Howards’ Way – Series Introduction

howard-titles

Having recently been watching The Brothers (my posts about series three and four can be found here and here) I’ve had a hankering to rewatch the other soapy series co-created by Gerald Glaister, Howards’ Way.

Given how popular The Brothers had been, it wasn’t surprising that Glaister would eventually try his hand again at something similar (this time with Allan Prior as his co-creator).  There are clear parallels between the shows – the way that personal and business matters continually clash, for example – but there are also some notable differences.

Since Howards’ Way was a creature of the mid eighties, it’s not surprising that it has a strong air of conspicuous consumption – after all we’re deep in the heart of the Thatcher era, where a self-made entrepreneur was a most desirable thing to be.  And that’s one of the major differences between Howards’ Way and The Brothers – both Tom and Jan Howard start their business adventures pretty much from scratch, meaning that we’re with them as they try to make something happen (in Jan’s case she has a remarkable transformation from housewife to successful fashion designer, which is more a little hard to swallow.  This is something I’m sure to come back to …)

Contrast this to the Hammonds in The Brothers, who are the complete opposite of self-made.  They inherited the business from their late father, so all of the initial groundwork has been done for them – the drama comes from the conflicting dynamic between the three brothers as they squabble for supremacy.

Howard’s Way also has a glossier feel.  As it arrived in the wake of both Dallas and Dynasty, it’s easy to imagine this was the BBC’s attempt to mount something similar – so power-dressing, complete with shoulder pads and (worst of all) jackets with rolled up sleeves are to the fore.  The yachts and marinas of Tarrant provide the series with a visually pleasing gloss, a far cry from the grimy lorry depot where much of The Brothers was set.

Mmm.  Co-creator Allan Prior had worked on Blakes 7, I wonder if that could have provided the inspiration for naming the town Tarrant?

Before we get into the series posts, let’s take a look at the main characters.

Tom Howard (Maurice Colbourne).  He starts the series at a crossroads in his life – recently redundant, he’s pondering what to do with the rest of his life.  When he makes his decision it’s not one that pleases …

Jan Howard (Jan Harvey), Tom’s wife.  Tom’s decision to put all his redundancy money into a venture which Jan regards as risky in the extreme increases the pressure on their already rocky marriage.  Jan decides that she needs to find a job for herself, which moves her into the welcoming arms of ….

Ken Masters (Stephen Yardley).  You’ve got to love Ken.  As we’ll see, he gets kicked around by everyone else, but still manages to cling on, just.

Tom’s redundancy money is burning a hole in his pocket.  He decides to invest it in the Mermaid Yard, run by the bluff alcoholic Jack Rolfe (Glyn Owen).  Jack, like Ken, provides a great deal of the entertainment throughout the series.  The parameters of Jack’s character are set up right from the start – he’s a traditionalist at heart, to him boats should be made of wood (anything else just isn’t right).  Tom’s injection of funds comes at just the right time, as the Mermaid Yard is in dire financial straits, something which is apparent to Jack’s daughter ….

Avril Rolfe (Susan Gilmore).  It doesn’t take long before she and Tom are making eyes at each other.  This causes concern for his children ….

Leo (Edward Highmore) and Lynne (Tracey Childs).  Bless them, neither are particularly well-written parts (although Highmore stuck it out for all seventy eight episodes, Childs for about half that).  Leo is keen on the environment and Lynne is keen on the Flying Fish (all will become clear as the series progresses).

Charles Frere (Tony Anholt) doesn’t make an appearance until a few episodes in, but once he does the series shifts up a gear.  He’s Howards’ Way’s JR, a ruthless and successful businessman who thinks nothing of crushing the less fortunate under his feet.  Essentially, Charles is everything that Ken Masters wishes he was but so obviously isn’t – which means that any time Charles and Ken attempt to do business it’s a treat.

