Oh, I say! HW has ventured abroad in the past, but those jaunts were always something of a cheat – a quick flash of stock footage and then we’d cut to a chilly part of England dressed with a few palm trees in order to create an exotic illusion.
But not today. We open in Malta with Charles exiting the airport whilst a bearded stranger follows his every move (his face a study in concentration). The incidental music is turned up to the max as well, just to hammer the point home that this is a significant moment. And if you needed a reminder that we’re in 1989, then the ginormous brick-like mobile phone that the beardy man pulls out of his pocket should give you a clue.
Malta will feature in a number of episodes this year, so it’s obvious that the production team took the opportunity to shoot material for several episodes at the same time. This does give the slightly unfortunate impression that the inhabitants of Tarrant only visit Malta when they venture abroad, but I’m not one to carp ….
You might remember that we left Leo at the end of series four in something of a bad way. Badly mangled after his speedboat crash, it wasn’t clear how serious his injuries were. Would he ever walk again? His opening scene here (jogging furiously on a treadmill) answers that question, so clearly it was decided not to spin his incapacity out for any length of time.
But it’s also plain that not all’s well with the lad. Chided for running on the treadmill when he should have been walking, this exercise is then revealed to be part of his rehabilitation. And when it’s suggested that he should then take a dip in the pool, he snarls “stuff the swimming pool” before storming off. Whatever happened to the nice young Leo we used to know and love?
Possibly he’s a little irritated that he’s still not 100% (his dramatic limp makes that clear, although he doesn’t keep up the limping for long). When Abby comes to pick him up, he complains that he’s not recovering as quickly as he’d like. But the real reason for his angst seems to be that Avril’s told him he won’t be racing speedboats again. By the expression on Abby’s face it seems that he’s been giving her a rough time recently.
If these few opening scenes are a little disconcerting, then we’re on firmer ground when we check in at the Mermaid. Jack’s just strolled in (for him it’s still early – around noon) and he begins to cross swords with Emma. He then berates Bill quite forcibly before exiting. Jack’s looking very dapper today, it has to be said. Clearly he’s not dressed for the office ….
We then get our first sight of Jan and Ken this year. They’re having a bite to eat in Tarrant’s ever popular restaurant (I wonder how many times it’ll turn up this year?) with Ken – white jacket, rolled-up sleeves – still attempting to woo Jan (in a business sense anyway). Does Jan – nice purple jacket – want to pump a great deal of money into Ken’s business? Hmm, no, not really.
Avril – looking rather lovely today in a shortish skirt – and Gerald have a frank exchange of views. He knows where Charles is, but isn’t prepared to pass that information on. Gerald – who earlier had clucked down the phone to Charles – is a little frantic that his employer is swanning around in Malta whilst he’s back in the UK, fending off numerous interested parties (all interested in the continuing fraud case). When Charles suggests he hops on a plane to Malta he’s only slightly mollified.
With Polly absent (she’s still in America attempting to get William back) Gerald is even more isolated than usual. He cuts a rather forlorn figure and although Abby attempts to bolster his flagging confidence, she doesn’t have any success. It seems that he’s already picturing life behind bars.
I love the fact that when Gerald later clambers aboard Charles’ yacht he’s wearing his suit and tie and clutching his briefcase! His tie is slightly askew though, which seems to be his sole concession to the fact he’s in sunny Malta. Charles, cool as a cucumber, tells him to drink his drink and not worry, everything’s going to be fine. You do get the feeling though that Charles is in for a nasty shock later.
It seems to be business as usual with Tom and Emma – he’s unable to make their dinner date because he has to see Jan (although it’s more about providing Leo with moral support). But it turns out that their relationship is very much on borrowed time. By the end of this episode she’ll be gone forever ….
But for every departure, there’s usually a new arrival. Victoria Burgoyne makes her debut as Vicki Rockwell. With Sarah having left at the end of S4, Vicki (as Ken’s assistant) operates as his new business confidant – although since she’s got a boyfriend, she’s not interested in anything else. Which slightly takes the wind out of his sails.
