Howards’ Way – Series Three, Episode Five

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The first step in Leo’s quest to become a tycoon starts here.  He can’t help but crow a little to his mother and grandmother about the fact he’s now a man of business – albeit bankrolled by a shady lady.   Series three was obviously the point when it was decided to turn Leo Howard into the series’ hunk, as these days he seems to spend some time each episode with his shirt off.  Although it’s nice to see that equality between the sexes is maintained – last time we were invited to ogle at Sarah’s backside, this week it’s Leo’s rear which is prominently displayed (and also receives a slap from Amanda for good measure).

Meanwhile, Sarah’s frantic.  Mark’s disappeared and she’s fretting that he’s gone straight to a solicitor to initiate divorce proceedings.  You won’t be surprised to learn that Ken’s taking things much more calmly, although his male ego is clearly bruised after Sarah tells him that her husband means more to her than he does.  But he doesn’t want to lose Mark either – good business partners are hard to find.  Jan continues to be a hard-headed businesswoman as we see her effortlessly managing to negotiate the best price for the latest part of her ever expanding business empire.

Anna needs a heart to heart with someone and in Jan’s absence naturally gravitates towards Kate. Where’s Jan? Back noshing at the big house with Sir Edward and crowing about what a top businesswoman she is.  Mmm, given that Tom’s looking slightly more hopeful these days (convinced that he can prove the catamaran design is sound) there must be an equal and opposite downturn on the cards for Jan soon.

Just as Bill has taken over some of Avril’s function in the yard (as a sounding board and a buffer between Tom and Jack) so Avril herself has rather displaced Gerald as Charles’ closest confidant (and their personal lives are becoming ever closer too).  Their latest wheeze is selling business units to the “right people” and Jan is an interested party, although when she learns that she’d have to deal with Avril it’s not surprising she’s rather less keen.  They do meet though – a delightfully awkward experience for both of them, although Jan once again manages to put her business ahead of any personal feelings.

Charles is a hard-headed rational businessman, except where his father’s concerned. At that point he loses all reason – if he feels threatened by him then he’s going to go all out to attack, no matter what the financial consequences might be.  This reckless attitude appals Gerald, who angrily wonders why Charles bothers to pay him if he won’t listen to his advice.  The cracks in their relationship are beginning to show and it concerns Charles enough to seek out Polly.  Is Charles operating under the guise of friendship or is it purely business?  Business of course.

Polly discovers the identity of Gerald’s terminally ill friend – James Gittings – and he explains that he’s paying his passage to America as there’s a chance that new medical research there might help him.  It’s not spelt out yet exactly what’s wrong with him, but it’s not difficult to guess.

Tom meets Emma Neesome (Sian Webber).  She’s an engineer who may be able to help him in his quest to vindicate his design for the catamaran.  Tom’s offer to buy her the most expensive dinner she’s ever had doesn’t seem to impress her that much (but we shouldn’t judge by first impressions).

Amanda and Leo continue to enjoy each other’s company – frolicking in the sea following a powerbike ride for example.  But then her father, Allan Parker (Leon Tanner), pops up and drops the bombshell that Amanda’s already engaged, which manages to wipe the smile off Leo’s face.

Tom and Jan celebrate their divorce with a glass of champagne.  They seem much more at ease with each other now that their marriage is over (which has lead many to surmise that had Maurice Colbourne not died and HW had gone to a seventh series, Tom and Jan would have got back together.

Mark – briefly – returns and although he doesn’t get the chance to duff up Ken he does exit very much in a blaze of glory.

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Howards’ Way – Series Three, Episode Four

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Leo’s continuing to keep an eye on his father.  A spot of father/son sailing takes Tom’s mind off his troubles – but only temporarily, as always in the background is the shadow of the broken catamaran.  As I’ve touched upon before, good weather in Tarrant is usually a rarity and this sailing day is no different – so quite why Leo’s wearing sunglasses when they get back to the dock is anybody’s business.

One of my favourite Ken moments occurs about five minutes in when he stares at Sarah’s shapely bottom as she’s bending over doing a spot of filing (typical Ken!).  But Sarah’s backside fades into the distance, as it were, after Mark grizzles that Ken’s entered the big powerboat race (£10,000 to the winner) without informing him.  So Mark vows to enter as well, setting up a juicy head to head between them (not only the race of course, but the question of Sarah too).

