Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Five

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This episode provides the living Sir Edward with one last hurrah (his ghost will haunt subsequent instalments). Four encounters – with Jan, Abby, Charles and Ken – are key.

Up first is his meeting with Jan. Initially cordial, it doesn’t take too long before the genial Sir Edward once again shows his true colours. Easy to see why Jan later refers to him as frightening – there’s certainly something disquieting about the way he tries to force her to admit she made a mistake when she declined his offer of marriage. Ever the businessman, he dangles a gift before her eyes (Highfield) if only she’ll say it was so. No surprise that she storms away ….

Prior to this frosty parting of the ways, he’d opened up a little regarding his illness (mentioning that even a cold might be enough to see him off). As we’ll see, this wasn’t simply a random piece of information.

A little later, we see Abby and Leo having a heated discussion. You just know that after he says he doesn’t want to talk about Sir Edward any more, the man himself will turn up at their front door. Predictable, but entertaining. Abby and Sir Edward are relaxed in each other’s company, but he doesn’t seem delighted when Abby asks if he’d consent to having his picture taken with Thomas. This faint air of comedy then goes much darker after Abby innocently mentions that the baby might have a cold. The way Sir Edward divests himself of the gurgling child as soon as possible mixes farce with tragedy.

The most important meeting is, of course, with Charles. They’ve skirted around some of Charles’ deep-rooted resentments before, but this is the most detailed discussion they’ve had (which seems apt, as it’s their last). The lack of love Charles has always felt from his father is paramount. “All I ever wanted was time, your time”. But time was something Sir Edward never had – money and possessions, yes, time to spend with his son, no.

With Charles unable to accept his father’s apology, the only compromise they can agree on is to drink to the fact that Sir Edward had always been a formidable business adversary. There’s something tragic about the way that Sir Edward eagerly latches onto this small crumb of comfort – for a lonely, dying man it’s clearly better than nothing. Possibly the way he spasms in pain whilst Charles’ back is turned is slightly over-egging the pudding, but it’s still a very nicely played scene.

Sir Edward’s brief encounter with Ken – outside the front of Highfield – is chiefly interesting because it causes Sir Edward’s fatal collapse (the hectoring Ken proved to be the final straw for the ailing Sir Edward). This is an odd little moment, mainly because Sir Edward was heading off to the polo match to give out the first prize and was seemingly going to drive himself. In his state of health? Had he given the chauffeur the day off? Easy to see why the pair had to be isolated, but it just doesn’t ring true.

Elsewhere, Jack manages to upset virtually everybody today. He begins with Avril, who was pushing him to complete the Leisurecruise boat. Jack doesn’t like anybody (especially not his daughter) telling him how to run his yard (a popular one to tick off your HW bingo card) and isn’t backwards in telling her so. In the past he’d have headed straight for the nearest bottle of whisky, but there’s a temporary reprise in the form of Vanessa. But since he’s then so horrible to her (telling her that since she never had a child, she’s in no position to lecture him about father/daughter relationships) it’s not surprising that she reverses her position and attempts to force the bottle on him!

As so often with Jack, this is just a storm which will blow over quickly. But it always helps to enliven an episode.

Orrin’s continuing to be irritating (no change there) whilst Ken’s getting boggle-eyed at the thought his latest scheme might come crashing down (which is why he made another attempt to blackmail Sir Edward). One plus in Ken’s favour is that he didn’t just nip off sharpish after causing Sir Edward to keel over (he must have called for assistance since we later see a doctor attempting to revive him). Mind you, possibly he had an ulterior motive as he later was discovered by Charles ransacking Sir Edward’s papers. That was an awkward encounter.

Lynne has a scheme to market a luxury skin-cream aimed at the sailing fraternity (I can’t see this becoming a major plot-thread, but stranger things have happened) whilst there’s a stranger in town ….

His face should be familiar – Richard Heffer had appeared in a string of popular 1970’s dramas (Colditz, Survivors, Dixon of Dock Green, Enemy at the Door) as well as the 1983 rabies drama The Mad Death, amongst numerous other shows. A dashing polo player, the mystery man has his eye on Laura (much to Orrin’s disgust) before later lavishing flowers on Vanessa.

She almost blurts out his name, but we have to wait to the end credits (where he’s billed as David Relton) for the penny to drop. So one of the Reltons (and possibly the black sheep at that) has come home to roost.