Charles’s right-hand man is Gerald Urquhart (Ivor Danvers), locked into a loveless marriage with the self-obsessed Polly (Patricia Shakesby).  Polly and Jan are best friends, whilst Leo would clearly like to be more than best friends with Gerald and Polly’s daughter ….

Abby (Cindy Shelly).  By the end of the final series her character had totally changed, but here she’s in her initial setting – sullen, withdrawn and deeply unhappy.

So join me next time as we take a look at episode one, which sees Tom drops a bombshell ….

howards.jpg

Advertisements

Howards’ Way – Series One, Episode One

howard 01.jpg

Tom’s boat – the Flying Fish – wins the Commodores Cup. The whole family are delighted but their joy is pretty short-lived as Tom drops a bombshell. He’s been made redundant ….

The extent of the Howard’s victory feast (including lashings of champagne) is an obvious pointer that they’re well off – but for how much longer?  It’s hard to feel too sorry for them though (Boys from the Blackstuff this isn’t). Perhaps they could sell a few paintings (unless they’re all reproductions) or even the house and then downsize.

It’s interesting to see how the others process this news. Jan feels betrayed that Tom didn’t tell her earlier and then reacts with horror when he raises the possibility of a job overseas. How could she leave Tarrant and her friends and family? Jan doesn’t come over very well here I’m afraid, as she appears to be completely self-centered.

Maybe it runs in the family as Lynne is quite similar. Although she finds the news upsetting, as long as she can sail the Flying Fish she’ll be quite happy. Uh oh …

Meanwhile Leo decides that he doesn’t want to go to university and would much sooner get a job instead. Edward Highmore’s performance is often as wooden as Jack Rolfe’s beloved boats, but since Leo was initally written as somewhat gauche, it’s not entirely his fault.

We also meet Jack and Avril. Jack’s aware that the Mermaid Yard is in deep financial trouble, but Miwcawber-like simply assumes that something will turn up. Avril, desperately trying to dig her father out of his financial mess, finds it hard to be so calm.

Jack needs a hundred thousand pounds to keep the yard afloat, Tom has his redundancy money. It’s a perfect solution, at least to Jack. Avril’s appalled – how can they ask him to risk all his money in a business that still may go bust?

Our first sight of Ken Masters is a hoot. Jan rings him up to arrange a meeting (she already works for him two days a week and hopes he’ll agree to her going full time). He’s in bed (bare-chested, medallion on display) with a shapely blonde by his side. He tells his blonde companion not to worry, Jan Howard’s no competion – she’s just a housewife. How wrong can one man be.

We learn that Avril has a broken heart (she cuts a folorn figure, lying all alone in her bed in a rather attractive pair of pyjamas) but perks up when she runs into Tom for the first time in years. Meanwhile, Ken is clearly interested in Jan. It’s not hard to guess the direction the series will go in, but there’s still some unexpected twists and turns ahead ….

Howards’ Way – Series One, Episode Two

howard 02.jpg

Tom is keen to go into partnership with Jack, but needs more capital – he has fifty thousand pounds, but needs another fifty thousand. Avril suggests he sells the Flying Fish.  Lynne’s not going to be pleased ….

Ken’s girlfriend, Dawn (Sally Farmiloe), feels a little threatened by Jan.  It’s always a little jarring to check out the status of less well-known actors who you don’t consider to be that old and find, like Sally, that they’ve passed away (back in 2014, aged sixty).

Ken’s sniffing around the Mermaid Yard, keen to snap it up if Jack goes bankrupt. This is the cue for another scene featuring a topless Ken lounging in bed, this time as he merrily plots away. At least Tom wears a pyjama top, much more restrained.

In many ways Jack is a horrible, selfish person but Glyn Owen’s ebullient performance means that you can’t help but side with him more often than not. He’s not keen to show Tom the company accounts, but Avril overrides him (“female Judas” he mutters).