One of the more unusual developing relationships (even harder to swallow than Leo and Amanda) is that of Jan and Sir Edward.  After Jan makes her presentation to Sir Edward and the board, he suggests they discuss her work further over dinner.  Uh oh ….

It’s interesting that Jan won’t tell Leo who she’s going to be having dinner with.  Leo’s more forthcoming, telling Kate that he’s heading out for a date with Amanda.  It’s a small world, as Kate is able to tell him that Amanda’s grandfather used to be a beau of hers.

It’s not only a small world but Tarrant is obviously also a small place since Jan and Sir Edward choose the same restaurant as Ken and Sarah.  Sarah’s impressed with Jan’s dinner-date (“not bad, if you’re attracted to the mature type”) but Ken’s convinced that Jan’s interest is purely financial.  The way Ken laughs off Sarah’s suggestion that he’s jealous of Jan’s new companion is nicely done.

Leo might have been a bit quiet on the causes front recently, but the inequality of life clearly still rankles with him.  And Amanda, one of the idle rich, becomes his latest target as he asks her whether she ever feels guilty about her aimless existence.  “Driving around in a fancy car, owning a boat you never use, doing nothing with your life”.

Leo’s clearly not one for diverting smalltalk then, admitting to Amanda that he’s never really had a girlfriend.  He briefly chats about Abby – mainly touching upon the fact that she’s everything that Amanda isn’t.  Then Amanda decides that she’d like to invest her money in Leo – they’d become partners (not only in business, but personally).  This has all the hallmarks of ending very badly ….

The Dixon of Dock Green connections continue.  Last week it was Gregory de Polnay, this time it’s Nicholas Donnelly (here playing Peter Melrose, the solicitor placed in opposition to Jack and Tom).  The general opinion is that there was a design fault with the catamaran – something which Tom doesn’t take at all well (although his spasm of anger is brief).

While Tom continues to suffer, Jan’s upward mobility continues.  After mentioning to Sir Edward that she’s always admired his country house, he spies an opening and invites her for lunch and a guided tour.  Although he claims not to be lonely, the reality seems somewhat different as he rattles around his country pile.  Like Charles, his business is his life, but is Sir Edward looking for something more?

I think that Jack thinks more logically when he’s drunk.  Although he’s weaving dangerously from side to side at the Jolly Sailor, he still manages to come up with a good idea – if they can put the pieces of the catamaran back together then they’ll be able to prove that the break-up wasn’t a design fault.  Glyn Owen was always a top drunk actor (let’s be honest, as Jack he had plenty of practice).  Compared to him then, Maurice Colbourne’s pretty much a novice (he’s not a bad drunk actor, simply not in Owen’s class).  Jack’s attempt to lead the reluctant drinkers at the Jolly Sailor in a chorus of For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow is something of a treat.

It’s all smiles between Charles and Avril as they stand on the quayside as the big powerboat race is about to begin (Charles will be handing over the prize at the end, hopefully to Relton’s own boat).  Simon May cranks up the incidentals – wailing saxophones ahoy – as the boats set off.  But the smiles are soon wiped off their faces as Ken comes in first and Mark second.  Ken – a vision in yellow – can’t help but crow ever so slightly as he accepts his winnings from Charles.

There’s a sense that the rather misfiring love triangle between Ken, Sarah and Mark is finally coming to a head. Mark’s apparently set off on a business trip – but that’s just a ruse.  As Sarah and Ken canoodle aboard a boat, he’s standing on the shore, binoculars in hand, wearing a resigned expression (“oh dear” says Ken when they spot him).  But given how far the boat is away from Mark, they must have extremely good eyesight ….

Since the Tarrant weather once again isn’t very appealing, you have to give top marks to Sarah Varley for wearing a bikini without shivering.  As for the cuckolded Mark, he’s failing to exhibit much in the way of hurt or anger – mild inconvenience yes, anger no.  Will he finally decide to give Ken a well-deserved duffing up next time?  Fingers crossed ….