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Four

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The episode opens with a gorgeous sweeping aerial shot as the Xanadu makes its way back to Tarrant. This almost – but not quite – makes up for the fact that Leo is present and correct onboard and no worse the wear for his dip in the ocean. Whilst this isn’t as bad as negating an end of series cliffhanger, it’s still an annoyance to have set up a dramatic beat and then see it dismissed so casually.

All three elect not to tell anybody about Leo’s dice with death, Jack commenting that “it never happened, did it? Must have been a bad dream”. Was this a sly nod to Bobby’s shower exploits in Dallas? It’s a rare sunny day in Tarrant and a fair number of extras were pressed into service as the Xanadu makes its triumphant way into port.

Ken’s very active today (and he’s also wearing a very eye-catching jacket). First up there’s a meeting with Sir John. These encounters are always entertaining, not least for that way that Sir John (unique amongst Tarrant residents) always refers to him as “Kenneth”. Since the bank seems disinclined to help him raise some working capital, Ken then moves onto Sir Edward. This is also great fun, as he brazenly attempts to blackmail Sir Edward! You suspect he’s dicing with danger there.

Later, there’s more personal matters on hand as he invites Jenny out for a drink. Ken making a move on the prettier members of his staff isn’t a new thing, but Jenny (at present) isn’t prepared to give him more than a shoulder to cry on. It’s a fascinating few moments nonetheless, as Ken opens up about his childhood (his first racket was reselling school milk!) and the fractious relationship he enjoyed with his father. It’s a pity that we haven’t really looked before at what makes Ken tick, but better late than never.

He didn’t want to know anything about me, thought I was the black sheep of the family. Said if I didn’t sort myself out I’d end up going to prison. What did he know? Nothing. By the time I was eighteen I had my own business. It was a garage business. Do you know something? He was one of my first customers. He drove around in a used car when I drove around in a brand new one. I earned more in a week than he earned in a year.

Nice Orrin from a few episodes ago now seems to have been replaced with the more familiar Nasty Orrin. He continues to harass Abby whilst also making his presence felt at both Leisurecruise and Relton. Oh, and his braces are impressive as well.

The seasoned HW watcher should know never to believe what people say (they’re more than likely to do the exact opposite). So when Lynne declared in episode two that she had no interest in returning to England, I wasn’t convinced. And so it came to pass that she rather improbably hitched a lift on the Xanadu. Jan and Kate are absolutely delighted of course and there’s an awful lot of cooing as the pair welcome the young chick back into the fold. A rare moment of happiness, although how long everybody stays happy remains to be seen ….

Gerald and Laura have an awkward meeting. He’s still bitter and hurt over the way their seemingly close personal relationship simply evaporated. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Ivor Danvers was one of HW‘s most underrated performers and whenever he was given something dramatic to get his teeth into (sadly not very often, as most of the time he existed to line feed Charles) he never disappointed. Danvers deftly captures Gerald’s conflicted emotions whilst O’Mara also plays the scene well – Laura’s self-satisfied smirk after Gerald leaves is a sign that her contrite statements were valueless.

Vanessa eventually accepts Jack’s offer of marriage (I love the way he takes an extra gulp of whisky just before she delivers her answer!) whilst Jan continues to have a rocky relationship with Robert. In all the excitement of welcoming Lynne home, Jan totally forgot about the meeting he’d arrived with the bank’s solicitors. Cue a couple of grumpy looking extras looking at their watches and sighing. She may be apologetic, but it’s obvious from the expressions she pulls that Jan really doesn’t like anybody telling her what she should do.

The major revelations in this episode are left for the closing minutes (at least this is a cliffhanger which will be difficult to reverse). Sir Edward has gathered all his friends, family and business associates together for a garden party. Slightly surprising that Charles accepted the offer, but in plot terms all will become clear shortly.

Revelation one is that Sir Edward has married Polly. There’s a faint ripple of applause whilst various folk (notably Jan and Gerald) look rather ashen faced. But whilst we’re all still reeling from that, he drops another bombshell – he’s not a well man and has returned to Highfield for the last time. The camera seeks out Charles, who slowly begins to process precisely what this new information means ….