So Tom is well aware how bad things are, but believes that his design skills and contacts will help to turn things round. As Jack is used to doing things his way, it’s plain that he’s not going to react well when someone else starts to tell him what to do. Since Avril is also a shareholder, her casting vote could prove be crucial in the future ….

The return of Abby from a posh Swiss finishing school is an episode highlight.  If I was Polly and Gerald I’d ask for my money back, as poor Abby isn’t really the finished article.  Possibly it’s not surprising, since Polly is as far from a nurturing mother as you could possibly expect whilst Gerald (when he finally makes an appearance) is clearly fond of Abby, but treats her with an air of absent-minded kindness, rather like one would deal with a family pet.  So Abby’s down in the dumps and will remain so for some considerable time.

Mother and daughter exist in self-contained vacuums. Polly wants Abby to make an effort and fit in with the glittering Tarrant social set, whilst Abby can’t think of anything she’d like less.

Lynne learns that her father and Avril have been taking quiet walks together.  She displays her disapproval by having a good pout (Lynne is a champion pouter, it must be said).

The first episode had seeded the notion that Avril’s heart had been broken by a relationship which ended badly.  No more information was supplied at that time, but a further piece of the puzzle is put into place here, as she contacts “someone” to see if they can help to sell the Flying Fish.  Keep an eye on this plotline.

Leo’s something of a contradiction.  He wants to save the environment, but has no qualms in taking a job at a petrol station.  If Tom (and later on Jan) are positioned as ideals of the Thatcherite Eighties – thrusting entrepreneurs – then maybe we can take Leo to be a warning about what might happen to those who leave school with poor qualifications (they end up in a dead-end job).  Or I may be seeing patterns that don’t exist, which is probably more likely.

Tom breaks the news that he wants to buy into the Mermaid yard. Jan’s not pleased but Tom, as always, goes his own way (cue an overdose of honking saxphones on the soundtrack, an odd musical choice).

Howards’ Way – Series One, Episode Three

howard 03.jpg

After storming out of the house, Tom comes back and briefly – for a matter of seconds – there seems to be some possibility of rapprochement between him and Jan.  But when he tells her that he’s gone ahead and sunk all his savings into the Mermaid Yard they sail back into choppy waters …..

If Jan’s upset, then Lynne’s devastated to hear that the Flying Fish will have to be sold.  Cue tears and smudged mascara – for Lynne it seems that the world has ended.  She continues to pout away later after Tom learns that she’s got herself a job at the yacht club bar (he’s not pleased).

Leo is persuaded by Polly to escort an unwilling Abby to a glittering (for Tarrant anyway) society party.  I like the way that Polly is pathetically grateful to Leo for taking on this difficult task.  It’s also notable that despite the fact it only appears to be late afternoon, Polly has a drink in her hand.  Howards’ Way, like The Brothers, runs on alcohol.

Jack Rolfe practically lives in the pub, although most of the other characters also tend to have a drink close by most of the time.  For example, when Jan and Tom are going at each other hammer and tongs, Leo attempts to diffuse the situation by asking his mother if she’d like another drink.

Abby doesn’t want to go the party, so she and Leo have a quiet drink instead (see what I mean?!).  Leo is the first person we’ve seen so far who takes the time to listen to her, even though she remains withdrawn and guarded.

Tom arrives at the Mermaid Yard but isn’t exactly welcomed with open arms.  Apart from Jack’s ever-loyal factotum Bill Sayers (Robert Vahey), the workers at the yard tended to be fairly anonymous, although occasionally – beginning here – there was an effort made to turn some of them into characters.

Most notable amongst them is Davy Malik (Kulvinder Ghir), who has to face an inevitable trickle of racial abuse from his fellow workers.  Ghir was right at the start of his career (only a couple of appearances in Tucker’s Luck pre-dated his turn as Davy).  Later he’d be a regular in Goodness Gracious Me and would rack up a score of other credits, most recently appearing as Cyril in Still Open All Hours.