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Howards’ Way – Series Three, Episode Three

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It’s interesting to see how Bill’s moved more into the office this year (effectively replacing Avril as a – less attractive – buffer between Tom and Jack).  Tom’s not a happy man – the production of Barracuda has been temporarily suspended and he’s convinced that Charles is pursuing a vendetta against him.  Jack’s delightfully laid back about it all, as usual he’s quite happy that something will turn up to save them.

Tom and Avril have another confrontation.  I have to confess that Avril’s puffy sleeves captured my attention for a few seconds, but once Maurice Colbourne started ramping up the drama I snapped back into following the plot.  Tom’s paranoia continues to bubble away. Given the breakup of the catamaran it’s possibly no surprise that the Barracuda also has to be considered suspectl but he clearly doesn’t see it like that. Instead it’s obvious to him that Charles is interested in breaking him due to his relationship with Avril.

The thrusting wheeler-dealer that is Ken Masters has negotiated a deal with Robert McIntyre (Fraser Kerr).  Mark isn’t happy though, he’s convinced that McIntyre’s boats aren’t the sort of thing they should be selling (suddenly Mark’s turned into a mini-Jack, concerned about quality and craftsmanship).  Or does he suspect that his wife is embroiled with Ken? Hmm.

Jan effortless rise to the top continues apace.  Anna’s father, Mr Lee (Burt Kwouk), seemed to be a potential problem – but he quickly agrees that his daughter can go and work for Jan.  This seems all too easy – surely there must be a few roadblocks ahead?  Compared to Tom, who seems to be on an equally effortless rise to the bottom, Jan is leading a charmed life at present.   And then she spies an advert from Sir Edward Frere – offering venture capital for new businesses (her eyes light up at this).

There’s another brief insight into Gerald’s private life when he takes a call from a Dr Reynolds.  Even before we hear what the call is, the soundtrack helpfully (or too obviously, depending on your point of view) makes it plain that it’s bad news.  Polly hears the call (bad news about someone) but once again Gerald can’t – or won’t – share his worries.

But the tightly-wound Gerald can clearly not be wound any further.  When he discovers that Polly’s been on yet another spending spree, he reacts by smashing her latest purchase.  But this is only a pretext – it’s not her that he’s railing against, instead it’s his own internalised pain.  To give her credit, Polly is concerned and wants to help, but at present Gerald still can’t let her in.

Gregory de Polnay, probably best known as DS Mike Brewer in Dixon of Dock Green or possibly D84 (“I heard a cry”) in the Doctor Who story The Robots of Death, pops up as the slightly shady businessman Werner Grunwald.  His accent – I believe it’s supposed to be Swiss – is something to behold.

Do you remember the time when Avril wouldn’t even let Charles through her front door without a shudder?  Maybe it’s the passage of time, but now she’s moved into a swanky new flat things seems to have changed.  She accepts a housewarming present from him – an expensive picture – with an expression of delight (last year she probably would have smashed it over his head!)  But the increasing closeness of Charles and Avril does serve an important plot purpose – it allows Charles to articulate the feelings he has (mainly bad) about his father.

The ever-optimistic Leo decides to set up in business by himself as a general boat handyman.  And his first customer?  Amanda, of course.  Amanda is still madly keen on Leo, whilst he’d sooner just repaint her boat (he’s a strange lad).  She tells him it’s such a lovely day they should be enjoying themselves (that’s stretching it somewhat – it’s typically overcast in Tarrant).  So they go dry skiing – Amanda’s good, Leo’s not so good.  But he seems to be smiling a little more – which suggests he’s slowly coming round to her charms, although he initially refuses her later invitation to kiss him (he doesn’t refuse for long though).

Dulcie Gray’s husband, Michael Denison, makes his first appearance as Admiral Francis Redfern.  It’s only a brief appearance here, but he adds a touch of class to proceedings.

Tom’s moved out of The Jolly Sailor and is currently living in the paint store at the Mermaid Yard.  This – along with his wild-eyed, unshaven appearance – is a good indication just how far he’s fallen.  Jack knew about his problems but didn’t offer to give him a bed at his house.  So it falls to Leo, so often the conscience of the family, to step in.  He’s concerned about his father and wants to help – which leads into a nice moment of father/son bonding.

