Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode One

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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 ….

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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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Howards’ Way – Series Four, Episode Ten

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Ace journalist Michael Hanley, now working for Ken at Leisure Cruise, is beavering away on his latest scoop – an expose of Sir John Stevens.   This is another example of Ken’s deviousness – having had his business ventures scuppered once too often by Sir John, he’s now out for revenge.  But rather than do it himself, he’s decided to get Michael to do his dirty work for him.

Michael’s an up-to-date sort of guy, as he’s typing his words of wisdom on a word processor.  The camera briefly lingers on the screen (allowing us to see that he can’t spell whizz kid ….).

This is another example of a HW plot oddity.  If the scandal they’ve unearthed, from 1963, has been buried so deeply, how exactly has Ken been able to piece it together?  Or if the information has been available in the public domain for some time, why has nobody else broken the story?

Another plot weakness occurs after Tom learns that their proposed new yard has already been sold (Sir Edward gazumping his son).  Emma believes this may be a blessing in disguise – since being tied too closely to Charles might inhibit them.  She suggests they buy a new yard with their own money (possibly asking Jack to join them).

But Charles – via Relton Marine – has been involved closely in the day-to-day financial operation of the Mermaid Yard for several years, so it’s not clear exactly why working at a new yard, backed by Charles’ money, would be any different from their current situation.  Remember that the Mermaid was dependent on Relton manufacturing the Barracuda, etc.  Without their support surely the Mermaid would have gone to the wall year ago?

But whilst Tom, Emma and even Jack (who now sees the logic of a second yard) are considering their future, there’s a diversion to enjoy.  Jack’s organised a marine treasure hunt – although he’s a little upset that some (Leo & Abby, Michael & Sarah) aren’t taking it terribly seriously.  Mmm, that’s another thing – at the end of the previous episode Michael and Sarah were established as a couple, but unless I’ve forgotten it, I don’t remember this ever being a plotline previously.  Oh, and Sarah looks really rather lovely when she and Michael are out and about on the treasure hunt.

Sir Edward and Jan have lunch (that restaurant set is getting used an awful lot this year).  He wants Jan to join him and Abby when Hudson Snr comes calling from America.  His reason?  Hudson might be more inclined to let William go if he knew that Abby’s family was extensive – i.e. Jan making an appearance as the Lady Frere to be.  Yes, this seems like just another bare-faced attempt by Sir Edward to force Jan into accepting his marriage proposal, but even he – after she refuses – seems finally to realise that she’s slipping away from him.

They’re all very mature types down Tarrant way.  Later, Jan returns to the restaurant for a drink and a meal with Emma.  Tom is naturally enough the topic of their conversation, with Emma firmly of the opinion that Jan remains the most important woman in his life.  Jan modestly demurs, telling Emma that she’s exactly the sort of person Tom needed years ago – somebody who shares his interest in boats (it was established right from the first episode, this has never been Jan’s forte).  It’s hard to imagine Jan and Avril having such a convivial chat a few years back (or indeed Tom and Ken – the mind positively boggles on that ever happening.  Pity, as it would have been entertaining).

Jan and Polly continue to enjoy an icy relationship.  Jan’s still smarting over the fact that her exclusive haute couture range has been sullied with cheap, mail-order stuff (it’s selling very well and therefore making a tidy profit, but that seems to be by the by).  Poor Polly keeps attempting to build bridges, but Jan’s content to keep twisting the knife – although she eventually proposes a solution.  Polly buys the franchise from Periplus and she can therefore go into business herself (it also means that Jan’ll be shot of Polly, so everyone’s a winner).

This is a great episode for Ken, with two scenes standing out especially.  The first occurs after he disturbs a late night intruder at Leisure Cruise – it’s Sarah, come to find the file about Sir John that Michael’s been working on.  Although she too has an interest in ruining Sir John (it would help to solidify her position at Relton) she has scruples – unlike Ken – so isn’t here for that reason.  She’s more interested in protecting him (and Michael’s reputation too).

Ken’s in full alpha-male mood – grabbing her roughly (by the throat at one point) and generally being incredibly unpleasant.  These are the moments when the real Ken Masters surfaces.

He may be smartly suited the next day, when he and Sir John meet for lunch (yes, once again we’re back in the same restaurant – one day I’m going to add up exactly how many times it featured this year) but scratch under the surface and nasty old Ken’s still there.  Sir John is his usual affable self and is little more than mildly amused at Ken’s attempt to blackmail him (Willoughby Gray plays the scene excellently).

If Ken was expecting his dinner guest to be cowed into submission then he’s disappointed – Sir John tells him to “publish and be dammed” leaving Ken with much to ponder (and a decent end of episode close-up for Stephen Yardley).