You have to love Jack’s optimism (expressed later to Bill) that it’s going to be easy to manipulate and sideline Tom.  Surely he’s realised by now that Tom’s not going to be a pushover?  Bill’s worried that he’ll want to change everything, bringing in new fangled computers and the like.

Jack and Bill are traditionalists – but we’re not invited to view this as necessarily a good thing.  Jack mutters that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to do a job (quality is all important) but it’s plain that Bill is shiftily aware that there’s long been a culture of inefficiency at the yard.  So in some ways Tom, with his crusading zeal, is a Thatcherite new-man, keen to start operating more effectively and efficiently.  But he’s not being totally unreasonable, since his plans are obviously in the interests of Jack, Bill and all the rest (otherwise the yard will go under and everyone will be out of a job).

It’s been touched upon before that Jack married his wife in order to gain control of the yard, but it’s restated here by Avril – and with the bleak caveat that she died possibly because Jack was such a terrible husband or possibly because of cancer.  It follows that Avril should despise him, but that’s not the case.  If Jack loathed his wife then he loves his daughter and when he loves something, he commits totally.

We meet Jan’s mother, the always sensible Kate Harvey (Dulcie Gray), for the first time.  Unlike Mary Hammond, the matriarch of The Brothers, Kate is much more down to earth and approachable.  From now until the end of series six she can often be guaranteed to pop up in order to dispense a dose of good old-fashioned common sense (her close encounter with Jack in a few episodes time is a treat).

There might have been a hint in the previous episode that Abby was contemplating suicide.  When she steps off the train with Polly, there’s a second or two where she lingers – just staring at the railway tracks.  Was this intended to signify an unconscious (or otherwise) urge to throw herself underneath an oncoming train?  It’s a subtle touch if so, but even if it wasn’t intentional, her hesitancy still suggests that she’s a deeply troubled young woman.

The end of episode cliffhanger, as she plunges into the sea, amply demonstrates this.

howard-03-02

Howards’ Way – Series One, Episode Four

h04-01.jpg

Episode four opens where the previous one left off, with Abby floundering in the sea.  Luckily Leo is at hand and fishes her out.  When he mutters to the coughing and spluttering girl that her misadventure “was a bit stupid, wasn’t it?” you have to admire his powers of understatement.

Although Abby is grateful to Leo, she still won’t tell him what’s troubling her – which is reasonable enough as it’s the sort of plotline that should (and will) run across multiple episodes.  But we do learn a little more about her wretched homelife and how she feels totally unloved by both her parents (as well as the fact that given Polly’s generosity in spreading her favours, Abby isn’t even sure whether her father is actually her father).

Abby tells Leo that when she was young she kept a diary and logged all the time she spent with her father.  When she added it up it came to seventeen hours over the course of two years.  She’s spent much more time in her mother’s company, but that’s probably more of a curse than a blessing.  Abby is convinced that her mother doesn’t love her (something which Polly is happy to admit to others later).  Abby tells her mother that “you don’t even like me. You can’t show me off, you can’t wear me, so I’m useless to you.”

Tensions continue to simmer away in the Howard household.  Tom demonstrates quite clearly that he’s an unreconstructed male after he’s more than a little put out to find out that Jan’s been too busy working to get the evening meal ready.  Luckily Kate comes to the rescue, but no-one ever stops to ask if possibly Tom could have lent a hand.  Given this stifling pressure, it’s a wonder Jan hasn’t reacted against being a housewife and mother before.

Whilst I love Maurice Colbourne, he sometimes feels a little out of place in the series.  Possibly it’s got something to do with the fact that his voice had considerable power and gravitas, so when he’s arguing about relatively trivial matters (such as who should cook dinner) it feels a little jarring.  As Tom and Jan launch into yet another argument, Leo pops his head round the kitchen door.  Leo’s supposed to register dismay and disgust, but Edward Highmore doesn’t quite manage this (although he does pull a strange face and exits).  Perhaps another take would have been advisable.

