Howards’ Way – Series Three, Episode Ten

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After a quick opening scene in which Sir Edward spells out his endgame for those not previously paying attention (he’s been buying up companies in order to establish himself as Charles’ business partner) we switch to an unusual POV shot, as a mysterious stranger approaches Anna.

It turns out to be her father (the always wonderful Burk Kwouk).  It’s fair to say though that Kwouk hasn’t exactly been stretched during his appearances, since Mr Lee hasn’t been called upon to do anything more than look menacing and unapproving.  Anna’s story – a young woman caught between tradition and the desire to strike out in her own right – would have been a decent one to explore, but it’s been tackled in a fairly superficial way.  No doubt this is due to the fact that Anna has never been really established as a character in her own right –  instead she’s more of a cipher, designed to fulfil the plot function of strengthening (and then weakening) Jan’s business empire.

Most of the regulars are still in Cowes, toasting Tom’s victory, and this is where Avril and Emma meet.  Icy best describes their brief chat although Tom and Avril do enjoy a brief moment of rapprochement.

The triumph of the Barracuda is also the point at which many of the rifts in the Howard family are healed.  Jan tells Tom that she’s proud of him, which is a sharp reversal from her position in S1, where Tom’s desire to join the Mermaid and design the Barracuda was the cause of a great deal of strife.  Leo’s also on hand to share in the sudden glow of warmth that exists between his parents and although Lynne is far away, in one way she’s present (via a congratulatory letter).

It’s notable that since Leo and Amanda got so unexpectedly hitched, we’ve not spent any time with them alone.  All of their scenes have been with others, which has made assessing their current state of happiness difficult.  But the cracks seem to be showing here as Leo – sporting the rolled-up jacket sleeves look again, sadly – and Amanda don’t seem to be able to have the briefest of conversations without bickering.  And when he sees her flirting with Ken, the blood pressure begins to rise ever so slightly ….

Leo returns home later, bunch of flowers in hand, keen to apologise for his recent moodiness.  But the sight of Amanda jiving to the sounds of Rick Astley with a couple of friends doesn’t please him at all.  This is just another flashpoint in their brief, but unhappy, marriage.

I had a feeling that Jan’s good mood wouldn’t last long.  She’s less than pleased that work on her boat design is progressing so slowly.  Tom tries to tell her that it’s a process of trial and error whilst Bill is even more blunt.  “It might not matter if a dress doesn’t fit. You can always pull it together with a safety pin. Not the innards of a boat though”.  As so often, Jan is cast as the villain – impatient and arrogant (which is a pity since it rather reduces her character).

The continual pressure she’s been heaping on Anna also doesn’t show her in a good light.  Once again Jan’s placed her own business interests first, not caring that Anna’s been in a state of turmoil for some time.  This all comes to a head during a fashion shoot at Sir Edward’s country house – she keels over, with Sir Edward coming to the rescue (he scoops her up in his arms).  That he seems more concerned about Anna than Jan does is another telling moment.  Is this because, for all his hard-bitten business attitude, he’s got a core of old-fashioned decency or is it more to do with the fact that he recognises Anna is an asset?  Without Anna, Jan’s fashion business would be a dead duck.  There’s no right answer, so the viewer can make their own choice.

Jack’s business relationship with Jan isn’t going terribly smoothly.  He seems to have accepted he can’t remove her, so instead he beetles round to Kate and asks her if she could possibly have a word with her daughter.  Poor Jack.  His tale of woe (Jan accused some of the lads of being lazy and then told Jack he didn’t know his own job!) leaves Kate unmoved.  It’s a delightful moment when Jack explains why Kate’s the right woman for this job. “I mean, you stick your nose in here, there and everywhere.  I think that’s where Jan gets it from”.  Jack and Kate have enjoyed some lovely comic scenes over the years, but this must be one of the most enjoyable.

Charles has given Gerald several days off which allows us the unusual sight of Gerald and Polly out and about and enjoying each other’s company.  Their time together is also the catalyst for Polly to make an important life choice – she’s going to get a job.  She wants to work at one of Jan’s boutiques but is hesitant to ask her old friend, feeling that it would encroach on their relationship.  But wouldn’t you know it, before she can ask for a job, Jan’s offered her one.  Spooky!  Jan denies that Gerald had pulled any strings so it must just have been synchronicity.

This is the first episode in which we hear Sir Edward express an opinion about Ken.  “Barrow boy” is his summation, so you can expect that any business dealings between them will be brief and unpleasant.  But it looks as if Ken will be facing problems on several fronts, as one of his new employees – ex Relton-man David Lloyd (Bruce Bould) – turns out to be a mole for Charles.  So whilst Charles hasn’t mentioned Ken recently, it appears that he’s still interested in crushing him like a grape ….

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Howards’ Way. Series Three, Episode Nine

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There’s funky music as we open at Cowes Harbour.  I love the DJ’s cheesy chat. “Whoa. Level 42 and Hot Water. Taking you from Hot Water to choppy waters”.  Steve Wright would have been impressed with that link.

In addition to the traditional Fastnet race, there’s also the Wolf Rock – a handicap race in which Tom’s entered the Barracuda.  Aussie journalist Michael, along with Leo, Amanda and Jack, are crewing – although Jack’s disappeared and Michael seems more interested in taking photographs of the alluring Amanda.  Can’t really blame him for that.  But tempers flare later after Leo starts to become rather ticked off at the attention he’s paying her.  It’s not really a major scrap, Leo gives him a bit of shaking and that’s about it.

Jack’s nipped off to meet an old flame, Vanessa (Lana Morris).  Never mentioned in the series before, her appearance therefore comes as something of a jolt.  During their conversation a few details are teased out – Jack’s the one who contacted her after realising she was in the area and he muses how he ever let her slip away.  There’s a straightforward explanation – when they knew each other Jack was still married and now she is.  Given that he’s rarely shown any interest in the opposite sex – apart from a brief infatuation with Dawn – this scene helps to broaden Jack’s character (although it won’t be until series five – when Vanessa becomes a regular – that things really start to develop on this score).  Romantic Jack? That’ll take some time to get used to.

You have to love coincidence.  The Barracuda has set off without him, so Vanessa begs Richard Spencer (John Moulder-Brown) to give Jack a lift to the starting point.  Richard recognises the Rolfe name – he hopes to work with Avril in the future – and is happy to assist.  The sight of Jack, lounging in the back of Richard’s speedboat as they cut through the waves, is a delightful one.

Gerald has a meeting with Charles.  Having been AWOL, Gerald is bracing himself for trouble but Charles confounds him (and possibly the viewers as well) by being more than understanding.  Giving Gerald a blank cheque to cover the money he had to pay out for James’ treatment is just one way that Charles demonstrates how much he values Gerald’s business skill (and yes, friendship.  He mentions friendship too).

So following Charles’ glowing appreciation of his friend and colleague (I believe this is the first time it’s been acknowledged that they’ve known each other since their university days) it’s a neat twist that when Gerald returns home, Sir Edward is waiting for him ….

Sir Edward has a tempting offer and a stern test of Gerald’s loyalty.  Leave Charles and come and work for him for a vastly increased salary, a chauffeured car and a swanky foreign apartment.  Will Gerald put material gain over friendship and loyalty?  The way that Polly’s eyes light up at Sir Edward’s offer make it plain that she’s all for it.  Gerald’s not, but after his recent streak of wilful independence, it seems that he’s retreating into his shell as Polly persuades him not to say yea or nea straight away.

