Secret Army – A Matter of Life and Death (6th December 1978)

Poor hapless Francois (Nigel Williams) bites the dust ….

Hardly the most rounded or interesting character, at least he’s given a starring role in his final episode.

The fact he and Natalie are especially lovey-dovey today is an early hint that something rather nasty will happen to him. This bad feeling is then compounded by his refusal to seek the advice of Albert – he’s keen to go it alone and speak to the Communists, who have located two British airmen (even though Francois is warned that they play by their own barsh rules and don’t work well with outsiders).

Max and the Communist leader, Phillipe (Michael Graham Cox), have been planning the takeover of Lifeline, with Albert and Monique to be liquidated. So the cheery Francois turning up on their doorstep is the last thing they need.

Max’s next move (anonymously informing on Francois to Kessler) carries a certain punch, especially since earlier in the episode they had seemed to be on friendly terms (Francois giving Max some materials which would prove more than useful in his forging activities). Although by now it’s plain that Max is more than capable of appearing affable on the surface whilst remaining cold and calculating underneath.

The two airmen holed up with the Communists remain shadowy characters. Much more time is spent with another pair – Tommy Miller (John Flanagan) and Joseph Walden (Leonard Preston) – who have been wandering the countryside looking for help.

Having been turned away from a church by a frightened priest, they land on their feet when an affable baker called Victor Herve (Duncan Lamont) takes them under his wing. Lamont gives, as you’d expect, an excellent guest turn in what would turn out to be one of his final television credits.

Anyone who has worked their through the series up to this point has to marvel at the way so many British airmen manage to latch onto someone who has direct contact to Lifeline. I know it’s a bit of a stretch, but you just have to accept it.

With Miller and Walden being straightforward, affable chaps there’s not a great deal of drama to be found in their part of the story (although we’re left hanging for a short while before it’s finally confirmed whether Victor is a friend or foe – the casting of Lamont was a canny move in this respect, as he was equally adept at playing both).

As has been his lot for most of series two, Bernard Hepton doesn’t have a great deal to do as Albert remains firmly stuck inside the Candide and somewhat buffeted along by events outside. This works in story terms though – Albert’s complacency and inactivity convinces Max that takIng control of Lifeline will be easy.

Francois gets a dramatic death – shot on a railway platform whilst a helpless Natalie looks on in distress (it’s a peach of a reaction moment for Juliet Hammond-Hill). The third of four SA scripts by Robert Barr, A Matter of Life and Death never drags, even if the outcome of events seems inevitable from early on.

But it’s what’s going to happen now with Max and Lifeline that’s the more intriguing question.

Secret Army – Guests at God’s Table (29th November 1978)

A badly wounded airman has been found and hidden by a group of street children. Desperate for food and clothing, they attempt to sell him for a handful of Christmas treats ….

Given that a sense of repetition is unavoidable (oh look, it’s another important airman who has to be returned to Britain as quickly as possible) it’s always good when the series does something a little different.

The Group Captain (played by Mark Taylor) remains mute throughout – only occasionally opening his eyes and managing a smile before slumping back into unconsciousness.  So since the focus isn’t on him (we don’t even learn his name) it can instead be directed towards the four grubby children who’ve found him.

They’re led by Wim (Keith Jayne). Easily the most experienced actor of the four, by this point Jayne had already racked up credits in a number of popular series (Upstairs Downstairs, Survivors, Angels, Rumpole of the Bailey, etc).  Marie-Clare (Rachel Beasley) is his trusted lieutenant, with both taking it in turns to look after the two younger children – Bobo and Gaby (John Nani and Natasha Green).

Throughout the story there are numerous reminders that winter is really biting – with things made especially hard by the reduced rations and lack of fuel (Albert has secured a coal supply, but only because he was willing to pay way over the odds). Even the Germans aren’t immune to these cutbacks, with Kessler doing his best to eke some warmth out of his office fire.

Despite this, Monique and Natalie remain in a festive mood – even more so when the demands of the children reaches them. The items they request – clothing, jelly, a doll, etc – are piffling (in total, about the cost of a bottle of wine). So once the reluctant Albert gives the go-ahead, they begin to assemble the box of goodies with glee (Monique even going so far as to raid the till to give them a little extra cash!).

Throughout these scenes, Albert finds himself in the role of a stern father (with Monique and Natalie as a couple of unruly children) but there’s a sign that his bark is worse than his bite.When no-one is looking, he takes some notes from his wallet and adds it to the cash already pilfered from the till.

All this is quite low-key and touching, and that’s how the first half of the episode plays out (as a nice character piece, bereft of tension). But as we reach the conclusion of the story a sense of danger and anxiety begins to build.

Key scene of the episode, in terms of character development amongst the regulars, occurs between Kessler and Brandt. Kessler is concerned about Brandt’s excessive intake of alcohol, but Brandt is more concerned about the rumours he’s heard regarding German atrocities in the East. That the pair choose to have a row in the middle of the Candide only adds a little extra spice – as does the fact that after Kessler leaves, Monique (with Albert’s blessing) shares a drink with Brandt. Albert’s smug expression makes it plain that there could be a weakness to be exploited here.

Max continues to be a mild topic of conversation, with the others wondering what he gets up to when he’s not with them. The audience has long known about his Communist sympathies, but the other Lifeline members remain ignorant – for now.

Max keeps a watching brief on the children – even after they’ve handed over the airman – much to Albert’s puzzlement. Although when it’s revealed that Max was an orphan himself, things become clearer.  The episode’s conclusion – a snow-covered Max gives the children some money before being forced by the Germans to move on – means that things end on a slightly hopeful note. Although with food and fuel becoming scarcer and scarcer, the situation still looks bleak for them.

Guests at God’s Table is a totally studio-bound story, but a well designed street set helps to give the “outdoor” scenes some depth. It’s another strong script from John Brason, SA‘s most prolific writer.

Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Thirteen

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It’s something I’ve touched on before, but Howards’ Way – despite the fact it was sometimes labelled as a show which embraced Thatcherite ideals – often took pains to spell out that business success counted for nothing without personal happiness. And that’s very much a theme of this final episode as three characters – Jan, Abby and Charles – discover.

Jan’s not had the most interesting things to do this year, but finally things pick up. For the first time in ages there’s a fashion show, which means there’s plenty of attractive models flouncing about whilst Jan (armed with a walkie talkie) prowls around looking stressed. Her single-minded focus on ensuring that the show goes off without a hitch means that she has no time to speak to Lynne, which is spelled out by the way she shuts her down on more than one occasion.

The fact that Lynne had important news – her pregnancy – to impart is a weapon later used by Kate. She tells Jan that it’s no use being a successful businesswoman if you neglect your family. With Leo suffering traumas over the custody of Thomas and Lynne sobbing in her room it’s fair to say that Jan’s not been offering a great deal of support to either of them. But in previous years her business focus (and the way it was detrimental to her family) was more explicitly stated – in series six it’s remained undiscussed until this final episode. That’s slightly disappointing, had it been raised earlier it would have given Jan something dramatically satisfying to play with – certainly more than the endless scenes of her looking stressed in the office (which has been her main contribution to the series this year).

Has Jan learnt her lesson? Things seem to end optimistically when she touches base with Leo, but only the unmade seventh series would have revealed whether she could reconnect with those she’d neglected.

Abby’s story is by far the most intriguing and certainly the one with the darkest ending. Again, a seventh series might have reversed this episode’s conclusion, but at this point it’s hard to see how a reconciliation between her and Leo could have been on the cards.

A rare meeting between Ken and Gerald enables Ken to air some unpalatable home truths – he believes that Abby, as the child of Polly and Charles, is now showing her true colours. Gerald reacts angrily to this, but since he later repeats it to Abby’s face it does seem that, on reflection, he’s come to the same conclusion. Abby’s manoeuvring – albeit with Orrin’s assistance – has removed Charles from the chairmanship of Frere Holdings, with Gerald neatly slotted in as his replacement.

For a successful businessman, Gerald does have some scruples – he reacts strongly when Abby tells him the news – but he’s plainly also a realist as he does later accept the position. The father/child relationship (with both her natural and adopted fathers) has reversed totally, with Abby now in a very dominant position. That would have set up a number of possibilities had the series continued.

Abby’s exit – taking Thomas to America (ignoring the joint custody agreement arranged with Leo) – leaves us with an unresolved cliffhanger. Would she have returned or made a new life for herself in America with Orrin, William and Thomas? I’d favour the latter, but others may disagree.

How does Charles take the news that Frere Holdings is no longer his? Not very well. Drinking heavily and raising his glass to the portrait of his father that for some reason he’s not taken down, it’s the darkest we’ve ever see him. Bitterly applauding his father for triumphing from beyond the grave, Charles seems set on a downward spiral (angrily telling Lynne to leave him alone). But as with Jan, there’s hope for the future since we later see Charles negotiating a reconciliation with Lynne. Easy to see how his story would have continued – plotting to regain control of Frere Holdings, whilst juggling a possible wife and child – but would he have been able to maintain the correct balance in his life which had (up until now) proved impossible? Another of those imponderables.

I have to confess that keeping track of the various businesses and their share holdings has become a little confusing over time. It seems unlikely that Charles could have been levered out of the chairman’s seat so easily, especially when all previous attempts had failed. True, Abby and Orrin now have access to Sir Edward’s shares in Frere Holdings (plus Pierre Challon’s minor holding also played a part) but it’s hard to imagine that would have been enough. Just how did Sir Edward manage to gain control of such a large block of shares, and if he did have them why didn’t he attempt to force Charles out in the past?

