Howards’ Way. Series Five, Episode Four

hw s05e04a.jpg

This episode opens on a sombre note as Laura’s father, Jimmy, is laid to rest. It’s an impressively mounted crane shot – beginning high up before zooming into the graveside, where, one by one, the other mourners leave until just Laura – dressed in purple with a black headscarf – remains. No words are spoken until Laura has left the churchyard (and then, Laura only briefly pauses to thank Jack and Avril for coming) but the expression of pain on Laura’s face tells its own story.

The unusual camera angles continue in the next scene, as we cross to Gerald and Polly’s house. The initial shot is taken from the first floor, as a silent Polly observes her daughter. The soundtrack (and Polly’s expression) helps to give this brief moment a sense of menace. Although when Polly comes down to talk to Abby, she seems more like her old self.

Polly wants Abby to come to America with her and start a new life (interestingly, Polly also claims that she has no plans to divorce Gerald – but unless he moves out to Americs as well it’s hard to reconcile this). Long-term Leo and Abby watchers will no doubt have picked up on Abby’s comment to her mother about Leo, as she refers to him as “the man I’m going to spend the rest of my life with. He doesn’t know that, but that’s how it’s going to be”.

This is a fascinating little moment. Abby may appear on the surface to be a more relaxed character than her mother, but this autocratic statement suggests otherwise. What Abby wants, Abby tends to get.

To date, James has been a very passive character, content to let Jan lead the way, but today he makes his first stab for independence. He introduces her to Sophie Westbrook (Fran Lima). Sophie is a talented designer and Howard Brooke need a new designer, so a meeting seems logical. But since it wasn’t Jan’s idea, she’s very resistant. This is a good example of Jan’s control-freakery. If she’s the one giving the orders then all is fine, but when somebody else dares to suggest anything, things don’t run so smoothly ….

Jan’s not keen on her designs. Is this because she really didn’t like them or was it more to do with the fact that she didn’t choose her? True, Sophie’s portfolio contained a few topless dresses(!) but the rest of the (unseen) designs seemed to be decent. Jan complains that James is attempting to steamroller her, only for James (at last) to snap back that Jan’s already done more than a little steamrollering of her own. After the last few episodes I was beginning to wonder if James would ever spark into life – happily, it’s eventually happened.

Charles and Avril clash again. Returning from the funeral, Avril is more than a little put out to find Charles lounging in her office.

Orrin (Jeff Harding) arrives back in Tarrant. He’s colder and more arrogant than before (no doubt in part due to the fact that he’s now being played by a different actor). Whatever else he’s here for, a tearful reunion with Abby doesn’t seem to be on the cards.

More unusual camera angles are on display when Orrin and his entourage pull up at Leisure Cruise. With the camera placed very low on the ground, shooting upwards as Orrin gets out of his car, it helps to give him a sense of stature. Orrin’s meeting with Ken is something of a treat (with Ken on the one side gently mocking Orrin and Orrin on the other, implacable and cold) even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense.

The Hudsons are keen to bring down Charles (fair enough) but have decided that Ken is the only one who can help them (by passing on Eckhardt Sahnn’s name to the police). Are we really to suppose that they couldn’t have tipped off the police themselves?

Polly and Jan meet. It starts off in an extremely chilly fashion, before suddenly they have a good giggle and become much more convivial. A slight contrivance maybe, but a necessary one, since Polly needed somebody to explain the ins and outs of of the plot to.

Ken and Laura are now partners. Whilst you should never underestimate Ken’s underhand dealing, at present it seems that Laura holds the upper hand. She’s quickly able to connect the earlier presence of the Fraud Squad at Leisure Cruise with their investigation into Charles. Of course, Charles has been chomping at the bit to find out who shopped him – Laura doesn’t intend to do so (or so she says) it’s simply that she wants Ken to know that she knows. Fifteen love to Laura.

Avril’s gone on a little foreign jaunt, to meet a smooth type called Sabio Fernandez (Franco Rey). Funnily enough, it looks a lot like Malta ….

This episode has a bit of racing action, but it’s so intercut with the other plot threads that it tends to get lost. Good news though, Tom wins his class in Barracuda as does Leo in Spring. But the main point of interest during these scenes is that Abby, crewing with Leo, felt suddenly sick and had to return to shore. Hmm, since she never gets seasick, I wonder what this could be. I wonder.

Charles and Gerald are slightly irked to be called to a meeting with Orrin, but they go anyway. This is a good indication that Charles’ position isn’t quite as secure as it used to be. Gerald is once again uncharacteristically forceful – telling Orrin in no uncertain terms that he wants her out of Abby’s life once and for all. Gerald’s come a long way from S1, when it appeared that he only ever saw Abby on a handful of occasions each year.

Later, Charles and Orrin face off in secret as Sahnn’s murky dealings with Charles are brought to the surface. We close the scene with Charles looking slightly perturbed – something which we rarely see. And since Orrin was secretly recording the meeting it appears that he, at present, is in the driving seat ….

hw s05e04b


Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Three

hw s05e03-a

Jack’s in a reflective mood. “My daughter. The worse Charlie Frere treats her, the better she likes it”. This doesn’t seem like an accurate reading of the situation (I’ve never really thought that Avril’s Relton struggles with Charles were some sort of elaborate foreplay) but then Jack has often mused on the unpredictability of women, so he’d probably agree that he may not have read the situation correctly.

As if to hammer this point home (re Jack and his inability to read the moods of the opposite sex) he offers to take Vanessa out for a sail on her new purchase The Proud Lady (one of Jack’s old boats) but she recoils with terror on her face. This is something of an overplayed moment (the very dramatic music doesn’t help) although it does hammer the point home that something’s troubling her.

Later they do go out, but when the weather gets a bit choppy Vanessa goes very wonky. It’s not really Lana Morris’ fault (this sort of scene is very hard to play) but she doesn’t really convince during this scene. She’s much better later on when Vanessa confides to Jack that ever since her husband, Klaus, was killed in a boating accident she’s been somewhat apprehensive about taking to the water. This is a nicely played two-hander between Owen and Morris.

