Having recently been watching The Brothers (my posts about series three and four can be found here and here) I’ve had a hankering to rewatch the other soapy series co-created by Gerald Glaister, Howards’ Way.
Given how popular The Brothers had been, it wasn’t surprising that Glaister would eventually try his hand again at something similar (this time with Allan Prior as his co-creator). There are clear parallels between the shows – the way that personal and business matters continually clash, for example – but there are also some notable differences.
Since Howards’ Way was a creature of the mid eighties, it’s not surprising that it has a strong air of conspicuous consumption – after all we’re deep in the heart of the Thatcher era, where a self-made entrepreneur was a most desirable thing to be. And that’s one of the major differences between Howards’ Way and The Brothers – both Tom and Jan Howard start their business adventures pretty much from scratch, meaning that we’re with them as they try to make something happen (in Jan’s case she has a remarkable transformation from housewife to successful fashion designer, which is more a little hard to swallow. This is something I’m sure to come back to …)
Contrast this to the Hammonds in The Brothers, who are the complete opposite of self-made. They inherited the business from their late father, so all of the initial groundwork has been done for them – the drama comes from the conflicting dynamic between the three brothers as they squabble for supremacy.
Howard’s Way also has a glossier feel. As it arrived in the wake of both Dallas and Dynasty, it’s easy to imagine this was the BBC’s attempt to mount something similar – so power-dressing, complete with shoulder pads and (worst of all) jackets with rolled up sleeves are to the fore. The yachts and marinas of Tarrant provide the series with a visually pleasing gloss, a far cry from the grimy lorry depot where much of The Brothers was set.
Mmm. Co-creator Allan Prior had worked on Blakes 7, I wonder if that could have provided the inspiration for naming the town Tarrant?
Before we get into the series posts, let’s take a look at the main characters.
Tom Howard (Maurice Colbourne). He starts the series at a crossroads in his life – recently redundant, he’s pondering what to do with the rest of his life. When he makes his decision it’s not one that pleases …
Jan Howard (Jan Harvey), Tom’s wife. Tom’s decision to put all his redundancy money into a venture which Jan regards as risky in the extreme increases the pressure on their already rocky marriage. Jan decides that she needs to find a job for herself, which moves her into the welcoming arms of ….
Ken Masters (Stephen Yardley). You’ve got to love Ken. As we’ll see, he gets kicked around by everyone else, but still manages to cling on, just.
Tom’s redundancy money is burning a hole in his pocket. He decides to invest it in the Mermaid Yard, run by the bluff alcoholic Jack Rolfe (Glyn Owen). Jack, like Ken, provides a great deal of the entertainment throughout the series. The parameters of Jack’s character are set up right from the start – he’s a traditionalist at heart, to him boats should be made of wood (anything else just isn’t right). Tom’s injection of funds comes at just the right time, as the Mermaid Yard is in dire financial straits, something which is apparent to Jack’s daughter ….
Avril Rolfe (Susan Gilmore). It doesn’t take long before she and Tom are making eyes at each other. This causes concern for his children ….
Leo (Edward Highmore) and Lynne (Tracey Childs). Bless them, neither are particularly well-written parts (although Highmore stuck it out for all seventy eight episodes, Childs for about half that). Leo is keen on the environment and Lynne is keen on the Flying Fish (all will become clear as the series progresses).
Charles Frere (Tony Anholt) doesn’t make an appearance until a few episodes in, but once he does the series shifts up a gear. He’s Howards’ Way’s JR, a ruthless and successful businessman who thinks nothing of crushing the less fortunate under his feet. Essentially, Charles is everything that Ken Masters wishes he was but so obviously isn’t – which means that any time Charles and Ken attempt to do business it’s a treat.
Charles’s right-hand man is Gerald Urquhart (Ivor Danvers), locked into a loveless marriage with the self-obsessed Polly (Patricia Shakesby). Polly and Jan are best friends, whilst Leo would clearly like to be more than best friends with Gerald and Polly’s daughter ….
Abby (Cindy Shelly). By the end of the final series her character had totally changed, but here she’s in her initial setting – sullen, withdrawn and deeply unhappy.
So join me next time as we take a look at episode one, which sees Tom drops a bombshell ….