The Brothers – Series Six. Simply Media DVD Review

Series six kicks off in a typically confrontational way as Ted (Patrick O’Connell) clashes with Merroney over Brian’s future. Will Brian be welcomed back onto the board? Ted wants a fair deal for his brother and – possibly surprisingly – Merroney concurs. But the reason he gives is sure to put Ted’s back up. “Because of the three of you, he’s the only true professional”.

Colin Baker still looks as if he’s enjoying himself enormously as Merroney continues to call the tune, forcing the others to dance to it. His relationship with Brian (Richard Easton) has always been complex.  He values Brian’s business acumen and knows that Brian likes him personally (which has helped create a bond between them) but it’s also plain that Merroney would drop him like a stone if he proved to be unreliable.

Somewhat Godot like, Brian has an influence over events even when he’s not on screen. The series opener, Red Sky At Night, begins with the others awaiting his return. But when he’s not on Don Stacey’s charter-flight there’s concern all round. Where is he? Is his absence further evidence of his unreliability?

When Brian (still sporting the impressive moustache he grew last year) does reappear, it’s telling that it’s Merroney he goes to see. Although both David (Robin Chadwick) and Ted have fought for their brother’s interests in their own ways, Brian clearly feels more comfortable with somebody outside of the family.

Colin Baker, Robin Chadwick and Derek Benfield

Brian’s gradual reintegration back into the business is a running theme during these early episodes as is the question of Jenny (Jennifer Wilson) and Ted’s adopted baby, William. When the baby’s real mother decides she wants him back, Jenny starts to feel the strain. One has to wonder why Jenny and Ted didn’t legally adopt the child (William was abandoned by her mother six months earlier but she now feels more confident that she can look after him).

Our sympathy should be with Jenny, but there’s something more than a little off-putting about her manic determination to hang onto William whatever it takes. Jennifer Wilson plays these scenes well and since her character’s usually so level-headed and sensible it’s an interesting change to see her put under pressure for once.

Jenny is happy to cast William’s natural mother, Pat Hawkins (Elaine Donnelly), in a poor light, but that’s not the impression most will get when they hear her story. “Look, I’m just a girl from the local estate, okay? And I got a baby. And I couldn’t explain to my mum and dad why I wanted to keep him. So I did the only thing I could do and I gave him away”.

One might raise an eyebrow at the revelation that Pat’s husband, Alan (Ian Marter), works for Hammonds. Something of a remarkable coincidence it must be said, but this does allow Ted to be pushed over the edge a little further (like Jennifer Wilson, Patrick O’Connell seems to relish these dramatic scenes). Plus it’s always a pleasure to see the late Ian Marter, even in a small role like this.

Jennifer Wilson & Patrick O’Connell

Carleton Hobbs makes a welcome reappearance as Sir Neville Henniswode (Hobbs had appeared in series four but was presumably unavailable for series five, which led to Llewellyn Rees taking over the role). Hobbs had a decent film and television career but for me – and I’m sure for many others – he’ll forever be the definitive radio Sherlock Holmes. Just to hear the timbre of his voice is enough to conjure up images of foggy streets and Hansom Cabs ….

One of the more unlikely developing plotlines concerns the relationship between Sir Neville and Mary Hammond (Jean Anderson), the imposing matriarch of the family. At least this enables Mary to get out of the house every so often and therefore makes a nice change from her usual scenes (which tend to consist of her chivvying one or more of her sons).  Since both David and Brian are currently living with her at the family home, she’s got ample opportunity to fuss around them.

The first half of series six sees the Hammonds struggling to balance their work/private lives. Brian is still finding his way back to fitness slowly, David has never been terribly business minded anyway, whilst Ted and Jenny are more concerned with the fallout from William’s departure than they are with Hammond Transport.

This leaves Merroney in a strong position, although Bill Riley (Derek Benfield) for one isn’t prepared to roll over for him. Bill’s rise through the ranks has been an entertaining running thread over the last few series. Initially he was a little diffident at board meetings – due to his elevation from the shop floor – but by this point he’s more then happy to speak his mind.