Equally perplexing is the way that Ken regains control of Leisurecruise. Orrin’s shares were enough to tip the balance, but again this seems a little too convenient to be true. Ah well, it least it gives us one final Ken/Laura confrontation, this time with Ken gloatingly telling Laura to clear her desk. Ken might be the only one who seems content with business success alone, but even he’s given a small personal beat of regret (at the end of the episode he looks longingly at Jan – strengthening my suspicion that they might have got back together sometime in the future).

Even by HW‘s own standards, the resolution of Brigette Dupont’s claim on Lynne’s perfume was dealt with in a very half-hearted way (Admiral Redfern dropped by to casually let Jan know that Ms Dupont didn’t have a leg to stand on). Goodness knows why they raised this plot-thread in the first place if they were going to dismiss it pretty much straightaway.

Jack’s decision to leave the Mermaid for another yard where he can work in wood (he likes wood you know) is also rushed through at breakneck speed. But this does allow the series a sense of closure as well as an air of new beginnings – Jack exits the yard for the final time and Leo takes over. Leo’s story is also at a crossroads – following in his father’s footsteps at the yard, he sees his design for the America’s Cup accepted by Admiral Redfern’s consortium. That’s a remarkable (if not to say totally improbable) development for a novice designer. And when Jenny came home from her round the world trip, would it be into Leo’s arms or would Abby have returned to stake a claim on him? Alas, we’ll never know.

And that’s that. Seventy eight episodes which were sometimes confusing, sometimes infuriating but almost always highly entertaining and never dull. If Howards’ Way lacked the tight scripting of Glaister’s previous soapy drama – The Brothers – then the performances of the regulars always helped to paper over most of the cracks. It’s certainly a series I’ve revisited a number of times and I know I’ll come back to it again in the future. The world of Tarrant is always an enjoyable place to visit.

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Twelve

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Charles and Lynne’s relationship continues to blossom – mind you, being in Bermuda (even if it’s largely on business) probably doesn’t hurt. Although Lynne is doing her best to try and distract Charles from paperwork – taking a dip in the ocean whilst Charles rifles through papers aboard his yacht, she does the old “give me a hand up” trick and then pulls him into the water. An astute man like Charles should have spotted that one coming ….

Ken continues to taunt Laura. Now he’s back in the ascendant again he’s merciless about putting the screws on although later we’ll see that Laura is hatching schemes of her own. It’s always good to see these two cross swords, but even more interesting is Ken’s later dinner date with Jan. Fair to say that these two have had a chequered history but despite all they’ve been through, crafty Ken is still able to make Jan laugh. Clearly she’s got a short memory and has totally forgotten that Ken attempted to ruin her last year.

Another of those “what ifs”. Had HW gone to a seventh series, could Ken and Jan have finally got together? It might have happened, and if so would have been rather interesting.

Kate’s on the prowl – attempting to chivvy up Leo (his mind is understandably elsewhere these days). There’s more fun with Kate later as a stuttering Admiral Redfern attempts to express his feelings for her. The fact that Dulcie Gray and Michael Denison were a real life couple adds a little extra spark to this nicely played scene.

There are a few points of interest elsewhere – such as Jack and Vanessa winning a boat race (although it’s only a fairly fleeting plot point) and Jan’s attempts to stabilise the fluctuating fortunes of the House of Howard – but the meat of this episode takes place in Bermuda where the question of William and Thomas rumbles on.

Previously I’d marvelled at Gerald’s attire, this time it’s Orrin who impresses – his golfing clothes includes long shorts and white knee socks. Abby’s also wearing some eye-catching togs, but I need to be strong and pull myself away from this trifling fashion talk in order to concentrate on the plot. Robert Hudson (Bruce Boa) is back and we also see the often-talked about but rarely glimpsed William (Daniel Bortolli).

William’s a lad of a few, if any, words. But given his upbringing it’s no surprise that he’s not exactly a voluble, friendly child. In clothing he’s thoroughly Americanised and although he’s happy for Orrin to give him a piggy-back ride there’s no such happy reunion with Abby. She later tearfully tells Gerald that he didn’t even recognise her, which floats the possibility that even if Abby did regain William, he may not match up to her idealised dreams.

Last time Hudson was on the scene he was very much running the show, but now the power dynamic has shifted with Abby and Orrin (especially Abby) firmly in the driving seat. Abby is the one who offers Charles a settlement of fifty million dollars whilst Orrin symbolically stands directly behind her, rather than by her side. Once again she’s icy and controlled – is this something of an act to intimidate Hudson and Charles or has Abby really crossed over to the dark side? That’s something else that might have been explained and explored in a seventh series.

A few late items of interest. Lynne reveals that she’s pregnant to an overjoyed Charles. Either they’re quick workers or their relationship has been developing off-screen, since it only seems like a few episodes ago when they re-met. And Claude’s mother, Brigette (Carina Barone), pops up. It’s pleasing to know that Claude’s silly accent runs in the family, although since Barone seems to be French, I’m not quite sure why she sounds as if she’s putting the accent on. Maybe HW had employed too many faux foreigners over the years and by now I’m programmed to regard all foreign accents as false?

Brigette has come to stake a claim in Claude’s perfume line, but the matter gets more intriguing when it’s revealed that she’s being bankrolled by Laura. Eek! So there’s just one more episode to go – will all these plot-threads be neatly tied up? We shall see.

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Eleven

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The great and good of Tarrant are on the waves today, competing in a race organised by Charles. Leo and Jenny make for a very attractive team (maybe the lad should forget all about Abby and hook up with young Jenny instead). The equally comely Charles and Lynne are crewing another boat – and whilst it’s maybe a little odd to see Charles enjoying himself rather than sitting at his desk fretting about share prices, since he’s keen to beat the Relton boat it’s not just a pleasure cruise for him.

Jan and Robert make for the oddest combination. Way back in series one, Jan had a cordial dislike for mucking about on the water, but now she appears to be an old hand as she takes the wheel with a nonchalant air. Given that she spends all her time running an international fashion business (including designing all the clothes herself) I’m not sure where Jan’s found the time to become a first class sailor as well. Does she never sleep?

Who wins? Leo and Jenny, whilst Charles is a man overboard. Luckily there’s no damage done, indeed as Lynne hauls him back onto the boat he has a little chuckle. Certainly this is a much more relaxed Charles than we’ve seen for a long time. Has he finally escaped from the imposing shadow of his father?

If Jan and Robert also share a few laughs on the water, then it’s not long before she’s wearing her more usual expression (pained). This is after she learns that Robert has also been handling Charles’ affairs, although there seems to be nothing in this (Robert tells her that he only deals with Charles’ personal affairs, meaning that there’s no conflict of interest). We learn a little more about Robert – he’s divorced with several children – and indeed the rush to humanise him continues at a rate of knots. We later see the pair of them share a smoochy dance (to The Lady In Red, the slushy song of choice from this era) which suggests that they’re slowing falling in love. They’d better hurry up though, only two episodes after this one.

Jack’s been on a bit of a roll recently. After his entertaining antics last time, there’s more fun today – first when he comes clean to Vanessa and tells her that Tony could be his son. This is topped by the arrival of Bill who admits that Tony might actually be his son ….

Clearly Tony’s mother was a generous hearted woman (although, possibly thankfully, no further suspects step forward). This sort of material was like gold to Glyn Owen, who doesn’t disappoint after Bill drops his bombshell. The pair then decide to break the news to Tony, who confides that he’s no longer interested in the identity of his father. So this plotline rather staggers to a conclusion with no resolution.

It’s not all fun for Charles today. It’s revealed that he was behind the break-in at the Mermaid (sponsoring Hector Burrage to dislodge Admiral Redfern from the chairmanship at the bank). It’s a mildly interesting nugget of information, although you have to wonder why Charles – if he finds Redfern so disagreeable – doesn’t simply move his business to another bank.

The saga of William rumbles on. Abby and Orrin are in Bermuda (certainly makes a change from the south coast of England). They seem close – holding hands for example (plus there’s a non-explicit bedroom scene) – and are very much of one mind. Gerald, having headed out to Bermuda to advise, finds himself surplus to requirements. But his presence is worthwhile for the sight of Ivor Danvers in shorts. Not something I’d thought that I’d ever see.

Laura is making a bid to muscle in on the House of Howard by attempting to snaffle some shares. This late development feels a little odd – so close to the end of the series it probably would have been wiser to try and tie up all the existing loose ends rather than create new ones. Unless there had originally been some thought to carrying on with a seventh series.

Leo and Jenny kiss. And why not. Since Abby and Orrin seem to be coupling, you can’t blame the lad for seeking succour elsewhere.

Jack exploding for no good reason is a HW staple. This episode has a humdinger of an example – unhappy at Leo being given more control over the yard, Jack tells Avril that she’s “devious” and on exiting her office, informs Pierre Challon (James Coombes) that he’s a “frog”! Hovering around the periphery of the series for a while, Pierre slightly moves more into focus today – sharing a meal with Avril, there’s just the hint of a spark between them. In 2017 Coombes provided the voices of the Kraags in the BD/DVD reconstruction of the Doctor Who story Shada – a nugget of information which probably isn’t of interest to many people, but I thought I’d share it anyway.

