The Brothers – Series Five. Simply Media DVD Review

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 Ted Hammond’s nose was put out of joint last series by the interest Farrell had been taking in Jenny Kingsley (Jennifer Wilson).  So with Farrell out of the picture, Ted (Patrick O’Connell) rekindles his own relationship with her.  Lest we forget, Jenny carried on a lengthy and clandestine affair with Ted’s late father.  Unsurprisingly this meant she has always been viewed with great disfavour by Ted’s mother – the indomitable matriarch Mary Hammond – but it seems that Ted has eventually summoned up the courage to defy his mother and make an honest woman out of Jenny.  Although I’m sure there’s still going to be a few bumps ahead before they can enjoy a lifetime of wedded bliss.

Patrick O’Connell & Jennifer Wilson

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 Ted 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 – Ted, 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.

Colin Baker

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 Ted.  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 Ted and Jenny 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 Jenny 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 (Jenny might be a board member of Hammonds, but she’s a much more passive character).

Kate O’Mara

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 Ted 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 (Jenny’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.

Richard Easton, Robin Chadwick & Patrick O’Connell
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The Brothers – Series Four. Simply Media DVD Review

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The story so far.  Following the death of Robert Hammond, control of his thriving haulage firm was split four ways – equal shares were distributed to his three sons – Ted, Brian and David – whilst the fourth equal share went to his mistress Jenny Kingsley.

With no-one in overall control, there’s a constant power-struggle as elder son Ted (currently managing director) finds himself under attack from his two brothers, both convinced they could run the company better than him.  And the trauma in the boardroom is matched by equal strife in their respective bedrooms.

We’ve previously seen that David’s (Robin Chadwick) recent marriage to the lovely, if rather doormat-like Jill (Gabrielle Drake), has had a few wobbles, mainly because his roving eye was elsewhere.  He hadn’t actually been unfaithful, but Jill’s suspicions created a definite rift which they attempt to heal during this run of episodes.

Middle son Brian (Richard Easton) suffered even more spectacular marriage problems during the third series, although he remained blissfully unaware.  His bored wife Ann (a wonderful performance by Hilary Tindall) found solace in the arms of smooth advertising type Nicholas Fox whilst chugging down far too many sleeping pills and drinking heavily.  Her unhappiness at feeling trapped in a loveless marriage culminated in an overdose, although she appears to be quite her old self again now, even to the extent of restablishing contact with Nicholas.

Elder son Ted (Patrick O’Connell) doesn’t have any complaints on the marriage front, but that’s only because he’s single.  He has his eye on someone though – Jenny Kingsley (Jennifer Wilson).  His desire to wed his father’s mistress has been a running thread for a while, although Ted’s mother, the powerful matriarch Mary (Jean Anderson), strongly disapproves.  This might have been one of the reasons why Mary keeled over at the end of series three with a heart attack.

So as series four begins, all three brothers face challenges in their personal lives whilst the business of running Hammonds also continues to cause them tremendous strife.  And waiting in the wings is ambitious merchant banker Paul Merroney (Colin Baker), a man who always has his own agenda …..

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Colin Baker and Murray Hayne

The series four opener, Emergency sees Mary seriously ill in hosptal. She was discovered (off-screen) by Ted and Jenny who had returned from a brief holiday with life-changing news – Ted had proposed and Jenny accepted. But their happiness quickly evaporates as he blames himself for leaving his mother on her own.

We then see a nice visual signifier of the bond between mother and son. Whilst Ted goes to the hospital to await further news, Jenny stays behind to contact Brian and David as the camera lingers on a framed portrait of Mary and Ted. It’s a clever, unspoken touch which forshadows the dominance Mary will exert over her elder son.

When Mary gets better she has no compunction in telling Ted that he can’t marry Jenny. He might be a hard-headed businessman but he always seems to come off second best with his mother. And this is enough to convince Jenny that marriage to Ted would be impossible.

Business matters take centre-stage again with episode two, Secret Meetings, as Brian and David plan to offer merchant banker Martin Farrell (Murray Hayne) a seat on the board – the first step in their plan to make Hammonds a public company. Of course they’ve yet to mention this to Ted, so sparks inevitably fly when they do. Having said this, it’s surprising that Ted accepts their plan meekly, but he’s got an idea up his sleeve – if Bill Riley also joined the board then (provided he always votes Ted’s way) the status quo would remain. This is classic Brothers, featuring plot and counterplot.