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Howards’ Way – Series Three, Episode Two

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Jack’s wearing a suit, so he and Tom must be on their way to the inquest.  For those who need this to be spelled out, walking in front of them is a barrister in a white wig.  The drama of this storyline isn’t milked very much as we don’t see inside the courtroom – instead Tom and Jack simply trudge wearily back to the yard later, with Tom breaking the bad news that an open verdict, pending a surveyor’s enquiry, was delivered.  So the waiting goes on …

Before this we see Bill fielding calls from interested parties, concerned about whether the inquest will impact the yard.  Possibly this is another example of cost-cutting – much cheaper to have Bill on the phone, pretending to be speaking to someone, than it would be to hire a couple of extras, as reporters, to mill around the yard asking questions.

Charles isn’t able to visit Relton for another round of icily polite fighting with Avril, so Gerald is sent to deputise.  He’s as affable and friendly as Charles is brusque and unforgiving.  But whilst Gerald claims that he’s merely here as an observer and has no wish to interfere, it could very well be that he’s of the same mind as Charles – it’s just that his style is much more conciliatory.

Where’s Charles?  Off for a painful meeting with his father.  Based on what we know of this family so far, it’s entirely in keeping that Charles should tell Sir Edward’s butler that he has a meeting with his father at ten o clock.  The notion that Charles could simply turn up for an unscheduled chat is clearly unthinkable.

It’s quickly established that they haven’t seen each other for some considerable time, although exactly how long isn’t clear.  The constantly shifting power dynamic between the two of them is established right from the start and over the most trivial matters – Sir Edward was hopeful that they could have lunch but Charles demurs, he’s far too busy.  But Sir Edward rallies and is at least able to offer his son some coffee.

There’s some lovely character building moments as we see Sir Edward attempting to reconnect with his son.  He asks Charles if he remembers the time when, as a boy, he climbed a tree in the grounds of their palatial country house and refused to come down (he was reluctant to return to school).  Charles replies that he does and also recalled that his father was away on business at the time, which leads Sir Edward to formally respond that “I was fully informed of the incident by your mother”.

Like father, like son – Charles has clearly fashioned himself in his father’s image (a driven, single-minded businessman) although he’d no doubt be appalled if anybody attempted to draw this comparison.  Sir Edward wants them to join forces – Charles isn’t interested – but the look on Nigel Davenport’s face as Charles and Sir Edward part makes it clear that a whole heap of trouble is on the way for Frere Jnr ….

Amanda begins her pursuit of Leo and turns up at the yard.  She has a pretext – her boat requires some work – but it’s the unfathomable and mysterious Leo which has clearly drawn her to the Mermaid like a moth to the flame.  Most young men would be flattered by her approach, but Leo continues to glower at her.  Maybe it’s the poolside dip he enjoyed or possibly it’s her playful nature, but at present there seems to be no connection between them.  The fact she later unwittingly dupes Leo into sailing a boat which she doesn’t own (the arrival of the police confirming this) is another example that she’s a rollicking loose-cannon and just about everything that he isn’t.

Polly’s back at the boutique, snapping up clothes like they were going out of fashion (sorry).  This ties back to the previous episode which saw a distraught Polly railing at the futility of her empty life to a concerned, but ineffectual Gerald.  He suggests a charity job – but this didn’t go down well.  It seems that, for all their fighting, she’s missing Abby (at least when her daughter was at home she had someone to talk to, even if the conversations were rarely civil).

Gerald does do his best to be supportive, but – as ever – finds Charles in his way.  Gerald’s plan for a quiet dinner with Polly is shattered after Charles demands his presence elsewhere.  Polly doesn’t take the news well.  “I fully understand. Your business is clearly far more important to you than you wife”.  Relations at Chez Urquhart look set to be distinctly chilly from now on, especially since Gerald has personal problems of his own – although he’s unwilling to discuss them.  The sight of Gerald and Polly, sitting in their comfortable living room, drinks in hand, unable to connect to each other is a slightly chilling one.

