Howards’ Way – Series Two, Episode Thirteen

howards s02e13-01

Although Tom’s been ever-present throughout series two, he’s not exactly been front and centre of too many storylines.  The final episode of S2 somewhat makes up for this, as the fallout from the Lynnette’s break-up becomes the key theme.

Tom’s been haunting the yard every day, desperately searching for a reason “why” the catamaran broke up.  Avril believes he’s simply torturing himself (“three days of prowling around in a hair shirt”) but Tom needs to understand.  To this end he visits Mrs Travis, which is an understandably awkward encounter.    When she tells Tom that she feels sorry for him, it’s a statement that can be taken several ways – but the meaning becomes clear after she serves a two million pound writ on the Mermaid yard.

It’s fascinating to see how Avril and Jack deal with this crisis.  To begin with, Jack is convinced there was a design flaw in the catamaran – he maintains that you can’t simply become a skilled boat-designer overnight, it takes decades of hard work, not months or years.  Avril is initially more supportive, but she’s the one who decides they have to serve a writ against Tom and suspend him as the Mermaid’s designer.

She believes that she’s acting in everybody’s best interests – if the worst comes to the worst then at least they have a chance of salvaging the yard.  It’s telling at this point that she tells Tom that Jack shouldn’t have to lose his yard (he instantly picks up on the comment that it now appears to be Jack‘s yard).  And at this point Jack does something of an about turn.  Although previously he was dismissive of Tom’s design, he now supports it and is reluctant to side with Avril.

But side with her he does and the writ is served.  It’s a throwaway moment but it goes to prove that for all his bluster, Jack Rolfe isn’t quite the buccaneering individualist he often claims to be.  Although he made a half-hearted attempt to convince Avril that they needed to stand by Tom, not isolate him, in the end she got her way.

It’s easy to see the sense in Avril’s actions – at this point, with a question mark hanging over the Lynnette, it seems logical that Tom steps away from the design board, but he believes her true motives are quite different.  Charles has invited Avril to take over as managing director of Relton Marine and she’s accepted.  Oddly, we don’t see Avril tell Tom this (it’s only reported second-hand).  It’s a little hard to understand why such a key scene like this wasn’t played out.

If Howards’ Way has an unconscious theme, then it appears to be that successful career women are required to sacrifice any hopes of a successful personal relationship.  We’ve already seen this with Jan and now Avril seems to be heading the same way.  Tom is convinced that Avril accepted this new job at Relton in order to rekindle her relationship with Charles, whilst she maintains that it was the only way to safeguard the Mermaid’s future.  It’s hard to side with Tom at this point, meaning that his character flaws (jealousy as well as the previously seen desire not to heed other’s advice) are now quite pronounced.

As with the end of series one, the fate of the Mermaid hangs in the balance and we’ll have to wait until the S3 to see how things play out.

Abby’s story seems to have reached a natural conclusion.  Her time with Curtis is terminated very swiftly (again this is something important which happens off-screen).  He asks her if she’d like to go up to Birmingham with him, as he has to show the red-card to a man who kicked his dog to death.  Abby clearly didn’t realise precisely what would happen (presumably she thought he’d just give him a severe ticking-off).  Instead, Abby tells the ever-sympathetic Leo that Curtis viciously attacked the man, continuing to kick him even after he was unconscious.  It proves that Leo was right all along to be suspicious about Curtis, although he’s mature enough not to crow about it.

The Abby/Curtis relationship is of special interest because it’s the reason why Abby discovers that Charles is her real father.  This is done in a slightly contrived way though – Polly is concerned about Curtis and asks Charles to do some digging on her behalf.  That’s reasonable enough, but then she asks Charles to visit Abby and tell her what he’s uncovered.  If he does so then it seems obvious that Abby’s going to put two and two together (Charles Frere’s not the sort of person to pop around doing good turns like this for anybody).

Why didn’t Polly do it?  It’s true that her relationship with Abby is strained, but they’re at least speaking at present (Abby didn’t leave home this time because of a spat with her mother – it was more about making a bid for independence).

But she doesn’t and Charles does, leading to the inevitable conclusion.   Given that she despises Charles and all he stands for, it’s no doubt something of a shock, but that’s not the major plot-point here.  Rather, it makes Abby finally understand that she shouldn’t have given William away, since it’s exactly the same mistake that her father made with her.  So she sets off for America, to be reunited with William and a possible marriage to Orrin.

This could have served as a fairly tidy ending to Abby’s story, but as we’ll see that proved not to be the case.  Although it’ll be a little while before we see her again.

The other major event in this episode concerns the death of Claude, mown down by a speedboat (a pity the man steering it wasn’t looking in the right direction).  Although it doesn’t operate as a cliffhanger (in the way that Lynne falling into the water at the end of S1 did) it’s still highly dramatic.  Lynne sheds more than a few tears (that’ll be the last we see of Tracy Childs until the sixth and final series) and even Jan is a bit teary-eyed.