Gerald wants to stay with Charles.  Partly due to old fashioned concepts such as integrity and principle, but also because he quite enjoys working with him.  Polly can’t quite understand this, but she tells him that it’s his decision.  For the moment this is a new, improved Polly.  But how long will it last?

You might have assumed that Jan would be delighted to see Anna again, but she’s still furious about being left in the lurch.  “I picked you out from a college line-up to follow in the footsteps of a designer of international reputation. Have you forgotten what that means?”  Jan seems to have no understanding that Anna’s very youth and inexperience are partly the reasons why she’s been so torn about her impending arranged marriage (which she’s finally decided not to go ahead with).  We never really see Jan react to this news – in her world, her interests come first and everybody else trails distantly behind.

Is it just me, or has series three of Howards’ Way  been somewhat fixated on backsides?  After having previously been invited to appreciate the rear-ends of both Sarah and Leo, this week it’s Avril’s (admittedly attractive) derriere which is on display.  As the smooth-talking Richard, having hot-footed his way from Cowes, meets with her, the camera lingers on Avril’s bottom as he looks on (the way his eyes briefly flicker downwards seems to suggest he’s not unappreciative of the sight before him).  And is it just a coincidence that Avril’s line (“it’s very impressive”) is delivered as her back’s turned and her bottom’s to the fore?

Ken and Jan have a convivial meal.  Their upwardly mobile status is confirmed by the choice of food (the lobster’s very good apparently, it comes from Devon) and whilst Ken has to concede that he’s not in Sir Edward’s league yet, he’s blithely confident it won’t be long.  Is he still attempting to rekindle their relationship or is it more about business?  With Ken, you can never be sure, but I’ve a feeling that business will always win out.

Now that Jan’s a shareholder in the Mermaid, she’s popping up at the board meetings at Relton Marine and crossing swords with Charles.  Her relationship with Sir Edward is something which Charles finds disquieting and when Avril and Jan both team up to push for the Barracuda to go back into production, no doubt that also serves to slightly irk him.  A later private meeting between Charles and Jan is as awkward as you’d expect although once again you have to be impressed with the way that Jan’s become an expert in the boat world in such a short space of time.

Charles asks her to maintain the confidentially of Relton’s board meetings.  So when Sir Edward later asks her what Relton intend to do with the Barracuda, does she hesitate at all before breaking this confidence?  Nope, she’s quite happy to blab away with no compunction (Sir Edward must be delighted to have such a pliant spy in the enemy camp).

Barracuda wins the Wolf Race of course, was there ever any other outcome?  This means that Charles is finally forced to put it back into production.  Hurrah!

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Howards’ Way – Series Three, Episode Eight

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Tom, tinkering with the Barracuda, is approached by a journalist called Michael Hanley (Michael Loney).  Michael’s an Australian (if this wasn’t obvious by his accent, then the fact his first word was “G’day” might have been a not terribly subtle clue).  He wants to write the story of Tom’s life and Tom – desperate for any good publicity – is happy to agree.

There’s anger in the air at Leisure Cruise.  Ken’s more than a little miffed about the way Sarah spoke to a potentially important client and he makes his feelings plain – firstly through snarled comments and then with a raised fist.  Stephen Yardley’s certainly not holding back in this scene, although had Ken not been wearing a stripey jacket which looks something like a deckchair then possibly it might have been a little easier to take him seriously.  Sarah-Jane Varley’s ramping up the histrionics too – Sarah gives Ken a slap and as he walks away she collapses into a contrite, sobbing heap.

A tear-stained Sarah decides not to sell out to Relton after all (she still looks gorgeous through the tears) whilst Ken is dignified and stoic, telling her that they both have to live with the guilt of Mark’s death.  Is it wrong of me to suppose that this guilt weighs much less heavily on Ken than it does on Sarah?

Avril’s very much the hard-headed businesswoman these days.  Colin Linsdale (Peter Penry-Jones) has been a key member of Relton Marine for some time – but not any more after Avril fires him with very little ceremony.  Had he really fallen down on the job or can his removal be partly explained due to Avril’s increasing closeness to Charles? (i’s tempting to ponder whether she’s beginning to think and act like Chares Frere). Although Colin’s featured regularly from series two onwards he’s never been a central character, so losing him won’t impact the series in any way.  But he serves a purpose as a handy sacrificial lamb, illustrating the back-stabbing world of big-ish business.

Here’s something I thought I’d never see, Ken and Tom shaking hands and acting friendly.  Ken wants the Mermaid to build him a boat, although Jack (when he learns it’s a speedboat) isn’t interested.  But when Ken mentions that he’d like it built in wood, Jack perks up somewhat! Jack Rolfe seems to be somewhat more kindly disposed to Jan these days – she’s still hanging around the office and he’s not raging about it, so that’s progress of a sort.

It’s interesting to record that although the previous episode had seen Jan mentioning she’d be something of a sleeping partner – her own business interests being so plentiful – that’s not been the case so far.  The fact she’s suggested a new design possibility for Tom to look into (a lightweight craft, able to be towed behind an ordinary car) supports this.  It’s slightly hard to believe that on her first day she could pinpoint a lucrative gap in the market that neither Tom or Jack had previously considered, but this is fiction after all ….

An unshaven and ghastly looking Gerald staggers home.  It’s yet another tour-de-force scene for both Ivor Danvers and Patricia Shakesby.  Gerald finally confirms what most of the audience would have suspected for some time – James, who has just died, had been suffering from AIDS.  Maybe it’s Gerald’s bitter grief which makes him turn on Polly somewhat, acidly reassuring her that she’s in no danger (suggesting that their loveless marriage has never been consummated).

When Gerald confirms that he’s in the clear, Polly expresses heartfelt relief, although he fails to understand why.  This is another fascinating character moment which asks us to reassess what we’ve learnt about these two characters during the last few years.  Gerald has always appeared to be an affable, dutiful husband (never able to give Polly much time or any love, but still content to keep his side of the bargain) but his recent diatribes suggest that his true feelings towards his wife are much bitterer ones.

In contrast, Polly has tended to treat both Gerald and Abby with disdain and indifference, although – again – this isn’t the whole picture.  She tells him that “through all these years, through our wreck of a marriage, you have never wanted me. But I need you, Gerald. I love you”.  Polly’s always been an isolated character, but this year her disconnect has been total (not even Jan, her best friend, has spent any time in her company).

Tempers are fraying at the Mermaid with Jan and Jack (an odd couple) keen to take Ken’s commission and Tom opposing them.  Tom wonderfully taunts Jack that he’s only interested in the job since it’s made of wood.  “This yard might stand a better chance of surviving if everything you built didn’t look like the Mary Rose”.  Hah! A great line.  The notion that Jan and Jack would be on the same side is a delicious one, although they’ve got very different motives – Jack just wants to work in wood whilst Jan (facing the prospect of her fashion business dwindling to nothing now that her designer’s gone AWOL) spies a money-making opportunity and Jan loves money ….

Just when you think things can’t get any better, the door opens and Leo and Amanda walk in.  Howards’ Way is certainly firing on all cylinders at the moment – witness the nonplussed reactions of Jack, Tom and Jan after Leo breaks their happy news.

