Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Four

hw1.jpg

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 ….

hw12.jpg

Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Three

hw1.jpg

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.

hw16.jpg

Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode Two

hw1.jpg

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 ….

hw8.jpg

Howards’ Way – Series Six, Episode One

hw1.jpg

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.

hw15

Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Thirteen

hw s05e13-01

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.

hw s05e13-02

Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Twelve

hw s05e12-01.jpg

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 ….

hw s05e12-02

Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Eleven

hw s05e11-01.jpg

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 ….

hw s05e11-02.jpg