Vanessa later has a chance to beat her fear of the water after a dinghy overturns in a small lake and a youngster pitifully screams for “help, help”. Several points spring to mind here – firstly that the submerged mariner seems to be pretty close to the bank (and if they can’t swim that short distance to safety, surely they shouldn’t have been out on the water in the first place). The extra in front of Vanessa (an old boy with a cap and binoculars) slightly amuses me. Presumably he rushes off in a panic as Vanessa seems to be the only one left to help – as she eyes a small sailboat and sets off on a rescue mission.

This isn’t the most dynamically directed of scenes it has to be said. We cut away before Vanessa actually ventures out, which seems to be a bit of a cheat. And if this one action has cured her fear of the water then we can chalk it down as yet another instance of the series setting up an interesting plot point, only to resolve it almost straightaway. Which is a little odd.

Leo seems to have clicked back into being the dutiful son (we see him doing the wiping up at home). He’s curious about his mother’s new business partner, James Brooke, which is understandable since some of Jan’s previous liaisons have mixed business with pleasure. “Is he married?” he enquires. And then James pops up and Leo exits. One in, one out.

I wonder what Jan and James will call their new, merged business. Oh, what about Howard Brooke. That’s quite snappy. James doesn’t seem to query this (Brooke Howard would sound just as good) and he also doesn’t seem too concerned when Jan steamrollers ahead with her plans for redecoration, branding, etc. At the moment, Jan seems to be very much the dominant partner.

The dramatic music makes a return when Tom tells Laura that Ken might use her the health of her ailing father, Jimmy (Walter Sparrow), in order to gain a business advantage. Once again, it’s a pity that the incidentals are rather strident at the moment.

Avril’s looking lovely again today, dressed in a tight skirt which seems to be designed purely to show off her slim waist. Her meeting with Leo (it’s almost as if he’s the only other person who works for Relton) is interrupted by a phone call from Ken. Feet up on the desk, his casual manner belies the fact that he clearly feels he has a trump card to play.  He’s able to convince Avril that a meeting is in her best interests. With Avril’s position at Relton somewhat shaky thanks to Charles, this possibly isn’t too surprising.

Lord Runswick (Harry Beety) is the sort of blunt Northern salt of the earth type made good who is so much of a cliché that it’s impossible to take him seriously. His parting comment to Charles (he declines to join his crusade to oust Avril) deserves quoting. “But you start playing this sort of game for revenge, you’ll wind up searching for tanners in your turn-ups”. Happen as maybe he’s right, by gum.

Ken continues to be haunted by Laura. The ever-loyal Vicki attempts to cover for him, pretending to Laura (who’s on the phone) that he’s not in the office. But as she’s sat outside in her car and can see his car, this isn’t a very convincing lie. Poor Ken. A minute later we see him looking plaintively out of the Leisure Cruise office window at Ms Wilde.

Sir John Stevens doesn’t appear in person until episode nine, but even offscreen his presence is still felt. Here, he’s the buffer between Ken and Laura. She’s miffed that Ken’s already told Sir John that the purchase of Wilde Mouldings is a done deal when that’s not the case at all. Even if Laura agrees, the ultimate decision will have to come from her father (although he does seem keen to sell).  But since he doesn’t seem long for this world, it might end up as her decision after all.

Jack, back at the Mermaid, chats to Tom about Vanessa. What begins as a two-handed scene quickly focuses on Jack, as he begins to look backwards – at how he decided to “marry the yard” when he married his late wife Eileen. The way that the camera slowly closes in on Glyn Owen’s face as he delivers his monologue is such a simple trick, but it’s so effective. Owen, whenever he’s given a dramatic scene, never fails to deliver.

Do you know, sometimes I walk through that yard, I turn … expecting her to be there, looking at me. And asking the same old question, why I let her down. And I did, you know.

Apart from taking a few snaps, we don’t see Abby until we’re thirty minutes in. She and Leo are in a very affectionate mood (their on/off/on/off/on relationship is somewhat confusing to keep track of) but after a minute the real reason for their sofa canoodling becomes obvious – it’s so Polly (yes she’s back) can stroll into the living room and shake her head in dismay. “I hope I’m not disturbing you” she mutters icily ….

Abby and Polly have regressed to their S1 relationship (in other words, not good). Their brief moments of rapprochement from more recent times seem to have vanished as Abby (Cindy Shelley looking rather lovely when she’s angry) rails against her mother for apparently leaving her father. But Polly’s gloriously unrepentant.

Given that the major reason for Polly going to America was in order to try and intercede with the Hudson family over William, it’s slightly surprising that Abby doesn’t bring this up. But there is a possible explanation –  after she declines to view a series of new photographs of her son (dashing them out of her mother’s hand) it might be that her disdain for Polly’s actions are stronger than her maternal instincts. Or has she finally accepted that William is out of reach? That’s a moot point at the moment, but two and a half episodes in it’s noticeable that Abby’s hardly mentioned William.

Polly’s gleeful, mocking expression after Abby leaves the room is slightly disturbing. In the past, Polly has been thoughtless, snobbish and self-obsessed but this is something new. Evil Polly seems to have arrived ….

The reunion between Polly and Gerald is just as dramatic. At present it seems that Gerald has recovered his faith in Charles and lost his faith in his wife. The way that Gerald shouts at Polly – demanding to know whether she’s having an affair with Sir Edward – is a notable moment. Sadly, we’re now into the endgame with Polly (after episode six she’ll be gone for good).

Another year, another Marina development for Charles to obsess about. This necessitates more meetings with humourless foreign types, today it’s the impressively named Eckhardt Sahnn (Carl Rigg). And fancy that, they’ve gone all the way to Malta just for this meeting.  HW clearly had a decent budget this year.  This Marina development has a bonus for Mr Frere, since it will enable Sahnn to force Avril out of Relton.

hw s05e03-b.jpg

Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode Two

hw s05-02a.jpg

Tom, out in the Flying Fish, is looking a little down in the dumps. You know what he needs? A chortling Jack to turn up alongside, offering to cheer him up. “You look bloody awful” is Jack’s opening gambit. I love Jack ….

Tom’s rejoinder (“Jack, will you belt up?”) is delivered by Maurice Colbourne with a chuckle. Was this as scripted, or was some of Colbourne’s real character breaking through? It doesn’t really matter either way, as it works very well.