It’s interesting how Claude’s fight for life is intercut with Jan bustling around, preparing to launch Claude’s collection.  The undeniable impression given is that the fashion world seems even more trivial when matters of life and death are being decided elsewhere, but in Jan’s defence she was unaware of the accident.  It seems a little strange that nobody decided to tell her how seriously ill he was (or even that Claude was in hospital) although this does give us a moody final scene as Jan, together with Leo (who’s travelled down to London to break the news of Claude’s death), both sit alone amongst the discarded clothes and rubbish from the fashion show.

The mood, as so often this year, is broken by leading into the end credits and the warbling of “always there” but no matter.  Series two built nicely on the first, with a largely stable cast of returnees.  The third series would see a little more fluidity amongst the regulars, with several notable absentees and some heavyweight new arrivals ….

howards s02e13-02

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7 thoughts on “Howards’ Way – Series Two, Episode Thirteen

  1. I think that I must be alone in preferring the vocal version of ‘Always There’ over the end credits! To my mind it – over the visuals of the boat on the waves – adds a soaring note of the (attempted) sublime, that ends each episode on a tone of high emotion (even if the preceding cliffhangers don’t usually quite attain this).

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    • You’re probably not alone, although you may be in a small minority! It’s odd, because the slower, vocal version should suit the sadder and more dramatic episode endings (where the jaunty instrumental would feel more out of place) but pretty much every time the end credits kicked in during S2 the song just didn’t, for me, fit the mood.

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  2. And so we reach another milestone in the lives of the Tarrant set.

    Judging from the title of the series, members of the Howard family are the lynchpins of the story, yet at times the series creators didn’t quite know what to do with Tom. The impression so far is that he is not a particularly strong and decisive man. If, among other things, that is meant to represent a vague idea of what his scion Leo might be like in his more mature years, then it doesn’t really work.

    Polly kept the identity of Abby’s father secret for over 20 years not only from Abby herself, but also from her real father, Charles, who is not best pleased to have been “deprived of his daughter’s childhood”. Abby, having conquered her earlier anxiety and minor depression, thinks that her parents showed her that “they
    didn’t care”, but doesn’t seem to realize that her real father does not deserve such blame. Nevertheless she concludes that her mission is now to show her own child that she does care. Mindful of the need to stretch the story over a few more years, Leo still doesn’t declare his feelings, so she is off to America where her newly discovered connection with the mighty Frere family will inevitably cause more complications. Alas, Abby’s intriguing life in America will remain in the missing scenes department.

    Leo, usually a polite and considerate young man, is made to bid farewell to Abby by calling after her, “Hey, who’s paying your fare?” “Mind your own business”, she should have called back. As the episode progresses, Leo looks increasingly like he had the misfortune of having been singled out for practising on by a novice make-up artist on probation – or he must have seriously overdone sunbathing in between the takes on the coastal locations. Throughout the next years his exposure to the harsh Tarrant sun will gradually bleach his hair to shades of blond – or is it premature grey from worry and puzzlement?

    Finally the artificial arrangement of the last scene and Jan’s theatrical tragic pose is not one of my favourite sights at all while the plaintive “Always There” version of the (otherwise excellent) musical theme unnecessarily suggests a soap opera atmosphere.

    And still four more years of this mesmerising nostalgia to revisit – in due course. Thank you, archivetvmusings.

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    • Part of Tom’s problem is that he often has to play as a counterweight against Jack, who’s a much more interesting and multi-faceted character. So placed against Jack Rolfe, it’s no surprise that Tom Howard ends up looking a little pallid.

      Tom’s a driven, single-minded man – but these traits aren’t seen to be admirable ones this year. His inability to listen to the likes of Bill (who raised reasonable points about the design of the catamaran) was troubling, which seems to suggest that the break-up of the Lynnette will serve as confirmation of his overweening hubris. Or will it? I daresay S3 will provide us with some answers.

      Abby’s journey throughout S2 has been interesting, if somewhat unsatisfying at the end. Given that she’s spent a lifetime feeling neglected, it made her decision to abandon William all the harder to understand. I’ve raised a few points in the post above about how her decision to cut and run to America (as well as the ham-fisted way Charles revealed himself to be her father) didn’t really convince, but it might be less about indifferent scripting and more about availability.

      If I remember rightly, Cindy Shelley is pretty much absent from S3, so at the time this episode was being scripted it may be that her on-going future in the series was in doubt, hence the need to create some sort of ending (had she simply vanished after this episode, the audience would no doubt have felt a little aggrieved, after investing in her trials and tribulations for two years).

      There’s some fascinating chat from Jan Harvey and Stephen Yardley on this year’s commentary tracks, where they discuss contracts. Jan mentioned that she wasn’t at all sure whether she wanted to return for S3 whilst Stephen mentions that the regular cast was slowly increased over time – thereby ensuring that if any one actor attempted to hold Gerard Glaister to ransom with an excessive salary demand, they could simply be let go (the message very much was that no single actor was bigger than the show).