Is it just a coincidence that Emma looks very similar to Avril?  Given that Emma and Tom are becoming increasingly closer – and he’s only just broken up with Avril – possibly not.  She’s been keen to take their relationship further but he (thanks to his chaotic recent life) has been reluctant to commit.  But since they’re staring into each others eyes as the romantic, slow version of the HW theme plays, it’s fairly obvious that a lock of the lips is only a few seconds away.

I  love Kate’s greeting to Amanda.  “You are Amanda? Well you’re very pretty”.  This is delivered in the no-nonsense way that Dulcie Gray excelled at.  When Amanda’s father, Mr Parker, makes an appearance, stormy waters seem to lie ahead – but Tom is neatly able to direct him into a safe harbour when he suggests they both go off for a drink.  Tom’s good humour is nice to see.  After having been something of a haunted, wretched figure for the first half of S3 it’s pleasant that he’s finally sparking back into life.

Jan has to come clean to Sir Edward about her missing designer.  Manhandling a big cigar, he’s very much playing the businessman, which seems to discomfort Jan, who was probably hoping that Edward – the man – would have made an appearance.  He does make a good suggestion though (find another designer) which given the way Anna fell into her lap does sound a reasonable one.  I wonder why Jan hasn’t considered it?

Tom and Jan present a united front over the marriage of Leo and Amanda.  They may both have doubts, but they also both realise that the young couple have to find their own way – Leo and Amanda will either sink or swim, but they’re the ones who have to steer their course from now on (sorry, that’s the last nautical metaphor, I promise).

There’s a decent cliffhanger as Jan opens the door to … someone.  We don’t see who it is for a few seconds, but her shocked expression makes it plain that it’s an unexpected visitor.  Anna’s back ….

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Howards’ Way – Series Three, Episode Seven

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There’s going to be choppy waters ahead ….

Jan toddles up to the Mermaid, champagne in hand, keen to celebrate her new shareholding in the yard.  Tom’s face is a picture – he’s still not been able to pluck up the nerve to break the news to Jack, although it turns out he doesn’t have to.  When Jack rolls in from the Jolly Sailor, still chuffed about finding the pieces of the catamaran (which proves that the break-up wasn’t a design fault), he’s aghast to find Jan with her feet firmly under the table, already dishing out orders and offering suggestions.

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.  The sight of Jack’s appalled face suggests that this new partnership isn’t going to be plain sailing.  The fact that he tells her she has no place in his yard (it’s his yard again, mind) and pours away a proffered celebratory drink only reinforces this point.  “Damn him” says Tom, although Maurice Colbourne could have ramped up the anger just a touch more.

It’s a little hard to credit that Jan – after all the carping she’s previously made about the Mermaid – would want to sink her money into the business (although I guess you can explain this away by the fact that she’s changed considerably since S1 and now views the yard as purely a good investment).  But you could – if inclined – also view it as the first stage in a reconciliation.  Jan helps Tom out financially and in time they get back together.

Jan asks Bill to give her a guided tour.  She receives some wolf-whistles from the men and when Jack saunters by (“you still here? Thought you had some knitting to do”) she really hits the roof.  Jan then gives them all a stern lecture – whilst she may not know how to build a boat, she knows how to run a business (“which clearly none of you do”).

The irony is that Jan’s brilliant business empire is having a slight wobble.  The departure of Anna (due to the pressure of being forced into an arranged marriage) throws Jan into a tizzy.  Anna asked Leo to give her mother the news and it’s entirely characteristic that mother and son both view Anna’s plight very differently.  Leo emphasises with the way Anna feels trapped between two worlds whilst Jan simply wails at her son, wondering why she didn’t attempt to prevent her leaving.  Doesn’t he realise that without Anna she’s sunk?

Another partnership under pressure is that of Ken and Sarah.  She’s still keen to sell her shares to Charles – so what can the diplomatic Ken say to win her back round to his side?  “God, you’re sick, do you know that?” Hmm, possibly not the best opening gambit.  But Ken’s always a man keen to broaden his business portfolio and sets his sight on Leo.  Since Leo hates Ken’s guts with a passion this seems like an odd approach, but once Ken gives him a spin in his powerboat he’s putty in his hands …..

Meanwhile, Gregory de Polnay and his comedy accent returns.  Werner Grunwald’s function in the plot is to put Charles under pressure (he spies unfriendly takeovers and problematic venture capital looming).  The ins and outs of the financial dealings aren’t terribly interesting, but the way that Charles – for pretty much the first time – is being placed under extreme pressure, is.

Leo has an uncomfortable meeting with Amanda’s parents.  Mother is vague in the extreme whilst father is still convinced that Leo’s nothing but a gold-digger.  But the more he attempts to warn Leo off, the more dogged Leo will be in declaring his love for Amanda.  And since Leo lacks a common-sense voice in his life at present (both his parents are too wrapped up in their own worlds to offer coherent counsel) there’s no-one around to give him advice. This helps to explain why he later makes a life-changing decision.

The familiar face of James Warwick pops up as Geoffrey Silberston, a smoothie who catches Polly’s eye whilst Tom and Emma enjoy an embrace.  At the moment this is all business related – she once again comes up with some good suggestions about how he can restablish his professional reputation – but maybe business will turn into pleasure over time.

Jack’s grumpy mood continues – not even the common-sense beacon that is Kate Harvey can make him see sense over Jan – whilst Amanda and Leo go to the ball.  I’m not sure whether it’s due to Francesca Gonshaw’s slightly distracted performance or simply the way that the part was written, but Amanda is something of an unfathomable character.  Whether she actually loves Leo or is simply toying with him is a moot point.  Both lose their clothes when playing spin the bottle (a scene which has something for everybody since both are reduced to their underwear) but it’s the aftermath – Amanda decides they should get married and Leo agrees – which is the key moment.  And they don’t let the grass grow under their feet – one quick trip to the Registry Office and they’re Mr and Mrs Howard.

With an increasingly flaky Polly fretting that Gerald’s withdrawn £100,000 from their account and then disappeared (“Gerald, what have you done? Where are you?”) things are shaping up nicely as we approach the last half dozen episodes of this run.

Howards’ Way – Series Three, Episode Six

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The episode opens with Mark’s funeral.  Sarah – a vision in black – is still clearly very distressed, but it doesn’t take long before business matters rise to the surface again.  Now that Sarah owns two-thirds of the business, Ken’s in a vulnerable position.  Sir John pops up to break this bad news to him (and remains the only person to call him Kenneth).  The later twist that she plans to sell her shareholding to Charles is a delicious turnabout.

Leo’s turning into quite the lad.  He’s all hands on with a lady windsurfer, helping her to get a grip of the board (this he mainly achieves by moving his hands up and down her body!).  Amanda seems to have a spasm of jealousy about this, but it quickly passes.  I’m just glad that Leo’s not topless this time ….

Jan’s delighted with her life – now that she has three outlets she’s convinced that the whole of the South Coast will shortly fall to her.  But she’s so busy dreaming of future conquests that family concerns – such as Leo – fail to interest her.  Despite Kate’s pleading, Jan doesn’t want to waste time connecting with Leo (Kate’s convinced that he’s still pining for Abby).  But Kate leaves her with a very telling remark – if she’s not careful then one day when she returns home all the rooms will be empty.