The next new arrival is rather more significant. Kate O’Mara had previously appeared in another Gerard Glaister series, The Brothers, back in the 1970’s, but it was her 1980’s American adventure in Dynasty which really cemented her soap credentials (there was also Triangle, but funnily enough nobody ever talks about that now). Laura Wilde, owner of the impressively named Wilde Mouldings, is an old friend of Avril’s, but it’s plain from their first meeting that her destiny is going to be intertwined with Ken’s.
There’s an early highlight of the joys to come when Laura comes sniffing around Leisure Cruise. Ken approaches her from behind, but without turning round she senses that he’s there. When he wonders whether she’s got eyes in the back of her head, she tells him that “no, I just happened to be downwind of your aftershave”. Kate O’Mara’s also sporting the most wonderful pair of sunglasses during this scene.
Laura later demonstrates that she’s no pushover, easily being able to see through Ken’s transparent desire to buy her company. Random observation – Ken obviously likes the colour red. In his office, his chair, in-tray, desk phone, mobile phone and desk lamp are all red. It makes the scene at his desk rather striking.
Strictly speaking, Vanessa Andenberg (Lana Morris), isn’t a new character (she’d appeared in a couple of series three episodes) but she’s now back as a regular. Recently widowed, it seems that finally she and Jack will be able to get together. Their initial meeting, in her new Tarrant home overlooking the marina, is nicely shot – it’s just a pity that the day was so overcast (had the sun had come out it would have looked spectacular). Jack’s downcast face when Vanessa, toying with him, doesn’t instantly accept his dinner invitation suggests that there will be some scope in this plotline – Jack in Love – as a way to show a radically different side to the blustering man we know and love.
I wonder where have Jack and Vanessa go to eat? Hmm, three guesses …..
It’s slightly odd that we never actually see Jan and Tom’s uncomfortable dinner with Leo. Instead, we have to learn second-hand from Tom that Leo (still operating in full headstrong mode) wasn’t prepared to listen to their advice. A dramatic possibility missed.
Tom and Jan, post divorce, continue to enjoy a very cordial relationship. Tom’s now become her sounding board, the one person she knows will give her honest advice. Had Maurice Colbourne lived, would Tom and Jan have remarried? Many believe so, but it’s interesting to ponder how that would have affected the dramatic impetus of the series.
But if Tom’s managed to rebuild bridges with his ex-wife, then his other relationship seems to be built on rockier foundations. As has been seen time and again, tact is something that Tom Howard has never really possessed. His opening gambit to Emma (“I suppose you realise how ridiculous you’re being?”) probably wasn’t his wisest move.
Tom’s closeness to Jan is the reason why Emma’s upset but his next offering (“if you can’t accept that, then tough”) is another example of Tom’s incredible stubbornness. It’s Tom’s way or no way (as per the series’ title maybe). But it’s possible that this side of his character was ramped up here in order to provide a good reason for Emma to depart.
Although she’d been with the series for a while, had Emma not returned for series five I don’t think too many people would have particularly noticed or been too concerned. No slight intended to Sian Webber, but Emma was never really anything more than an Avril substitute (both at the Mermaid and in Tom’s life).
Leo continues to be a concern to everybody. Despite not being fit, he elects to take a speedboat out in order to prove that he hasn’t lost his nerve. Whilst Tom, Jan and Avril look on, the soundtrack steps up a gear as Leo begins to have flashbacks about the last time he tangled with a marker buoy. This time he manages to make it though (“I’ve cracked it!”) but since it wasn’t under race conditions (or with a pack of other boats in the water) it seems – at best – a hollow victory.
Charles and Gerald touch down in Tarrant, only for them to then be carted off to the local police station. For Charles, earlier so confident that his lawyers had found all the answers, it’s something of a rude awakening. He lowers his sunglasses to look at the officer, then raises them again as the pair are escorted away ….