Derek Benfield

He’s matched in the common-sense stakes by his wife Gwen (Margaret Ashcroft). Whilst the majority of the characters in The Brothers are middle-class or higher, the Rileys are resolutely working-class and proud of it. It would be easy for them to be portrayed in a patronising light, but this doesn’t happen – meaning that there’s something charming in the way they enjoy the simple pleasures of life (an evening game of Scrabble, for instance). But they’ve not immune to pressure and Bill’s increasing workload will be seen to have a negative effect on their marriage.

Merroney’s private secretary Clare Miller (Carole Mowlam) still finds that her loyalty is divided between Merroney and David. With neither man in a regular relationship, both are content to use her as a dinner companion and confidant. Although Clare is a character designed to react to others rather than instigate her own plotlines, Mowlam still manages to give Clare a spiky sense of humour, ensuring she’s more than the cardboard character she otherwise could have been.

During S5, Merroney seemed mainly to exist in order to thwart the Hammonds at every turn. But throughout this run of episodes he’s more nuanced – whereas previously he was totally dedicated to Sir Neville and the bank, now he confesses that he’s beginning to side with the Hammonds over certain matters. Although on other occasions he’s quite prepared to steam-roller right through them, if he can ….

Brian also shows some unexpected facets to his personality (since his breakdown he’s become a more relaxed and far-thinking person). At one point he expresses his new personal philosophy. “You’ve got to feel that what you’re doing is really worth doing. Nobody makes money except the Mint. All the rest of us do is push it around a bit, trying to make sure that we get a little more than the next man. But it’s not wealth. Wealth is enriching. Making money is just debilitating. In the end it leads to a sense of personal isolation”.

When David finds himself rejected by Clare in episode eight  – The Chosen Victim – it serves as something of a wake-up call for him. All his life he’s been able to get whatever he wanted (until Clare). Will this make him a more rounded and less arrogant character? It’ll be interesting to see if his growth continues next series.

Paul Merroney and Jane Maxwell (Kate O’Mara) fractious relationship shows no sign of abating. At one point she tells him he’s “one of the lowest forms of life I’ve ever come across”. But when you learn that Merroney was castigating Jane’s ex-husband, the hard-drinking pilot Don Stacey (Mike Pratt) at the time, it’s easy to understand the reason for her anger.

Kate O’Mara

Don bows out of the series in the sixth episode, Tender (broadcast just a few months before Pratt’s death at the age of 45). Pratt’s gaunt appearance gave the running plotline of Don’s impending medical exam a bitter irony. “Sooner or later they’ll find something that creaks or groans or doesn’t react fast enough and that’s it. You can keep as fit as you like, but Anno Domini gets you in the end”. Don didn’t do a great deal (although his leaving scene was a powerful one) but he was always an amusing character and Pratt, even though he was clearly ailing, always played him with an agreeable twinkle in his eye.

As series six moves towards its conclusion, several familiar faces pop up. Clive Swift plays the shifty Trevelyan whilst Joby Blanshard (best known as the plain-speaking Colin Bradley from Doomwatch) appears as Van der Merwe.

After being somewhat subdued in the early episodes, Ted roars back into life (few sights are more impressive than that of Patrick O’Connell in full flight) whilst Brian and Jane seem to be forming something of an alliance, both personally and professionally. But Brian’s wounded psyche (he has a fear of being touched) might be a problem. Richard Easton, as so often throughout all six series, impresses here.

The sight of April Winter (Liza Goddard) who briefly appears in the penultimate installment – The Bonus – signifies that change is on the way for Merroney. His offhand comment that she’s his fiancee is a real leftfield jolt – although April’s been mentioned on several occassions (which has prepared the ground for her arrival) it’s hard to imagine the coldly efficient Merroney ever being in love. Clare is crushed by the news. Bill later tells Gwen that “the torch that girl carries for him makes the Statue of Liberty look like a candle”.

Hammond Transport has undergone substantial changes over the last few years, morphing from a wholly-owned family concern into a company with strong ties to the bank (where Sir Neville and Merroney reign). But it’s the proposed takeover bid from Kirkmans which threatens to split the Hammond family down the middle. Some, like David, would be happy to sell their shares for a handsome profit whilst Ted (and especially Mary) are resolutely opposed to the deal.

