The beginning of series five finds The Brothers in something of a transitional phase. Two key cast members (Gabrielle Drake and Hilary Tindall) had left the show at the end of the previous run, although fresh blood (most notably in the shape of Kate O’Mara as Jane Maxwell) would shortly arrive to shake things up.
The departures of both Drake (Jill Hammond) and Tindall (Ann Hammond) were used to good dramatic effect though. Ann and Brian had gone through the relationship mill during the previous series and even though their union was now at an end, Brian continues to suffer. But his broken marriage is just one reason why he goes severely off the rails in the early episodes.
Although Tindall was gone, her character was still alive and therefore a return was always possible (and indeed Ann did make a fleeting reappearance in a handful of episodes at the start of the seventh and final series). But Drake wasn’t so fortunate, as Jill is dispatched in the time-honoured way of dealing with soap actors who either can’t or won’t carry on (an off-screen accident). Talking about this decades later in The Cult of The Brothers documentary, it seems that Drake was a little taken aback at just how ruthlessly Jill was dealt with.
Another character, Martin Farrell, had also left, which results in both personal and professional consequences. Professionally, it means that the position of chairman is vacant – which seems tailor-made for the ambitious Paul Merroney.
And on a more personal note, it was plain that Edward Hammond’s nose was put out of joint last series by the interest Farrell had been taking in Jennifer Kingsley. So with Farrell out of the picture, Edward rekindles his own relationship with her. Lest we forget, Jennifer carried on a lengthy and clandestine affair with Edward’s late father. Unsurprisingly this meant she has always been viewed with great disfavour by Edward’s mother – the indomitable matriarch Mary Hammond – but it seems that Edward has eventually summoned up the courage to defy his mother and make an honest woman out of Jennifer. Although I’m sure there’s still going to be a few bumps ahead before they can enjoy a lifetime of wedded bliss.
The series opener, the aptly titled Life Goes On, finds Brian in a pretty poor state. This concerns the bank – they don’t want to see their investment in Hammonds put at risk because the new managing director is feeling flaky – but Paul Merroney has put plans in motion to protect their money ….
Although Merroney was a rather peripheral character during the last series, here he really starts to make his mark. For one thing, he’s gained an assistant – Clare Miller (Carole Mowlam). Apart from signifying Merroney’s increasing significance, Clare also emerges as a character in her own right – becoming close to David, for example.
Baker’s good value in these early episodes as Merroney begins his manoeuvres. Surprisingly, only the bluff Bill Riley realises that Merroney has his eye on the chairman’s job – which doesn’t say much for the business acumen of the others! There’s a delicious sense of duplicity on show from Merroney as he puts the blame for the recent ousting of Edward as managing director firmly on the shoulders of the departed (and innocent) Farrell.
The way the audience learns about Jill’s death is done in a very interesting way which makes a positive out of the fact that Gabrielle Drake was no longer a member of the cast. Jill isn’t mentioned during most of the first episode, although that wasn’t unusual (she was absent from the first few episodes of series four). It’s only right at the end of Life Goes On, when David runs into a friend who’s been out of town for several months that we find out Jill is dead. This is an incredibly jolting moment which provides us with a strong hook into the next episode where her fate is discussed in detail.
The dynamic between the three brothers – Edward, Brian and David – has been the motor which has powered the series to date. Whilst series five continues to play on their conflicts, the emergence of Paul Merroney as a major player refreshes this somewhat – as an outsider he has quite a different set of loyalties.
But the brothers still dominate the storylines especially, in the early episodes, Brian. In many ways he’s now got everything he wished for – he’s become managing director of Hammonds, ousting Edward. Or has he? We’d seen in previous series that it was Ann who was the ambitious one, constantly pushing him forward. So the fact that he’s gained in business but lost out in his personal life must come as a bitter irony to him.
Richard Easton continues to impress as Brian, especially when he starts to lose the plot (the episode title Breakdown makes it fairly obvious what’s going to happen). As his drinking increases, Brian is encouraged to seek psychiatric help. And always around is Merroney, plotting to oust Brian at one point and then (so the others fear) attempting to buy Brian’s shares so he can gain overall control of the company. But as we’ll see, Merroney is no cardboard villain – he may be mainly motivated by self interest but he’s also not without compassion for the stricken Brian.
As Brian, ensconced in a nursing home, retreats into the background, so other plotlines begin to develop. The long-running will they/won’t they relationship between Edward and Jennifer is now very much back in “they will” territory and moves forward at a rate of knots. The problem with Mary (Jean Alexander, as good as always) still has to be overcome though, as the icy disdain she feels towards the woman who conducted a long-term affair with her late husband continues to be a fruitful source of drama. Even when Mary and Jennifer appear to be on civil terms there’s always the sense that at any moment things could change ….
Although the departure of both Hilary Tindall and Gabrielle Drake left something of a hole, two new female characters filled the gap nicely. Clare’s divided loyalties (between David and Merroney) generate a good source of drama which plays out as the series progresses whilst Kate O’Mara makes an immediate impression as Jane Maxwell. Debuting in episode six, Flight of Fancy, Jane is the hard-headed director of an air-freight business which Hammonds have an interest in. As a proactive business woman she’s something of a rarity in the world of The Brothers (Jennifer might be a board member of Hammonds, but she’s a much more passive character).
Also appearing for the first time in this episode is Mike Pratt as Don Stacey, a hard-drinking pilot. This would be Pratt’s final television role before his death in 1976 at the age of just 45. Don would appear throughout the remainder of series five and the first half of series six. Whilst it’s always a pleasure to see Pratt, it’s rather tempered by how ill and haggard he looks.
Yet again, things conclude in the boardroom (episode thirteen, Warpath) as Merroney continues to scheme although it’s possible that in Jane he’s finally met his match (a decade or so later Baker and O’Mara would once again lock horns, this time in Doctor Who). With Edward under pressure and Brian’s fate still uncertain, things are left nicely poised for the following series to pick up where this one left off.
By now, The Brothers had become a well-oiled machine and series five not only manages to develop the existing characters in a variety of ways but it also develops intriguing new ones as well. It continues to be highly addictive stuff, especially as the Hammonds, Merroney and Jane jostle for power and superiority. But there’s time for more personal stories as well (Jennifer’s longing for another child) which ensures that the series isn’t completely boardroom and business based.
The Brothers – Series Five is released by Simply Media on the 27th of March 2017. RRP £29.99.