Lynn’s looking for another boat to crew on, now that the Flying Fish has been sold.  The ultra smooth Phil Norton (Anthony Head) could be the answer to all her problems, but by the way he’s eyeing her up and down it’s plain that it’s not her sailing ability he’s interested in.  Elsewhere, you have to admire Tracey Childs’ hardy nature – wearing a bikini in a scene that was doubtless scripted as the height of summer, but instead looks rather chilly.

It’s always fun when Jack’s on the warpath.  He and Bill continue to grouse about Tom poking his nose into every aspect of the yard’s business but that’s merely a prelude – Tom, backed by Avril, explains that he wants to design a fast cruising, ultra light displacement boat.  Jack’s baffled – how can you build a boat like that out of timber?  Tom agrees and tells him that it’ll be a high-tech cord-structured hull.

The blue touchpaper is ignited and you can stand back and watch the fireworks.  Build a boat that’s not made out of wood in the Mermaid yard?  Over Jack’s dead body. “I’ll see this yard in hell and me with it before I have anything at all to do with them”.  Colbourne and Owen are on fine form here and whilst it seems inevitable that Jack will have to bow to common sense eventually, there’s the promise of more fun and games to come.

h04-02.jpg

Howards’ Way – Series One, Episode Five

howards 05-01.jpg

Jack’s still stomping about the yard in a right strop.  Avril attempts to talk some sense into him but has no more joy than Tom did (both Susan Gilmore and Glyn Owen play this short scene at full throttle).  And then Jack disappears ….

Avril knows what will happen next, whenever her father is upset he goes on a drinking spree (last time he ended up in a police cell).  This time he doesn’t fall into the hands of the police, instead Kate’s the (un)lucky one who runs into him.

Not literally though, although it’s a close run thing.  Jack’s staggering down the middle of the road whilst Kate is driving home.  After avoiding crashing into him, she forthrightly berates his stupidity (blind drunk, he earlier dumped his car into a ditch) and his lack of manners.  Glyn Owen and Dulcie Gray are wonderful here with Owen giving us some magnificent drunk acting (telling Kate slowly and deliberately that he had to swerve to avoid a hedgehog in the road, Kate acidly wonders if it was actually a pink elephant!).

She takes pity on him and gives him a bed for the night.  He pours out his troubles to her (he’s unable to pour himself any more drinks though, Kate puts a stop to that) although Kate is unaware that the hated partner he describes in such loving detail is actually her son-in-law.  Tarrant’s a small place ….

If you want more evidence of this, then earlier we saw Jack nearly collide with Leo’s bike.  Later, Leo tells Avril about his close encounter and he volunteers to help her try and find him.  Just seconds before, Leo confides to his chum Nick (Tim Faulkner) that he tends to obsess over unobtainable women.  And then Avril turns up.

We’ve seen Leo make googly eyes at Avril in an earlier episode, so his continuing unrequited passion is pretty obvious.  Poor Avril remains oblivious though, simply treating young Leo with kindness (he listens to her troubles and she gives him a peck on the cheek for being a good listener).  But it’s plain that if Leo expects anything more he’s going to be disappointed.

More sexual frustration is on show later after Nick walks Lynne home and forces himself on her (unlike Leo he’s not content with a goodnight kiss).  Poor Lynne, she does have to fend off more than her fair share of lusty admirers although some, like Nick, bitterly know that they’ve little chance of making any headway with her since they don’t own a boat.

This leads into one of the series’ most famous lines (or infamous, depending on your point of view).  Lynne tells her father about Nick and she agrees about being boat-obsessed.  “I don’t think I could ever love a man as much as I love the Flying Fish”.  Well done to Tracy Childs for keeping a straight face.