If David has always irritated me somewhat, then Brian is a much more sympathetic character, even if it’s impossible not to feel a little frustrated by the way he remained oblivious to Ann’s lengthy relationship with Nicholas Fox (Jonathan Newth). But even Brian’s blindness could only continue for so long without it seeming totally unbelievable, and when he finally twigs it’s the cue for high drama. His first reaction, of course, is to reach for a drink (heavy alcohol consumption, along with an equally herculean nicotine intake, is something of a feature of the series).

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Richard Easton

Brian doesn’t confront Ann straight away, which enables him to calmly twist the knife and make her feel even more guilty than she already is. This is a good move – since you know the showdown will happen eventually, making us wait a little simply heightens the expectation. But Brian’s not backward in letting Ann know exactly what he thinks of her when the truth does emerge. “Your whole world begins and ends with yourself. You’re shallow, you’re superficial and utterly self-centered. Nothing matters to you but self, self, self!”

Ann doesn’t take this lying down. “You are a predictable bore, Brian. You don’t want a wife, you want a second mother. Somebody to cook and clean for you, and tuck you in and say, ‘there, there’ whenever you’re not feeling very well.” Both Richard Easton and Hilary Tindall are firing on all cylinders throughout (the end of episode five – Partings – as Brian knocks a shocked Ann to the floor is one of a number of stand-out moments). If Brian, following his separation from Ann, becomes something of a tortured figure then so does Ann herself. It slowly dawns on her that Nicholas Fox (a serial seducer) has no interest in a long-term relationship ….

David decides to become a racing driver (!) which means that Jill has to wait anxiously on the sidelines, hoping that he won’t be hurt. Frankly, this isn’t much of a role for Gabrielle Drake (compare and contrast to the plotlines dished out to Hilary Tindall) so it’s no surprise that she decided not to return for the fifth series.

Drake might also have been a little miffed that Jill didn’t turn up until the fourth episode and when she does finally make her first appearance it’s only to be once again verbally smacked down by David (he’s less than impressed with her anniversary gift to him – a penthouse flat – complaining that he doesn’t want to be a kept man). He eventually accepts it, but does so with his usual brand of charmless ill-grace.

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Robin Chadwick and Gabrielle Drake

The on/off relationship between Ted and Jenny allows Martin Farrell to step in (much to Ted’s extreme annoyance) whilst Bill struggles with the responsibilities of having a seat on the board. He’s always been proud to have the respect of the men, will this change now he’s one of the executives?

Brian’s run of bad luck continues in Saturday, but the later part of series four focuses on company traumas. The decision to make Hammonds a public company offers up a new range of storytelling possibilities. Until now, boardroom squabbles have largely been confined between the three brothers, but now that anyone is free to buy shares everything changes.

And this is partly where Paul Merroney comes in. He’s introduced in the fifth episode as a colleague of Farrell’s, brought in to advise how Hammonds should go public and although his screentime throughout series four is quite limited, he’ll become more central in the years to come. But Colin Baker, in his first regular television role, certainly makes the most of the material he’s given.

The wonderful Richard Hurndall guests in Bad Mistake as Clifton, an influential investment manager crucial to Hammonds’ future. Ted’s blunt style leaves Clifton less than impressed, giving Hurndall a chance to demonstrate his familiar icy, amused detachment. This episode also marks the point where Merroney starts to have an influence on company policy, much to Ted’s disgust.

The series finale, the aptly named The Crucial Vote, sees Ted struggling to keep the board united as the infighting intensifies. There’s no doubt that there will be many more twists and turns to come in the battle for Hammonds, which bodes well for future series.

Interweaving numerous plot-threads across its fourteen episodes, series four of The Brothers continues to be highly addictive entertainment. Brian and Ann’s disintegrating marriage is the definite highlight although the unstable powder-keg that is Edward ‘Ted’ Hammond also entertains. Patrick O’Connell plays Ted as a man constantly struggling to keep his anger in check – which can be seen most clearly any time that Jenny and Martin Farrell exchange glances. David’s fleeting desire to be a racing driver is less easy to swallow, but at least the one racing-centric episode – The Race – is not without interest, especially for the authentic track footage.