Charles Frere is a perfect example of this – a businessman who has no other life.  And indeed his father is pretty much the same – Sir Edward might have been married, but it’s already been made clear that he didn’t treat his late wife very well at all.  Throw in Gerald and Polly’s loveless marriage of convenience as well and the point is obvious – you can be a success in the business world or you can have a rich, nurturing home life, but you can’t have both.

Sir Edward (spotting a roll-neck sweater) and Jan (a vision in one of the boutique’s dresses) enjoy another dinner at his country house.  As she’s about to leave you can tell that he’s itching to give her a kiss, but her momentary hesitation throws him off course.  He’s not to be denied though and, approaching her from behind, nuzzles her neck like an elderly Dracula.  Jan’s expression is hard to read – is she disgusted or aroused?  Given that she turns around and they lock lips I think we can safely say the latter.

The next day we learn that she stayed out all night, a fact which ticks Leo off no end.  Kate’s concerned that Leo’s anger will push him into a disastrous relationship with Amanda (this helps to partly explain why Leo’s been acting so erratically recently).  Tom approaches Jan for financial help – but he doesn’t want a loan, instead he suggests that she buys some of his shares in the yard.  This is an interesting move which will tie them together professionally, even though their personal relationship is now severed.

One of the drawbacks with Avril’s placement at Relton is that these days she’s rarely in the same room as her father.  That’s a pity as Jack/Avril scenes are always good fun.  But there is a nice one in this episode as Jack pushes her for more money to keep the Mermaid afloat.  Jack’s an arch manipulator and is quite happy to use a touch of emotional blackmail – Avril rails at this, but she can’t bring herself to say no to him.  So she promises to speak to Charles (or Charlie, as Jack calls him – albeit not to his face).

There’s a tender scene between Ken and Jan.  Ken, despite the combination of a yellow shirt and a blue tie, is in a humble mood – telling Jan that he’s pleased she’s made such a success of her life.  “I still miss you” he says and Jan’s later wistful look, as she heads off to join her dinner party, suggests that she still has some feelings for him too.

Patricia Shakesby and Ivor Danvers continue to impress.  Gerald’s now being pushed to the limit whilst Polly looks on – a concerned, but powerless, spectator.  When she tells him that she wishes he’d just go back to being himself, the response is immediate and angry.  “Myself? What, you mean the man that you’re used to walking all over, Polly?”  When Gerald then wearily responds that his life gives him no pleasure, it’s yet another bleak moment which Danvers delivers well – after all this time playing the yes man, its plain that he’s relishing some juicier material.

Emma continues to burn the midnight oil, looking for a solution to Tom’s problem.  She believes that the Lynnette collided with something – but proving it will be difficult, if not impossible.  But she’s reckoned without Jack, Leo and Amanda who manage to find the wrecked hull, even though it must have been like looking for a needle in a haystack.  Hurrah!

If Jack’s been a bit quiet for a few episodes then the balance is redressed here.  He delivers a long and heartfelt speech to Tom, apologising for his attitude and the way he’s failed to appreciate Tom’s hard work in the yard.  For Jack, a man never known for admitting he’s in the wrong, it’s a surprising moment.  It rather takes the wind out of Tom’s sails though, since he was about to mention that Jan’s going to buy into the yard.  But after such a glowing testimonial from his partner, Tom slinks away (deciding to fight that battle another day).

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Howards’ Way – Series Three, Episode Five

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The first step in Leo’s quest to become a tycoon starts here.  He can’t help but crow a little to his mother and grandmother about the fact he’s now a man of business – albeit bankrolled by a shady lady.   Series three was obviously the point when it was decided to turn Leo Howard into the series’ hunk, as these days he seems to spend some time each episode with his shirt off.  Although it’s nice to see that equality between the sexes is maintained – last time we were invited to ogle at Sarah’s backside, this week it’s Leo’s rear which is prominently displayed (and also receives a slap from Amanda for good measure).

Meanwhile, Sarah’s frantic.  Mark’s disappeared and she’s fretting that he’s gone straight to a solicitor to initiate divorce proceedings.  You won’t be surprised to learn that Ken’s taking things much more calmly, although his male ego is clearly bruised after Sarah tells him that her husband means more to her than he does.  But he doesn’t want to lose Mark either – good business partners are hard to find.  Jan continues to be a hard-headed businesswoman as we see her effortlessly managing to negotiate the best price for the latest part of her ever expanding business empire.

Anna needs a heart to heart with someone and in Jan’s absence naturally gravitates towards Kate. Where’s Jan? Back noshing at the big house with Sir Edward and crowing about what a top businesswoman she is.  Mmm, given that Tom’s looking slightly more hopeful these days (convinced that he can prove the catamaran design is sound) there must be an equal and opposite downturn on the cards for Jan soon.

Just as Bill has taken over some of Avril’s function in the yard (as a sounding board and a buffer between Tom and Jack) so Avril herself has rather displaced Gerald as Charles’ closest confidant (and their personal lives are becoming ever closer too).  Their latest wheeze is selling business units to the “right people” and Jan is an interested party, although when she learns that she’d have to deal with Avril it’s not surprising she’s rather less keen.  They do meet though – a delightfully awkward experience for both of them, although Jan once again manages to put her business ahead of any personal feelings.

Charles is a hard-headed rational businessman, except where his father’s concerned. At that point he loses all reason – if he feels threatened by him then he’s going to go all out to attack, no matter what the financial consequences might be.  This reckless attitude appals Gerald, who angrily wonders why Charles bothers to pay him if he won’t listen to his advice.  The cracks in their relationship are beginning to show and it concerns Charles enough to seek out Polly.  Is Charles operating under the guise of friendship or is it purely business?  Business of course.

Polly discovers the identity of Gerald’s terminally ill friend – James Gittings – and he explains that he’s paying his passage to America as there’s a chance that new medical research there might help him.  It’s not spelt out yet exactly what’s wrong with him, but it’s not difficult to guess.

Tom meets Emma Neesome (Sian Webber).  She’s an engineer who may be able to help him in his quest to vindicate his design for the catamaran.  Tom’s offer to buy her the most expensive dinner she’s ever had doesn’t seem to impress her that much (but we shouldn’t judge by first impressions).

Amanda and Leo continue to enjoy each other’s company – frolicking in the sea following a powerbike ride for example.  But then her father, Allan Parker (Leon Tanner), pops up and drops the bombshell that Amanda’s already engaged, which manages to wipe the smile off Leo’s face.

Tom and Jan celebrate their divorce with a glass of champagne.  They seem much more at ease with each other now that their marriage is over (which has lead many to surmise that had Maurice Colbourne not died and HW had gone to a seventh series, Tom and Jan would have got back together.

Mark – briefly – returns and although he doesn’t get the chance to duff up Ken he does exit very much in a blaze of glory.

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Howards’ Way – Series Three, Episode Four

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Leo’s continuing to keep an eye on his father.  A spot of father/son sailing takes Tom’s mind off his troubles – but only temporarily, as always in the background is the shadow of the broken catamaran.  As I’ve touched upon before, good weather in Tarrant is usually a rarity and this sailing day is no different – so quite why Leo’s wearing sunglasses when they get back to the dock is anybody’s business.