Back to Jack, he’s still fuming that anybody – not least his daughter – could boss him about in his yard (his mood wasn’t improved after Avril told him that it’s not his yard anymore – Relton own it) and so he decides to quit. We’ve seen Jack threatening to leave the Mermaid Yard before, but this time could he really mean it?

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Ten

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We left the previous episode with Charles and Lynne in a tentative clinch (he seemed keen, she was very conflicted). In true Howards’ Way fashion their relationship has now accelerated at a rate of knots as today they’re remarkably pally and tactile. Quite why and how this sudden sea change occurred isn’t made clear – as ever, you just have to grin and bear it.

Jan’s not really been well served by the plotlines this year. Most of the time she’s been stuck in the office, complaining as Robert pours cold water on yet another business idea. There’s plenty of that today as well – enabling Jan Harvey to once again unleash her trademark irritated stare – but there are other developments too ….

Given that Leo no longer lives at home (allied to the fact that Jan’s remained unattached for a while) it’s easy to understand why her character has been work, work, work orientated – it’s just puzzling that it hasn’t been addressed before. But who invites her out for a spot of dinner? Why Robert of course. This does take a minute of processing, but it appears that Robert is actually a human being with a sense of humour and both have an enjoyable evening. Nice to see Jan laugh for a change, although there may very well be a twist in the tail at a later date.

This is a good Jack episode. Many of his well established traits are given another airing – together with Bill he berates the fact that working in wood is becoming a lost art, he tells Leo in no uncertain terms that he’ll do what he likes in his yard, etc – whilst (glory be!) Tony’s plotline begins to move. You might have seen this coming, but Tony finally confesses that he’s looking to trace his father, who might have worked at the Mermaid Yard.

When Jack learns the identity of Tony’s mother he goes a little white. Could Tony be his son? Hmm, it seems possible. Although we have to wait until the next episode for the ultimate punchline – when Bill admits that he could be the father too! Jack and Bill squabbling for parental supremacy would have made a decent spin-off sitcom.

Whilst the scenes between Jack and Tony (the lad still coasting along in blissful ignorance) are entertaining enough, there’s even better to come. Kate turns up – with a face like thunder – seeking an audience with Jack. We haven’t had a good Kate/Jack face-off for a while and whilst this one isn’t an all-time classic there are still some fine moments (Jack’s delight at learning Kate may become a councillor, for example).

But most of the entertainment is saved for later, when a reluctant Jack is forced to meet with Hector Burrage (Michael Lees). Burrage was the recipient of the incriminating document apparently stolen from the Mermaid (which implicated Admiral Redfern and Kate). Jack – in splendid form – is able to laugh the whole thing off, thanks to a few dodgy memos of his own. Lovely stuff from Glyn Owen as always.

Vanessa offers Avril a cheque for £250,000 to cover the fraud perpetrated by her brother. I do like the way that Avril half-heartedly murmurs that she couldn’t possibly accept it – within seconds she’s grabbed it and passed it over to Gerald for safe keeping! That solves that problem you would think, but since Vanessa had to sell some of her Relton shares to raise the money it’s put the company in danger of a takeover bid from Charles. A touch convenient the way this happens (also, given Vanessa’s links to Relton I can’t believe she’d sell her shares so willingly).

Abby and Orrin are now in America. Not surprising that the series didn’t have the budget to make the trip over, so a little suspension of disbelief is required when we see both of them in a brief street scene. To be fair, the location does look a little like the US (the yellow cab helps as well). Abby’s still in her power-dressing mode and now seems to be the dominant partner – for the moment, Orrin is content to defer.

Once again, you have to question whether Abby’s actions are motivated purely by her desire to do the best for William or if it’s more to do with personal gain. Or even a little of both. And indeed, even if her actions are selflessly directed towards William’s future, how will this single-minded stand affect her personal relationships? Time will tell, but we’ve only got three episodes to find out. Although she’s only onscreen for a few minutes, Abby certainly makes an impression (and it’s a chilling one when she tells Orrin that Ken is now under her control).

Avril and Gerald and Charles and Laura are independently called to a meeting in Malta, where the future of the Poelma Corporation will be revealed. This has to be one of my favourite end-of-episode moments – as Ken strolls in to drop the bombshell that he’s now the chairman of Poelma! Not a twist I was expecting, but delicious nonetheless.

Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Nine

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There’s another example of “tell not show” at the beginning of today’s episode. Kate, indulging in a spot of pruning, sees two police officers approaching. The scene ends before we learn what they want and indeed we don’t hear a peep out of Kate for the next fifteen minutes – not until a horrified Jan answers the phone (although we’re not privy to the other side of the conversation).

A brief moment of tension is therefore created, but it’s instantly dissipated as the next scene shows Jan and Kate leaving the police station. A recent burglary at the Mermaid Yard has implicated Kate (connected to the documents she assembled last year when launching her abortive attempt to save the yard). It’s not really anything to worry about then – Kate isn’t set for a diet of bread and water – but you do feel that a little more could have been made out of this moment.

The burglary seems to be linked to the new chairman of the bank, Admiral Francis Redfern (Michael Denison), who – as we’ve previously seen – is an old friend of Kate’s (was the break-in an attempt to smear his name?). The urbane Francis (like so many before him) is forced to feel the rough end of Kate’s tongue for a few moments – although she’s mollified to learn that his position at the bank might mean a smoother ride for Jan in the future.

It’s highly characteristic that Kate automatically assumes they’ve now got a friend at court, although Francis is quick to point out that any support he can offer is dependent on Jan’s business proposals ….

Leo and Abby have a short, unhappy conversation which ends with Abby giving him a hard slap (this occurs after a taunting jibe that her only values are now monetary ones). Gerald also shares this disquiet, but he remains publicly supportive. It does seem now that she’ll meet with anybody – Orrin or even Ken – who will be able to help her achieve her ultimate goal. Mind you, given that HW was often said to embrace the Thatcherite ideal (even though 1990 were the dying days of Thatcher’s premiership) she’s not doing anything that many others – such as Jan – haven’t previously done. But is it about the money or is it about regaining William? Others have their opinion, but only Abby knows for sure.

Charles and Gerald arrange their parting. As with all of their business dealings, it’s handled in a straightforward and correct manner – although it’s notable that Charles seems to be the one with the most regrets. He once again states that his decision to contest his father’s will was in Abby’s interests and there’s something in his pleading tone which makes me inclined to believe him. You possibly won’t be shocked to hear that Gerald later takes up a position at Relton. With Gerald and Avril now on the same side, this sets up intriguing possibilities for the future (or would have done, if the series wasn’t hurtling to a conclusion).

Jack and Vanessa’s honeymoon hits a little bump when she learns the truth about her brother, but things soon get back on an even keel. The fact that Vanessa is keen to reimburse both Laura and Avril the money they’ve lost (well over half a million pounds) clearly suggests that she’s a woman of considerable financial means – but if she did so it would close off another area which could be mined for drama.

Although Laura puts a brave face on her loss (telling a gloating Ken that losing £300,000 is inconvenient but not disastrous) it may be that she’s not being entirely truthful. Hitting the reset button thanks to Vanessa would put us back to square one and negate the whole David Relton plot-thread. Let’s keep an eye on this one.

The mysterious Tony continues to mooch around the Mermaid, throwing knowing looks at regular intervals. This is a plot-thread which has been given time to breathe, but I think by now it’s been as stretched about as far as it can go. But alas, we still don’t know the truth about him, so it’ll rumble on for at least another episode.

Lynne’s not had a great deal to do so far this series. Most of her scenes have been with Jan and Robert and have played out in the same way (Jan and Lynne attempt to push their business ideas forward, the ever cautious Robert hums and haws). This episode does do something more with her though – first, she and Leo venture out on the water as she attempts to heal the breach between him and Abby.

A later encounter with Charles is even more intriguing. That the flame still burns between them is suggested when they kiss (although she pulls back after a moment). Given that their previous fling was brief and ended rather unhappily (with Lynne taking an acrobatic plunge into the water) it seems a little improbable that they would simply pick up where they left off after a gap of several years.

But this is Howards’ Way, where the improbable often becomes probable, so never say never ….

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Eight

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The shockwaves of David Relton’s departure continues to reverberate. Of course this is old news for the viewers, who’d already been presented with evidence that he was a crook last time, so today is more a case of watching the likes of Laura and Avril catch up.

Laura (sporting a new hairstyle) is the first to twig. Orrin doesn’t do a great deal in this episode, but what he does – politely hammering the point home that Laura was somewhat foolish to trust David – he does very well. So not only has Laura had her heart broken (I won’t mention again how hard this is to swallow) she’s also lost a considerable sum of money.

Avril at least has the compensation of not being unlucky in love, but the way she frittered away £250,000 of Relton’s money is understandably giving her the jitters. I’ve touched upon this point before, but in the early days of Relton Marine, combative boardroom scenes were quite common. These have totally disappeared over the last few years, leaving the unfortunate impression that Relton Marine is only run by Avril and Leo. It’s difficult to fathom why they went down this route, as feisty boardroom battles seem to be an obvious way of generating drama.

Speaking of generating drama, this episode has the rather annoying habit of stopping scenes just before a juicy revelation arrives. So we see a meeting between Gerald and Avril, but it ends before the key moment (Avril offers Gerald a job). Given that “show not tell” is a basic storytelling rule, this seems odd.