Charles and Gerald’s lawyer, Thornton (Andrew Burt), seems confident that they have no case to answer. It’s a sunny day in Tarrant when the three have their breakfast meeting (which makes the scene an attractive one). It’s rather disconcerting that the brief exterior shot of the court is on videotape (virtually all of HW‘s location work was done on film) but this makes sense when we see that the court interiors were also shot on videotape at the location and not in the studio.

Gerald continues to twitch whilst Charles is gloriously unconcerned. Will they ramp up the tension and keep us hanging on for a verdict? No, not really. Thirteen minutes in and the case in thrown out. We don’t see inside the courtroom, so once again a dramatic moment is missed (but on the plus side, it saved the production some money). The dogged Inspector Daniel Morris (Kenneth Lodge) vows to continue the fight, but as this is Lodge’s final episode he’d better hurry up.

This plotline is mainly interesting for exposing the cracks in the professional relationship between Charles and Gerald. Once, Gerald would have trusted Charles without a second thought, but not any more. The way that Gerald firmly tells Charles that he can’t work tonight (he’s arranged a dinner with Abby and Leo) is striking. The worm has turned.

Gerald is very merry when he, Abby and Leo return home. This is good to see, as it’s been a while since Gerald’s been able to relax. His melancholy is never far from the surface though. He tells Abby that he’s really sorry that Polly isn’t here (Abby tells him to thank his lucky stars she isn’t!).

James Brooke (Andrew Bicknell) is a major rival of Jan’s (with a string of boutiques) but Jan seems drawn towards him. Mind you, he’s a bit slow on the uptake – at first he doesn’t have a clue who she is! Or does he actually know more than he’s letting on? Time will tell ….

He also doesn’t seem aware that Jan – like a predatory fish – is eyeing up his business hungrily. She wants to expand, he’s got financial problems, so a merger might be in both their interests. That Jan’s considering this mere minutes after meeting him is slightly hard to take – at present, HW seems to be rattling through various storylines.

The convivial lunch between Jan and James comes to an abrupt end when Tom pops by. Tom doesn’t express any overt jealousy, but James seems to be able to sense straight away that Tom and Jan still have a very strong connection. Tom’s not convinced that this merger is wise (or maybe he’s slightly disconcerted by James’ good looks).

Avril continues to look rather foxy (today, in a red dress) as she and a sharply-suited Leo settle down to discuss their powerboat racing strategy (now that Leo’s retired from racing he’s moved up to an executive level). Their meeting is cut short when Charles comes calling though. Personal and professional bitterness causes this short scene to crackle. This is one plotline that looks to have some legs.

Charles wants to regain Relton, Avril isn’t prepared to give an inch, so I think we should settle back and enjoy the battles to come. “If I have to break you in the process, believe me I will” he tells her.

Glyn Owen’s marvously expressive face is put to good use during a scene when Vanessa ponders on the road not taken (in another life, someone like Avril could have been her daughter). Jack, of course, doesn’t have a great deal of time for this sort of talk, it’s just not in his nature.

Today’s random observation. Somebody coughs very audibly at 43:46, at the start of the scene with Charles. Was it the off-camera Gerald or a member of the camera crew?

We end this episode with the unforgettable sight of a topless Ken and the equally impressive visage of Laura squeezed into a teeny-tiny leopardskin bathing costume. Crickey, that’s something you don’t see every day. Moored on a yacht at sea with (of course) plenty of champagne, they have a bit of a smooch. Laura’s still not selling her company though (even though Ken’s turning on the charm) but she wouldn’t be adverse to a merger.

She then elects to leave Ken, who’s gone for a swim, all alone, whilst she toddles off in the yacht for a while. Poor Ken, it’s not his day ….

Howards’ Way. Series Five – Episode One

hw 05-01a

Oh, I say! HW has ventured abroad in the past, but those jaunts were always something of a cheat – a quick flash of stock footage and then we’d cut to a chilly part of England dressed with a few palm trees in order to create an exotic illusion.

But not today. We open in Malta with Charles exiting the airport whilst a bearded stranger follows his every move (his face a study in concentration). The incidental music is turned up to the max as well, just to hammer the point home that this is a significant moment. And if you needed a reminder that we’re in 1989, then the ginormous brick-like mobile phone that the beardy man pulls out of his pocket should give you a clue.

Malta will feature in a number of episodes this year, so it’s obvious that the production team took the opportunity to shoot material for several episodes at the same time. This does give the slightly unfortunate impression that the inhabitants of Tarrant only visit Malta when they venture abroad, but I’m not one to carp ….

You might remember that we left Leo at the end of series four in something of a bad way. Badly mangled after his speedboat crash, it wasn’t clear how serious his injuries were. Would he ever walk again? His opening scene here (jogging furiously on a treadmill) answers that question, so clearly it was decided not to spin his incapacity out for any length of time.

But it’s also plain that not all’s well with the lad. Chided for running on the treadmill when he should have been walking, this exercise is then revealed to be part of his rehabilitation. And when it’s suggested that he should then take a dip in the pool, he snarls “stuff the swimming pool” before storming off. Whatever happened to the nice young Leo we used to know and love?

Possibly he’s a little irritated that he’s still not 100% (his dramatic limp makes that clear, although he doesn’t keep up the limping for long). When Abby comes to pick him up, he complains that he’s not recovering as quickly as he’d like. But the real reason for his angst seems to be that Avril’s told him he won’t be racing speedboats again. By the expression on Abby’s face it seems that he’s been giving her a rough time recently.

If these few opening scenes are a little disconcerting, then we’re on firmer ground when we check in at the Mermaid. Jack’s just strolled in (for him it’s still early – around noon) and he begins to cross swords with Emma. He then berates Bill quite forcibly before exiting. Jack’s looking very dapper today, it has to be said. Clearly he’s not dressed for the office ….

We then get our first sight of Jan and Ken this year. They’re having a bite to eat in Tarrant’s ever popular restaurant (I wonder how many times it’ll turn up this year?) with Ken – white jacket, rolled-up sleeves – still attempting to woo Jan (in a business sense anyway). Does Jan – nice purple jacket – want to pump a great deal of money into Ken’s business? Hmm, no, not really.