One of my favourite Ken moments occurs about five minutes in when he stares at Sarah’s shapely bottom as she’s bending over doing a spot of filing (typical Ken!).  But Sarah’s backside fades into the distance, as it were, after Mark grizzles that Ken’s entered the big powerboat race (£10,000 to the winner) without informing him.  So Mark vows to enter as well, setting up a juicy head to head between them (not only the race of course, but the question of Sarah too).

One of the more unusual developing relationships (even harder to swallow than Leo and Amanda) is that of Jan and Sir Edward.  After Jan makes her presentation to Sir Edward and the board, he suggests they discuss her work further over dinner.  Uh oh ….

It’s interesting that Jan won’t tell Leo who she’s going to be having dinner with.  Leo’s more forthcoming, telling Kate that he’s heading out for a date with Amanda.  It’s a small world, as Kate is able to tell him that Amanda’s grandfather used to be a beau of hers.

It’s not only a small world but Tarrant is obviously also a small place since Jan and Sir Edward choose the same restaurant as Ken and Sarah.  Sarah’s impressed with Jan’s dinner-date (“not bad, if you’re attracted to the mature type”) but Ken’s convinced that Jan’s interest is purely financial.  The way Ken laughs off Sarah’s suggestion that he’s jealous of Jan’s new companion is nicely done.

Leo might have been a bit quiet on the causes front recently, but the inequality of life clearly still rankles with him.  And Amanda, one of the idle rich, becomes his latest target as he asks her whether she ever feels guilty about her aimless existence.  “Driving around in a fancy car, owning a boat you never use, doing nothing with your life”.

Leo’s clearly not one for diverting smalltalk then, admitting to Amanda that he’s never really had a girlfriend.  He briefly chats about Abby – mainly touching upon the fact that she’s everything that Amanda isn’t.  Then Amanda decides that she’d like to invest her money in Leo – they’d become partners (not only in business, but personally).  This has all the hallmarks of ending very badly ….

The Dixon of Dock Green connections continue.  Last week it was Gregory de Polnay, this time it’s Nicholas Donnelly (here playing Peter Melrose, the solicitor placed in opposition to Jack and Tom).  The general opinion is that there was a design fault with the catamaran – something which Tom doesn’t take at all well (although his spasm of anger is brief).

While Tom continues to suffer, Jan’s upward mobility continues.  After mentioning to Sir Edward that she’s always admired his country house, he spies an opening and invites her for lunch and a guided tour.  Although he claims not to be lonely, the reality seems somewhat different as he rattles around his country pile.  Like Charles, his business is his life, but is Sir Edward looking for something more?

I think that Jack thinks more logically when he’s drunk.  Although he’s weaving dangerously from side to side at the Jolly Sailor, he still manages to come up with a good idea – if they can put the pieces of the catamaran back together then they’ll be able to prove that the break-up wasn’t a design fault.  Glyn Owen was always a top drunk actor (let’s be honest, as Jack he had plenty of practice).  Compared to him then, Maurice Colbourne’s pretty much a novice (he’s not a bad drunk actor, simply not in Owen’s class).  Jack’s attempt to lead the reluctant drinkers at the Jolly Sailor in a chorus of For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow is something of a treat.

It’s all smiles between Charles and Avril as they stand on the quayside as the big powerboat race is about to begin (Charles will be handing over the prize at the end, hopefully to Relton’s own boat).  Simon May cranks up the incidentals – wailing saxophones ahoy – as the boats set off.  But the smiles are soon wiped off their faces as Ken comes in first and Mark second.  Ken – a vision in yellow – can’t help but crow ever so slightly as he accepts his winnings from Charles.

There’s a sense that the rather misfiring love triangle between Ken, Sarah and Mark is finally coming to a head. Mark’s apparently set off on a business trip – but that’s just a ruse.  As Sarah and Ken canoodle aboard a boat, he’s standing on the shore, binoculars in hand, wearing a resigned expression (“oh dear” says Ken when they spot him).  But given how far the boat is away from Mark, they must have extremely good eyesight ….

Since the Tarrant weather once again isn’t very appealing, you have to give top marks to Sarah Varley for wearing a bikini without shivering.  As for the cuckolded Mark, he’s failing to exhibit much in the way of hurt or anger – mild inconvenience yes, anger no.  Will he finally decide to give Ken a well-deserved duffing up next time?  Fingers crossed ….

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Howards’ Way – Series Three, Episode Three

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It’s interesting to see how Bill’s moved more into the office this year (effectively replacing Avril as a – less attractive – buffer between Tom and Jack).  Tom’s not a happy man – the production of Barracuda has been temporarily suspended and he’s convinced that Charles is pursuing a vendetta against him.  Jack’s delightfully laid back about it all, as usual he’s quite happy that something will turn up to save them.

Tom and Avril have another confrontation.  I have to confess that Avril’s puffy sleeves captured my attention for a few seconds, but once Maurice Colbourne started ramping up the drama I snapped back into following the plot.  Tom’s paranoia continues to bubble away. Given the breakup of the catamaran it’s possibly no surprise that the Barracuda also has to be considered suspectl but he clearly doesn’t see it like that. Instead it’s obvious to him that Charles is interested in breaking him due to his relationship with Avril.

The thrusting wheeler-dealer that is Ken Masters has negotiated a deal with Robert McIntyre (Fraser Kerr).  Mark isn’t happy though, he’s convinced that McIntyre’s boats aren’t the sort of thing they should be selling (suddenly Mark’s turned into a mini-Jack, concerned about quality and craftsmanship).  Or does he suspect that his wife is embroiled with Ken? Hmm.

Jan effortless rise to the top continues apace.  Anna’s father, Mr Lee (Burt Kwouk), seemed to be a potential problem – but he quickly agrees that his daughter can go and work for Jan.  This seems all too easy – surely there must be a few roadblocks ahead?  Compared to Tom, who seems to be on an equally effortless rise to the bottom, Jan is leading a charmed life at present.   And then she spies an advert from Sir Edward Frere – offering venture capital for new businesses (her eyes light up at this).

There’s another brief insight into Gerald’s private life when he takes a call from a Dr Reynolds.  Even before we hear what the call is, the soundtrack helpfully (or too obviously, depending on your point of view) makes it plain that it’s bad news.  Polly hears the call (bad news about someone) but once again Gerald can’t – or won’t – share his worries.

But the tightly-wound Gerald can clearly not be wound any further.  When he discovers that Polly’s been on yet another spending spree, he reacts by smashing her latest purchase.  But this is only a pretext – it’s not her that he’s railing against, instead it’s his own internalised pain.  To give her credit, Polly is concerned and wants to help, but at present Gerald still can’t let her in.

Gregory de Polnay, probably best known as DS Mike Brewer in Dixon of Dock Green or possibly D84 (“I heard a cry”) in the Doctor Who story The Robots of Death, pops up as the slightly shady businessman Werner Grunwald.  His accent – I believe it’s supposed to be Swiss – is something to behold.

Do you remember the time when Avril wouldn’t even let Charles through her front door without a shudder?  Maybe it’s the passage of time, but now she’s moved into a swanky new flat things seems to have changed.  She accepts a housewarming present from him – an expensive picture – with an expression of delight (last year she probably would have smashed it over his head!)  But the increasing closeness of Charles and Avril does serve an important plot purpose – it allows Charles to articulate the feelings he has (mainly bad) about his father.