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Three

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Another episode, another surprise return. Today it’s Sir Edward. First he pays a visit to his country seat, where his faithful retainers are all lined up to greet him (his dogs look the most pleased). Later he gives Jan a fright by suddenly popping up. His car window swooshes down, he looks out and says “hello Jan”. Not the most devastating opening gambit, that’s for sure ….

Both Jan and Gerald independently wonder what Polly’s up to (sadly she didn’t make the trip over). Genial Sir Edward twists the knife when he tells Jan that Polly is now running a dozen boutiques. Jan’s glazed expression makes it plain that she’s not exactly delighted to learn of her oldest friend’s success. Whereas poor Gerald still seems to be slightly pining for her – one obvious plotline for series six would have been Polly’s return, but this never happened (presumably Patricia Shakesby was otherwise engaged).

The dinner date between Jan and Sir Edward is cordial but guarded – elsewhere though we see more strained relations. Leo and Abby have a brief, but utterly furious argument. Both have been angry before, but I’ve never seen them quite so out of control in each other’s company. Even the calming presence of Gerald isn’t able to cool Leo’s temper.

Leo and Abby do later make up before he, Jack and Bill head off for Gibraltar, but there’s definite fractures showing in their relationship. This is exacerbated when Orrin comes calling – his friendly peck on her cheek develops into something more and (at least to begin with) Abby doesn’t put up a struggle. Orrin can’t see anything wrong – after all, Gerald’s at the office and Leo’s away – but eventually Abby comes to her senses. Just in time! I was beginning to get a little worried.

Abby’s almost infidelity apart, there’s a nice quiet moment between her and Gerald. Although the first series often stated that Gerald was an absentee father, things now seem to have changed (or the information we had then wasn’t entirely accurate). The affectionate bond between them is obvious, whilst it’s also fascinating to learn how he looked after the infant Abby. Of course this may be because Polly had other fish to fry.

As ever, the interlapping business affairs have now become even more complicated. Orrin has bought Ken’s Relton shares and expresses a desire to work with Kate who’s keen to strengthen her ties with Charles. Meanwhile Charles is concentrating on his latest marina development whilst fretting about why his father has suddenly reappeared in Tarrant.

In the first episode, Jan’s business had suffered a serious hit after James borrowed deeply from company funds. This difficulty now seems to have been brushed aside as she’s keen to expand her empire even further with the perfume designed by Claude. Sir John is guardedly interested, but decides it has to be a joint venture between the House of Howard and the bank. And this is where Sir John’s nephew, Robert Hastings (Paul Jerricho), comes in.

You may know Jerricho as nasty Mr Hicks (the malevolent games master from Grange Hill who received summary justice at the hands of Mr Baxter. “Slip on the wet floor did you?”). Or possibly as the Castellan from Doctor Who (“no, not the mind probe”). Truly, that was an unforgettable performance. And believe me I’ve tried ….

In a way it’s surprising that we haven’t seen the bank take a closer interest in Jan’s business before – it certainly brings to mind the storyline which drove the action for several years in The Brothers (the arrival of merchant banker Paul Merroney and his desire to remould Hammond Transport).

The most interesting nugget of information from these scenes is Jan’s statement that she’s now the sole designer of her clothing line. No, really. It’s hard enough to swallow the notion that Jan could have built up a burgeoning fashion empire by stumbling across several world class designers (who all just happened to be unemployed) but the idea that Jan is now knocking out the designs herself (although we’ve never seen this happen) simply takes the breath away.

Moving on ….

It’s a windy day in Gibraltar (with poor Jack’s hair suffering somewhat). But after a brief drink and a quick view of the sights, it’s down to business as the trio prepare to sail the Xanadu back to England. Jack’s been blithely confident – shrugging off Vanessa’s entreaty not to go – but now it seems that she might have had a point, as they run into filthy weather in the middle of the ocean.

This was a major (and no doubt expensive) sequence. Shot in the controlled environment of a film studio tank and utilising a full-sized boat, it’s a memorable couple of minutes. The feeling of dread only increases when Leo is swept overboard just before the credits roll. An impressive cliffhanger, but I hope they don’t negate the impact by simply dismissing the events next time.