One notable moment occurs when Avril desperately attempts to find Vanessa, keen to break the news that her long-lost brother is a cheat and a crook. Considering that Vanessa’s getting married in the morning you have to say that Avril’s got a slightly skewered sense of priorities. It falls to Jack (for once the voice of reason) to tell his daughter that it’s best to say nothing for the moment.

Entertaining though the sight of Laura and Avril’s woebegone faces are, there are two key aspects to this episode – Abby’s choice and the wedding between Jack and Vanessa.

Abby’s choice is certainly something which continues to generate debate whenever grizzled HW fans meet. Maybe her endgame is regaining custody of William, which explains why she’s keen to abide by the provisions of Sir Edward’s will (even if it means cutting Leo out of her life). Or, as Kate believes, is it simply that she’s changing into a new person? If power and money corrupts, has the prospect of untold wealth already begun to warp her persona?

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There’s an absolutely key scene (played out to Talk Talk’s Life What You Make It) in which Abby peruses various high-end shops, eyeing a complete makeover.

Baby, life’s what you make it
Celebrate it
Anticipate it
Yesterday’s faded
Nothing can change it
Life’s what you make it

The arrival of the new improved, power-dressed Abby comes as something of a shock. It’s certainly a world away from the lumpen fashions we saw her modeling during the first series. It appears that her reclothing has created a shell which will steel herself for the battles ahead (behind the glossy new exterior she’s still somewhat hesitant). As Abby passes Leo his ring back, it’s plain that she’s now made her choice ….

Earlier, Charles had vainly attempted to persuade her that his decision to contest his father’s will was in her best interests. Abby (and later Gerald) disagreed, but the truth isn’t so clear cut. We’ve seen so little of Charles the man (as opposed to Charles the marina development businessman) that it’s hard to believe he isn’t operating with an ulterior motive, but maybe, just maybe.

The brief meeting between Charles and Lynne was a poignant one. Not only in story terms (the pair had a brief fling at the end of series one) but also due to the fact that Anholt and Childs married around the time that this series was in production. Sadly they divorced in 1998.

Abby’s decision to walk away from Leo casts something of a pall over Vanessa’s last night of freedom (the likes of Jan and Lynne are keen to discuss the ins and outs, before realising that it’s rather tactless to gossip about a failed relationship just as Vanessa’s about to tie the knot) but the big day goes off without a hitch. It’s all really rather lovely and even this hard-bitten television watcher had to confess to getting a little misty eyed. Jan’s dress was rather dramatic, I wonder if she designed that one herself?

Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Seven

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Bill is a wise old bird. His comment (“Tarrant breeds quarrels, every day someone’s having a barney”) sums up Howards’ Way perfectly.

So who’s arguing today? Charles and Gerald for one. Charles’ inability to cease fighting his father (even after his death) is the bone of contention between them. Psychologists might have a field day with Charles’ decision to move into Highfield – is this because he wishes to exorcise the ghost of his father, or will he in due course turn into him? One shot – Charles in the foreground with a painting of Sir Edward looming in the background – seems to be a very deliberate framing.

The ever patient Gerald has clearly reached the end of his patience quota as the episode ends with him tendering his resignation. We’ve been here before of course, but maybe this time he really means it.

Their scenes are possibly the dramatic highlight of an episode that chugs along quite agreeably, even if it never quite clicks into top gear. Abby’s still looking mournful as she considers her future. Leo doesn’t feature a great deal, but in one way that’s understandable (Abby wants to make the decision for herself). So Leo is cast in a passive role, having already made his position quite clear (he wants Abby to stay, naturally). Unsurprisingly he takes her out on the water to explain this – important decisions have to be discussed when you’re bobbing up and down in a boat.

If this plotline is currently in a holding position, then the unlikely romance between David and Laura already seems to have run aground. As touched upon before, it’s hard to take this coupling at all seriously (given how limited David’s screentime has been) but it really does appear that hard-bitten Laura has fallen for him. So when a gloating Ken tells her that David and Avril are in Malta she’s not best pleased. Score one to Kenneth Masters.

Tarrant currently seems to be stocked with people who aren’t quite who they appear to be. Last time a young lad called Tony Munro (David Rhean) started working at the Mermaid, today Jack finds him rifling through the files. And following the departure of Sir John from the bank, Jan is stunned to find that Robert is now on the board.

There’s not enough data yet to explain Tony’s actions, but Jan may simply be getting a little paranoid about Robert. Her main criticism of his actions is that he’s constantly business minded (not a bad trait for a business adviser). He’s keen to cultivate Lynne’s support – business again, or does he also have pleasure in mind? Jan registers her concern by pulling a series of anguished faces. Jan Harvey was always very good at this.

Continuing the theme of untrustworthy types, questions are beginning to be asked about David Relton. Like his whirlwind romance with Laura, the subplot between him and Avril is begun and concluded so quickly that it simply isn’t credible. For these storylines to have any impact (or believability) David needed to be in place for a run of episodes (appearing in only three was never going to cut the mustard).

Avril and David are in Malta to meet with Pierre Challon (Michael Cochrane). Pierre sports the most outrageous French accent heard in the series since the late, unlamented Claude. But the twist – which by now most of the audience would have probably seen coming – is that he’s a con man putting on a funny accent (was this a tongue in cheek nod back to some of HW‘s comedy accents of the past?) So David and fake Pierre have conned Avril out of a quarter of a million pounds. This doesn’t say much for her business acumen, but as per the point raised before, had David been around Tarrant longer then her blunder would have been a little more more forgivable.

Elsewhere, Jack teases Laura that he’s going to ask David to be his best man, rather than dependable old Bill. Jack was only joshing of course and later he and Bill – along with Leo – enjoy a jolly evening at the Jolly Sailor (Jack counting down his last precious hours of freedom). By the end of the evening both Leo and Jack are quite insensible. How Bill managed to get them home is anybody’s guess …..

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Six

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It’s the day of Sir Edward’s funeral. Despite the fact that few of the people present had any love for him, it’s still a sombre affair. But it’s livened up by one rather good gag. This must be one of the earliest examples of a mobile phone interrupting proceedings (it was 1990 remember). As the vicar intones “I heard a voice from heaven saying ….” Ken answers his brick-like phone with the words “hello, Ken Masters”. Well it amused me.

One notable absentee is Charles, who we see mooching by a bridge. Out of all the main characters, Charles has always been the one most fixated on business. True, he did have a lengthy relationship with Avril, but that often seemed just to feed back into his professional life. Given this, it comes as a real shock to see him unshaven and so lost in the aftermath of his father’s funeral.

Gerald (who by contrast is now a totally different man from the one we met at the start of the first series) gently attempts to find out why Charles couldn’t bring himself to attend. But apart from some vague comments about the way his mother suffered at the hands of his father we don’t gain any fresh insights. Charles’ histrionics are nicely played by Tony Anholt (a little over the top maybe, but that might be simply because we’re not used to any sort of emotion from Charles). Seeing the more human Charles here, it’s a pity that this side of his character wasn’t developed more. Another of those “what if” moments that might have been tackled during a seventh series.

It’s easy to forget that Vanessa was a Relton, but if this fact has been overlooked recently then the return of her brother, David, serves as a reminder. Some meat is helpfully put on the bones of his character – inheriting Relton Marine at a young age, he promptly sold the business and has trekked around the globe for the last twenty five years. Given Richard Heffer’s own age, this would have made David around nineteen at the time he sold the company, which just about fits the timeframe.

He might have a slightly icy relationship with Vanessa (not surprising if they haven’t seen each other for a quarter of a century) but he gets on very well with pretty much everybody else. David butters Jack up a treat (and then stands Jack and Bill an evening’s drinks). No surprise that Jack takes full advantage and eventually makes his way back to Vanessa very much the worse for wear!

Even more intriguing is David’s coupling with Laura. She remembers the callow youth he had been (what price a Howards’ Way prequel, set in Tarrant during the 1950’s and 1960’s?) but it’s plain that he’s had a great deal of, ahem, experience since then. No sooner have they become reacquainted than they tumble into bed, where he tells her that he’s fallen head over heels in love with her.

Given that this sort of thing does happen in HW it’s impossible to dismiss his claims out of hand (whereas most drama series wouldn’t have the nerve to jump in with both feet) but it might be that he’s pursuing his own agenda. Since his final appearance is in next week’s episode I think we’ll find out shortly. Their between the sheets action is rather marred by the honking saxophone (which was on the soundtrack rather than in the bedroom).

Lynne’s makeup presentation impresses Jan and Kate, but Robert is less effusive. He may always be positioned as the wet blanket, but it’s hard not to see that he has a point. His constant caution and desire for a clear business plan is clearly beginning to irritate the more freewheeling Jan (I’m still stunned that she’s now a world class clothes designer. Apart from anything else, when did she learn to draw?)

Lynne has a little more fun when she and Jenny later push Ken’s new prototype boat to its limits (with a crowd of investors looking on). This is a nice moment, reminding us of the carefree Lynne of old.

It seems that Leo’s well on his way to becoming a world class boat designer. He does have the grace to say that most of the work on the latest Leisurecruise success was Tom’s, but Avril’s still impressed with the amendments he put in to the later stages (so a design job at Relton will now be his. Hurrah!) Had HW gone to a seventh series then it’s easy to see Leo gradually moving into Tom’s old position as Tarrant’s top boat designer. A pity that it’s all a little pat though (Tom had to struggle just a little to establish himself). Watching Leo pour over designs at a drawing board wouldn’t have been dramatically very interesting, but a few brief scenes during the preceding episodes would have helped to sell this storyline somewhat.