The ever-optimistic Leo decides to set up in business by himself as a general boat handyman.  And his first customer?  Amanda, of course.  Amanda is still madly keen on Leo, whilst he’d sooner just repaint her boat (he’s a strange lad).  She tells him it’s such a lovely day they should be enjoying themselves (that’s stretching it somewhat – it’s typically overcast in Tarrant).  So they go dry skiing – Amanda’s good, Leo’s not so good.  But he seems to be smiling a little more – which suggests he’s slowly coming round to her charms, although he initially refuses her later invitation to kiss him (he doesn’t refuse for long though).

Dulcie Gray’s husband, Michael Denison, makes his first appearance as Admiral Francis Redfern.  It’s only a brief appearance here, but he adds a touch of class to proceedings.

Tom’s moved out of The Jolly Sailor and is currently living in the paint store at the Mermaid Yard.  This – along with his wild-eyed, unshaven appearance – is a good indication just how far he’s fallen.  Jack knew about his problems but didn’t offer to give him a bed at his house.  So it falls to Leo, so often the conscience of the family, to step in.  He’s concerned about his father and wants to help – which leads into a nice moment of father/son bonding.

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Howards’ Way – Series Three, Episode Two

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Jack’s wearing a suit, so he and Tom must be on their way to the inquest.  For those who need this to be spelled out, walking in front of them is a barrister in a white wig.  The drama of this storyline isn’t milked very much as we don’t see inside the courtroom – instead Tom and Jack simply trudge wearily back to the yard later, with Tom breaking the bad news that an open verdict, pending a surveyor’s enquiry, was delivered.  So the waiting goes on …

Before this we see Bill fielding calls from interested parties, concerned about whether the inquest will impact the yard.  Possibly this is another example of cost-cutting – much cheaper to have Bill on the phone, pretending to be speaking to someone, than it would be to hire a couple of extras, as reporters, to mill around the yard asking questions.

Charles isn’t able to visit Relton for another round of icily polite fighting with Avril, so Gerald is sent to deputise.  He’s as affable and friendly as Charles is brusque and unforgiving.  But whilst Gerald claims that he’s merely here as an observer and has no wish to interfere, it could very well be that he’s of the same mind as Charles – it’s just that his style is much more conciliatory.

Where’s Charles?  Off for a painful meeting with his father.  Based on what we know of this family so far, it’s entirely in keeping that Charles should tell Sir Edward’s butler that he has a meeting with his father at ten o clock.  The notion that Charles could simply turn up for an unscheduled chat is clearly unthinkable.

It’s quickly established that they haven’t seen each other for some considerable time, although exactly how long isn’t clear.  The constantly shifting power dynamic between the two of them is established right from the start and over the most trivial matters – Sir Edward was hopeful that they could have lunch but Charles demurs, he’s far too busy.  But Sir Edward rallies and is at least able to offer his son some coffee.

There’s some lovely character building moments as we see Sir Edward attempting to reconnect with his son.  He asks Charles if he remembers the time when, as a boy, he climbed a tree in the grounds of their palatial country house and refused to come down (he was reluctant to return to school).  Charles replies that he does and also recalled that his father was away on business at the time, which leads Sir Edward to formally respond that “I was fully informed of the incident by your mother”.

Like father, like son – Charles has clearly fashioned himself in his father’s image (a driven, single-minded businessman) although he’d no doubt be appalled if anybody attempted to draw this comparison.  Sir Edward wants them to join forces – Charles isn’t interested – but the look on Nigel Davenport’s face as Charles and Sir Edward part makes it clear that a whole heap of trouble is on the way for Frere Jnr ….

Amanda begins her pursuit of Leo and turns up at the yard.  She has a pretext – her boat requires some work – but it’s the unfathomable and mysterious Leo which has clearly drawn her to the Mermaid like a moth to the flame.  Most young men would be flattered by her approach, but Leo continues to glower at her.  Maybe it’s the poolside dip he enjoyed or possibly it’s her playful nature, but at present there seems to be no connection between them.  The fact she later unwittingly dupes Leo into sailing a boat which she doesn’t own (the arrival of the police confirming this) is another example that she’s a rollicking loose-cannon and just about everything that he isn’t.

Polly’s back at the boutique, snapping up clothes like they were going out of fashion (sorry).  This ties back to the previous episode which saw a distraught Polly railing at the futility of her empty life to a concerned, but ineffectual Gerald.  He suggests a charity job – but this didn’t go down well.  It seems that, for all their fighting, she’s missing Abby (at least when her daughter was at home she had someone to talk to, even if the conversations were rarely civil).

Gerald does do his best to be supportive, but – as ever – finds Charles in his way.  Gerald’s plan for a quiet dinner with Polly is shattered after Charles demands his presence elsewhere.  Polly doesn’t take the news well.  “I fully understand. Your business is clearly far more important to you than you wife”.  Relations at Chez Urquhart look set to be distinctly chilly from now on, especially since Gerald has personal problems of his own – although he’s unwilling to discuss them.  The sight of Gerald and Polly, sitting in their comfortable living room, drinks in hand, unable to connect to each other is a slightly chilling one.

You have to accept that a few plot contrivances will occur from time to time, but the way that another totally unknown, very talented, designer drops into Jan’s lap is a little hard to swallow.  There are several things in Anna Lee’s (Sarah Lam) favour though – she doesn’t have a silly French accent nor does she posses a ponytail.  Maybe somebody on Howards’ Way was a fan of The Adventure Game – Sarah Lam had been a regular during its final series whilst Charmian Gradwell, who would appear throughout HW’s sixth and final series, had been another Adventure Game regular.

There’s been a distinct lack of Jack so far this series, but there’s a nice scene in this episode.  A downcast Jack, still smarting at the inquest verdict, is alone in his office, bottle of whisky at hand.  Everything that we know of him suggests that he’ll shortly be drowning his sorrows but no – he heads out into the other office for a coffee instead.  It’s an impressive act of self-control, but how long will it last?  Answer, not very long.

It’s very marked that the closer Jan and Tom get to their divorce going through, the closer they seem to become on a personal level.  They share another convivial meal whilst Tom’s later dinner initiation to Avril looks set to be a more sticky affair (she agrees, but doesn’t look delighted).  Tom seems to conduct most of his conversations these days with a knife and fork in his hands although when Avril tells him that it’s over between them he doesn’t have a mouthful of food, which makes a change.

The tangled Ken/Sarah/Mark triangle hots up a little more.  Mark finally seems to have twigged that Ken’s been making googly eyes at his wife whilst the unexpected arrival of Jan (keen that Ken should sell his minority shareholding in the boutique) makes Sarah just a little jealous.

Meanwhile Tom and Jack have a stand-up row in the yard about the state of the Mermaid’s finances.  We’ve been here before of course, but this time it seems that there’s no other option than to lay off some of the men.  And since that means last in, first out, Leo will be set for the chop.

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Howards’ Way – Series Three, Episode One

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When we left Tom and Jan at the end of the second series both were suffering business traumas – the collapse of the catamaran had damaged the credibility of both Tom and the Mermaid Yard whilst the death of pony-tailed clothes designer Claude Dupont seemed to have halted Jan’s attempts to conquer the fashion world.