Avril – looking rather lovely today in a shortish skirt – and Gerald have a frank exchange of views. He knows where Charles is, but isn’t prepared to pass that information on. Gerald – who earlier had clucked down the phone to Charles – is a little frantic that his employer is swanning around in Malta whilst he’s back in the UK, fending off numerous interested parties (all interested in the continuing fraud case). When Charles suggests he hops on a plane to Malta he’s only slightly mollified.

With Polly absent (she’s still in America attempting to get William back) Gerald is even more isolated than usual. He cuts a rather forlorn figure and although Abby attempts to bolster his flagging confidence, she doesn’t have any success. It seems that he’s already picturing life behind bars.

I love the fact that when Gerald later clambers aboard Charles’ yacht he’s wearing his suit and tie and clutching his briefcase! His tie is slightly askew though, which seems to be his sole concession to the fact he’s in sunny Malta. Charles, cool as a cucumber, tells him to drink his drink and not worry, everything’s going to be fine. You do get the feeling though that Charles is in for a nasty shock later.

It seems to be business as usual with Tom and Emma – he’s unable to make their dinner date because he has to see Jan (although it’s more about providing Leo with moral support). But it turns out that their relationship is very much on borrowed time. By the end of this episode she’ll be gone forever ….

But for every departure, there’s usually a new arrival. Victoria Burgoyne makes her debut as Vicki Rockwell. With Sarah having left at the end of S4, Vicki (as Ken’s assistant) operates as his new business confidant – although since she’s got a boyfriend, she’s not interested in anything else. Which slightly takes the wind out of his sails.

The next new arrival is rather more significant. Kate O’Mara had previously appeared in another Gerard Glaister series, The Brothers, back in the 1970’s, but it was her 1980’s American adventure in Dynasty which really cemented her soap credentials (there was also Triangle, but funnily enough nobody ever talks about that now). Laura Wilde, owner of the impressively named Wilde Mouldings, is an old friend of Avril’s, but it’s plain from their first meeting that her destiny is going to be intertwined with Ken’s.

There’s an early highlight of the joys to come when Laura comes sniffing around Leisure Cruise. Ken approaches her from behind, but without turning round she senses that he’s there. When he wonders whether she’s got eyes in the back of her head, she tells him that “no, I just happened to be downwind of your aftershave”. Kate O’Mara’s also sporting the most wonderful pair of sunglasses during this scene.

Laura later demonstrates that she’s no pushover, easily being able to see through Ken’s transparent desire to buy her company. Random observation – Ken obviously likes the colour red. In his office, his chair, in-tray, desk phone, mobile phone and desk lamp are all red. It makes the scene at his desk rather striking.

Strictly speaking, Vanessa Andenberg (Lana Morris), isn’t a new character (she’d appeared in a couple of series three episodes) but she’s now back as a regular. Recently widowed, it seems that finally she and Jack will be able to get together. Their initial meeting, in her new Tarrant home overlooking the marina, is nicely shot – it’s just a pity that the day was so overcast (had the sun had come out it would have looked spectacular). Jack’s downcast face when Vanessa, toying with him, doesn’t instantly accept his dinner invitation suggests that there will be some scope in this plotline – Jack in Love – as a way to show a radically different side to the blustering man we know and love.

I wonder where have Jack and Vanessa go to eat? Hmm, three guesses …..

It’s slightly odd that we never actually see Jan and Tom’s uncomfortable dinner with Leo. Instead, we have to learn second-hand from Tom that Leo (still operating in full headstrong mode) wasn’t prepared to listen to their advice. A dramatic possibility missed.

Tom and Jan, post divorce, continue to enjoy a very cordial relationship. Tom’s now become her sounding board, the one person she knows will give her honest advice. Had Maurice Colbourne lived, would Tom and Jan have remarried? Many believe so, but it’s interesting to ponder how that would have affected the dramatic impetus of the series.

But if Tom’s managed to rebuild bridges with his ex-wife, then his other relationship seems to be built on rockier foundations. As has been seen time and again, tact is something that Tom Howard has never really possessed. His opening gambit to Emma (“I suppose you realise how ridiculous you’re being?”) probably wasn’t his wisest move.

Tom’s closeness to Jan is the reason why Emma’s upset but his next offering (“if you can’t accept that, then tough”) is another example of Tom’s incredible stubbornness. It’s Tom’s way or no way (as per the series’ title maybe). But it’s possible that this side of his character was ramped up here in order to provide a good reason for Emma to depart.

Although she’d been with the series for a while, had Emma not returned for series five I don’t think too many people would have particularly noticed or been too concerned. No slight intended to Sian Webber, but Emma was never really anything more than an Avril substitute (both at the Mermaid and in Tom’s life).

Leo continues to be a concern to everybody. Despite not being fit, he elects to take a speedboat out in order to prove that he hasn’t lost his nerve. Whilst Tom, Jan and Avril look on, the soundtrack steps up a gear as Leo begins to have flashbacks about the last time he tangled with a marker buoy. This time he manages to make it though (“I’ve cracked it!”) but since it wasn’t under race conditions (or with a pack of other boats in the water) it seems – at best – a hollow victory.

Charles and Gerald touch down in Tarrant, only for them to then be carted off to the local police station. For Charles, earlier so confident that his lawyers had found all the answers, it’s something of a rude awakening. He lowers his sunglasses to look at the officer, then raises them again as the pair are escorted away ….

hw 05-01b.jpg

Christmas with the Hammonds


Having reached the end of the series, I’ve found that a Brothers fix is still required, so I naturally turned to the 1976 long-playing extravaganza that is Christmas with the Hammonds.

Colin Baker’s website has done a wonderful public service by making it available for everybody to enjoy.  If, for example, you’ve ever wondered how Paul Merroney would wrestle White Christmas to within an inch of its life, then this is the disc for you.

Without further ado, let’s jump straight in ….

Winter Wonderland, Sleigh Ride – Bill & Gwen Riley

Derek Benfield and Margaret Ashcroft favour a soft duet singing style and they also both handle individual lines with aplomb.  A very solid start.