Orrin suggests he and Leo meet. It’s a short and not terribly sweet encounter – Orrin attempts to buy him off, but Leo makes his position clear. “There’s only one thing I want, and it’s been coming to you for a long time”. Whack! One well aimed punch and Orrin’s on the ground. I confess I did let out a little cheer ….

Hovering over the entire episode has been the issue of Sir Edward’s will. As predicted by several characters, it’s been designed to cause the maximum amount of heartache. Jan is gifted a piece of jewellery from the first Lady Frere (a mocking example of what she could have had), Charles is granted Highfield (a place he always loathed) whilst Abby and Orrin are made co-executors of Sir Edward’s will. The bulk of his estate will be held in trust for William – provided that Abby severs all ties with Leo.

Gosh, that’s a bit of a cliffhanger. With Abby barely able to get the words out, it leaves her with a bitter dilemma. Stay with the man she loves (at least we assume she does) or leave to secure her firstborn’s inheritance?

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving on ….

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

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

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Two

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The episode opens with a slow car pursuit – Ken chasing Avril (he has a very weedy sounding horn, it has to be said). He’s desperate to convince her that he’s the one who owns the trailer design. Will Avril believe him or will she come down on Laura’s side? She might be Laura’s friend, but since this is business, friendship counts for little. Avril’s therefore content to wait for one of them to come up with some concrete evidence.

Ken should be able to provide this – after all, Jack developed the trailer and surely would have kept a paper trail, wouldn’t he? No, of course not, this is Jack Rolfe we’re talking about – a man who loves taking cash in hand and not putting it through the books. Having already confronted Avril and then Laura, Ken’s next quarry is Jack.  Ken’s certainly covering a good deal of ground today.

Jack puts on his most concerned face, but doesn’t see what he can do. Now that Relton owns the Mermaid, he simply can’t magic a receipt out of thin air (Relton’s accountants have been through the Mermaid’s books with a fine tooth comb, so a retrospective receipt would stick out a mile). This is a plot point that doesn’t really make sense. Jack only agreed to sell out in the previous episode and the events today follow on almost directly. So when exactly did the Relton accountants find the time to undertake a forensic study of Jack’s books? Only a small niggle, but a niggle nonetheless.

Never mind, onwards and upwards. Last year Malta was the HW foreign destination of choice – this time it looks like it’s going to be Gibraltar. Jan’s headed out to open another House of Howard boutique whilst also arranging a joyful reunion with Lynn.

Lynne’s back! Having been absent for three years, her sudden reappearance came as something of a surprise (it hadn’t been trailed in the previous episode). The Gibraltar scenes have a lovely, summer feel to them (with plenty of apes thrown in). Pure travelogue padding it has to be said, but it does give the series a little extra gloss.

The late, unlamented Claude might be long gone, but his memory lives on. Not only was he a talented clothes designer (so they say) he was also a dab hand at creating perfumes. Lynne, trawling through his papers, recently came across one of his formulas and now she plans to go into business with her mother. Jan’s initially hesitant, but once she has a quick sniff she’s bowled over. As the smell doesn’t come through the screen we’ll just have to take her word for it.

Charles has his eye on a Marina development (just for a change) in Southampton. He also takes the opportunity to wine and dine Laura and begins by dropping a number of coded references to sailing at night. These heavy handed metaphors are easily deciphered – he wants Relton, she wants Leisurecruise, so there shouldn’t be a conflict of interest (they won’t be ships that bump in the night then).

Had the series gone to a seventh series and beyond, it’s tempting to wonder if Leo would have begun to move more into Tom’s position. As the new liaison man between Relton and the Mermaid, he’s already much more of a fixture at the yard than he used to be (powerboats now seem to be a thing of the past) and he’s also keen to see one of Tom’s old designs brought off the drawing board. This he achieves via a slightly tense deal between Avril and Laura. A nice gesture to honour his father’s memory or is he simply eyeing a decent commercial prospect? A little of both maybe.

Orrin reappears. Not very surprising, since he has a habit of popping up at regular intervals, but what’s new is the way he behaves. The arrogant Orrin seems to be a thing of the past and in his place is a humble, reflective man. I think we’ll have to wait and see how long this lasts, but Abby seems prepared to listen.

This meeting naturally causes discord between her and Leo. Even before he knew that Abby’s dinner date was with Orrin he was already in a bit of a mood. So learning that the father of Abby’s first-born is back in Tarrant (and apparently for good) didn’t improve his temper much! His body language makes it plain just how ticked off he is (at one point he seems to fashion his hand into a gun which he points at Abby’s head – or maybe he’s just pointing in a very emphatic fashion).

It’s not surprising that he reacts so negatively to the news that Orrin’s sniffing around Abby again, but his body language prior to this revelation (when he was simply irked that Abby had stayed out late) is slightly more revealing.  Is this a subtle reminder that Leo is very much his father’s son?  Tom, for all his good qualities, was very old fashioned when it came to male/female relationships.  Or it might be I’m reading too much into this moment.

Possibly a change of scene is what the boy needs. Jack’s had a bright idea – over in Gibraltar the Mermaid’s latest job (the Xanadu) is waiting. So it makes sense that he, Leo and Bill pop over to Gib and sail her back home. As with Malta last year, the attentive viewer will already have picked up on the curious coincidence that the boat just happens to be moored in the same place where Jan and Lynne have recently been.

How does Vanessa respond to Jack’s brilliant scheme? I think you can probably guess ….

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Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode One

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Long term HW watchers will be aware that the series often set up storylines only to somewhat annoyingly abandon them. There’s a prime example right at the start of the opening episode of the sixth and final series – last time, we left Abby on life support and fighting for her life, whereas today she looks perfectly chipper as she and Leo (plus friends and family) arrive in church to baptise their son.

The way this cliffhanger was so casually tossed away is a little baffling, but the decision to have already buried Tom prior to the start of series six (his death occurring sometime after the end of series five) is much more understandable. Given the way that Maurice Colbourne’s sudden death had already destabilised the cast, keeping up the pretence that Tom was alive and well would have no doubt felt increasingly painful.

Emotions run high in the early part of this episode, not only for Jan and Leo, but also for the viewers as well. Abby and Leo’s decision to christen their son Thomas Leo was an obvious move, but it’s still a lump in the throat moment. Later, both Jan and Leo are seen to shed a tear for Tom – although interestingly, they don’t do it together. When Jan weeps at the christening party, Leo is by her side and totally supportive. But when he and Abby are alone his own feelings bubble to the surface. Real tears from Edward Highmore? Possibly, and though his performance through the years was sometimes mocked, this moment feels very genuine.

Melancholy though the news of Tom’s death is, we’ve a whole new season of wheeler-dealing and skulduggery to enjoy, so it’s not surprising that soon the focus shifts to the ever-changing alliances and conflicts of our regulars. The peace and quiet of the christening party was clearly just a tentative truce.

To bring everybody back up to speed ….

Having acquired Leisurecruise, Laura is now in a triumphant mood. But Ken, despite this knockback, is also remarkably chipper. Entering into a partnership with Avril at Relton, his new office (a portacabin) might be modest, but he clearly feels he’s on the way back. Hmm. Let’s wait and see.

Laura and Avril might be old friends, but the prospect of Avril and Ken doing business together doesn’t please Laura. I love the way that Laura, driving along the road, suddenly spies Avril and Ken out on the water. To confirm this, she picks up a pair of binoculars from the front seat of her car. No, I don’t know why she’s driving around with a pair of binoculars so close at hand either. And just in case we hadn’t picked up on the fact this was an ominous moment, the soundtrack suddenly goes all discordant.

James might be long gone, but before he went he took a large loan out of Periplus (so not for the first time Jan’s facing financial difficulties). This is the cue for Jan Harvey to look anguished (she had plenty of practice over the years). Sir John suggests that Jan should find a new partner, but given how badly things have gone in the past with her previous partners you can’t blame her for not being too keen. Later there’s a brief bitchfest moment when Laura comes calling (telling Jan they should team up, somewhat improbably). Sadly, their meeting doesn’t come to blows ….

Jack’s continuing to mull over whether to sell the Mermaid to Charles. Eventually (hurrah!) he makes his mind up – but instead of Charles, he sells out to Relton. This means he gets a block of Relton shares, some cash in hand plus he stays in charge. Not a bad deal, although Charles (as you might expect) is incandescent with rage. With his marina development (it’s always a marina development) blocked by Relton’s purchase of the Mermaid Yard, there’s now only one option – he’ll have to take over Relton Marine.

So with three main plotlines – Ken/Laura, Jan, Charles/Avril – all bubbling away, the sixth and final series has hit the ground running. Plus you can throw in the delightful sight of Kate as young Thomas’ nanny (she seems to have appointed herself) and Charles already phoning around all the best schools, looking for somewhere to send his grandson.

Given all this, it’s maybe not surprising that new arrivals are kept to a minimum. We do see Jenny Richards (Charmian Gradwell) though – a local sailing enthusiast who joins the newly refloated Ken Masters organisation. Like Sarah Lam, Gradwell had previously appeared as a regular on The Adventure Game. Either this was an enormous coincidence, or somebody on the HW production team was an Adventure Game fan.