Polly’s looking on the bright side though.  Now that Claude’s dead, his designs are bound to go up in price, so she pops over to the boutique to snap a couple up before they all disappear.  Kate, once again stuck behind the counter, views her with politely-bred disdain.  Kate’s still very good at that sort of thing.

Tom’s rather down in the mouth about the catamaran and for new viewers who need to be brought up to speed there’s a handy moment when Jack picks up a newspaper report about it.  But since the camera only lingers on the newspaper for three seconds you would have either have to have been a fast reader or gone back later and paused your VHS recording.  Still, it’s a nice way to info-dump without having the characters laboriously spell out the ins and outs of the current situation.

The triangle of Sarah, Mark and Ken continues to simmer away, although Mark’s still totally oblivious that there is a triangle whilst Ken continues to eye the cool Sarah with longing.  His interest is so obvious that it’s a wonder that Mark hasn’t twigged yet, so maybe he really is a man who only lives for his racing.  Ken’s later pawing of Sarah (he kisses the top of her shoulder in a way that only Ken could) doesn’t quite bring him the result he was looking for though ….

Charles pays a flying visit to Relton Marine and isn’t particularly happy with what he finds.  He tells Avril that things will have to change (their icily polite conversation is an early series delight).  Charles continues to be in a snippy mood when he encounters Gerald later.

The big-money signing for this new series is, of course, Nigel Davenport as Sir Edward Frere.  He tells Sir John that it’s good to be home, which suggests he’s been away for some time.  But now he’s back there’s no doubt that sparks will fly between him and his son.

The other major new cast member debuting here is Francesca Gonshaw as Amanda Parker.  Gonshaw, thanks to her role in Allo Allo!, was a familiar television face and – having left that series – was clearly looking for new opportunities.  Series three of Howards’ Way would be her last regular television role though.

Before we see Amanda for the first time, we observe Leo gazing wistfully at a picture of Abby and attempting to write her a letter.  The number of scrunched-up balls of paper suggests that he’s being attempting this for some time.  I’ve commented before on Jan’s breath-taking indifference to her son and there’s another prime example here – she asks him what he’s doing, but isn’t really interested (she’s more concerned that he moves somewhere else, since the consultant from the bank is due to arrive soon).

But to give Jan some credit, she does attempt to gee him up a bit as she tells him that he shouldn’t spend his time reliving the past.  Especially wonderful is her comment about Lynne.  “She’s not sitting around moping about Claude, and he’s dead”.  It takes real skill to deliver dialogue like that with a straight face.

So Leo, taking his mother’s advice, heads out for a pool party.  You can tell it’s the 1980’s as Leo’s wearing a jacket with rolled-up sleeves.  Nooooooooooooooooo!

Since he’s fully clothed he obviously doesn’t intend to take a dip (at least not intentionally) and instead gravitates towards a group of beautiful(ish) young(ish) people gyrating to the hit sounds of Stevie Wonder.  And wouldn’t you know it, at exactly the point when Stevie sings “Isn’t she lovely?” the camera focuses on Amanda, who is – well – lovely.

There then follows a rather odd piece of direction.  Amanda, sitting with a male chum who’s sporting a rather colourful shirt, decides that Leo’s looking very miserable and the pair go off to cheer him up.  Maybe it was scripted that Leo was down in the dumps – staring wistfully into the distance, moping about Abby – but onscreen he’s talking animatedly to a couple of people.  Mind you, the brief snatch of Leo’s dialogue suggests that he’s pontificating about the woes of the world, so I daresay Leo’s companions were only too delighted to be rescued from his polemical onslaught!

That Leo continues droning on whilst the delightful Amanda is replenishing the others with champagne in characteristic, as is the fact that when she pours him a drink he chucks it away.  And then she pushes him into the pool.  The beginning of a beautiful friendship?  Well since he then chucks her in, possibly (this might very well be a Tarrant mating ritual).  Amanda later confesses that she likes his style.  Takes all sorts I guess.

Jack and Kate – both recovering addicts – compare notes.  Jack’s doing his best to stay off the drink whilst Kate admits that she’s had another flutter and is therefore happy to treat Jack to lunch.  Jack’s appalled – a woman paying for lunch?  But he comes round eventually.

Jan needs a new designer and fast.  She also needs £150,000 in order to open a chain of boutiques.  With no designer currently on board it seems more than a little risky to expand at this point, but Jan’s faith in her own abilities is clearly boundless.  There’s also the problem of Ken.  Jan wants to buy his minority shareholding of the boutique, but will he be agreeable?  Hmm, I wonder.

Avril and Tom have an awkward business lunch.  Charles’ presence at Relton Marine continues to concern Tom, who’s convinced that the interests of the Mermaid won’t now be her top priority.  And Tom’s jealous as hell too, of course (just as well he didn’t know that Charles dubbed him a “loser” in the business world then).

Although Charles and his father have yet to meet onscreen, there’s an early signifier of the battles to come – Charles finds himself outbid on a painting (a snip at a mere £225,000).  And the telephone buyer?  Of course it’s Sir Edward Frere ….

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Prince Regent – Simply Media DVD Review

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Prince Regent was an eight-part serial broadcast between September and October 1979.  Peter Egan played George, Prince of Wales, a man destined to ascend the throne of England.  But the madness of his father, George III (Nigel Davenport), and the strained relationship enjoyed with his wife Caroline (Diana Stabb) ensure that his succession is far from straightforward.

Unusually, multiple writers worked on the serial.  Robert Muller penned five episodes with the remainder provided by Reg Gadney, Nemone Lethbridge and Ian Curteis.  Carl Davis scored the music whilst Michael Simpson and Michael Hayes shared directing duties.

As might be expected, Peter Egan is supported by a highly impressive cast.  Nigel Davenport, Francis White, Keith Barron, Clive Merrison, Susannah York, Diana Stabb, David Horovitch, Barbara Shelley, Caroline Blakiston, Murray Head, David Collings, Cheri Lunghi and Patsy Kensit all appear in multiple episodes whilst the likes of Geoffrey Chater, Jane Freeman, Jo Kendall and Trevor Martin make one-off appearances.

Below is a brief episode by episode review.

Episode One – Mad For Love – 4th September 1979

In his own estimate talented, passionate, sensitive, a lover of art, of sport, of freedom, of women. In his father’s opinion scandalous and irresponsible, a drunkard, a ne’er-do-well, a lecher. 1782, and George Augustus Frederick, Prince of Wales, heir to the throne of England, approaches his coming-of-age (Radio Times Listing)

Mad for Love opens with a montage of the Prince of Wales enjoying various pursuts (fencing, shooting, carriage racing) which quickly establishes his less than serious nature. That he’s easily distracted by a pretty face is also in evidence after Maria Fitzherbert (Susannah York) catches his eye. The Prince finds (much to his amazement) that he’s violently in love with her, something which Maria – after listing George’s numerous previous conquests – finds impossible to believe.

The testy relationship enjoyed between the King and the Prince of Wales is explored for the first time. The King (wonderfully portrayed by Nigel Davenport) has a low opinion of his son, but it’s puzzling that he denies the Prince the opportunity to serve in the army. By doing so he condems his son to sort of aimless life he claims to despise.