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The Saint – The Charitable Countess

Simon is in Rome in order to attend a charity ball held by the Countess Christina Rovagna (Patricia Donahue).  Although it’s ostensibly been arranged to benefit Father Bellini’s charity for destitute children, little of the money collected actually reaches the needy.  So the Saint decides to tilt the balance back in Father Bellini’s favour ….
Simon is well aware of the irony inherent in the Countess’ charitable soiree. A group of incredibly wealthy people paying exorbitant sums in order to enjoy the finest food and wines available (secure in the knowledge that their excesses will, in some way, help those less fortunate than themselves).  The Saint may be a part of polite society – feted for his notoriety – but he’s also content to also remain an outsider.

This is evident in the way he interacts with the Countess.  At first glance she appears to be a pleasant enough person – and a charitable lady to boot – so Simon is happy to flirt outrageously with her.  But are his feelings for her genuine, or is he simply dissembling – telling her what she wants to hear?  As we’ll discover later, it’s clearly the latter.  Simon is always the arch manipulator, content to play along with whatever the current situation might be (although he does seem shocked to discover that the Countess is making such a substantial profit from her charity).

So after learning that only nine thousand out of the fifty thousand dollars raised was donated to Father Bellini (Anthony Newlands) we’re forced to reassess everything we’ve learnt about the Countess to date.  Father Bellini is very pleased with this sum though – considering it to be a fortune – so clearly he’s not the worldliest of people ….

In sharp counterpoint to the pampered lifestyle of the Countess, we’re also privy to the miserable existence of a group of street urchins, led by the voluble Franco (Philip Needs).  True, they’re all rather grubby, but the dirt looks like it’s been applied by a make-up artist (these children seem just a little too well-behaved and mannered to convince as genuinely feral creatures).

If they don’t quite seem natural when they’re sharing scenes together (although the relationship between Franco and Angelina – played by Loretta Parry – is quite touching) then Franco develops into a more rounded character once Simon and Marco (Warren Mitchell) take him under their wing.  Simon instantly feels a sense of obligation towards the boy (Marco less so).   The scenes between Moore and Needs are strong ones, with Moore pitching his performance at just the right level in order to ensure that Needs gets a chance to shine.

If he’s good when acting alongside Needs, then Roger Moore really sparkles when he returns to confront the Countess.  Also present is Aldo Petri (Nigel Davenport), the Countess’ current companion.  Simon delights in explaining to Petri that the Countess Christina Rovagna began her life as Maggie Oakes of New Jersey.  She was a vaudeville artiste famed for taking off her clothes ….

The Countess is a cool customer though, not at all fazed by Simon’s full frontal attack.  She’s strongly disinclined to hand over the rest of the charity money and reacts with scorn when Simon suggests that she sells her necklace in order to raise the sum he’s requested.  So Simon elects to steal it – which meets with her whole-hearted approval.  In many ways she’s almost the female version of the Saint – outwardly frivolous but with a core of steel – which makes their battle so entertaining.  Had she simply been a run-of-the-mill criminal then the story would be much less interesting.  She’s convinced that he’ll fail dismally and be humiliated – but we know the outcome will be somewhat different.

Charteris’ short story was originally published in 1939 (as part of the collection entitled The Happy Highwayman).  This adaptation relocated the action from New York to Rome (and added the subplot of the urchins) but otherwise the main thrust of the story – the Saint sets out to steal the Countess’ necklace in order to repay her charity debt – remained intact.  In both the original story and teleplay he doesn’t do it in a Raffles-style way though, instead he removes all the jewels from the Countess’ dinner guests at gunpoint.  However, the adaptation scores by the way that Simon is able to bring Franco and the others into the dining room in order to show his victims the reason why they should be happy to give up their baubles.

Another good showcase for Roger Moore, The Charitable Countess manages to keep the essence of the original story – featuring the earlier, more criminally-inclined Saint – intact.  It rates four halos out of five.

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Howards’ Way – Series Four, Episode Thirteen

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If the final episode of series four has a theme then it seems to be shattered/shifting allegiances.  Sir John Stevens is up first, telling Sir Edward that he’s managed to hang onto his position at the bank (although he forgot to mention that he’ll have to resign in six months time).  So although it’s something of a hollow victory, it’s a victory nonetheless – but no thanks to Sir Edward, who threw him to the wolves without a second thought.  But his partial triumph does allow Sir John to waggle his eyebrows in trademark fashion whilst telling Sir Edward that they probably won’t meet again.