As I’ve said, this episode clips by at a rate of knots and the cliffhanger – Laura, popping up like a wicked witch to tell Ken that the design of the boat he’s been selling belongs to her – is a suitably juicy one. Poor Ken’s woebegone face is a picture (as is Jack’s). We may be nearing the end of the voyage, but it’s a more than promising first lap.

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Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Thirteen

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It’s dramatic music to the fore as Jan follows the ambulance to the hospital. Clearly she’s feeling the pressure as her car wobbles on the road a little. Steady on Jan, you don’t want to have an accident as well. With immaculate timing, as she pulls up they’re just taking him out of the ambulance (what are the chances, eh?).

He looks in a pretty bad way but there’s no attempt to eke out the tension as a few minutes later a remarkably unsympathetic doctor tells Jan that James will be right as rain once they’ve pumped out his stomach. “Why do they do it?” the doctor muses. When Jan learns that he’d taken an overdose of sleeping pills this gives her the opportunity for some decent close-up anguished acting. And she doesn’t disappoint.

Later, when James has been pumped out and wheeled home, there’s an extraordinary little scene between him and Jan. She begins by being furious with him and then they both go at each other hammer and tongs (extreme emotions – and extreme acting – are the order of the day). Complete with ominous piano chords in the background it’s a scene you can’t forget, though I’m not entirely sure it’s for the right reasons. It seem a bit rich that Jan seems to be more upset at the anguish he’s caused her than pondering about what drove him to take such a drastic step. Or was it just a cry for help? Either or I’d say – you can put your own interpretation on events.

After shouting at Jan, James then rushes out to give Ken a bit of a slap. This is great fun as he manages to land several punches whilst Ken flails around (one of James’ blows looked a little like a martial arts move). Possibly expending this energy does the trick as afterwards he seems to quieten down a little.

James fulfilled a duel role this year – Jan’s love interest and designer – but he didn’t quite convince in either role. Every year Jan happens to stumble upon a world class designer and then later that year she loses her (or him). Fair to say that this is beginning to stretch credibility just a little. His wild mood swings didn’t exactly make him the easiest character to identify or emphasise with, so I can’t say I’m too unhappy that he didn’t return for series six. A little of his moping face goes a long way with me.

I’m a little sorrier that Vicki didn’t continue past this episode. It was a fairly undeveloped part for most of the year, but during the last few episodes – as Vicki began to exert her authority – she’s started to emerge as a much more interesting character. She and Laura make for an intimidating duo – both giggling behind their hands as the hapless Ken swans about, mistakingly under the impression that he’s still the boss.

Jack’s cool as a cucumber when Charles offers him a cool three and a half million for the Mermaid. He says nothing, just continues to blow out his cigar smoke ….

It’s remarkable how everybody, apart from Jack, seems to think that selling the Mermaid is a bad idea. Only last year Tom was debating the possibility of buying another yard – offering more space – so I’m not entirely sure why there’s such a sudden reversal. Jack makes the very good point that with the money Charles is offering they could afford to buy the best, but Avril isn’t swayed by this (for her, tradition is everything). As touched upon before, this is an ironic about turn – normally Jack is the one chuntering on about tradition.

Jack pops the question again to Vanessa, but she’s disinclined to give him an answer until she knows if he plans to sell the yard. Maybe that influenced his decision not to sell? But given that we’ve previously established that Tom, Avril and Jan are able to outvote him, this seems to be a slightly unsatisfactory plotline (attempting to generate tension where none exists). After all, if the others are united (which they are) then there’s no crisis. Was this a sign that the tangled plotthreads from the past five years were beginning to fox the writers?

It’s like deva vu all over again as Ken and Leo face each other in a powerboat race. But first of all Leo needs to get permission from his mother ….

Well not quite, but Avril’s not at all happy at the thought of Leo back racing and tells him that if Jan forbids it then it’s not going to happen. Leo, tired of being treated like a stroppy child, doesn’t take this terribly well. We don’t actually see or hear Jan’s thoughts on Leo risking life and limb – can we take this as another example of Jan’s self-centeredness? Is she so obsessed with her next fashion show that she doesn’t really care about her son?

Another fashion show? But we had one only the other week. To the delicate strains of the Fine Young Cannibals and Enya the models strut their stuff down the catwalk. You know the sort of thing. Earlier, James had been a little frantic. You know the sort of thing. Of course it’s all a fantastic success and Jan is showered with kisses and flowers at the end. Hurrah!

It’s odd that James was backstage at the time and so didn’t join in with the celebration. There also seems to something of a hard cut during the scene when he meets with Jan backstage, as it ends rather abruptly.

I want a plane like Charles’. That’s the ultimate executive toy.

Abby’s been rather in the background today. We’re about forty minute in before she has her first decent scene – meeting with Orrin’s lawyer to talk about a divorce settlement. Surprise, surprise, the Hudsons aren’t willing to give up custody of William – something which causes Abby to react with anger. Clearly she’s been keeping her feelings repressed for some time (once she knows for sure what the position is, then there’s a furious release).

It’s possibly not too hard to guess what happens next. Overcome, she rushes out of the house and straight into the path of two motorcyclists. We’re denied a sight of the accident (cheapskate producers) so have to make do with the sight of a prone Abby lying in the road with an anxious Gerald close by. Just as round two of Leo verses Ken is familiar, so is the fact that Abby – following an accident – is forced to give birth prematurely.

Oh, and Leo beats Ken, but when news of Abby’s accident comes through it obviously doesn’t seem so important. But that’s only the beginning of Ken’s troubles as Laura breaks the happy news that he’s lost control of Leisure Cruise. Thanks to Vicki and Sir Alan, Laura’s now gained a majority shareholding and wants Ken out of the office straight away. “You double dealing little bitch” he snarls. Lovely stuff!

The final shot of a champagne drenched Ken echoes the similar scene from the end of series four. But then Ken was celebrating, now he’s tasting only defeat (Laura mockingly showered him with champagne this time round).

This would have been a decent way to close series five, but there was obviously a more dramatic beat to end on. The sight of an unconscious Abby – who may or may not wake up – surrounded by Leo, Charles and Gerald (with news that the hospital were able to save the child – a boy) ensures that we finish on a very sombre note.

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Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Twelve

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Whilst Gerald tries to keep Frere Holdings together, Charles is out sailing. Sir John takes a dim view of this. “Nero only fiddled”. It’s unusual to see Charles crewing such a small boat (and in a race as well) as in the past he’s tended to restrict his water-based activities to lounging about on his yacht.

It’s a pretty filthy day. Well in some shots. The curse of filming means that one moment the sky is overcast and the next the sun’s out. Oh and I like Charles’ hat. No really.

This is a major location shoot with many of the regulars close at hand – Jack, Vanessa and Laura are observing proceedings from the comfort of a speedboat whilst Ken and Vicki are also part of the race. Charles wins. Hurrah! Jack’s delighted too as even though Charlie Frere was the winner, at least he won it in a Jack Rolfe designed boat.

Kate, Abby and a number of fellow campaigners have started their protest. In practice this means that they’re walking round and round the main gate of the Mermaid (in eerie silence) carrying their placards. Kate does make the very good point that they really should be chanting something, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion that had they done so then all the extras would have had to have been paid more money. So they remain silent and menacing (or silent and silly, depending on your point of view).

And where is the boy Leo? Out racing powerboats, that’s where. Although he was supposed to have retired, he’s clearly happy to be back in the saddle. Later we see Abby standing on the headland (her bump getting more pronounced by the minute) looking far from happy at the risks he’s taking.

We haven’t heard the “M” word for a while, but seventeen minutes in Charles utters it. “I shall have to fly out to Malta” he says. Yes, of course. Charles’ sailing win has generated some good publicity but Frere Holdings needs to press ahead with the Marina development in order to regain the confidence of the city. And this will only happen if they can buy up the Mermaid Yard.

Jack’s surprisingly keen to listen to Charles’ proposal (you’d have expected him to dismiss it out of hand). Although Jack is an arch traditionalist, he claims to be puzzled as to why everybody’s getting into a tizzy. He declares that the Mermaid is simply a patch of land with some huts on it. This statement – and his later comment of “too many memories” – tends to tie into Jack’s running theme this year (the way he’s been haunted by the ghosts of his past).

Ken and Laura are – delightfully – each scheming away. Laura’s popped over to see Charles whilst Ken’s planning to entertain Sir Alan. Laura finds that Charles gives her a friendly welcome (Gerald is much frostier of course). Later Laura and Charles enjoy a convivial dinner – he’s tuxedo’d up, she’s dressed to kill – where she drops the bombshell that Ken’s joined forces with Sir Edward and Hudson in order to beat Charles at his own game and snatch the Malta prize from under his nose.

This rendezvous also gives us the more than interesting sight of Laura attempting to seduce Charles. The next day we find that Gerald’s incredibly jealous at the thought of Charles and Laura coupled together, but Charles tells him that he’s built of sterner stuff. “Oh it was tempting … for a moment”. In other words, Gerald’s judgement was lacking when he got involved with Laura but Charles is much more streetwise. Gerald seems to accept this with reasonably good grace.

Charles then prepares to revenge himself against Ken – if he pulls out of the Malta venture then Sir Edward will lose interest in backing Ken (since his only reason for doing so is Charles’ involvement). Since this rehashes an identical plotline from last year you’d have thought Ken might have foreseen this. Ken agrees to hand over his Relton shares to Charles and once he’s done that Charles will withdraw from the Malta bid and Ken’ s path will be clear. Are you keeping track of all this? Things are beginning to get a bit complicated.