The Holly and The Ivy – Jane Maxwell

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Kate O’Mara sing before, so I wasn’t sure what expect.  She can certainly handle a tune and together with a tasteful string arrangement it seems that Kate was taking it very seriously.  Two out of two so far, can this good run continue?

We Need A Little Christmas – David Hammond

Robin Chadwick may be slightly flat, but how can you not love the jaunty backing track?  It’s only two minutes long, which means it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

The Christmas Story – Mary Hammond

Jean Anderson is spared the ordeal of singing as instead her track tells the story of the birth of Jesus.  You can imagine Mary telling this story to her three sons every Christmas, whether they wanted to hear it or not.  Good old Mary.

The Twelve Days of Christmas – 1: Jane 2: Bill 3: Gwen 4: April 5: All 6: Jenny 7: Ted 8: Mary 9: Brian 10: Paul 11: David 12: All

It’s tag-team time as everybody pitches in.  It gives us our first opportunity to hear the vocal talents (ahem) of Patrick O’Connell and Colin Baker, whilst it also confirms that a whole track of Jean Anderson singing might have been a step too far.

Cantique de Noel – Brian Hammond

Decades later, during The Cult of the Brothers documentary, Richard Easton still seemed to regard his major contribution to the album with fondness and a little pride.  And why not? He can hold a tune well and, as befits his character, adds a touch of gravitas to proceedings.

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Jenny Hammond

With only a piano accompaniment, Jennifer Wilson is a little exposed, but thanks to her breathy singing style she just about pulls it off.

Good King Wenceslas – Ted Hammond and Paul Merroney

Nice to see that Ted and Paul managed to bury the hatchet in order to contribute to this duet.  It’s fair to say that neither Patrick O’Connell or Colin Baker were blessed with angelic singing voices, so their decision to keep their tongues firmly in their cheeks was the only possible option.  It’s certainly memorable.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – April Hammond

It’s slightly surprising that April and Paul didn’t have a duet together.  Singing is clearly not Liza Goddard’s strength, so the clip-clop backing attempts to cover some of the cracks.

White Christmas – Paul Merroney

After the delight of Good King Wenceslas, it seemed obvious that the world needed more of Colin Baker’s unique vocal talents.  Fair play to the man for sharing this track in all its grisly glory (instead of claiming that it had somehow been lost).  It’s three minutes which defy description (but once again I have a feeling Mr Baker wasn’t taking it entirely seriously, or possibly a little alcoholic refreshment had loosened him up somewhat).  The line – “may all your days be Merroney and bright” –  is sheer genius.

Good Wishes For the Season – Gwen, Bill, Jenny, Ted, Jane, Brian, April, Paul, David & Mary

This is lovely as all the cast – in character – take turns to wish the listeners the compliments of the season. Naturally enough Mary gets the last word whilst Jane (“keep the men in their place and have a fantastic time”) has the most memorable message.

A treat from start to finish, it feels a little odd to be listening to it in July, but come December I’m sure I’ll be revisiting Christmas with the Hammonds again.


The Brothers – Series Seven. Simply Media DVD Review

Within the first few minutes of the series seven opener – To Honour and Obey – it’s plain that change is in the air.  First we have a new title sequence which acknowledges that Hammond Transport is now about more than lorries (shots of swooping aircraft makes that plain).

But even more startling is the fact that we’re presented with the sight of Paul Merroney (Colin Baker) having a shave.  All of the main characters (with the exception of Paul) have previously had their private lives investigated in exhaustive (and some might say exhausting) detail. Up until now Paul’s has been exempt from this – indeed the others have unkindly referred to him as a robot on more than one occasion, suggesting that he doesn’t have a private life at all.

Seeing Paul Merroney in any other setting than a purely business one is something of a jolt, but since this episode is concerned with his wedding I guess we’re going to have to get used to it.  Brian (Richard Easton) is his best man, which rather implies that poor Paul is somewhat lacking in friends.  Although his bride-to-be April (Liza Goddard) might make up for that.  Or maybe not, let’s wait to see how their marriage plays out ….

Liza Goddard & Colin Baker

Given Brian’s previous problems with the bottle, it’s a little strange that he got drunk at Paul’s stag party (a pity we didn’t see it, I’m sure it would have been a hoot – no doubt Paul was stuck in the corner, sipping a tomato juice). Paul then discusses his father (in the first five minutes we learn more about Paul the man than we had in the last two and a bit series).

We’re quickly introduced to members of April’s family. Her father, Lord Winter (Anthony Nicholls), has little time for his son-in-law-to-be and April’s brother, Simon (Terence Frisby), shares his disdain – although since Simon and Paul are involved in a power-struggle at the bank, at least their conflict is professional rather than personal (Lord Winter just considers him to be a dull fellow).

Brian’s children have been conspicuous by their absence for most of the series to date. Even when he and his former wife, Ann, were together we never saw much of them. So when Brian’s daughter Carol (Debbie Farrington) suddenly turns up, it’s a bit of a jolt. Mind you, that’s nothing compared to the shock when Ann (Hilary Tindall) also reappears ….

I’ve missed Ann, so it’s lovely to see her again – even if it’s only a fleeting visit. With Brian now entering a tentative relationship with Jane Maxwell (Kate O’Mara), Ann’s presence certainly helps to shake up the status quo, although Carol is the key figure here – seemingly undecided about whether to live with her mother or father.

Carol’s now a new-age hippy chick but Ann’s still the same old Ann. They both bow out in episode four, The Female of the Species, with Carol rather bamboozling Brian before she goes. And before Ann leaves she has the chance to confront Jane (Hilary Tindall and Kate O’Mara – an implacable force meeting an immovable object).

Happy marriages are something of a rarity in The Brothers.  This series Ted (Patrick O’Connell) and Jenny (Jennifer Wilson) are the first to suffer a few bumps in the matrimonial road.  Although they’ve always seemed well-suited, it should be remembered that as soon as they tied the knot Jenny became incredibly bossy (her ill-fated desire for a child was just one of the times when Ted – a hard-case in business but a teddy-bear at home – gave way).

