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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Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Eight

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We open with a nicely tanned Charles taking a dip in his outdoor pool (for once in Tarrant, it’s a sunny day). But there are, ahem, storm clouds brewing elsewhere. He spies the arrival of the police (who are also at Relton, removing paperwork by the boxfull). From this unsettling opening we switch to a taciturn Ken, who’s taken matters into his own hands by having a bonfire with his paperwork ….

There’s a lovely moment later when Ken and Laura discuss Charles’ problems. Ken tells her that since any business dealings he had with Charles never really came to anything, he has nothing to hide. “Yes, I see that the incinerator’s been working overtime” she archly comments! How does she do it? She seems to be everywhere and knows everything. It’s very unnerving.

It’s business as usual at the Mermaid. Bill’s fretting that they’re falling behind schedule whilst Jack remains blissfully unconcerned. Tom, as ever, is caught in the middle and so decides to launch a broadside attack on Jack. When Tom and Jack lock horns it’s always a joy.

There’s not been a great deal of screentime this year shared by Jan and Leo. Possibly this was just the way the storylines fell, or maybe it was a deliberate move – since it does enable Leo here to express his disapproval that his mother seems to be shutting him out. Once again, the impression is given that Jan is more interested in her business than her family.

Jan doesn’t have time at the moment to think about Leo, Abby or the baby’s upcoming scan – she’s something much more important to deal with (the launch of James’ new fashion line). If you like hats, then you’ve come to the right place as even before we discuss what the models are wearing there’s Vanessa’s (a white one, worn at jaunty angle) and Laura’s (black with a veil).

Here’s a new nugget of information (unless it’s been mentioned before and I was asleep at the time). James and Laura have a past. When she turns up it wipes the smile off his face and the same happens to Jan’s countenance after she spies Laura giving an unwilling James a long, lingering kiss. This is further evidence that beneath her friendly surface there’s an arch manipulator just waiting to get loose.

Compared to some of Jan’s previous fashion shows, this latest one is rather more upmarket. Less pop music and more classical as the models strut their stuff. I’m no expert, but the clothes don’t seem to be the sort of thing that would set the fashion world alight.

Last time the police came calling Gerald was frantic and Charles was cool. This time the positions are reversed as Charles is beginning to crack under the pressure. It’s very unusual to see him under such stress – but I guess we’ve waited the best part of five years in order to witness his unflappable persona breeched in this way.

Abby’s scan is chiefly interesting for the way that the doctor (Angus MacKay) interogates both Abby and Leo afterwards. He’s very interested to know whether Abby plans to divorce Orrin and marry Leo. Eh? His job is to check the health of Abby’s unborn child, why does he need to know all of this? I guess it’s simply a rather clumsy way of making the pair of them discuss the idea of marriage later.

This was one of MacKay’s final credits. One of those instantly recongisable actors, he was often to be found playing laywers or bank manangers (or occasionaly Time Lords, as in the Doctor Who story The Deadly Assassin). It’s only a brief scene, but it’s a pleasure to see him.

Ken – like a big flappy octopus – is extending his tentacles everywhere. He’s keen to buy Tom’s stake in Howard Brooke whilst he’s also interested in snapping up some Frere Holdings shares (given their recent problems it’s the ideal time to buy). And with Laura and Gerald very pally, maybe she could winkle some inside information out of him.

An extra layer of complexity is added to Jan’s plotline after it’s revealed that James and Ken have been seen togehter. Jan’s paranoia that Ken is scheming to destroy her (as we’ll later see, not unfounded) ensures that she and James have an entertaining ding-dong confrontation as she desperately tries to get at the truth. It starts slowly, but by the end they’ve really built up a nice head of steam. Both Jan Harvey and Andrew Bicknell aren’t holding anything back here.

What’s interesting is that it’s also another scene where Jan is painted as a totally obessive businesswoman, something which is clearly seen as a bad thing. James tells her that “if business is all you care about then you might suceed. But at what price?” Charles, Tom and Jack might all be driven by their business interests, but it’s never suggested that they’ve sacrificed anything. Jan, as a woman and a mother, is clearly held to a different standard.

But as we’ll see later, you can’t necessarily trust what James is saying.

Leo and Jan have a late night conversation. This is presumably after James has stormed out, since Jan’s looking a little the worse for wear. For the first time in a while they’re able to talk, which is clearly what Leo needs. As usual, he’s tended to keep his feelings intensly bottled up (is this the reason why he found powerboat racing so diverting – as a way to banish the negative thoughts he was unable to articulate?).

Given that it’s always been so hard to really understand what he thinks or feels, after he reveals that he doesn’t know whether Abby loves him or not (he also believes she got pregnant on purpose, rather than accidentally as she claims) it comes as something of a surprise. This scene offers Edward Highmore something a little dramatic to get his teeth into – as opposed to Leo’s more usual fare, which tends to see him reacting to others rather than forcing the narrative himself.

Unexpectedly, Kate turns up out of the blue (her first appearance this year). Although she’s been mentioned in passing, the casual viewer could have been fogiven for thinking that she’d gone for good. Her reapperance is good fun – she finds her way blocked by James, who is disinclined to let this strange woman into Jan’s house. Kate is equally perplexed as to why James is blocking her way and also why he’s got a key to her house ….