The swooping camera movement, as Sir John’s car moves away, helps to isolate Sir Edward (who’s still reeling from Jan’s absolutely final refusal).  But maybe he spies a kindred spirit in Polly.  Or is their relationship purely business-related?  Hmm, a little of both maybe.  Polly might appear to primarily motivated by a desire to help William and Abby, but it’s plain that she’s also interested in helping herself.  The last we see of them, they’re heading off to America in Sir Edward’s jet (with Polly looking very chic, compete with a stylish little hat).

But whilst Polly and Sir Edward are a new pairing, Polly and Jan have finally split up.  They have a cracking little ding-dong, with Jan taking great pleasure in firing her.  With Sir Edward as her new backer though, she’s probably not going to be down for long though ….

Ken’s on the up and up.  Not even another visit from the menacing Roy (a wonderfully melodramatic scene) can dampen his enthusiasm for long.  He’s got his eye on Sir Edward’s country pile (Sir Edward seems to want to sell – thereby excising his ghosts maybe) and (now that she’s free again) possibly Jan too.  I’ve said it before, but surely Jan’s not silly enough to fall for his feckless charm?  Maybe or maybe not.  She certainly enjoys his company, so it seems that the fire still burns between them.

But the fire between Charles and Avril has long gone out.  I think we’re meant to identify with Avril, but there’s not much to choose between them.  Avril’s certainly gone on a journey since the start of series one – over time she’s changed from an idealist into a hard-bitten businesswoman, virtually Charles’ mirror image.  He makes this observation to her – she’s just as much addicted to power as he is – and it’s telling that she doesn’t deny it.  They have one last meal – at Tarrant’s ever popular eatery – where she delights in telling him that (via some share juggling) she’s now gained control of Relton Marine.

So Charles has been bested in business.  But he’s not downhearted – Avril may have a majority shareholding, but she doesn’t have complete control.  Expect this plotline to pick up again during series five.

Charles and Avril are history, but what about Abby and Leo?  Prior to the big race in Guernsey, they have a quiet lock of the lips, but it does seem that once again Abby sees her future in America (where the saga of William continues to rumble on).  As for Leo, he seems to be something of a loose cannon.  Avril’s concerned that he’s being unduly reckless during his powerboat trials, although she isn’t able to convince him of this (not that she tries too hard).  Avril and Leo do have a nice pouting scene as he glowers at the suggestion he’s pushing too hard.

Or maybe Avril’s simply mistaken.  Jan doesn’t notice that anything’s wrong with him (although this could just be another example of Jan’s lack of interest/empathy in her son).  Maybe Leo’s trying to prove something to Abby.  Or does he just want to win the big race?

We’re in Guernsey.  There’s a host of boats on the start line, but it quickly boils down to a head-to-head between Ken and Leo.  Things drag on a bit, but eventually Ken crosses the line first.  And then it’s revealed that this is only the first race, so we’ll have to go through the whole rigmarole again.  Boo!

But the second race is rather more dramatic as Leo’s boat overturns and Abby – snapping from a helicopter – reacts with horror.  It doesn’t look good for Leo’s co-pilot (taken away in a bodybag) whilst Leo himself is conscious, but immobile.  This means that we’re in cliff-hanger territory – will Leo walk again?  Tune in next series to find out.

Gerald’s problems also look set to run and run.  I thought it was out of character for him to indulge in a spot of insider dealing – mainly because he’s (for a businessman anyway) so transparently honest. When the police come a calling, poor Gerald folds like a pack of cards.  And they’re interested in Charles too!

The final scene is one of the most celebrated HW‘s moments.  Ken, having won the race after Leo self destructed, finds himself alone on the quayside.  Alone, that is, apart from Avril.  His opening gambit (“why, Miss Avril Rolfe”) merely softens us up for an amazing scene from Stephen Yardley as Ken boasts that he’s beaten them all (ha, ha, ha).  The sight of Ken, now all alone after Avril flounces off, toasting his success is a sublime touch and, like all the other dangling plot threads, sets us up nicely for series five.

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Howards’ Way – Series Four, Episode Twelve

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There’s a few strangers round Tarrant way this week. First to pop up is Roy Johnson (Pip Miller), an old buddy of Ken’s. Although perhaps “buddy” is stretching it a bit far (the fact that the soundtrack is set to ominous and threatening makes this rather obvious). Johnson has an absent brother (if you think of the Piranha brothers then you won’t be too far off the mark) although it’s the present Roy who helps to shine more light on Ken’s dodgy earlier life.