Patrick O’Connell & Jennifer Wilson

This year Ted’s showing signs of mellowing on the business front.  Spending time away on a business course helped him to finally release that Paul Merroney wasn’t quite the villain he always believed him to be (something the viewers twigged some time back).  When he returns home, Jenny’s off to visit her daughter, Barbara, in Canada (and more than a little irritated that Ted’s changed his mind about joining her).  Barbara (Julia Goodman) is another familiar face from the past to make a return this year (her marriage – surprise, surprise – has hit something of a rough patch).

A little extra spice is added to Ted and Jenny’s relationship after April, at a loose end during one of Paul’s numerous foreign trips, offers to cook Ted dinner.  There’s no strings attached – it’s just a friendly offer from April who’s concerned that Ted will waste away if he has to fend for himself – but the reactions of their respective spouses are quite instructive.  Paul’s coolly amused (his long-standing disdain of Ted still stands) whilst Jenny doesn’t say a great deal (although it clearly rankles, as we’ll see during the next few episodes).

Of course it was Paul who mischievously told Jenny that her husband and his wife had enjoyed a meal together rather than the hapless Ted, who no doubt would have much preferred to have kept quiet.  This leads April to liken Paul to one of the Borgias – which he takes as a rich compliment!

Regular viewers will probably be expecting several long-running plot-threads to rear their heads one last time.  And you won’t be disappointed as yet again Mary’s (Jean Anderson) health takes a turn for the worse, leaving the brothers to play nursemaid, although neither Brian or David (Robin Chadwick) are falling over themselves to volunteer.  The sight of Brian and David tossing a coin (Brian lost, so he had to stay at home with her) is a nice comedy moment.

The saga of Gwen Riley’s (Margaret Ashcroft) new house also continues to rumble away – every time she seems to be on the verge of moving, something happens to prevent her (this time she’s been gazumped).  Once again, Ashcroft (and Derek Benfield as Bill Riley) impress as the one couple who somehow manage to juggle their work and private lives without resorting to taking lumps out of each other.  Ashcroft gets to flex her acting muscles a little more towards the end of the series after Bill and Gwen’s son is involved in a motorbike accident.

Margaret Ashcroft

Later series of The Brothers tended to be shared out amongst a pool of writers who would then pen a block of consecutive episodes.  For the seventh and final series this was split as follows – Ray Jenkins (episodes one to three), Brian Finch (episodes four, five and nine to twelve), Elaine Morgan (episodes six to eight) and N.J. Crisp (episodes thirteen to sixteen).

Elaine Morgan’s three scripts – Arrivals and Departures, The Distaff Side and Cross Currents – are of particular interest.  Although this was her only contribution to The Brothers, her extensive career spanned the mid fifties to the late eighties with many notable credits.  The Life and Times of David Lloyd George is an obvious career highlight, with top-quality literary adaptations (including The Diary of Anne Frank, Testament of Youth and How Green Was My Valley, amongst others) also featuring heavily on her CV.

Christine Absalom appears in Morgan’s three episodes as temporary secretary Judy Vickery.  It’s fair to say that she and Paul don’t hit it off – possibly it’s her toy Snoopy (a good-luck mascot, she tells him) or maybe it’s because she appears to be slightly flustered (although she assures him that once she settles down she’ll be fine).  As an outsider, Judy allows us to see the regulars through a fresh pair of eyes – especially the martinet Paul Merroney (the way she mispronounces his name to begin with is a lovely comedy touch).

Paul, enroute to Istanbul, calls April from the airport.  She has bad news for a him (a family bereavement) and is appalled when he doesn’t cancel his flight and return home  This is a key moment, as although Paul shows a spasm of pain at the news, business comes first.  It’s an attitude which April finds incomprehensible and serves to sow the first seed of disharmony between them.

The unexpected arrival of Paul’s mother in The Distaff Side throws the Hammonds into a tizzy. With Paul still away and April uncontactable, Ted and Brian attempt to play pass the parcel with her. Luckily, Mrs Merroney (Norah Fulton), a plain-speaking Geordie, takes up Gwen’s offer of a bed for the night (much to Brian’s obvious relief!)

Mrs Merroney’s conversations, first with Gwen and Bill and then later with April, help to shed considerable light on Paul’s character. A sickly, bookish child, he found himself teased by the local children – therefore his drive to succeed in business was partly borne out of a desire to prove his parochial home-town rivals wrong. These are further strong scenes from Elaine Morgan.

Liza Goddard & Colin Baker

Elsewhere, there’s a nice spark of jealously directed towards Jane by Jenny. Jane’s arrival in series five generated a certain amount of friction amongst all the members of the Hammonds board, although it was rather downplayed the following year. Quite why Jenny should be so set against the possibility of Jane becoming a Hammond (after all, that’s precisely what she did by marrying Ted) is a bit of a mystery but it helps to give Jenny a little more to work with on the character front.

Jenny’s paranoia keeps on bubbling away (she’s convinced that everybody is plotting against her). The best moment comes when she confides to Mary that Brian and David are locked in a bizarre love triange with Jane! That’s somewhat far from the truth – since Brian’s long-relationship with Jane has been platonic, David sees nothing wrong in inviting her out for a couple of meals.

The result of Jenny’s rash comment puts Mary on the warpath. She attempts to rope Ted in, but he’s less than keen to get involved – although their conversation sets up a pulsating later scene which sees Ted accuses Jenny of spewing posion. With their marriage already a little rocky, this simply adds to the pressure. Jenny has the last word as she cruelly, but maybe accurately, labels the Hammond brothers as “a lush, a failure and a has-been!” Wonderful stuff.

Everything then kicks off in typical Brothers style as Mary confronts Jane, Brian confronts David and David, in a huff, packs his bags and leaves home.

Kate O’Mara, Richard Easton & Colin Baker

Episode ten – Celebration – is ironically titled, as Jane receives the bad news that one of her new C41s has disappeared somewhere in the Atlantic, Jenny receives a summons for dangerous driving whilst Paul and April’s marriage seems to have hit a brick wall.

Possibly this was art imitating life, as Colin Baker and Liza Goddard had married for real shortly after Paul and April tied the knot in the series.  Baker would later acknowledge that their union was probably a mistake as it sadly didn’t last very long.