Sir Alan’s keen to invest in Ken’s latest business venture, but only if Vicki becomes a shareholder at Leisure Cruise. The later revelation that Sir Alan and Laura are friendly suggests that Ken’s troubles are only increasing ….

Jan and James are very merry. After moping around for most of this year, James eventually seems to have turned a corner – joshing Jan that she’s eventually going to turn into her mother! And if Sir John can arrange for the bank to repay James’ loan to Ken then he’d be happier still. Later, James pops round to Leisure Cruise for a face-off with Ken. James has got the cheque which releases him from his obligation to Ken, although Ken’s not at all chuffed (“you’re going to regret this”). Ken’s then on the phone to someone called Jeremy. “I’ve got a little job for you”.

Is Jeremy a hit man? Not really, at least, not in that sense (he obviously works for the Southern Independent). James isn’t quite the main headline (that belongs to “Airliners get FBI gun guard”) but he’s still been granted a prominent spot on the front page (“Howard Brooke Designer in model’s death mystery”). James doesn’t take it well. Ensconced in a Weymouth hotel, we see him lying spark out on his bed with an empty bottle of pills close by. Jan leaps into her car and sets off for the hotel – clearly she’s quite an upwardly mobile sort of person as her car has a phone (an unusual sight in 1989).

But when she pulls up to the hotel, she sees an ambulance heading out ….

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Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Eleven

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Jack’s gone under the radar again, which is the cue for Bill and Vanessa to exchange worried looks. During the last few series five episodes, I often wonder which characters were given the dialogue which had been scripted for Tom. Here, it’s easy to imagine that the original conversation would have been between Tom and Vanessa.

I’ve mentioned before how HW often seems to eschew obvious dramatic setpieces. The opening of this episode is a prime example – we learn that Charles and Gerald have been found not guilty in a very low key way (Leo and Kate discuss it over the breakfast table). Given that the cliffhanger of episode ten had Ken triumphantly giving the pair a good kicking, it seems odd that the tension wasn’t ramped up by having the verdict read out in court.

Now that Charles and Gerald are in the clear, they can turn their attention to business matters once again. With the share price of Frere Holdings continuing to tumble, Charles is keen to restablish himself – and if that means taking down both Avril at Relton and Ken at Leisure Cruise then so much the better. Fair to say that Charles is out for revenge – both Avril and Ken crossed him in the witness box, so now they have to pay …

Sir John’s testimony was key in clearing them, and this favour has enabled him to restablish a strong working relationship with Charles. A pity that Sir Edward isn’t around at present, as that would have made this new alliance (especially considering the way that Sir Edward threw Sir John to the wolves last year) especially juicy.

Charles wastes no time in seeking Avril out. There’s a fascinating little exchange where he spells out his business credo. “All I’ve ever done is to try and secure the highest possible return for my shareholders. Now if that’s a crime then yes, I’m guilty”. Yes, he probably was. This is a very Thatcherite statement of intent – making money is the only thing that matters, legally or illegally.

Jan and James’ big fashion show is nearly here (it’s in Malta remember, the hub of the fashion and boating world). James is having kittens, since he’s convinced that the audience is set to rip him to shreds (although they look like rather innofensive extras to me). To the delicate strains of Terence Trent D’Arby, the models strut their stuff (primary colours are to the fore to begin with). Given that the scene’s quite a short one, there wasn’t a great deal of benefit to shooting out in Malta. It probably would have looked just as good in the UK ….

When they’re back home, Jan’s delighted with the glowing newspaper reviews – which rate Howard Brooke as one of the top European fashion houses. Unfortutely some of the other press clippings – digging out James’ American misadventures – aren’t quite so welcome.

This year has certainly been a streamlined one in terms of Jan’s fashion business. Previously she’s had to deal with production and distribution headaches, but there’s been no such problems this time round. The result is that her irristable rise and rise is more than a little unbelivable (but when there’s so many competing storylines this is possibly inevitable).

Jack continues to mope about, torturing himself about Eileen, but there’s a sense that this storyline is coming to a conclusion. For the first time, Avril speaks to him about his current despressed state and realises that her father is interested in developing his relationship with Vanessa, but the guilt he feels over his treatment of Eileen is holding him back.

Kate’s organising a one-woman campaign to save the Mermaid Yard. Once upon a time this would have been the sort of thing that Leo would have got involved in readily, but these days he’s more interested in pushing his new powerboat design. Later, Leo wryly tells Abby that Kate’s bound to corral them both – but whilst Abby’s happy to take a stand (the embers of her previous campaigning still burns) Leo’s much more ambivalent. He’ll do it because he doesn’t want to disappoint his grandmother, but despite the fact that he says he admires her fighting spirit it seems that he, left to his own devices, would be happy for the Mermaid to be levelled to the ground.

I have to say that Kate’s banners (“Hands off the Mermaid”, etc) are very professionally designed. Clearly she’s got an artistic eye.

Abby’s now decided that she wants to fight for William’s custody after all. Like her on/off/on relationship with Leo, this has been a plotline which has ebbed and flowed over the last few years. And who does she ask for help? Charles.

This is slighly surprising as when her pregnancy became public knowledge she could barely bring herself to be in the same room as him. But as so often with Abby, pragmatism seems to have won out over personal feelings. With Sir Edward no longer around, Charles is clearly the next best choice. Mind you, she could have gone to Gerald and no doubt he would have done everything he could to help her (she does give a reason why she decided not to approach him, but it doesn’t quite convinced). Abby and Gerald working together to fight for William’s custody would have worked, but there’s much more of a dramatic frisson if it’s Abby and Charles.

Ken and Laura are heading abroad (bet you can’t guess where they’re going). This leaves Gerald in the lurch, as he’d arranged to meet Laura for drinks. Gerald, pretty astute businessman that he is, finally begins to realise that Laura’s decidedly untrustworthy. But he seems to have got off lightly. I feel sorry for Ken who, completely unsuspecting, is being subtly manipulted by her, each and every step of the way ….

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Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Ten

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Maurice Colbourne’s name is no longer on the opening credits. This makes me feel very sad ….

Still, onwards with the story. Now this is more like it. Last time I was a little dismayed at the lack of media attention surrounding Charles and Gerald – but today we get the full works (cameramen, cameras, people with big boom microphones) as the beleaguered pair enter the Courts of Justice.

Jack’s banging on about Charlie Frere again. “Insider dealing, defrauding shareholders”. I’ve got the feeling that he doesn’t like him very much. He also takes the opportunity to tell Avril yet again that she should never have got involved with him. This may be stating the blindingly obvious but Jack’s also perceptive enough to realise that in order to save his own skin, Charles may very well decide to throw Avril to the wolves. This seems to be a thought that hasn’t crossed Avril’s mind though.

The boat’s been pushed out for the courtroom scenes. We’re on film and a crane is used in order to give pleasing sweeping camera moves across the court – from Charles and Gerald, sitting in the dock looking anxious, over to the Judge and then back again.

Jan storms into Leisure Cruise, hands on hips, demanding answers from Ken. She’s got a face like fury whilst Ken affects an air of puzzled innocence. With Vicki hovering in the background everything looks set for a decent showdown – although due to the way that the scenes chop and change between locations we have to wait a few minutes following her arrival for the meat of the scene.

Ken (wearing a nice green jacket) attempts to convince Jan she should be grateful for the fact that he steered James Brooke her way. True, if James defaults on his loans then his Howard Brooke shares will find their way to Ken, but he tells her that’s the last thing he wants. Mmm, yes that’s very convincing. Jan is having none of this and with her voice shaking with emotion she tells him to keep clear of her and her business. It’s slightly odd that she’s now dripping with venom towards Ken considering that at the end of series four and the start of series five they seemed on reasonable terms – but that’s the world of HW for you.

Abby, because she’s presumably the only photographer in Tarrant, has been given the job of photographing the Mermaid Yard. Her photographs, together with Jack’s text (if he ever finishes it, that is) will form a decent package to celebrate 200 years of the Mermaid. Last time she had to tell Bill to act naturally (he stopped and posed for a photo). Today sh’s decided to pose another of the workers (which does seem to be an about turn on her behalf). Wonderfully, Jack ambles up and attempts to muscle his way into the picture. Abby has to gently tell him that his beaming countenance is rather spoiling the naturalism of her composition.

Leo’s journey from the idealistic and impetuous teenager of series one to the smooth-talking businessman of series five has possibly been one of HW‘s more interesting character arcs. Today we find him sitting opposite Sir Alan Rockwell (Roger Hume) and chatting about the possibility of Sir Alan sponsoring Relton’s new powerboat.

That Sir Alan (Vicki’s uncle, remember) makes a point of praising Leo’s business acumen drives the point home that he’s come a long way. It’s quite a coincidence that just one episode after being mentioned, Sir Alan pops up in the flesh. But then Tarrant is a very small world. One of the story wrinkles about Sir Alan’s involvement is that he can they blab about Relton’s plans to Vicki who can then pass on the information to a very interested Ken. It’s all about interconnectivity.

Although Leo says that he’s been designing the powerboat, we’ve seen little evidence of this so far. He also later confides to Kate than although Avril’s keen on it, the Relton board are blocking its progress. I’ve commented before on how Relton seems to have shrunk to just two people (Avril and Leo) and this mention of the (never seen) board just highlights this fact. There would have been dramatic capital in a few decent boardroom squabbles, showing Avril coming under pressure, but it sadly wasn’t a direction that was taken up.