If you’ve yet to sample the world of the Hammond brothers, then now – with the first four series available and the remaining three due out by the end of the year – would appear to be the ideal time to do so.

The Brothers – Series Four is released by Simply Media on the 9th of January 2017.  RRP £29.99.

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Richard Easton, Robin Chadwick and Patrick O’Connell

The Brothers – Series Three. Simply Media DVD Review

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Broadcast in early 1974, series three of The Brothers continues to chronicle the travails of the Hammonds, a family who are often at loggerheads as they squabble over the best way to run their business – Hammond Transport Services.

As seen in series one, the death of Robert Hammond initiated considerable strife and internecine bickering.  Hammond’s eldest son Edward (initially played by Glyn Owen, but from series two by Patrick O’Connell) assumed he’d have sole responsibility of the company, so was more than a little taken aback when the terms of his father’s will were divulged.  Equal shares were also left to his two brothers – Brian (Richard Easton) and David (Robin Chadwick) – as well as to his father’s secretary and mistress, Jenny Kingsley (Jennifer Wilson).

Mix in Robert Hammond’s widow Mary (Jean Anderson), an imposing matriarch keen to interfere at any given moment, as well as Brian’s rather forceful wife Ann (Hilary Tindall) and David’s more pliant wife Jill (Gabrielle Drake) and you have a combustible mixture with plenty of dramatic possibilities.

This helps to explain why The Brothers was a popular success, running for seven series between 1972 and 1976 (and indeed could have carried on a little longer still – there’s no sense by series seven that the concept had run out of steam). But although it clicked with the public it doesn’t seem to have been highly regarded by the BBC themselves. They appeared to have forgotten about it when preparing the drama budgets for 1977, meaning that there wasn’t any money left to commission an eighth series. It sounds barely credible, but it seems to be the case that one of the BBC’s top-rated dramas of the mid seventies ended because of an accounting quirk.

And it wasn’t just a success in the UK.  Colin Baker delights in telling the following story.  “A phone call came in from the foreign minister of Israel. He said that not only was he devastated not to be able to come and meet us as he was such a fan, but he suggested that had the Six Day War been launched on the Arab nations on the day that The Brothers was being shown instead of Yom Kippur, they would have had more of a chance of taking the nation by surprise because everybody watched The Brothers!”  This seems so ridiculously unlikely that it must be true ….

The series also generated a rather bizarre spin off – an LP entitled Christmas with the Hammonds.  Offering such delights as Edward ‘Ted’ Hammond and Paul Merroney warbling their way through Good King Wenceslas and a full-cast assault on The Twelve Days of Christmas it’s a wonky treat from beginning to end.  Alas, it’s unavailable on CD, but the dedicated treasure hunter should be able to track down the original vinyl.

Created by Gerard Glaister and N. J. Crisp, it’s always interested me how Glaister could create and produce series such as Colditz and Secret Army on the one hand, but also dabble successfully in soap-like drama like as The Brothers and Howard’s Way as well (Trainer was something of a misfire though).

By the third run of The Brothers everything’s clicked nicely into place, although the introduction of Colin Baker as Paul Merroney (a character dubbed by some as a proto JR Ewing) is still a series away.  Others yet to appear include Kate O’Mara (a regular from series five onwards) and Liza Goddard (who debuts in the sixth series).  Hopefully if Simply keep up a healthy release rate then we’ll soon have the chance to enjoy all of their performances (Colin Baker fans won’t have too long to wait though, as series four is due for release in January 2017).

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Richard Easton, Gabrielle Drake and Hilary Tindall

The third series opens with N.J. Crisp’s The Hammond Account.  Brian has never been the most dynamic of characters, which means he tends to be manipulated by his much more ambitious wife Ann. Here, she’s keen that Brian should be managing director, rather than Ted.  Several key threads are also introduced – such as the brothers debating how advertising could help to grow the company’s fortunes whilst Jill and David’s marriage starts to fray at the seams.  Meanwhile on the shop floor, the trusty Bill Riley (Derek Benfield) is concerned that a new boardroom initiative will have a detrimental effect on driver recruitment ….

The first few moments of The Hammond Account also serves as a good introduction for new viewers, as we see David and Ted show a potential client, Mr Rogers (Robert MacLeod) around their site, explaining to him exactly how Hammonds operates. Shot on 16mm film, it’s a lovely slice of grimy seventies working life. Bill’s reluctance to countenance management employing non-union drivers is another reflection of that era.