When Merroney goes AWOL (he’s in Amsterdam, meeting with Van der Merwe) the others (especially Ted) are concerned that he’s plotting behind their back. His adventures in Amsterdam are great fun, adding a touch of out-of-season glamour to the series. The sight of his discomforted face as Van der Merwe’s daughter whisks him round Amsterdam at great speed in an open-top jeep is worth the price of admission alone.

The series finale – Birthday – might be partly concerned with Mary’s birthday celebrations but business matters are also on her mind. The takeover from Kirkmans may have foundered but a merger with Van der Merwe’s company is still very much on. But Mary, frustrated at being out of the loop, begins to flex her muscles. As with previous years, the final episode finishes on a strong hook which will lead in nicely to the start of the next series.

The Brothers remains a very moreish and ridiculously entertaining series.  Richard Easton and Colin Baker especially impress, but there’s no weak links here.  Four decades on it’s still easy to see why the show built up such a large and devoted fanbase (not only in the UK but in many other countries as well).  Sharply defined and well-acted characters, placed in perpetual conflict with each other was a key part to its success and the passing of time has done nothing to dull this winning format.

The Brothers – Series Six is released on the 12th of June 2017 by Simply Media and contains thirteen 50 minute episodes across four discs.  RRP £29.99.

Patrick O’Connell, Jennifer Wilson, Richard Easton, Jean Anderson & Robin Chadwick

The Brothers – Series Five. Simply Media DVD Review

The beginning of series five finds The Brothers in something of a transitional phase.  Two key cast members (Gabrielle Drake and Hilary Tindall) had left the show at the end of the previous run, although fresh blood (most notably in the shape of Kate O’Mara as Jane Maxwell) would shortly arrive to shake things up.

The departures of both Drake (Jill Hammond) and Tindall (Ann Hammond) were used to good dramatic effect though.  Ann and Brian had gone through the relationship mill during the previous series and even though their union was now at an end, Brian continues to suffer.  But his broken marriage is just one reason why he goes severely off the rails in the early episodes.

Although Tindall was gone, her character was still alive and therefore a return was always possible (and  indeed Ann did make a fleeting reappearance in a handful of episodes at the start of the seventh and final series).  But Drake wasn’t so fortunate, as Jill is dispatched in the time-honoured way of dealing with soap actors who either can’t or won’t carry on (an off-screen accident).  Talking about this decades later in The Cult of The Brothers documentary, it seems that Drake was a little taken aback at just how ruthlessly Jill was dealt with.

Another character, Martin Farrell, had also left, which results in both personal and professional consequences.  Professionally, it means that the position of chairman is vacant – which seems tailor-made for the ambitious Paul Merroney.

And on a more personal note, it was plain that Ted Hammond’s nose was put out of joint last series by the interest Farrell had been taking in Jenny Kingsley (Jennifer Wilson).  So with Farrell out of the picture, Ted (Patrick O’Connell) rekindles his own relationship with her.  Lest we forget, Jenny carried on a lengthy and clandestine affair with Ted’s late father.  Unsurprisingly this meant she has always been viewed with great disfavour by Ted’s mother – the indomitable matriarch Mary Hammond – but it seems that Ted has eventually summoned up the courage to defy his mother and make an honest woman out of Jenny.  Although I’m sure there’s still going to be a few bumps ahead before they can enjoy a lifetime of wedded bliss.

Patrick O’Connell & Jennifer Wilson

The series opener, the aptly titled Life Goes On, finds Brian in a pretty poor state. This concerns the bank – they don’t want to see their investment in Hammonds put at risk because the new managing director is feeling flaky – but Paul Merroney has put plans in motion to protect their money ….

Although Merroney was a rather peripheral character during the last series, here he really starts to make his mark. For one thing, he’s gained an assistant – Clare Miller (Carole Mowlam). Apart from signifying Merroney’s increasing significance, Clare also emerges as a character in her own right – becoming close to David, for example.