April is a rather passive character to begin with – content to wait at home for her husband to return from the office (although capable of becoming annoyed when he’s late).  April bemoans the fact that their luxury flat has become a gilded cage for her, but she seems unable or unwilling to do anything to rectify the situation, such as finding a job. Given that the role isn’t terribly interesting for large stretches, it’s lucky that Liza Goddard was on hand to breathe a little life into her. Goddard does icy detachment better than anybody and some of her later scenes suggest that April could have developed into quite the bitch had the show gone to an eighth series.

Paul Merroney’s latest scheme is to expand into the Middle East. From a modern perspective, setting up bases in places such as Baghdad and Kuwait seems to be asking for trouble, but it’s true that it was a different time back then. Only Brian opposes the plan, whilst the others see a chance to make a handsome profit (although the risk factor is great).

Whilst the cast were confidently expecting an eighth series, I wonder if the return of co-creator N.J. Crisp to write the last four episodes was something of a sign?  Crisp had only penned a handful of episodes during the previous couple of runs, so it could be that he had an inkling the series was reaching the end and wanted to be the one to conclude it.

Whilst a continuing drama can never come to a compete stop, there’s a sense that The Brothers was reaching a natural conclusion.  We’ve seen over the years how Hammond Transport had changed from a privately owned company to a publicly owned one, but the Middle East scheme serves as the catalyst to finally wrest control away from the Hammond family (via a new share option which will raise much needed capital but will also serve to dilute their majority share-holdings).

But various questions remain unanswered as the credits rolled for the final time.  How would Paul and April’s wobbly marriage have resolved itself?  Most intriguingly, would Paul’s Middle Eastern escapade have been a disaster?  If so, then he might have been eased out and maybe the Hammonds would have attempted to regain control of the company.

Although there were plenty of options for future storylines it wasn’t to be, so The Brothers came to an end on the 19th of December 1976 with The Christmas Party. Final treats include Brian’s quite astonishing moves on the dance floor and Ted’s firm rejoinder after Paul suggests that Hammond Transport Services Ltd is a rather old-fashioned name. Surely something like Worldwide Transport Services would be better?

Another strong collection of episodes, this seventh and final series of The Brothers is just as addictive as the previous runs.  It’s easy to why it captivated a generation back in the 1970’s and forty years on it’s still as entertaining.  If you’ve been collecting the DVDs then you’ll know how good the show is, if not then I’d strongly recommend picking up series one and making your way through a classic slice of seventies drama from there.

The Brothers – Series Seven is released by Simply Media on the 10th of July 2017.  RRP £29.99.  It can be ordered directly from Simply here.

Patrick O’Connell, Robin Chadwick & Jean Anderson

The Brothers – Series Six. Simply Media DVD Review

Series six kicks off in a typically confrontational way as Ted (Patrick O’Connell) clashes with Merroney over Brian’s future. Will Brian be welcomed back onto the board? Ted wants a fair deal for his brother and – possibly surprisingly – Merroney concurs. But the reason he gives is sure to put Ted’s back up. “Because of the three of you, he’s the only true professional”.

Colin Baker still looks as if he’s enjoying himself enormously as Merroney continues to call the tune, forcing the others to dance to it. His relationship with Brian (Richard Easton) has always been complex.  He values Brian’s business acumen and knows that Brian likes him personally (which has helped create a bond between them) but it’s also plain that Merroney would drop him like a stone if he proved to be unreliable.

Somewhat Godot like, Brian has an influence over events even when he’s not on screen. The series opener, Red Sky At Night, begins with the others awaiting his return. But when he’s not on Don Stacey’s charter-flight there’s concern all round. Where is he? Is his absence further evidence of his unreliability?

When Brian (still sporting the impressive moustache he grew last year) does reappear, it’s telling that it’s Merroney he goes to see. Although both David (Robin Chadwick) and Ted have fought for their brother’s interests in their own ways, Brian clearly feels more comfortable with somebody outside of the family.

Colin Baker, Robin Chadwick and Derek Benfield

Brian’s gradual reintegration back into the business is a running theme during these early episodes as is the question of Jenny (Jennifer Wilson) and Ted’s adopted baby, William. When the baby’s real mother decides she wants him back, Jenny starts to feel the strain. One has to wonder why Jenny and Ted didn’t legally adopt the child (William was abandoned by her mother six months earlier but she now feels more confident that she can look after him).

Our sympathy should be with Jenny, but there’s something more than a little off-putting about her manic determination to hang onto William whatever it takes. Jennifer Wilson plays these scenes well and since her character’s usually so level-headed and sensible it’s an interesting change to see her put under pressure for once.

Jenny is happy to cast William’s natural mother, Pat Hawkins (Elaine Donnelly), in a poor light, but that’s not the impression most will get when they hear her story. “Look, I’m just a girl from the local estate, okay? And I got a baby. And I couldn’t explain to my mum and dad why I wanted to keep him. So I did the only thing I could do and I gave him away”.

One might raise an eyebrow at the revelation that Pat’s husband, Alan (Ian Marter), works for Hammonds. Something of a remarkable coincidence it must be said, but this does allow Ted to be pushed over the edge a little further (like Jennifer Wilson, Patrick O’Connell seems to relish these dramatic scenes). Plus it’s always a pleasure to see the late Ian Marter, even in a small role like this.

Jennifer Wilson & Patrick O’Connell

Carleton Hobbs makes a welcome reappearance as Sir Neville Henniswode (Hobbs had appeared in series four but was presumably unavailable for series five, which led to Llewellyn Rees taking over the role). Hobbs had a decent film and television career but for me – and I’m sure for many others – he’ll forever be the definitive radio Sherlock Holmes. Just to hear the timbre of his voice is enough to conjure up images of foggy streets and Hansom Cabs ….

One of the more unlikely developing plotlines concerns the relationship between Sir Neville and Mary Hammond (Jean Anderson), the imposing matriarch of the family. At least this enables Mary to get out of the house every so often and therefore makes a nice change from her usual scenes (which tend to consist of her chivvying one or more of her sons).  Since both David and Brian are currently living with her at the family home, she’s got ample opportunity to fuss around them.