A more convivial and real buddy is Scott Benson (Paul Maxwell) who gives Jack the surprise of his life. They were old war comrades back in Korea and Scott explains to a slightly rapt Abby and Leo just how much of a hero Jack Rolfe was back then. Scott’s story seems to be such a cliché (Jack saved his life under heavy enemy fire) that it’s slightly hard to take seriously, but it is presented dead straight.

Jack Rolfe as a military hero, complete with medals, takes a little processing – although Scott, still mourning the recent death of his wife, hasn’t returned to publicise his old friend’s former gung-ho ways. Instead, his presence adds to the general reflective nature of the episode, as many of the regular characters – not just Jack – seem to be at something of a crossroads in their lives.

Leo is bluntness personified with Abby, telling her that any court would probably decide that William would be better off with his American family.  After all, what can a penniless Abby offer in return?  Leo seems rather to be ignoring the wealth and influence of both Charles and Sir Edward, but maybe he was deliberately being harsh in order to try and snap Abby back to reality.  Telling that that he’s prepared to walk away from her might be part of the same plan …..

Now that the story about Sir John Stevens’ financial mismanagement has been made public, he needs friends.  He’ll always be able to rely on good old Sir Edward won’t he?  Nigel Davenport flashes a wide crocodile grin that should give you the first inkling that poor Sir John’s going to be thrown to the wolves.  They might be old, old friends, but there’s clearly no room for sentiment in business.  This may appear to be the end of Sir John’s story, but not so – he remains a regular in the series right up until the end, although – as with many characters – his allegiances shift over time.

Avril – disgusted at the way Charles fires Sarah – is still considering a take-over of Relton.  Remember when Charles didn’t want any truck with business, instead he was content to potter around the art galleries, operating as a bountiful benefactor?  That all seems an awfully long time ago, as we see him and Avril enter yet another round of sniping and name-calling.  There still something of a spark between them (Charles optimistically considers that they have a relationship still worth saving) but maybe it’s just the last flickering embers ….

Sir Edward’s latest cosy chat with Jan is one of his most fascinating.  We learn for the first time that (contrary to the picture painted by his PR people) his family haven’t owned Highfield for generations, instead his grandfather sold coal from a market barrow.  That Sir Edward had such a combative relationship with his father seems, possibly unconsciously, to have affected the way he’s always treated his son.  Even though Sir Edward can still recall the only time his father struck him, no lesson seems to have been learned from this moment.  Instead, he was as equally distant to Charles when he was growing up, resulting in their current, frozen, relationship.

Rather uncharacteristically, Gerald indulges in a spot of insider-trader to make a tidy profit.  The way he explains this to Polly (in a slightly shamefacedly way) does rather make the point that – despite his protestations – he knows he’s been a little naughty.  An odd thing for Gerald to have done, as he’s always seemed to be above that sort of thing (so either we don’t know him as well as we think we do, or the scriptwriters have suddenly decide to spice him up a little).

Tom and Jack start the episode all smiles.  Tom finally tells Jack that he thinks his Orkadian design is first-rate – which pleases Jack no end (Tom might not be a designer of wooden boats, but his opinion is still worth something).  The long-term HW watcher will probably be asking themselves exactly what Jack will do to break this fragile entente cordiale.  Why, he offers the American rights of the Orkadian to Scott of course, managing the neat trick of irritating both Tom and Avril at the same time.  I love Jack.

How many times has Jan refused to marry Sir Edward?  I almost wish now I’d kept a tally as I worked my way through these episodes, but this most recent one (“I am not for sale”) must surely be her last word on the matter.  Mind you, I did think that last time.

Ken and Avril form a potentially unholy alliance. All business of course, but the possibility that they might start a relationship is so mind-bogglingly bizarre that I’d love to see it. They’re hanging out in what I’ve now decided must be Tarrant’s only restaurant, and when Ken spies Sir Edward and Jan close by (of course, remember what I said about the lack of eating facilities elsewhere) he tells Avril that his own designs on Jan are all in the past. So was the end of the previous episode just a false cliffhanger or is Ken lying again? Time will tell.