Temptation is in the air in these early episodes. The smooth-as-butter advertising man Nicholas Fox (Jonathan Newth) is interested in Ann whilst David continues to find himself pursued by Julie Lane (Gillan McCutcheon). Hilary Tindall gives a wonderfully layered performance throughout the series as Ann. Given that Brian is a bit of a wet lettuce, you might expect that she’d be keen to seek solace elsewhere, but Ann does genuinely seem to love him. This is touched upon when she wonders why he doesn’t kiss her more often – he replies that he never knows whether she wants him to or not. Just a couple of lines of dialogue, but it illuminates both their characters very well.

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Gabrielle Drake

Sadly, Jill is a much more pallidly drawn character than Ann. Gabrielle Drake is lovely of course, but she doesn’t have a great deal to work with (and since Jill rather devolves as time goes on, fading more and more into the background, it’s no surprise that Drake decided to leave after the next series). By contrast, Julie is a much more vivid presence, who also sports some rather fetching clothes. David’s tank top, which appears in episode two, is memorable too, albeit for a different reason.

The quartet of company directors – the three brothers plus Jenny – provides the series with plenty of decent character conflict. One such flashpoint occurs when Brian’s desire to move into Europe is temporarily blocked by David. Thanks to some dense plotting from the previous series, Hammond’s financial future has been secured by Jill (who has provided a substantial amount of capital to guarantee their loans). This becomes a source of considerable tension between the brothers. Both Richard Easton and Robin Chadwick raise the roof during these scenes.

Moving onwards, it’s pretty obvious from the title of the first non-Crisp story, Hijack, what direction Eric Paice’s story will take (we see a Hammond lorry, driven by Bill, hijacked and the goods stolen). There’s a decent amount of location filming as we follow Ted and Bill from Dover to Boulogne as Hammonds start to push into Europe.

Derek Benfield excels during the next episode, Riley, as Bill’s criminal conviction (even though it was all the way back in 1948) is raked up by the police, who decide he’s implicated in the hijack. Hugh Sullivan and Brian Grellis play the two coppers who delight in making Bill sweat. Grellis (DS Pritchard) is the good cop whilst Sullivan (DI Parsons) is most definitely the bad cop.  Temporarily moving the focus away from the boardroom and bedroom squabbles and onto Bill Riley is a good move – since it helps to shake up the narrative a little.

The later part of series three sees the tensions in David and Jill’s marriage continue to simmer away (David’s always been more than a little smackable, so Jill has all my sympathy) whilst Ann finds herself increasingly drawn to the cravat-wearing Nicholas. And there’s a marvellously awkward dinner party as Mary entertains Jenny for the first time. Given that Jenny had a long-term affair with Mary’s late husband it’s not a surprise that their relationship has rarely ventured above glacial. But this brief moment of rapprochement quickly fades after Mary lends Jenny’s daughter, Barbara (Julia Goodman), a substantial sum of money to settle her new husband’s debts. It’s fair to say that Jenny’s not pleased about this ….

Because Jenny has no desire to be in debt to Mary, she decides to sell her Hammond shares – this sparks off an entertaining round of infighting which boils over in Conspirators. It’s a wonderfully entertaining 45 minutes from Eric Paice, packed with incident as David and Brian join forces to bid for Jenny’s shares (they also hope this will force Ted to leave the company). Ted reacts in fury when he learns what his brothers are planning, storming home and knocking back the scotches like they were water. In the end he persuades Jenny not to sell and clearly enjoys passing the news onto David and Brian.

Series three concludes in a suitably dramatic fashion with Return to Nowhere, which opens with the focus on Ann and ends with a cliffhanger centered around Mary.

With the writing credits shared pretty evenly between N.J. Crisp and Eric Paice, there’s a cohesive and coherent feel to the series. All of the regular cast get a good crack of the whip, but Hilary Tindall as Ann particularly impresses.

Picture quality across the thirteen episodes is generally very good. There’s the occasional spot of tape damage on a few episodes, but any such issues are quite brief.

Thanks to a first-rate cast and strong scripting, The Brothers – Series Three is consistently entertaining. It’s good news that the fourth series will follow shortly and also that the remaining three series are slated for release later in 2017.

The Brothers – Series Three is available now from Simply Media.  RRP £29.99.