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Howards’ Way – Series Four, Episode Nine

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Jack’s still hopping about on the quayside (“somebody’s nicked my bloody boat”) although it quickly becomes clear that it hasn’t been stolen – Emma, smarting after her tiff with Tom, has taken it out for a test run.

But since she should have been back by now, Tom’s worried that she’s run into trouble. So it’s Jack and Tom to the rescue, with Jack piloting a motorised dingy at high speed. Glyn Owen was clearly a decent sailor, since he – rather than a stuntman – was at the wheel. Oh, and I like Jack’s white bobble hat too.

It doesn’t take long before they find her – repairing a minor fault – so everyone can breathe a sigh of relief.  Tom is the most relieved and he admits this to Emma.  This moment of crisis helps him to finally admit his feelings for her, although he goes on to explain his commitment issues (he’s got twenty years of marriage and two children to consider).   But this didn’t seem to be an issue when he had an affair with Avril, so I’m not entirely sure that his protestations hold water.

Poly’s continuing to avoid Jan.  Jan is getting very, very annoyed with her (former?) friend’s shenanigans.  Tip-tapping on her high heels, Jan is clearly out for vengeance whilst Polly seeks solace with Ken, of all people.  I love the fact that Polly refers to Jan as a snob! (this is Polly we’re talking about, remember).  Although to be fair to Polly for just one second, there may be some truth in her suggestion that Jan’s not keen on her range of German leisurewear solely because it’s a tad downmarket.

Ken’s very devious in this episode.  In fact, he’s so devious and calculating that it seems rather out of character – usually Ken’s not as subtle as this.  He tells Polly that Sarah is secretly working for Sir John, knowing that she will tell Gerald who in turn will tell Charles.  Both Gerald and Charles (although not Avril, interestingly) then believe that Sarah could be a spy, although there’s one fatal flaw conerning these machinations.  Gerald knew full well that this information came from Ken, so why would he believe it?  That two such astute businessman as Charles and Gerald would be prepared to believe this unsubstantiated rumour seems a little hard to believe.

Sir Edward and Jan are currently estranged (he’s even stopped leaving messages on her answering machine) but he’s keeping it in the family by entertaining Kate to dinner. No, he hasn’t decided to move up the family tree with someone more his own age – he wants to sound Kate out to see if she knows whether Jan will change her mind about marrying him.  Kate, of course, isn’t backwards about speaking her mind and so is bluntness personified (naturally, her opinions aren’t really what Sir Edward wants to hear).

Michael comes in second in the transatlantic race – a good result, although Tom – ever the perfectionist – was a little ticked off he didn’t win.   Michael quickly returns home (by plane) and, with Tom’s agreement, allows a chap called Hudson to sail the Barracuda back to the UK.  Hang on, Hudson?  It would be a remarkable coincidence if this was a member of Abby’s estranged American family ….

As for Abby herself, it’s the day of her exhibition but she’s not looking forward to it.  On the one hand, she wants to make a career out of photography (therefore it’s important that she demonstrates what she’s capable of) but on the other, too many negative vibes are swishing around her head.  As always, it’s sensible Leo who’s on hand to offer her support and gently guide her through the minefield.  With his assistance she’s able to mix and mingle with the great and good of Tarrant society (she was all set to slip out quietly and go straight home).

But for long-term Leo/Abby watchers, it’s the aftermath which is the key moment.  Everybody else has left, leaving them alone in the gallery.  She tells him that “all that matters to me is that the three of us are going to be together. You and me and William”.  She may be jumping the gun a little here since William’s future hasn’t been decided.  It’s also a little unexpected (given their recent fractured relationship) that she’s decided that the pair of them have a future – which they seal with a long and very loving kiss …..

Since everybody who’s anybody in Tarrant is at the gallery, there’s a few awkward meetings.  Leo and Ken bump into each other (and then quickly move away) but even better is the encounter between Sir Edward and Charles.  It’s the first time that they’ve been in the same room since Sir Edward visited his son in hospital and it’s plain that their relationship is still on the critical list.  They do have a brief conversation, although Charles pointedly turns his back on his father and instead speaks to the other side of the room.

Tom breaks the news to Jack that he’s thinking of leaving the Mermaid for larger premises.  He wants Jack to come with him, but it’s hardly going to come as a surprise to learn that Jack isn’t interested – the Mermaid is in his lifeblood.  Surprisingly, Jack doesn’t erupt with fury when Tom tells him, instead he’s quite sanguine about it all.  These scenes have some lovely Tom/Jack byplay – Maurice Colbourne and Glyn Owen both seemingly relishing the material they’ve been given.

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Howards’ Way – Series Four, Episode Eight

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The crane operator was clearly working overtime this episode, as there’s a couple of nice swooping shots – at the Mermaid Yard and over at Polly and Gerald’s house – both of which allows the action to pause for a second.