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Howards’ Way – Series Four, Episode Eleven

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The Barracuda pulls into harbour and Robert Hudson (Bruce Boa) emerges.  Abby’s father-in-law, he instantly casts an imposing presence (we’d previously seen him back in series two and he hasn’t changed since then).  He’s a genial chap on the surface, but it’s plain that underneath there’s an even more ruthless and implacable type than Sir Edward or Charles put together.  And this is the man who Abby hopes will meekly hand William back to her?  The omens don’t look good ….

Hudson’s come complete with a small entourage – a female secretary whom he quickly dispatches to London and a male assistant who seems to be multi-skilled (does one of his attributes include functioning as a bodyguard?).  Sir Edward is on hand to welcome him and for the moment it’s all smiles.

Later, the pair have a horseback chat.  I have to say that Bruce Boa doesn’t look terribly comfortable in the saddle – he rather wobbles around from side to side, even though the horse is barely clip-clopping along.  Nigel Davenport, by contrast, looks much more secure.

The soundtrack for this episode is a little different from the norm – with no sailing scenes to speak of, the usual score – honking saxophones – isn’t called for.  Instead (and reflecting the tone of this instalment) there’s a subdued, twanging guitar feel – which compliments the anxious feeling generated by Hudson’s presence.

A good example of the thorough way Hudson operates is demonstrated when a photographer (hiding in the bushes) snaps Abby and Leo, mid-embrace.  Previously we’ve seen how Leo was offended by Sir Edward’s suggestion that he should steer clear of Abby (at least until the question of William’s custody has been decided) but moments like this make it plain that he knew what he was talking about.

The meal between Hudson, Sir Edward, Jan and Abby is as monumentally awkward and awful as you might expect.  Abby’s gone to some trouble – cooking Hudson’s favourite food, doing her hair, popping on a nice dress – but none of that is going to cut any ice with him.  And when Abby impatiently wonders why they’re sitting around chit-chatting, rather than discussing William, the fragile peace shatters.

Hudson’s not interested in negotiation and decides that Abby – especially now he has evidence of her canoodling with Leo – doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on.  And what does Sir Edward do?  Not a lot really.  It’s strange to see him so impotent and unable to respond, but as he later admits to Jan, there was nothing he could do.  Both he and Charles had independently attempted to find some chink in Hudson’s armour – a way (via business) to bring him to heel, but there was nothing doing.

And so it’s goodbye to Bruce Boa again (until the twelfth episode of series six). Hudson’s appearance here may be brief, but the discord he sows lingers for some time.

Elsewhere in Tarrant, the question of Sarah Foster’s position at Relton is causing friction between Charles and Avril.  First their personal relationship ruptured, now it looks as if their business relationship might go the same way.  Charles wants Sarah fired, Avril doesn’t.  If Charles pushes, then Avril threatens to resign – although she won’t stop there.  She’s mulling over the possibility of launching a bid to take over Relton herself.

She discusses this with Jack over dinner (where else? At our favourite restaurant of course).  Now that I’ve started to notice how often the great and good of Tarrant use the same very small restaurant each episode, I can’t un-notice it.  Michael and Sarah were in there earlier on, although at least they did sit by the teeny-tiny bar (which isn’t seen too often).

Jack continues to be on fine form.  There’s a lovely scene in the Jolly Sailor where – yet again – he’s extoling the virtues of orange juice.  Kate eyes him suspiciously,  meaning that you can possibly guess the punchline.  She takes a sip and it turns out to be practically neat vodka!  This is just one of a number of occasions when Jack’s called upon to give us a hangdog look.

The dinner-party from hell seems to signify the end of the teetering relationship between Jan and Sir Edward.  She returns his gift – the flashy sports car – and sets off on the long walk home.  But then Ken happens to drive by and she gladly accepts a lift.  Even though she knows that Ken can’t be trusted an inch, there’s a little frisson between them.  Could they hook up again?  Surely Jan wouldn’t be that stupid.

The day after the night before, Abby ends up on the dockside, rather the worse for wear.  She’s tired and emotional, telling Leo that the chances of her regaining William seem remote.  Wailing that she hasn’t got a friend in the world, it’s the cue for the ever-loyal Leo to her that she’s got at least one ….

howards s04e11-02