Back to the courthouse, both Charles and Gerald have fairly rough rides in the witness box. The human drama of Charles and Gerald’s squirming keeps these scenes ticking along nicely, since the ins and outs of who bought shares and when does tend to make my eyes glaze over after a while ….

Avril’s next up and finds herself grilled by Charles and Gerald’s defence lawyer, Lee Simons. Charles looks slightly sheepish at the way Avril’s put under pressure, but he can’t do anything to stop it. Mind you, later he’s forced to admit that Avril gave as good as she got (“unfortunately” he adds).

Kate’s still fretting about the fate of the Mermaid and erupts when she learns that Jack hasn’t told Vanessa the news. Or erupts as much as a well-bred English lady ever could. Another lovely scene for Dulcie Gray. “My god, when I get my hands on that devious so and so I’ll break his neck!”. Ah, wonderful, wonderful Dulcie Gray.

Gerald continues to find solace with Laura. Considering that she’s been behaving like a smiling monster with everybody else recently, I find their relationship a little suspicious – but at the moment it does seem that her feelings for him are genuine.

Jack’s turned maudlin again. Over a pint or three at the Jolly Sailor he once again laments the way he treated his late wife, Eileen. The ever-sensible Bill attempts to talk some sense into him, but Jack continues to torture himself. He admits that he hasn’t visited her grave since the day they buried her (“I just can’t bring myself to do it”).

Katherina Freiin Schell von Bauschlott, better known as Catherine Schell, turns up in today’s episode as Yvette Studer. She’s a contact of Jan and James and the pair have travelled abroad to meet her and discuss their next fashion show. Can you guess which part of the world? Might it just possibly be …. Malta? Yes, that’s right. Malta, the hub of the world.

The Mermaid Yard is all set to celebrate it’s two hundredth anniversary. They’ve got a marquee, plenty of alcohol and a brass band but the only thing they’re missing is Jack. As the brass band parp their way though A Life On The Ocean Wave, Jack’s finally plucked up the courage to visit the grave of his late wife. It’s only a short, dialogue-free, scene but it’s also a significant one. Now that Jack has dealt with the ghost from his past he can look to the future with renewed optimism.

Ken’s next to take his turn in the witness box and he wastes no time in putting the boot into Charles and Gerald with the maximum amount of relish ….

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Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Nine

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Avril’s gone back abroad for another business meeting. Where she could be …. I wonder if it might just be Malta? I wasn’t expecting to see a topless Tom sipping an orange juice though. Whilst it’s nice that the actors weren’t stuck in England, pretending that it was a lovely sunny day, from the fluttering umbrellas it’s clear that the weather in Malta wasn’t terribly balmy either. But Colbourne and Gilmore – troopers that they are – do their best to convince us that it’s not at all cold.

Leo’s a bit touchy at present, snapping at Kate when she discusses the forthcoming baby. As for Kate herself, it seems that romance might just be in the air, although Jan is baffled as to who her suitor might be. Regular HW watchers are probably better informed – which means that the reappearance of Admiral Francis Redfern (Michael Denison) shouldn’t really come as a surprise to many.

If Kate’s back than that means we go back to the races. But Kate’s got more than horsey business on her mind as she wants Francis to photocopy (or photostat as she says) several documents from the Planning Comittee he sits on. The upright Admiral Redfern doesn’t seem too put out by this, so clearly he’s deeply smitten by Kate. What’s it all about? All will be revealed later (although how Kate got to learn about it in the first place I’m not entirely sure).

Charles has to fend off a gaggle of reporters, well three to be precise. Either they’d blown the budget on the Malta filming or the continuing travails of Frere Holdings wasn’t really a big story (although this seems unlikely as it’s front page news in the Southern Indepdent – with a banner headline reading Frere Holding’s Prosecuted on Fraud Charges). Mmm, isn’t that apostrophe in the wrong place?

Anyway, back to Charles. Wearing a pair of dark glasses, despite the total lack of sunshine, he offers brief replies to the hyperactive barrage of questions lobbed his way from the two, dictaphone waving, reporters. With a photographer hovering in the background, it’s quite nicely shot although a few film cameramen would have ramped up the pressure a little.

Jack, a two-fingered typist if ever there was one, is preparing a history of a Mermaid Yard. Vanessa asks him how far he’s got amd after a minute he sheepishly has to admit that he’s sorted out the title!

Laura comes calling on James. It’s not a convivvial meeting though, as she continues to turn the screws. And with the death of someone called Nicola still preying on his concisence, it seems that Laura has plenty of material to torture him with. Cue James looking very down in the mouth. And after making James’ day, Laura then moves over to the Mermaid to give Jack an equally hard time. Her initial seemingly sweet nature seems to have evaporated totally.

Angela Down makes the first of two appearances as Charles’ defence counsel, Lee Simons. She’s a tough cookie that’s for sure, speaking sharply to Charles in a way that few people previously have. And due to his current situation he has no option but to listen carefully. Interesting for 1989 that they decided to go with a female character rather than a male one. HW does have a few female regulars (Avril, etc) in executive positions, but most of the other executive characters who pop in and out tend to be male.

After Ms Simons begins to chip away at some of the more suspect areas of Frere Holdings, it’s clear that Charles and Gerald are facing challenging times. There’s a lovely moment when she asks them quite boldy if they’re guilty! A wonderful way to close the scene.

Ken’s a little discomforted to have been called as a witness to Charles and Gerald’s upcoming hearing. Vicki offers him the benefit of her advice – initially he’s not terribly interested in anything she has to say but he perks up when he learns that she’s discussed it with her uncle, Sir Alan Rockwell, chairman of Confederated Industries. Slightly hard to believe that Ken – a man who likes to cover all the angles – didn’t realise that Vicki had such poweful connections. But it’s lovely how his expression changes from contempteous to calculating after he realises that she has relatives in high places ….

Avril and Tom are in Malta to meet the smooth-talking Sabio Fernandez. Well I say smooth-talking but the actor, Franco Rey, is the victim of a rather slipshod spot of dubbing. Rey doesn’t have that many credits to his name but they’re mostly English language roles, so I wouldn’t have thought his real accent was that strong.

Sir John’s back! He has a convivvial business lunch with Jan, who’s always keen to expand her empire. Jan’s already been giving the increasingly flaky James some hard stares in the office, but when she learns that Sir John appears to remember doing businees with him in the past, she gets rather concerned (the incidental music hammers the point home with a menacing note). I’m not quite sure why this should worry Jan though – it’s not as if Sir John remembered anything bad about him.

Ken and Laura later have an entertaining, if all too brief, argument. This leads on to Ken asking Vicki if she has any plans for the evening. She does, a drink with her boyfriend, but he asks her if she can cancel it and go out to dinner with him instead. By the expression on her face it seems that she’s quite pleased to be asked. And how was it telegraphed that Ken was interested in Vicki? Why, by the way the camera kept tight focus on her shapely backside of course. Not subtle, but it made the point.

Ken and Vicki run into Jack and Kate at the Jolly Sailor. Jack’s delighted to shake the hand of the mini-skirted Vicki whilst Kate looks on with a face like fury. Partly this is because she believes Vicki is (ahem) something more than a secretary but mainly it’s because she loathes Ken Masters with a passion. It’s nice that eventually Jan and Kate have come to agree on this. Also, nobody does a scowl like Dulcie Gray. It’s simply wonderful.

Kate then drops the bombshell to Jack that a proposed Marina development (not another Marina development?) intends to bulldoze the Mermaid. Crickey, this is what they call a packed episode.

James is becoming increasingly torturted. He tells Ken that “Jan has become very important to me and I do not want to anything that will hurt her”. Hmm, he probably should have thought about that before, shouldn’t he. As you might expect, Ken offers him not a shred of sympathy.

Later, James confesses all to Jan. His wife didn’t leave him for an estate agent, instead it was his affair with a model called Nicola Hind which caused the break-up. But the main problem was a late-night jaunt on the water with Nicola (which resulted in her death). And then he tells her that he owes an awful lot of money to Ken, who’s been blackmailing him ever since. Cue tinkling piano incidental music and a wobbly lip from Jan as she realises that Ken’s been pulling everyone’s strings.

The whole of series five, but especially this episode, has a tangible air of melancholy. Maurice Colbourne died on the 4th of August 1989 aged just 49. He’d completed work on nine of the thirteen episodes from this series, which meant that his sudden and unexpected death caused a flurry of frantic rewriting to explain his absence from the remainder of the run. The Malta footage might not have been the last material he shot for the programme (filming tended to be done at the start of the production block, prior to the studio work) but it serves as a decent, if wholly unintentional, coda to Tom’s story. Walking around Malta in the sunshine with Avril as they pick out a toy for Abby and Leo’s baby is a touching, if bittersweet, moment.

Although Tom hadn’t really featured terribly heavily in any of the main series five plotlines, the mere fact of his presence was still key. Whilst he’s been shown to be obessive and blinkered down the years, Tom Howard was also the voice and conscience of the programme. Whether he would have moved more into the forefront during series six is a moot point, but now he’s gone there will be a tangible air of loss.

Nearly thirty years later his absence from now on is still something which I find affects me, but on a positive note that can be put down to Maurice Colbourne’s sheer skill as an actor. Making Tom Howard such a compelling character is a type of immortality and it’s pleasing to think that the performances of Colbourne and his colleagues are still entertaining us, three or more decades later.

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