You have to accept that a few plot contrivances will occur from time to time, but the way that another totally unknown, very talented, designer drops into Jan’s lap is a little hard to swallow.  There are several things in Anna Lee’s (Sarah Lam) favour though – she doesn’t have a silly French accent nor does she posses a ponytail.  Maybe somebody on Howards’ Way was a fan of The Adventure Game – Sarah Lam had been a regular during its final series whilst Charmian Gradwell, who would appear throughout HW’s sixth and final series, had been another Adventure Game regular.

There’s been a distinct lack of Jack so far this series, but there’s a nice scene in this episode.  A downcast Jack, still smarting at the inquest verdict, is alone in his office, bottle of whisky at hand.  Everything that we know of him suggests that he’ll shortly be drowning his sorrows but no – he heads out into the other office for a coffee instead.  It’s an impressive act of self-control, but how long will it last?  Answer, not very long.

It’s very marked that the closer Jan and Tom get to their divorce going through, the closer they seem to become on a personal level.  They share another convivial meal whilst Tom’s later dinner initiation to Avril looks set to be a more sticky affair (she agrees, but doesn’t look delighted).  Tom seems to conduct most of his conversations these days with a knife and fork in his hands although when Avril tells him that it’s over between them he doesn’t have a mouthful of food, which makes a change.

The tangled Ken/Sarah/Mark triangle hots up a little more.  Mark finally seems to have twigged that Ken’s been making googly eyes at his wife whilst the unexpected arrival of Jan (keen that Ken should sell his minority shareholding in the boutique) makes Sarah just a little jealous.

Meanwhile Tom and Jack have a stand-up row in the yard about the state of the Mermaid’s finances.  We’ve been here before of course, but this time it seems that there’s no other option than to lay off some of the men.  And since that means last in, first out, Leo will be set for the chop.

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Howards’ Way – Series Three, Episode One

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When we left Tom and Jan at the end of the second series both were suffering business traumas – the collapse of the catamaran had damaged the credibility of both Tom and the Mermaid Yard whilst the death of pony-tailed clothes designer Claude Dupont seemed to have halted Jan’s attempts to conquer the fashion world.

Polly’s looking on the bright side though.  Now that Claude’s dead, his designs are bound to go up in price, so she pops over to the boutique to snap a couple up before they all disappear.  Kate, once again stuck behind the counter, views her with politely-bred disdain.  Kate’s still very good at that sort of thing.

Tom’s rather down in the mouth about the catamaran and for new viewers who need to be brought up to speed there’s a handy moment when Jack picks up a newspaper report about it.  But since the camera only lingers on the newspaper for three seconds you would have either have to have been a fast reader or gone back later and paused your VHS recording.  Still, it’s a nice way to info-dump without having the characters laboriously spell out the ins and outs of the current situation.

The triangle of Sarah, Mark and Ken continues to simmer away, although Mark’s still totally oblivious that there is a triangle whilst Ken continues to eye the cool Sarah with longing.  His interest is so obvious that it’s a wonder that Mark hasn’t twigged yet, so maybe he really is a man who only lives for his racing.  Ken’s later pawing of Sarah (he kisses the top of her shoulder in a way that only Ken could) doesn’t quite bring him the result he was looking for though ….

Charles pays a flying visit to Relton Marine and isn’t particularly happy with what he finds.  He tells Avril that things will have to change (their icily polite conversation is an early series delight).  Charles continues to be in a snippy mood when he encounters Gerald later.

The big-money signing for this new series is, of course, Nigel Davenport as Sir Edward Frere.  He tells Sir John that it’s good to be home, which suggests he’s been away for some time.  But now he’s back there’s no doubt that sparks will fly between him and his son.

The other major new cast member debuting here is Francesca Gonshaw as Amanda Parker.  Gonshaw, thanks to her role in Allo Allo!, was a familiar television face and – having left that series – was clearly looking for new opportunities.  Series three of Howards’ Way would be her last regular television role though.

Before we see Amanda for the first time, we observe Leo gazing wistfully at a picture of Abby and attempting to write her a letter.  The number of scrunched-up balls of paper suggests that he’s being attempting this for some time.  I’ve commented before on Jan’s breath-taking indifference to her son and there’s another prime example here – she asks him what he’s doing, but isn’t really interested (she’s more concerned that he moves somewhere else, since the consultant from the bank is due to arrive soon).

