Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Six

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Three

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

As if to hammer this point home (re Jack and his inability to read the moods of the opposite sex) he offers to take Vanessa out for a sail on her new purchase The Proud Lady (one of Jack’s old boats) but she recoils with terror on her face. This is something of an overplayed moment (the very dramatic music doesn’t help) although it does hammer the point home that something’s troubling her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 ….

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