The first half of series six sees the Hammonds struggling to balance their work/private lives. Brian is still finding his way back to fitness slowly, David has never been terribly business minded anyway, whilst Ted and Jenny are more concerned with the fallout from William’s departure than they are with Hammond Transport.

This leaves Merroney in a strong position, although Bill Riley (Derek Benfield) for one isn’t prepared to roll over for him. Bill’s rise through the ranks has been an entertaining running thread over the last few series. Initially he was a little diffident at board meetings – due to his elevation from the shop floor – but by this point he’s more then happy to speak his mind.

Derek Benfield

He’s matched in the common-sense stakes by his wife Gwen (Margaret Ashcroft). Whilst the majority of the characters in The Brothers are middle-class or higher, the Rileys are resolutely working-class and proud of it. It would be easy for them to be portrayed in a patronising light, but this doesn’t happen – meaning that there’s something charming in the way they enjoy the simple pleasures of life (an evening game of Scrabble, for instance). But they’ve not immune to pressure and Bill’s increasing workload will be seen to have a negative effect on their marriage.

Merroney’s private secretary Clare Miller (Carole Mowlam) still finds that her loyalty is divided between Merroney and David. With neither man in a regular relationship, both are content to use her as a dinner companion and confidant. Although Clare is a character designed to react to others rather than instigate her own plotlines, Mowlam still manages to give Clare a spiky sense of humour, ensuring she’s more than the cardboard character she otherwise could have been.

During S5, Merroney seemed mainly to exist in order to thwart the Hammonds at every turn. But throughout this run of episodes he’s more nuanced – whereas previously he was totally dedicated to Sir Neville and the bank, now he confesses that he’s beginning to side with the Hammonds over certain matters. Although on other occasions he’s quite prepared to steam-roller right through them, if he can ….

Brian also shows some unexpected facets to his personality (since his breakdown he’s become a more relaxed and far-thinking person). At one point he expresses his new personal philosophy. “You’ve got to feel that what you’re doing is really worth doing. Nobody makes money except the Mint. All the rest of us do is push it around a bit, trying to make sure that we get a little more than the next man. But it’s not wealth. Wealth is enriching. Making money is just debilitating. In the end it leads to a sense of personal isolation”.

When David finds himself rejected by Clare in episode eight  – The Chosen Victim – it serves as something of a wake-up call for him. All his life he’s been able to get whatever he wanted (until Clare). Will this make him a more rounded and less arrogant character? It’ll be interesting to see if his growth continues next series.

Paul Merroney and Jane Maxwell (Kate O’Mara) fractious relationship shows no sign of abating. At one point she tells him he’s “one of the lowest forms of life I’ve ever come across”. But when you learn that Merroney was castigating Jane’s ex-husband, the hard-drinking pilot Don Stacey (Mike Pratt) at the time, it’s easy to understand the reason for her anger.

Kate O’Mara

Don bows out of the series in the sixth episode, Tender (broadcast just a few months before Pratt’s death at the age of 45). Pratt’s gaunt appearance gave the running plotline of Don’s impending medical exam a bitter irony. “Sooner or later they’ll find something that creaks or groans or doesn’t react fast enough and that’s it. You can keep as fit as you like, but Anno Domini gets you in the end”. Don didn’t do a great deal (although his leaving scene was a powerful one) but he was always an amusing character and Pratt, even though he was clearly ailing, always played him with an agreeable twinkle in his eye.

As series six moves towards its conclusion, several familiar faces pop up. Clive Swift plays the shifty Trevelyan whilst Joby Blanshard (best known as the plain-speaking Colin Bradley from Doomwatch) appears as Van der Merwe.

After being somewhat subdued in the early episodes, Ted roars back into life (few sights are more impressive than that of Patrick O’Connell in full flight) whilst Brian and Jane seem to be forming something of an alliance, both personally and professionally. But Brian’s wounded psyche (he has a fear of being touched) might be a problem. Richard Easton, as so often throughout all six series, impresses here.

The sight of April Winter (Liza Goddard) who briefly appears in the penultimate installment – The Bonus – signifies that change is on the way for Merroney. His offhand comment that she’s his fiancee is a real leftfield jolt – although April’s been mentioned on several occassions (which has prepared the ground for her arrival) it’s hard to imagine the coldly efficient Merroney ever being in love. Clare is crushed by the news. Bill later tells Gwen that “the torch that girl carries for him makes the Statue of Liberty look like a candle”.

Hammond Transport has undergone substantial changes over the last few years, morphing from a wholly-owned family concern into a company with strong ties to the bank (where Sir Neville and Merroney reign). But it’s the proposed takeover bid from Kirkmans which threatens to split the Hammond family down the middle. Some, like David, would be happy to sell their shares for a handsome profit whilst Ted (and especially Mary) are resolutely opposed to the deal.

When Merroney goes AWOL (he’s in Amsterdam, meeting with Van der Merwe) the others (especially Ted) are concerned that he’s plotting behind their back. His adventures in Amsterdam are great fun, adding a touch of out-of-season glamour to the series. The sight of his discomforted face as Van der Merwe’s daughter whisks him round Amsterdam at great speed in an open-top jeep is worth the price of admission alone.

The series finale – Birthday – might be partly concerned with Mary’s birthday celebrations but business matters are also on her mind. The takeover from Kirkmans may have foundered but a merger with Van der Merwe’s company is still very much on. But Mary, frustrated at being out of the loop, begins to flex her muscles. As with previous years, the final episode finishes on a strong hook which will lead in nicely to the start of the next series.

The Brothers remains a very moreish and ridiculously entertaining series.  Richard Easton and Colin Baker especially impress, but there’s no weak links here.  Four decades on it’s still easy to see why the show built up such a large and devoted fanbase (not only in the UK but in many other countries as well).  Sharply defined and well-acted characters, placed in perpetual conflict with each other was a key part to its success and the passing of time has done nothing to dull this winning format.

The Brothers – Series Six is released on the 12th of June 2017 by Simply Media and contains thirteen 50 minute episodes across four discs.  RRP £29.99.

Patrick O’Connell, Jennifer Wilson, Richard Easton, Jean Anderson & Robin Chadwick