But to give Jan some credit, she does attempt to gee him up a bit as she tells him that he shouldn’t spend his time reliving the past.  Especially wonderful is her comment about Lynne.  “She’s not sitting around moping about Claude, and he’s dead”.  It takes real skill to deliver dialogue like that with a straight face.

So Leo, taking his mother’s advice, heads out for a pool party.  You can tell it’s the 1980’s as Leo’s wearing a jacket with rolled-up sleeves.  Nooooooooooooooooo!

Since he’s fully clothed he obviously doesn’t intend to take a dip (at least not intentionally) and instead gravitates towards a group of beautiful(ish) young(ish) people gyrating to the hit sounds of Stevie Wonder.  And wouldn’t you know it, at exactly the point when Stevie sings “Isn’t she lovely?” the camera focuses on Amanda, who is – well – lovely.

There then follows a rather odd piece of direction.  Amanda, sitting with a male chum who’s sporting a rather colourful shirt, decides that Leo’s looking very miserable and the pair go off to cheer him up.  Maybe it was scripted that Leo was down in the dumps – staring wistfully into the distance, moping about Abby – but onscreen he’s talking animatedly to a couple of people.  Mind you, the brief snatch of Leo’s dialogue suggests that he’s pontificating about the woes of the world, so I daresay Leo’s companions were only too delighted to be rescued from his polemical onslaught!

That Leo continues droning on whilst the delightful Amanda is replenishing the others with champagne in characteristic, as is the fact that when she pours him a drink he chucks it away.  And then she pushes him into the pool.  The beginning of a beautiful friendship?  Well since he then chucks her in, possibly (this might very well be a Tarrant mating ritual).  Amanda later confesses that she likes his style.  Takes all sorts I guess.

Jack and Kate – both recovering addicts – compare notes.  Jack’s doing his best to stay off the drink whilst Kate admits that she’s had another flutter and is therefore happy to treat Jack to lunch.  Jack’s appalled – a woman paying for lunch?  But he comes round eventually.

Jan needs a new designer and fast.  She also needs £150,000 in order to open a chain of boutiques.  With no designer currently on board it seems more than a little risky to expand at this point, but Jan’s faith in her own abilities is clearly boundless.  There’s also the problem of Ken.  Jan wants to buy his minority shareholding of the boutique, but will he be agreeable?  Hmm, I wonder.

Avril and Tom have an awkward business lunch.  Charles’ presence at Relton Marine continues to concern Tom, who’s convinced that the interests of the Mermaid won’t now be her top priority.  And Tom’s jealous as hell too, of course (just as well he didn’t know that Charles dubbed him a “loser” in the business world then).

Although Charles and his father have yet to meet onscreen, there’s an early signifier of the battles to come – Charles finds himself outbid on a painting (a snip at a mere £225,000).  And the telephone buyer?  Of course it’s Sir Edward Frere ….

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Howards’ Way – Series Two, Episode Thirteen

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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 ….

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Howards’ Way – Series Two, Episode Twelve

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Abby decides to leave home again.  This concerns Polly, who – rather out of nowhere – has suddenly developed a strong interest in her daughter’s welfare.  Compare and contrast this to her attitude from S1.  Back then, after Abby snuck out to Southampton in the middle of the night Polly reacted with calm indifference (even pretending for a while that she was away with friends).  But now she’s somewhat frantic after Abby stays out for a single night.

When Abby does return, it’s basically only to pack and to give her mother a brief (and rather sketchy) summary of her plans.  She’s going to move to Southampton again – initially with Curtis (although that’s something tactfully not mentioned).  For once Polly seems keen to talk, but Abby isn’t.  So their relationship remains one of total non-communication.

Elsewhere, Jack is still being pursued by Mrs Davis-Seegram.  Even though she doesn’t turn up in person, simply the mention of her name or a phone call from her is enough to give him the shakes.  Glyn Owen was tailor-made for this sort of material.  There’s something rather wonderful about seeing Jack (after receiving an expensive present from her) airily informing Bill that “she’s wasting her time. There’s no way any female is going to get on top of Jack Rolfe”!