Baker’s good value in these early episodes as Merroney begins his manoeuvres. Surprisingly, only the bluff Bill Riley realises that Merroney has his eye on the chairman’s job – which doesn’t say much for the business acumen of the others! There’s a delicious sense of duplicity on show from Merroney as he puts the blame for the recent ousting of Ted as managing director firmly on the shoulders of the departed (and innocent) Farrell.

The way the audience learns about Jill’s death is done in a very interesting way which makes a positive out of the fact that Gabrielle Drake was no longer a member of the cast.  Jill isn’t mentioned during most of the first episode, although that wasn’t unusual (she was absent from the first few episodes of series four).  It’s only right at the end of Life Goes On, when David runs into a friend who’s been out of town for several months that we find out Jill is dead.  This is an incredibly jolting moment which provides us with a strong hook into the next episode where her fate is discussed in detail.

The dynamic between the three brothers – Ted, Brian and David – has been the motor which has powered the series to date.  Whilst series five continues to play on their conflicts, the emergence of Paul Merroney as a major player refreshes this somewhat – as an outsider he has quite a different set of loyalties.

Colin Baker

But the brothers still dominate the storylines especially, in the early episodes, Brian.  In many ways he’s now got everything he wished for – he’s become managing director of Hammonds, ousting Ted.  Or has he?  We’d seen in previous series that it was Ann who was the ambitious one, constantly pushing him forward.  So the fact that he’s gained in business but lost out in his personal life must come as a bitter irony to him.

Richard Easton continues to impress as Brian, especially when he starts to lose the plot (the episode title Breakdown makes it fairly obvious what’s going to happen).  As his drinking increases, Brian is encouraged to seek psychiatric help.  And always around is Merroney, plotting to oust Brian at one point and then (so the others fear) attempting to buy Brian’s shares so he can gain overall control of the company. But as we’ll see, Merroney is no cardboard villain – he may be mainly motivated by self interest but he’s also not without compassion for the stricken Brian.

As Brian, ensconced in a nursing home, retreats into the background, so other plotlines begin to develop.  The long-running will they/won’t they relationship between Ted and Jenny is now very much back in “they will” territory and moves forward at a rate of knots.  The problem with Mary (Jean Alexander, as good as always) still has to be overcome though, as the icy disdain she feels towards the woman who conducted a long-term affair with her late husband continues to be a fruitful source of drama.  Even when Mary and Jenny appear to be on civil terms there’s always the sense that at any moment things could change ….

Although the departure of both Hilary Tindall and Gabrielle Drake left something of a hole, two new female characters filled the gap nicely.  Clare’s divided loyalties (between David and Merroney) generate a good source of drama which plays out as the series progresses whilst Kate O’Mara makes an immediate impression as Jane Maxwell.  Debuting in episode six, Flight of Fancy, Jane is the hard-headed director of an air-freight business which Hammonds have an interest in.  As a proactive business woman she’s something of a rarity in the world of The Brothers (Jenny might be a board member of Hammonds, but she’s a much more passive character).

Kate O’Mara

Also appearing for the first time in this episode is Mike Pratt as Don Stacey, a hard-drinking pilot.  This would be Pratt’s final television role before his death in 1976 at the age of just 45.  Don would appear throughout the remainder of series five and the first half of series six. Whilst it’s always a pleasure to see Pratt, it’s rather tempered by how ill and haggard he looks.

Yet again, things conclude in the boardroom (episode thirteen, Warpath) as Merroney continues to scheme although it’s possible that in Jane he’s finally met his match (a decade or so later Baker and O’Mara would once again lock horns, this time in Doctor Who).  With Ted under pressure and Brian’s fate still uncertain, things are left nicely poised for the following series to pick up where this one left off.

By now, The Brothers had become a well-oiled machine and series five not only manages to develop the existing characters in a variety of ways but it also develops intriguing new ones as well.  It continues to be highly addictive stuff, especially as the Hammonds, Merroney and Jane jostle for power and superiority.  But there’s time for more personal stories as well (Jenny’s longing for another child) which ensures that the series isn’t completely boardroom and business based.

The Brothers – Series Five is released by Simply Media on the 27th of March 2017.  RRP £29.99.