There’s a stormy Mermaid meeting. It’s obviously symbolic that Tom and Avril are sitting on one side, Jack and Vanessa are on the other with Jan somewhere in the middle. Jack suggests they develop closer ties with Ken, something which goes down like a cup of cold sick with Jan. “I don’t trust him” she mutters, a sentinment which Avril agrees with. This is a very shouty episode with Jan – once again – raising the roof. Tom, Avril and Jan vote against, so Jack’s motion is defeated 3-2. How do you think he takes it? Yes, not very well at all.

Easily my favourite moment of this episode comes when, having stormed out of the office, he spies a looming Kate. He looks mournfully as the oncoming storm approaches. “Oh, they’re bringing in reinforcements. She’s back. My headmistress”!

Following that treat, we then get confirmation that Ken and James are in cahoots. Interesting …..

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Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Seven

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Jack’s suddenly enthused with a whole new work ethic – which causes raised eyebrows from Tom and Bill. But this is only a small skirmish compared to the fireworks ahead – Tom learns that Jack’s decided to employ Vanessa as the Mermaid’s PR agent. “It’ll put us on the map” says a confident Jack. Maybe it’s the mark of a good PR woman that although Jack and Tom were at complete loggerheads, after Tom exchanged a few words with Vanessa he backed down …

Gerald seems convinced that his relationship with Polly is over. He tells Charles that after twenty five years of marriage he’s going to miss her. “Mm hmm” says Charles. Well, not much else he could have said really. As touched upon before, it’s slightly odd they didn’t make a little more of this – Gerald mentions that Polly should be boarding her flight for America about now, but we don’t actually see it.

The main point of this scene comes a little later, after Gerald inadvertanly lets it slip that Abby’s pregnant. Given that they’ve had no (on-screen) contact this series, it’s not too surprsing that – as yet – she hasn’t confided the news to her natural father. Plus she’s yet to tell Leo either.

It’s full steam ahead in the fashion world, although James continues to fret about his new designs. I can’t take my eye of the model he’s using though (just before the twelve minute mark for those who want to check it out). This extra certainly knows how to steal a scene – just marvel at her wide range of facial expressions – so much so that I found it hard to concentrate on what Jan and James were talking about.

Orrin – sporting the yellow sweater draped around the shoulders look – is in a concilliatory mood. But Abby (not for the first time) isn’t having any of it. Do you get the feeling we’ve been here before? This is one of those plotlines that seems to have been going round and around for ages without any resolution. For now though, Orrin’s reached the end of the road (he disappears for the rest of series five, but features heavily throughout the sixth and final series).

So how long do you think it will take Leo to realise what Abby’s news is? She drops an early hint (ordering a bottle of champagne, but telling him that she shouldn’t drink any) but the penny doesn’t drop. He then has a guess (“you’ve got a new job?”) which falls slightly wide of the mark. His next guess (“you’re pregnant”) hits the bullesye, but it was clear that he was joking. Poor Leo, for all his recent sophisticated upward-mobility, at heart it seems he’s still something of a naive young lad. Or that’s how he’s being written at present.

Gerald – once again – is homing in on Laura. She’s sporting big hair today and seems very pleased to see him. Whilst Gerald and Laura are chuckling away like nobody’s business, Charles is ensonsed with Julian Burridge (John Line) – all part of his scheme to oust Avril from Relton.

Once Laura and Gerald have stopped chuckling, they discuss Charles. Gerald admits that he’s “demanding, exhausting and I wouldn’t be content working with anybody else”. Following their early series wobble, Gerald and Charles seem back on firmer ground (but nothing lasts forever). Charles meets Laura for the first time and then hotfoots over to see Abby.

I love how Charles tells her that he made extra sure the flowers he selected turned up on time (by asking with his secretary to confirm with the florist). It’s an unconcious thing no doubt, but clearly he would never think of soiling his hands by going into a florist and actually buying the flowers himself.

It’s not the most convivial of chats though – Abby’s still bitter about William and the fact that Charles hasn’t been able to help. This seems a little unfair to Charles though. From the point of view of showing a vunerable and human side to Charles’ nature, this is a good scene. So far this year, Charles has been cast in his more familar ruthless tycoon persona (so a change of pace, even for just a moment, is welcome).

Charles and Orrin later have another brief, but unappy meeting. “You’re going to regret this” mutters Orrin after Charles tells him that unless he hands over all copies of the secret recordng of their previous meeting he’ll destroy him. Quite how Charles would do this isn’t made clear, but he sounds confident. But Orrin – later sharing a beer with Ken – sounds equally confident that he’s going to squash Charles like a grape. They both can’t be right, hmm ….

Gerald (complete with flowers – you can bet he actually bought them himself) pops round to see Laura. She’s still sporting the big hair and has now squeezed herself into a little black number. It’s a gloriously sunny day in Tarrant (the sun is shining, the birds are singing). How can this be? We’re in the studio of course. This is rather apparent when Laura opens her front door and we see Gerald standing by some very fake-looking greenery.

Gerald hasn’t discussed his sexuality (or indeed been seen to have any sort of relationship other than with Polly) for some time. There seems to be something of a retcon of his character here, after he tells Laura that he used to think he was gay but he actually isn’t (he loved a man he tells her, but not in the physical way that the other man wanted).

Ivor Danvers is remarkably good in this scene, managing to make Gerald touching, tender and vunerable all at the same time. Danvers is possibly one of HW‘s less celebrated stars, but given the material he never fails to deliver.

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Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Six

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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