Our next port of call for sexual frustration sees us over at Ken’s place, where Dawn is more than a little miffed to learn that Ken’s taking Jan out to dinner (Tom’s none too pleased about it either).  Both Ken and Jan are togged up to the nines, Ken in a white dinner jacket and Jan in a backless dress.  Dawn wonders what she’s going to do all evening by herself, Ken tells her that he’s bought her some new videos.  Dawn responds that she doesn’t fancy watching blue movies on her own, but Ken counters that it might get her in the mood for later.  The dirty dog!

Ken and Jan’s meal goes swimmingly.  Jan tells him that rather than expanding into general marine goods they should specialise – designer yachting clothes for the well-off.  Ken is a little dismissive (muttering that Jan might read Vogue, but she’s no fashion expert) but the seeds have been sown.  And later they dance a tango for good measure.

Finally there’s a release of sexual frustration as Jan returns home, changes into a most becoming negligée and manages rapprochement with Tom.  Although the fact she later tells him that it wasn’t the meal with Ken which put her in the mood somewhat puts a damper on things. Any mention of Ken grates on Tom since he’s no lover of medallion men.

Away from this thriving hotbed of repressed and not-so repressed feelings, Abby continues to feel isolated.  She does manage a fairly decent conversation with her mother, but it doesn’t seem to be enough and the episode ends with Abby slipping out the house, bag in hand ….

howards 05-02.jpg

Howards’ Way – Series One, Episode Six

howards 06

Ken’s had enough of Dawn.  “This is my pad and I want it to myself”.  I didn’t know that anyone in the eighties still called their flat a “pad”, or maybe it’s just more evidence that Ken is trapped in the seventies.  He’s no new man that’s for sure – handling Dawn roughly and making it certain she knows that after six weeks of cohabiting he’s had enough of her.

He treats Jan differently of course, but then she’s still of more use to him (certainly professionally and maybe personally).  His relationship with Dawn shows how beneath his affable exterior something nastier lurks, although he doesn’t feel he has anything to reproach himself for.  “Well I play ball with them. Show them a good time, plenty of laughs, treat them like royalty, and bingo, after a couple of weeks they think they’re home and dry and running the show.”  I love Ken, he’s so delightfully horrible.

Jack’s all-day drinking binge concerns Avril.  “The whole day, the whole night’s just one long drink to you”.  Can he change? Does he even want to change? Kate’s certainly keen to see him dry out but it’ll be no easy task.

Gerald Urquhart makes his first appearance, meeting with Ken to discuss a possible business venture.  The fact that Ken’s never met him before ties into Abby’s earlier comment that she hardly spent any time with her father as a child.  Of course from now on things change somewhat as both Gerald (and shortly Charles) take up permanent residence.  This early fencing between Ken and Gerald is just a taste of what’s to come.  Ken has some real estate which Gerald and Charles would like to acquire, but Ken knows that if he hangs onto it then he might be able to make himself a player.

Abby’s run away to become a social worker.  And that’s not a sentence you type every day.  It seems a little far-fetched that she could just roll up to the office and start work shortly afterwards, surely a few checks would have been sensible?  Or possibly the fact that Abby had been to a posh Swiss finishing school was deemed to be good enough.

Phil Norton continues to lust after Lynne.  Since Phil made his first appearance it’s been plain that he has only one thing on his mind and it’s not how good Lynne is as a sailor.  Antony Head’s performance can’t really be described as subtle – cartoon wolf sort of sums it up.  Luckily Lynne is more than capable of resisting his oily charms.

Leo continues to follow Avril around like a puppy dog, devotion shining in his eyes (I love Edward Highmore’s goofy grin after he pops into to see her at the yard).

Tom and Jan seem a little closer, although you can always rely on Ken to put a spoke in the works.  He’s discovered that Avril, via an intermediary, bought the Flying Fish and delights in sharing this news with Jan.  Jan, already feeling a little threatened by Tom’s close working relationship with Avril isn’t impressed …. cue dramatic cliffhanger as Jan confronts a puzzled Tom.