Richard Easton, Robin Chadwick & Patrick O’Connell

Gideon’s Way – The Reluctant Witness

witness

Red Carter (Mike Pratt) and his brother Syd (David Gregory) run a successful stolen car ring.  Their success sticks in the craw of Tiny Bray (Frederick Piesley) though.  Tiny spent four years inside for a crime he didn’t commit, thanks to Red, and the thought of revenge has obsessed him ever since his release.

Tiny is one of Gideon’s top informers – but Syd caches up with him before he can spill the beans to the Commander.  The younger Carter brother dishes out a savage beating and Tiny later dies from his injuries.  There was an eye-witness – Rachel Gulley (Audrey Nicholson) – but she’s a quiet, shy girl who’s reluctant to speak out.  However, the local beat copper, PC John Moss (Trevor Bannister), has a plan …..

The Reluctant Witness is packed full of incident and interest.  Like a number of actors, Mike Pratt made two appearances in Gideon’s Way, playing different characters.   Red was the more substantial role and Pratt certainly holds the viewers attention.  Red’s the elder brother and it’s plain that the younger Syd idolises him.  But Red’s not only older, he’s also wiser (at least during the early part of the story) since it seems more than likely he’d have never lost his temper with Tiny, as Syd did.

In contrast, Syd is portrayed as violent and reckless.  An insight into his personality is given during a party thrown by the two brothers.  Syd is slightly rough with his female companion, but is unrepentant – with the clear implication given that his treatment of the opposite sex is often far from chivalrous.

The party scene also has one of my favourite Gideon/Keen moments, as the officers gatecrash the swinging hop to sow a little discord.  They tell the brothers a fairy story – all about a stolen car ring – although there’s no happy ending (they drop the bombshell that Tiny’s dead).  Gregson and Davion work really well here.

You might wonder why Tiny was Gideon’s informant or indeed why the Commander is involved in such a low-key murder.  It’s a fair question, but for once there’s a good reason – Tiny was the only man convicted by Gideon who he later discovered was innocent.  If Gideon’s never been responsible for convicting anyone else who wasn’t guilty, then that’s a remarkable (if slightly unbelievable) strike-rate.  So Gideon feels obligated to get involved (not that he usually needs an excuse, he just tends to pitch in!).  But with Rachel hesitant to speak up, how will they obtain a confession from Syd?

This is a fairly unusual episode of GW, since a generous amount of screentime is given over to a uniformed copper.  Trevor Bannister, forever Mr Lucas in Are You Being Served?, is the fresh-faced man on the beat.  He gives a lovely performance as the friendly beat bobby who’s been carrying a torch for Rachel for some time.  Their relationship hasn’t got past the “good morning” stage, although there’s no doubt that he’s smitten.  The way that he stops the traffic to allow her to cross the road is a good example of this.

The only criticism I have of Audrey Nicholson’s performance as Rachel Gulley is that several times the script tells us that she’s plain and mousy.  Eh?  She’s a lovely looking girl!  But it’s true she’s something of a downtrodden waif, thanks to her domineering mother (played to great comic effect by Patricia Burke).

Mrs Gulley is a man-eater, plain and simple.  She tells Rachel to pretend to be her younger sister, as she doesn’t want her latest date to know that she’s old enough to have a grown-up daughter.  Later, when the relationship between Rachel and John deepens, Mrs Gulley is invited to tea with Rachel, John and John’s mother.  The tone is set when she asks for something a little stronger than tea – both John and Mrs Moss look a little askance at this, but politeness dictates that they don’t comment directly.  Alas, things go downhill from there, but John isn’t bothered – he tells Rachel that he wants to marry her, not her mother.

John’s plan to catch Syd is a decent one.  Gideon, Keen and John lie in wait at Rachel’s house and when Syd calls round – threating her to keep quiet or else – they’re in a position to overhear everything. But Rachel will still need to testify and this is the point in the story where Red starts to become a little unhinged.  When he sent Syd round to threaten the girl, he was quite clear – no excessive violence.  But once Syd’s been arrested he changes his tune – now he wants the girl dead.  As he says himself, Syd’s all he’s got in the world, so he’ll do anything – including murder – to protect him.