      That the cast were on one-year contracts (with an option to renew on the production side that wasn’t always taken up) does help to explain the way certain storylines feel a little (to use a sea-faring term) choppy. Had the regulars been tied to multi-year contracts then possibly things would have been a little different, but that was pretty uncommon at this time. Offhand, I can only think of Martin Shaw (tied to a five-year contract on The Professionals and seemingly hating every minute of it) as someone locked into a long-term acting commitment.

      Anyway, thank you Mar-Mir for your insightful and detailed comments throughout this run of episodes, which have often provided me with considerable food for thought. Hopefully you’ll find something of interest during my S3 posts, which should sail into view in a couple of months time.

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  3. I have no problem with the characters of Jack or Ken, they are solid enough and often verging on comedic, which works fine, but Tom is another character which seems not terribly well written (the Howard family’s not faring too well on that score…) As a foil to Jack, he would have benefited from a touch more sophistication and finesse. I’m from an acting family and generally do not like being ungenerous towards actors – but I wonder if part of the problem in this particular case was a somewhat morose style of acting.

    Scripting is always a problem in this serial, fairly uneven and patchy in places. The viewers are often left guessing why certain decisions are made – and perhaps that was the intention, but far from titillating, the result is – as you say – ham-fisted. Abby’s momentous decision was needed to throw a shadow over her story right to the end. Perhaps her reasons could have been made more clear. Perhaps she was too young to feel maternal enough and only developed that instinct later. My own impression is that the main motive of her actions – her need to get her child back – was to be deliberately shown in undertones to make the final twist in her story that much more powerful – and I still believe that the actual final twist was intended as part of the abandoned S7. She has to be absent in the next episodes because she already has two relationships behind her and the young Leo has some catching up to do. There is no hint of any doubt about the continuation of the story in Gerard Glaister’s book – on the contrary, he refers to it as “the will they won’t they” story (that titillation theme again) and says of Leo “he remains true to Abby and it looks as if she’ll get him if she really wants him”. OK, so it’s not conclusive but he wrote this in (approximately) 1986-7 when the serial was still in full swing.

    I don’t think I have seen the commentary tracks you mention but here is one comment by Jan Harvey that I have come across: “They were six very happy years that we spent on the series but in the early days we weren’t sure how it would be received… you never know if something is going to work until the public have had a chance to see it.” It would appear that her early doubts were shared by everybody else on the production side.

    Finally, even if the actors were on short term contracts, it does not seem that the producers were well prepared for letting actors go: when Maurice Colbourne sadly passed away, there was no evidence of any plan B – only sheer panic.

    (To be continued… :))

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  4. Both Jan and Tom during S2 were written as fairly humourless and work-obsessed, meaning that the more colourful Ken and Jack were always going to shine when they shared scenes together. It’s possible to argue that this was deliberate – yes, the Howards could have been more accessible, amusing and rounded figures, but it’s the sharp contrast between Jan/Ken and Tom/Jack which creates a feeling of dramatic impetus.

    The comm tracks from Jan Harvey and Stephen Yardley are worth tracking down. It’s just a pity that they didn’t carry on beyond S2 and also that no other actors or production crew were called upon to contribute. Had the comm tracks been present on all six series, and with a varied mix of personnel, it would have made for a useful resource on the making of the series.

    The fact that Jan Harvey was still dithering over whether to sign for S3 at the end of S2 is especially noteworthy when you compare to other series. For example, in February 1982 Peter Davison signed to do the 1984 series of Doctor Who but declined to sign on for 1985. So the Doctor Who production team knew what has happening three years in advance. For whatever reason, Howards’ Way tended to leave things more to the last minute (at least at this point).

    But you can’t blame the production team for the problems caused by Maurice Colbourne’s death – that was a situation outside of anybody’s control. Howards’ Way, like a number of other series, did all their location filming together in a block before the studio sessions (a cost-effective way of doing things, especially when the same location was used across multiple episodes). So when Colbourne died, he’d filmed scenes for his episodes but most the studio material (which often would have topped and tailed them) hadn’t been done.

    So piecing together what they did have into a coherent narrative would have been a nightmare. For example, they might have a shot of Tom at the Mermaid, angrily walking towards the office for a confrontation with Jack, but then they wouldn’t have the interior scene to go with it.

    This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. Gary Holton’s death during S2 of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet also occurred before all the studio material had been recorded, but at least the work there was more advanced so that with a spot of rewriting and a double, it wasn’t as noticeable as the problems we’ll see in Howards’ Way.

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  5. I still have not managed to trace the comm tracks but stumbled upon an interview with Jan Harvey at http://www.bestbritishtv.com/?p=840 where she gives an interesting account of the early days in the development of the serial – and another one at https://breakaleg.biz/2013/04/11/the-good-intereview-jan-harvey-and-stephen-yardley/ where she says that some members of the original cast still maintain friendly contact to this day.

    Of course I would not dream of blaming the production team for not foreseeing an important cast member’s demise, but speaking with hindsight, I just toyed with the idea of keeping a bank of possible spare storylines – just in case. But that would be impractical and would not have saved the parallel construction of Jan-Tom and Abby-Leo storylines (I still cling to my theory that they were meant to be reunited – in S7).

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