Within the first few minutes of the series seven opener – To Honour and Obey – it’s plain that change is in the air. First we have a new title sequence which acknowledges that Hammond Transport is now about more than lorries (shots of swooping aircraft makes that plain).
But even more startling is the fact that we’re presented with the sight of Paul Merroney (Colin Baker) having a shave. All of the main characters (with the exception of Paul) have previously had their private lives investigated in exhaustive (and some might say exhausting) detail. Up until now Paul’s has been exempt from this – indeed the others have unkindly referred to him as a robot on more than one occasion, suggesting that he doesn’t have a private life at all.
Seeing Paul Merroney in any other setting than a purely business one is something of a jolt, but since this episode is concerned with his wedding I guess we’re going to have to get used to it. Brian (Richard Easton) is his best man, which rather implies that poor Paul is somewhat lacking in friends. Although his bride-to-be April (Liza Goddard) might make up for that. Or maybe not, let’s wait to see how their marriage plays out ….
Given Brian’s previous problems with the bottle, it’s a little strange that he got drunk at Paul’s stag party (a pity we didn’t see it, I’m sure it would have been a hoot – no doubt Paul was stuck in the corner, sipping a tomato juice). Paul then discusses his father (in the first five minutes we learn more about Paul the man than we had in the last two and a bit series).
We’re quickly introduced to members of April’s family. Her father, Lord Winter (Anthony Nicholls), has little time for his son-in-law-to-be and April’s brother, Simon (Terence Frisby), shares his disdain – although since Simon and Paul are involved in a power-struggle at the bank, at least their conflict is professional rather than personal (Lord Winter just considers him to be a dull fellow).
Brian’s children have been conspicuous by their absence for most of the series to date. Even when he and his former wife, Ann, were together we never saw much of them. So when Brian’s daughter Carol (Debbie Farrington) suddenly turns up, it’s a bit of a jolt. Mind you, that’s nothing compared to the shock when Ann (Hilary Tindall) also reappears ….
I’ve missed Ann, so it’s lovely to see her again – even if it’s only a fleeting visit. With Brian now entering a tentative relationship with Jane Maxwell (Kate O’Mara), Ann’s presence certainly helps to shake up the status quo, although Carol is the key figure here – seemingly undecided about whether to live with her mother or father.
Carol’s now a new-age hippy chick but Ann’s still the same old Ann. They both bow out in episode four, The Female of the Species, with Carol rather bamboozling Brian before she goes. And before Ann leaves she has the chance to confront Jane (Hilary Tindall and Kate O’Mara – an implacable force meeting an immovable object).
Happy marriages are something of a rarity in The Brothers. This series Ted (Patrick O’Connell) and Jenny (Jennifer Wilson) are the first to suffer a few bumps in the matrimonial road. Although they’ve always seemed well-suited, it should be remembered that as soon as they tied the knot Jenny became incredibly bossy (her ill-fated desire for a child was just one of the times when Ted – a hard-case in business but a teddy-bear at home – gave way).
This year Ted’s showing signs of mellowing on the business front. Spending time away on a business course helped him to finally release that Paul Merroney wasn’t quite the villain he always believed him to be (something the viewers twigged some time back). When he returns home, Jenny’s off to visit her daughter, Barbara, in Canada (and more than a little irritated that Ted’s changed his mind about joining her). Barbara (Julia Goodman) is another familiar face from the past to make a return this year (her marriage – surprise, surprise – has hit something of a rough patch).
A little extra spice is added to Ted and Jenny’s relationship after April, at a loose end during one of Paul’s numerous foreign trips, offers to cook Ted dinner. There’s no strings attached – it’s just a friendly offer from April who’s concerned that Ted will waste away if he has to fend for himself – but the reactions of their respective spouses are quite instructive. Paul’s coolly amused (his long-standing disdain of Ted still stands) whilst Jenny doesn’t say a great deal (although it clearly rankles, as we’ll see during the next few episodes).
Of course it was Paul who mischievously told Jenny that her husband and his wife had enjoyed a meal together rather than the hapless Ted, who no doubt would have much preferred to have kept quiet. This leads April to liken Paul to one of the Borgias – which he takes as a rich compliment!
Regular viewers will probably be expecting several long-running plot-threads to rear their heads one last time. And you won’t be disappointed as yet again Mary’s (Jean Anderson) health takes a turn for the worse, leaving the brothers to play nursemaid, although neither Brian or David (Robin Chadwick) are falling over themselves to volunteer. The sight of Brian and David tossing a coin (Brian lost, so he had to stay at home with her) is a nice comedy moment.
The saga of Gwen Riley’s (Margaret Ashcroft) new house also continues to rumble away – every time she seems to be on the verge of moving, something happens to prevent her (this time she’s been gazumped). Once again, Ashcroft (and Derek Benfield as Bill Riley) impress as the one couple who somehow manage to juggle their work and private lives without resorting to taking lumps out of each other. Ashcroft gets to flex her acting muscles a little more towards the end of the series after Bill and Gwen’s son is involved in a motorbike accident.
Later series of The Brothers tended to be shared out amongst a pool of writers who would then pen a block of consecutive episodes. For the seventh and final series this was split as follows – Ray Jenkins (episodes one to three), Brian Finch (episodes four, five and nine to twelve), Elaine Morgan (episodes six to eight) and N.J. Crisp (episodes thirteen to sixteen).
Elaine Morgan’s three scripts – Arrivals and Departures, The Distaff Side and Cross Currents – are of particular interest. Although this was her only contribution to The Brothers, her extensive career spanned the mid fifties to the late eighties with many notable credits. The Life and Times of David Lloyd George is an obvious career highlight, with top-quality literary adaptations (including The Diary of Anne Frank, Testament of Youth and How Green Was My Valley, amongst others) also featuring heavily on her CV.