However, Rachel escapes his clutches (quite why he didn’t send more men after her is something of a mystery).  This means that he has to make an even more desperate gamble – attempting to hijack the prison van.  He must clearly love his brother, although it might have been a good idea for at least one of his gang to tentatively ask if this was altogether wise.  No matter, it concludes the story in an exciting way and there’s a nice twist which totally knocks the wind out of Red’s sails.

Mike Pratt, Trevor Bannister and Audrey Nicholson are three reasons why this episode is a favourite of mine.  The supporting players are far from shabby though and there’s familiar faces to spot, such as Gretchen Franklin (playing Tiny’s wife).  The eagle-eyed may also spy an uncredited Peter Purves as one of Red’s gang.

It’s getting a little predictable to keep on saying how good this series is, but it’s true nonetheless and The Reluctant Witness maintains the high standard.

Callan – Rules of the Game

rules of the game

Written by Ray Jenkins. Directed by Voytek

Bishop orders the Section to harass a Russian cultural attache called Medov (Mike Pratt).  Callan is told that a British diplomat was recently expelled from Moscow, so this is in the nature of a tit-for-tat exercise.  Cross is assigned to wage psychological warfare on him and ultimately engineer a situation that will force him to be recalled.  But Bishop hasn’t been entirely honest with Callan and when Cross decides to involve Medov’s family it has dire consequences …..

Rules of the Game could be seen as the first of a two-parter which concludes the story of James Cross (the repercussions from the events here are a major factor in the following episode).  Ever since Cross was introduced at the start of series three – Where Else Could I Go? – he’s been something of a loose cannon.  But since the Section is such a dehumanising place it’s not surprising that it breeds a certain type of very dysfunctional person.

Rules of the Game offers us a close examination of exactly how he operates.  Medov seems to be a blameless figure, but that’s of little concern to Cross since he’s got his orders and is happy to carry them out.  He therefore stands in complete contrast to Callan – a man who never stops questioning.  As Callan later tells Bishop.  “I was trained never to take anyone or anything on trust. You start off with one simple premise – everything smells. Yourself, the job you’re doing and the man who tells you to do it. You’re told something, you test the opposite.”

Any available resource is fair game for Cross, so Medov’s wife Alevtina (Virginia Stride) and daughter Danera (Verna Harvey) are simply there to be used (Callan tells him at the start that they aren’t his concern, but he reluctantly agrees later they can be used as leverage).  Nuisance phone calls help to ramp up the pressure, but it’s not enough to force Medov’s hand – so more extreme measures have to be taken.

As might be expected, it’s a messy ending.  Medov’s daughter is critically injured by Cross and Medov surprises Callan by asking to defect.  The brief meeting between Callan and Medov is a powerful ending to the story.  Medov’s life has been destroyed – but who was ultimately to blame?  Was it Cross for lashing out at Danera or was Bishop, the man who gave the orders, more culpable?

Patrick Mower is excellent in this episode.  It’s a pity that he didn’t stay on for the remainder of series four as the Callan/Cross/Meres triangle would have been an interesting one.  Presumably it was felt that now Anthony Valentine had returned the character of Cross was somewhat surplus to requirements.

But it’s also just as much Mike Pratt’s episode as it is Patrick Mower’s.  Although Pratt will always be best known for Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) he packed a great deal into a relatively short career (he died in 1976, aged just 45).  Apart from many other film and television credits, he also was a skilled musician and turned his hand to script-writing, penning episodes for several television series, including Randall and Hopkirk.

With the battle of wills between Medov and Cross taking centre stage, it does mean that Callan is rather pushed to the sidelines.  But on the plus side Woodward shares some nice scenes with James Cossins (who plays the effete spy Neville Dennis).  Cossins was always such a reliable supporting actor (and if you don’t know the name, you’re certain to recognise his face and voice).  His byplay with Woodward provides some light relief in an otherwise dark episode.

One slight script flaw is that Bishop tells Callan this will be his first job as Hunter (which rather ignores the previous episode).  But on the plus side this scene gives us a chance to see Bishop’s office – which is very large and very sparsely furnished (it certainly impresses Callan).

A character-heavy piece with little action, Rules of the Game is another quality installment of a very consistent series.