Angels – Staff (22nd September 1975)

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Four episodes in, Staff offers something of a change of pace. With Pat, Maureen and the other new trainees absent, the episode is solely centered around one of the women’s wards. This too is a departure as up until now we’ve only observed the male patients.

There’s also more of a sense of just how tiring and frustrating nursing can be – the night shift swopping notes with their day replacements, commenting on how hectic their shift has been – whilst the character of Staff Nurse Linda Hollis (Janina Faye) helps to illustrate the difficulties faced when attempting to juggle a career and a marriage. This is shown via a handful of fairly terse phone calls with her husband – from the tone of the one-sided conversation it’s plain that he expects her to be home bang on time ….

Previously we’d seen how Shirley, operating as a temporary Staff Nurse, sowed discord – thanks in part to her own inexperience (although the intransigence of Jo didn’t help). Linda runs quite a different ship though. All the nurses under her charge are made to feel part of a team and despite the hectic pace, Linda’s good humour and positive nature never flags.

No sooner does Jo transfer to this female ward, then Shirley also appears to lend a hand. This inevitably leads to the same sort of clashes observed in previous episodes. One of Jo’s fellow nurses – Elaine Fitzgerald (Taiwo Ajai) – suggests that she should make more of an effort and try to find some common ground with Shirley.

Up until now Clare Clifford’s been called upon to be mainly strict, hectoring and disapproving (with only a brief hint of vunerability). But Jo’s friendly overtures towards Shirley gives Clifford rather more to work with – for the first time we realise just how lonely and isolated Shirley is.

Most nurses who don’t live on site share rooms, but Shirley lives alone. Jo, attempting to find the positives, comments that it must be nice to have a bit of peace of quiet, but the truth is that nobody has offered to share with her. Jo, continuing to build bridges, tells her that she knows somebody who’s looking to share and suggests a meeting.

This one positive act causes Shirley to blossom – she allows Elaine to do up her hair and swops her severe glasses for contact lenses. But when Jo is forced to cancel the visit, the status quo is restored. This is marked by Shirley removing her contact lenses and putting her glasses back on. Back to square one.

The patients are a diverse group of individuals. They’re easily the most substantial characters we’ve seen so far (in the first episode the patients did little except add a spot of colour to proceedings). Mrs Wilson (Rosalind Elliot), having miscarried, is in a highly depressed state and the arrival of her mother (played by Hilary Wilson) simply makes her feel worse. Wilson, a highly distinctive actress who specialised in playing disapproving types, makes an impact with her brief scene. Mrs Wilson Snr’s parting words for her daughter, delivered via Linda (“tell her I love her”) is a rather heart-breaking moment.

Elsewhere, Mrs Joylon suffers a nasty nosebleed whilst Miss Beatty (Margaret Boyd) faces the prospect of moving into a nursing home. Having suffered a stroke she’s unable to speak, but is still able to express her feelings plainly enough. As ever, it’s Jo who’s the positive one – telling her that the place she’s going to is first rate – even if her later private thoughts are rather more pessimistic.

Toni Palmer, as Mrs Jones, offers a wonderfully vivid performance. Mrs Jones is a regular visitor to the hospital – thanks to a series of suicide attempts. She’s remarkably cheerful though, since none of the attempts have been serious (they’re simply designed to elicit some attention from her husband). Mr Jones has always rallied around in the past, but not this time. When she learns that he won’t be coming to visit, her collapse is dramatic. Like Hilary Wilson, Palmer was a very recognisable televison face, and is good value during all of her scenes (especially the last few).

If we can believe IMDB, then Staff was the first of only four Angels scripts penned by Anne Valery. That’s very surprising if so, since this episode is a very strong one. It may lack any major plotlines, but it’s rich in smaller character moments.

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Paul Merton in Galton & Simpson’s Being of Sound Mind

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Following the death of Enoch Merton, his family meet for the reading of his will.  Paul is astonished to discover that the man he believed to be his uncle was actually his father, and is further shocked – and delighted – to learn he’s been left Enoch’s fortune (some five hundred thousand pounds).  There’s one caveat though – Paul is currently single, but the will demands that he gets married within seven days.  If he doesn’t then Enoch’s fortune will go to a cat’s home ….

Being of Sound Mind was originally broadcast as part of Dawson’s Weekly in 1975, where it was titled Where There’s A Will.  Les Dawson took the main role whilst Roy Barraclough played Evelyn.

Before Paul arrives, we observe the rest of his family – two warring sisters and their husbands.  Freida (Toni Palmer) and Arthur (Brian Murphy) run a motorway café famed for its terrible hygienic reputation.  An example is provided by Freida’s sister, Fanny (Pamela Cundell), who recalls the time that a lorry driver found a mouse inside one of Freida’s pies, but asked for it not to be taken away as it was the first bit of decent meat he’d seen in her establishment!  Fanny’s husband, George (Reginald Marsh) agrees with her wholeheartedly.

It’s nice to see Brian Murphy again and Reginald Marsh (a familiar sitcom performer but someone who could also turn his hand to drama – The Plane Makers, for example) is another welcome addition to the cast.  It’s just a pity that they’re overshadowed by their respective spouses – Freida and Fanny are clearly the dominant hands in both their marriages.  Palmer and Cundell deliver rather broad and unsubtle performances, but thankfully Merton, Murphy and Marsh are on hand to deliver the odd decent putdown to them.

Being of Sound Mind is an episode of two halves.  Part one features Paul, his relatives and the solicitor (Geoffrey Whitehead) whilst the second half sees Paul set out in his quest to find a partner – and quick.

He rolls up to a computer dating agency where he gets into a conversation with Evelyn (Sam Kelly) who’s also waiting patiently to be fixed up.  Evelyn flatters Paul by telling him that he should have no trouble finding a partner.  This is an excuse for Merton to throw in a few digs at his Have I Got News For You co-stars, replying that whilst he’s not as handsome as Angus Deaton at least he’s taller than Ian Hislop (“but then again who isn’t? A pigeon’s taller than Ian Hislop”).

There’s an odd tone from then on.  Given the slightly overpowering interest that Evelyn pays to Paul it seems possible that Evelyn will turn out to be gay.  And when Evelyn turns up at Paul’s door – as his date – this seems to be the way the story will develop.  But no, it’s just a glitch in the computer system – Evelyn had been incorrectly logged in the system as a woman.

Paul is just preparing to turn him away when it’s revealed that Evelyn runs the cats home where Enoch’s money will end up if Paul doesn’t marry.  So Paul decides that romancing Evelyn is now his best option …..

Not only is it an incredible coincidence that Paul would run into the possible recipient of Enoch’s fortune, there’s also something a little off about the way he suddenly decides to seduce Evelyn, especially since Evelyn’s looking for female company.  Although Kelly is less camp than Roy Barraclough in the original, it’s still rather jarring.  You could be generous and say that it might have worked in the seventies, but two decades later it doesn’t play well.

As I said, this  is very much a tale of two halves.  The first has some decent byplay, but the second really doesn’t work.  It wasn’t effective back in 1975 and without a major rewrite it suffered the same fate in 1997.  Something of a damp squib, even with all the comic talent onboard.

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