo suffering traumas over the custody of Thomas and Lynne sobbing in her room it’s fair to say that Jan’s not been offering a great deal of support to either of them. But in previous years her business focus (and the way it was detrimental to her family) was more explicitly stated – in series six it’s remained undiscussed until this final episode. That’s slightly disappointing, had it been raised earlier it would have given Jan something dramatically satisfying to play with – certainly more than the endless scenes of her looking stressed in the office (which has been her main contribution to the series this year).
Has Jan learnt her lesson? Things seem to end optimistically when she touches base with Leo, but only the unmade seventh series would have revealed whether she could reconnect with those she’d neglected.
Abby’s story is by far the most intriguing and certainly the one with the darkest ending. Again, a seventh series might have reversed this episode’s conclusion, but at this point it’s hard to see how a reconciliation between her and Leo could have been on the cards.
A rare meeting between Ken and Gerald enables Ken to air some unpalatable home truths – he believes that Abby, as the child of Polly and Charles, is now showing her true colours. Gerald reacts angrily to this, but since he later repeats it to Abby’s face it does seem that, on reflection, he’s come to the same conclusion. Abby’s manoeuvring – albeit with Orrin’s assistance – has removed Charles from the chairmanship of Frere Holdings, with Gerald neatly slotted in as his replacement.
For a successful businessman, Gerald does have some scruples – he reacts strongly when Abby tells him the news – but he’s plainly also a realist as he does later accept the position. The father/child relationship (with both her natural and adopted fathers) has reversed totally, with Abby now in a very dominant position. That would have set up a number of possibilities had the series continued.
Abby’s exit – taking Thomas to America (ignoring the joint custody agreement arranged with Leo) – leaves us with an unresolved cliffhanger. Would she have returned or made a new life for herself in America with Orrin, William and Thomas? I’d favour the latter, but others may disagree.
How does Charles take the news that Frere Holdings is no longer his? Not very well. Drinking heavily and raising his glass to the portrait of his father that for some reason he’s not taken down, it’s the darkest we’ve ever see him. Bitterly applauding his father for triumphing from beyond the grave, Charles seems set on a downward spiral (angrily telling Lynne to leave him alone). But as with Jan, there’s hope for the future since we later see Charles negotiating a reconciliation with Lynne. Easy to see how his story would have continued – plotting to regain control of Frere Holdings, whilst juggling a possible wife and child – but would he have been able to maintain the correct balance in his life which had (up until now) proved impossible? Another of those imponderables.
I have to confess that keeping track of the various businesses and their share holdings has become a little confusing over time. It seems unlikely that Charles could have been levered out of the chairman’s seat so easily, especially when all previous attempts had failed. True, Abby and Orrin now have access to Sir Edward’s shares in Frere Holdings (plus Pierre Challon’s minor holding also played a part) but it’s hard to imagine that would have been enough. Just how did Sir Edward manage to gain control of such a large block of shares, and if he did have them why didn’t he attempt to force Charles out in the past?
Equally perplexing is the way that Ken regains control of Leisurecruise. Orrin’s shares were enough to tip the balance, but again this seems a little too convenient to be true. Ah well, it least it gives us one final Ken/Laura confrontation, this time with Ken gloatingly telling Laura to clear her desk. Ken might be the only one who seems content with business success alone, but even he’s given a small personal beat of regret (at the end of the episode he looks longingly at Jan – strengthening my suspicion that they might have got back together sometime in the future).
Even by HW‘s own standards, the resolution of Brigette Dupont’s claim on Lynne’s perfume was dealt with in a very half-hearted way (Admiral Redfern dropped by to casually let Jan know that Ms Dupont didn’t have a leg to stand on). Goodness knows why they raised this plot-thread in the first place if they were going to dismiss it pretty much straightaway.
Jack’s decision to leave the Mermaid for another yard where he can work in wood (he likes wood you know) is also rushed through at breakneck speed. But this does allow the series a sense of closure as well as an air of new beginnings – Jack exits the yard for the final time and Leo takes over. Leo’s story is also at a crossroads – following in his father’s footsteps at the yard, he sees his design for the America’s Cup accepted by Admiral Redfern’s consortium. That’s a remarkable (if not to say totally improbable) development for a novice designer. And when Jenny came home from her round the world trip, would it be into Leo’s arms or would Abby have returned to stake a claim on him? Alas, we’ll never know.
And that’s that. Seventy eight episodes which were sometimes confusing, sometimes infuriating but almost always highly entertaining and never dull. If Howards’ Way lacked the tight scripting of Glaister’s previous soapy drama – The Brothers – then the performances of the regulars always helped to paper over most of the cracks. It’s certainly a series I’ve revisited a number of times and I know I’ll come back to it again in the future. The world of Tarrant is always an enjoyable place to visit.