The punchline, of course, is that as he’s speaking he’s on his way to answer the phone.  No prizes for guessing who it is.  Jack’s tone instantly moderates from aggressive to conciliatory (bringing to mind Captain Mainwairing’s telephone conversations to his wife Elizabeth).  He later tries to pull a sickie (coughing down the phone) to try and wriggle out of a dinner engagement, but to no avail.

If Jack’s not running scared from Mrs Davis-Seegram then he’s clashing with Tom and Avril.  Charles’ successful takeover of Relton Marine could have huge implications for the Mermaid (possibly the new Relton board will decide not to continue producing the Barracuda).  Jack’s not bothered, he says they’ll simply go back to producing wooden boats.  Even though Tom and Avril both tell him that the market for wooden boats isn’t there anymore (and he himself, given how few have been produced in recent years at the Mermaid, must know this to be true) he continues to maintain a relaxed air.  He’s not under the influence of alcohol, so it’s probable that – Macawber like – he just expects something to turn up.

Jan’s being a little more understanding this episode.  She rushes over to see Kate (although she can’t resist telling her mother that she’s had to put back her meeting with the PR men until the afternoon in order to do so).  Kate explains that she needs to sell her house in order to pay off her debts and Jan asks her to move in with her.  This is an ideal solution which Kate gladly accepts.  But there’s also the vague sense that Jan still has her business head on – after Kate offers to pay her way, Jan doesn’t demur and later admits that it could work out financially in her favour.  Some people might not want to charge their elderly parent for board and lodgings (especially when they’ve had to sell virtually everything they own) but Jan is clearly made of sterner stuff.

There’s a small hint of the way the series will develop next year, after Sir John refers to a business deal he previously organised with Charles’ father.  Charles doesn’t react terribly well to this and we’re left with the very strong impression that his father is an equally successful businessman who’s exerted a strong influence over Charles’ life.  So whatever Charles does now, he does so in his own way – comparisons to Frere Snr are clearly not welcome.

There are two major developments in the Leo/Abby relationship.  For the first time we hear both of them express, in part, their feelings for each other (although frustratingly they don’t do so at the same time).  Abby tells Leo that “you know, no matter how much I try to deny it, I realise now you mean a hell of a lot more to me than just a friend”.  This isn’t something that Leo can respond to – verbally at least – so they part with a brief kiss on the lips and a hug.

We later see Leo clear the air with his mother and for the first time in a long while they have a quiet, considered conversation where both listen to the other.  It’s here that we learn precisely what Leo feels for Abby (a shame he couldn’t say this to her face though).  “It’s like she’s got a hold on me and I can’t let go. Can’t seem to walk away. When Orrin was over here, I tried but I couldn’t. If she ever needed me, I was always there. Now she’s seeing this other person and I’m still there. I don’t want to be, but I am”.  I’m rather warming to young Leo.

Ken tries to win Jan back with a takeaway Chinese meal.  This is presented as the height of sophistication – so either the mid eighties rated fairly low in the culinary stakes or it’s just another example of Ken’s lack of class.  He throws in a cod Chinese accent as well, so I favour the latter over the former.

Jan’s not interested in a reconciliation and once again she doesn’t have a clear reason why.  Ken’s convinced that she dropped him as soon as he started to have financial problems, which she denies.  But the reason why she’s cooled – the divorce with Tom hasn’t yet come through and she’s not ready to settle down anyway – didn’t seem to bother her before.  It’s hard to feel sorry for Ken, but if Jan wasn’t interested in a long-term relationship, why did she let their affair develop?  Possibly it was simply because she was vulnerable after her marriage imploded.

The prototype of Tom’s catamaran, Lynnette, has been purchased by Mr and Mrs Travis (Ian Collier and Pamela Salem).  Introduced in the previous episode, they seem like a perfectly nice couple (it doesn’t hurt that they’re played by familiar television faces) which makes the ending of this episode even more jarring.  Tom receives the news that there’s been an accident – Lynnette is lying in pieces in the water and we then see a blanket placed over the dead body of Mr Travis with his shocked wife looking on ….

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