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Episode Two – Put Not Your Trust in Princes – 11th September 1979

The Prince has married his beloved Maria. The ceremony is illegal and secret, hidden not only from the King but also from Fox. And the rumours and whispers of scandal, soon begin … (Radio Times listing)

Nigel Davenport continues to entertain as George III. Whether he’s at the dining table and lecturing his children about why they can’t afford certain fruit (Egan’s in full eye-rolling mode here) or displaying a lack of interest in the Bard (“oh dear god, not Shakespeare. Detest the fellow, sad stuff”) he’s great fun. But the early signs of the King’s madness casts a shadow, especially as we know what’s to come. It also has to be said that whenever George III goes “what, what, what” (which he does rather often) I can’t help but be reminded of Neddy Seagoon ….

Keith Barron, another quality player, gives a strong performance as Fox, although his heavy 5 o’clock shadow makes him look rather odd. Malcolm Terris, as a yokel politician bitterely opposed to George’s marriage, has a couple of nice scenes.

Episode Three – The Bride from Brunswick – 18th September 1979

The illegal marriage to Maria turning cold, his debts steadily increasing, the Prince begins to think the unthinkable. Why not a second, official, marriage? But who will be the bride this time? (Radio Times listing)

The Prince decides to show his gratitude to his father for settling his substantial debts by agreeing to marry whoever the King chooses. George III plumps for Princess Caroline, who is, to put it mildly, a woman of character.

James Harris, the Earl of Malmsbury (Julian Curry), is given the task of travelling to Brunswick, Germany, to arrange the match. The court at Brunswick is a delight, with Ralph Michael offering a fine comic turn as the Earl of Brunswick. The Earl likes to have endless fanfares whenever he eats, even if it means that the unfortunate players pass out after straining to maintain the notes!

Caroline is a real handful and it’s plain that she’ll shake up the Prince’s life. The meeting between Caroline and George’s most prominent mistress Lady Frances Jersey (Caroline Blakinston) is a treat but this is topped when George and Caroline first set eyes on each other. He recoils at her heavily made-up face whilst she bitterly comments that “he’s terrible fat and by no means as handsome as his portrait”. This is not going to be a marriage made in heaven ….

Episode Four – The Trouble with Women – 25th September 1979

An official wife, an unofficial wife, and a powerful and determined mistress – is it any surprise that the Prince feels besieged by women? (Radio Times listing)

Caroline bears the Prince a daughter, Charlotte, but if he’s to finally extricate himself from his debts then he’ll need to produce many more (each new child would see an increase in his allowance). George doesn’t take kindly to this thought, the fact he refers to Caroline as “that unnatural hell-hag from Brunswick” makes his postion abundantly clear.

David Collings (as Pitt) is yet another fine actor who enriches the production no end. Pitt has been opposed to George’s antics in the past, but now supports the suggestion that the Prince and Caroline should live separate lives. The Princess of Wales’ man-eating tendances (which occur off-screen) are touched upon after George tells his wife that he’s found her a nice house in Blackheath, which will be convenient, since the Royal Naval College and a home for distressed seamen are both nearby!

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Episode Five – Father and Son – 9th October 1979

The King’s health has been good for several years but now there are ominous signs of a relapse into madness – convulsions, delusions, incessant talking. Is it at last time for a Regency? (Radio Times listing)

This one opens with the unusual sight of George indulging in amateur dramatics, performing an intense monologue before a select, but appreciative, audience. Although I’m sure there’s more than a touch of sychophancy in their fulsome appreciation.

George III cuts a tragic figure. He knows that his intermittent madness has returned, but the prospect of the “cure” (beatings, leeches, isolation in a darkened room) is more than he can bear. Davenport once again commands the screen.

George’s wish that his father either dies or goes properly mad is chilling.

Episode Six – God Save the King – 16th October 1979

A delicate investigation has been ordered into the alleged adultery of Princess Caroline. The Prince sees a chance for divorce from his hated wife. (Radio Times listing)

Peter Egan’s appearance at the start of this episode comes as a bit of a shock. He was slighly made up in the previous episode in order to portray an ageing and portlier George, but here it’s even more pronounced. Oddly, George III looks no different …

The investigation isn’t able to prove that Caroline has commited adultery, a verdict which rather upsets George. But even with his rather unforgiving make-up, Egan impresses as an older, wiser George. His conversation with the dying Fox is a touching one.

With George III’s madness even more of a problem, his son is finally confirmed as Regent. But now this long-cherished day has arrived, what will be the outcome?

Episode Seven – Milk and Honey – 23rd October 1979

The Regent decides that it is time for his beautiful and high-spirited daughter, Princess Charlotte, to marry. He has a candidate – but the strong-willed Princess has her own opinions on the subject. (Radio Times listing)

Princess Charlotte (Cheri Lungi) brings her new man, Captain Charles Hesse (Paul Herzberg) to meet her mother. Princess Caroline is much taken with him (they end up in bed a short while later!)

Lungi’s appearance might be fairly brief, but she’s yet another strong addition to the cast. Charlotte tells her father that she takes after him (a double-edged compliment that’s for sure). The Queen is concerned about her – Charlotte has a stutter and delights in showing people her underwear, whether they ask to see it or not. Jane Freeman, as Charlotte’s governess Lady de Clifford, has a brief but amusing cameo.

James Garbutt, as Lord Elson, has some acid lines which demonstrate that he’s not Princess Caroline’s greatest admirer. “She’s a foul-mouth, a slut and I don’t care who hears me say it.” As he says himself, there’s plenty more where that came from ….

The episode ends with the bleakest of news. It’s another blow for George, who has cast an increasingly melancholy figure as the years have progressed (a far cry from his carefree younger self).

Episode Eight – Defeat and Victory – 30th October 1979

The Prince prepares for the greatest battle of his life. His adversary is his hated wife Caroline, and he is determined to rid himself of her once and for all. (Radio Times listing)

Defeat and Victory opens with the deaths of the King and Queen.  Both Nigel Davenport and Francis White have been exemplary throughout the serial and this continues right up until their final moments.  With George now due to become King he is gripped by a single obsession – to ensure that Caroline is not crowned Queen and to that end she’s put on trial by the House of Lords.  Leading the prosecution is Sir Robert Gifford (James Cossins).  Cossins, the latest in a long line of wonderful character actors to grace the serial, seems to be enjoying himself enormously.

The episode title is an apt one, as although the Lords find Caroline not guilty, George is still able to ensure that his wife never becomes Queen.

Peter Egan, skilled at playing charming rogues, was perfect as George.  But whilst he was easily able to exude George’s affable nature, Egan didn’t shy away from showing us the other side of the coin – the irresponsible man who sometimes rode roughshod over others. Capricious, charming, selfish, generous, George was all these things and more. It’s his ever-changing moods, as well the increasing melancholy which desended on him in his later years, which makes him such a fascinating character.

A co-production with Time Life Television and Polytel International , it’s plain that the budget was pretty generous since the studio sets are detailed and impressive.  The serial also benefits from location recording at the Brighton Pavilion, this really helps to add an extra gloss to proceedings.  A typically impressive BBC costume drama of the era, Prince Regent is a sharply scripted and well-acted serial that just oozes class.  It may be something of a forgotten treasure, but it’s a treasure nonetheless and comes highly recommended.  Prince Regent is released by Simply Media on the 17th of October 2016.  RRP £24.99.

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