Christine Absalom appears in Morgan’s three episodes as temporary secretary Judy Vickery. It’s fair to say that she and Paul don’t hit it off – possibly it’s her toy Snoopy (a good-luck mascot, she tells him) or maybe it’s because she appears to be slightly flustered (although she assures him that once she settles down she’ll be fine). As an outsider, Judy allows us to see the regulars through a fresh pair of eyes – especially the martinet Paul Merroney (the way she mispronounces his name to begin with is a lovely comedy touch).
Paul, enroute to Istanbul, calls April from the airport. She has bad news for a him (a family bereavement) and is appalled when he doesn’t cancel his flight and return home This is a key moment, as although Paul shows a spasm of pain at the news, business comes first. It’s an attitude which April finds incomprehensible and serves to sow the first seed of disharmony between them.
The unexpected arrival of Paul’s mother in The Distaff Side throws the Hammonds into a tizzy. With Paul still away and April uncontactable, Ted and Brian attempt to play pass the parcel with her. Luckily, Mrs Merroney (Norah Fulton), a plain-speaking Geordie, takes up Gwen’s offer of a bed for the night (much to Brian’s obvious relief!)
Mrs Merroney’s conversations, first with Gwen and Bill and then later with April, help to shed considerable light on Paul’s character. A sickly, bookish child, he found himself teased by the local children – therefore his drive to succeed in business was partly borne out of a desire to prove his parochial home-town rivals wrong. These are further strong scenes from Elaine Morgan.
Elsewhere, there’s a nice spark of jealously directed towards Jane by Jenny. Jane’s arrival in series five generated a certain amount of friction amongst all the members of the Hammonds board, although it was rather downplayed the following year. Quite why Jenny should be so set against the possibility of Jane becoming a Hammond (after all, that’s precisely what she did by marrying Ted) is a bit of a mystery but it helps to give Jenny a little more to work with on the character front.
Jenny’s paranoia keeps on bubbling away (she’s convinced that everybody is plotting against her). The best moment comes when she confides to Mary that Brian and David are locked in a bizarre love triange with Jane! That’s somewhat far from the truth – since Brian’s long-relationship with Jane has been platonic, David sees nothing wrong in inviting her out for a couple of meals.
The result of Jenny’s rash comment puts Mary on the warpath. She attempts to rope Ted in, but he’s less than keen to get involved – although their conversation sets up a pulsating later scene which sees Ted accuses Jenny of spewing posion. With their marriage already a little rocky, this simply adds to the pressure. Jenny has the last word as she cruelly, but maybe accurately, labels the Hammond brothers as “a lush, a failure and a has-been!” Wonderful stuff.
Everything then kicks off in typical Brothers style as Mary confronts Jane, Brian confronts David and David, in a huff, packs his bags and leaves home.
Episode ten – Celebration – is ironically titled, as Jane receives the bad news that one of her new C41s has disappeared somewhere in the Atlantic, Jenny receives a summons for dangerous driving whilst Paul and April’s marriage seems to have hit a brick wall.
Possibly this was art imitating life, as Colin Baker and Liza Goddard had married for real shortly after Paul and April tied the knot in the series. Baker would later acknowledge that their union was probably a mistake as it sadly didn’t last very long.
April is a rather passive character to begin with – content to wait at home for her husband to return from the office (although capable of becoming annoyed when he’s late). April bemoans the fact that their luxury flat has become a gilded cage for her, but she seems unable or unwilling to do anything to rectify the situation, such as finding a job. Given that the role isn’t terribly interesting for large stretches, it’s lucky that Liza Goddard was on hand to breathe a little life into her. Goddard does icy detachment better than anybody and some of her later scenes suggest that April could have developed into quite the bitch had the show gone to an eighth series.
Paul Merroney’s latest scheme is to expand into the Middle East. From a modern perspective, setting up bases in places such as Baghdad and Kuwait seems to be asking for trouble, but it’s true that it was a different time back then. Only Brian opposes the plan, whilst the others see a chance to make a handsome profit (although the risk factor is great).
Whilst the cast were confidently expecting an eighth series, I wonder if the return of co-creator N.J. Crisp to write the last four episodes was something of a sign? Crisp had only penned a handful of episodes during the previous couple of runs, so it could be that he had an inkling the series was reaching the end and wanted to be the one to conclude it.
Whilst a continuing drama can never come to a compete stop, there’s a sense that The Brothers was reaching a natural conclusion. We’ve seen over the years how Hammond Transport had changed from a privately owned company to a publicly owned one, but the Middle East scheme serves as the catalyst to finally wrest control away from the Hammond family (via a new share option which will raise much needed capital but will also serve to dilute their majority share-holdings).
But various questions remain unanswered as the credits rolled for the final time. How would Paul and April’s wobbly marriage have resolved itself? Most intriguingly, would Paul’s Middle Eastern escapade have been a disaster? If so, then he might have been eased out and maybe the Hammonds would have attempted to regain control of the company.
Although there were plenty of options for future storylines it wasn’t to be, so The Brothers came to an end on the 19th of December 1976 with The Christmas Party. Final treats include Brian’s quite astonishing moves on the dance floor and Ted’s firm rejoinder after Paul suggests that Hammond Transport Services Ltd is a rather old-fashioned name. Surely something like Worldwide Transport Services would be better?
Another strong collection of episodes, this seventh and final series of The Brothers is just as addictive as the previous runs. It’s easy to why it captivated a generation back in the 1970’s and forty years on it’s still as entertaining. If you’ve been collecting the DVDs then you’ll know how good the show is, if not then I’d strongly recommend picking up series one and making your way through a classic slice of seventies drama from there.
The Brothers – Series Seven is released by Simply Media on the 10th of July 2017. RRP £29.99.