Tom, Emma and Bill decide – in Jack’s absence – to fit a new engine into Jack’s newly designed boat.  What will the typically fiery Jack make of this tinkering?  He’s aware of it, since he’s observing proceedings – with a telescope! – close by, but he seems remarkably mellow at present.

Meanwhile, Gerald is less than enthused to discover that his house is filled with boxes, many, many boxes.  It’s been a while since Polly and Gerald shared a decent comedy scene (last year their plotline was sombre, to say the least) so this makes for a welcome change.  Polly has decided to launch a new mail order line (German casual wear) under the Periplus banner.  Unfortunately she hasn’t mentioned this to Jan ….

Gerald’s patient reaction to this house invasion is a delight, as is his nonplussed reaction when Polly holds up a puffy jacket for his inspection.  A pity that Polly didn’t insist he try it on – that would have made a good scene even better.

That Polly has decided not to tell Jan, but then goes ahead with newspaper advertising is a little bizarre.  Surely this would mean that Jan would eventually find out anyway?  As it is, it’s Abby – of all people – who tips Jan off, which leaves her hurt and wounded.  Polly’s supposed to be her oldest friend, so how could she do this?  Everything’s set up for a confrontation next episode.

Tom and Jan’s relationship continues to intrigue.  They have another convivial lunch which sees Tom reject Jan’s cheque (she borrowed a hefty sum from him during Periplus’ recent business traumas).  Instead he asks if he can have shares in her company (since she owns a stake in the Mermaid it seems only fair).  And although Jan has jealously guarded control of her empire (it still irks her that Ken has a small shareholding and she blocked Polly’s attempt to grab a stake) she quickly and happily agrees.

I’m not quite sure what Jan’s feelings for Tom are (we know that she’s still very uncertain about Sir Edward’s proposal, so is she contemplating a reunion with her ex-husband?).  On the other hand, Tom’s status seems much more clear-cut.  He’s happy in his relationship with Emma (although maybe she’s not – more on that in a minute) with the result that he treats his ex-wife with indulgence and more like a sister than a former partner.

This is demonstrated after Jan shows him her new present from Sir Edward – the flashy sports car.  Tom jocularly tells her that “you need a bit of a talking-to, my girl” and is prepared to skip a meeting with Charles in order to do so.

Emma isn’t pleased when she later learns that Tom cancelled the meeting for a spot of quality time with Jan and is even less chuffed when he later asks her to step out of the office for a moment after Jan brings round the paperwork relating to his new shareholding in Periplus.  Tom seems not to display the slightest hint of jealousy about the relationship between Jan and Sir Edward, but Emma clearly finds it harder not be irked whenever Tom and Jan spend time together.

A more empathic man would understand this, but as we’ve seen so often, Tom – for all his good qualities – is somewhat lacking in this department.  The way he raises his eyebrows after Emma storms out of the office makes it plain that he doesn’t really understand that he’s treading on very thin ice at present.

Ken’s boat continues to sink and Leo is the next rat to leave it.  That’s a tad unfair of course, but Leo’s loyalties are definitely split.  He’s desperate to race in the world powerboat championship but if he stays at Leisure Cruise will he get the chance?

This is another of those plot oddities which creep up in HW from time to time.  It only seems like a few days ago when Leo raced a powerboat for the first time and now he’s good enough to contest the world championship?  Either the championship field is very small or he’s become very good very quickly.

But whilst he does have loyalty towards Ken, racing powerboats is now his life (apparently) so the chance of a guaranteed seat in the race if he goes to Relton is just too good an opportunity to pass up.  So he bids farewell to Ken in a scene which sees both of them raise their voices – nothing new for Ken of course, but it’s always nice to see a touch more animation from Leo.

Leo and Abby have minimal contact in this episode.  When she hears that Sarah paid him an evening visit (to discuss jumping ship to Relton) there was maybe just a twinge of jealousy from her, but Leo didn’t rise to the bait and both were prepared to laugh it off.

Charles dangles a carrot in front of Tom – a new yard, with much better facilities than the Mermaid.  With these resources behind him, the possibilities are endless – although Tom’s still convinced that, since it’s Charles, there must be a catch.

Elsewhere, Sir Edward continues to sniff around Jan (he’s taken to popping up in the least expected places and frightening the life out of her), the saga of William continues to rumble on, Michael Hanley’s doing rather well in the transatlantic race whilst Jack is doing less well at the bookies.  Surely by now he’s realised that he shouldn’t back his own hunches – instead he needs to rely on Kate’s tips.

Jack’s return to the Mermaid doesn’t quite go the way he planned.  The others have completed the Orkadian in his absence, but there’s just one question – where is it?  Bill points “there she is” as he, Tom and Jack watch it sailing away.  This leaves Glyn Owen with a classic end of episode line.  “Somebody’s nicked my bloody boat!”

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