We take a look back at the first season  of Howard’s Way, dubbed the BBC’s answer to the 1980 super-soaps of Dallas and Dynasty.
You can tell it’s the 1980s. Two things give away the decade. The big hair, most of the female characters sport big hair, and the fashion. It’s awful. No doubt the costumes were considered highly fashionable and classy at the time but fashion doesn’t date well and to a modern audience it looks hideous. Most of the male characters, even the younger ones, wear their shirts tucked into their trousers and the trousers come up to their chests. To a modern audience this looks completely and utterly awful. Let’s not get started on the sets. Needless to say they are hideously 80’s as well.
Another big giveaway that Howard’s Way isn’t modern is the way the episodes are put together. No fast editing, no strange shots, no breaking of the 180% degree rule, no hand-held camera stuff [though the camera does wobble once or twice]. This is filmed very much in accordance to practices at the time and it does rather lag a little because of it. The theme tune, and different variations of it, randomly plays throughout the episode just for the hell of it, seemingly. Or maybe the variations of the theme tune passes for incidental music. Listen out for the unintentionally hilarious ‘sinister’ version of theme that is played, in the second half of the season, whenever a ‘sinister’ character is on screen. The show does have two ‘stings’ of incidental music which are usually played over a melodramatic scene that’s meant to be highly dramatic but comes across rather limp – thanks to the ‘sting’ which signs posts that this scene is dramatic. If you can go ten minutes without hearing the theme tune play, for no reason whatsoever, then you are doing well. It’s a good theme tune, one of the best and it’s by Simon May, but it’s a theme tune. It’s meant to be used for the opening titles and end credits only. But dramas did use their theme tunes as part of incidental music during this time, and before. It was standard practice and it saved money.
Talking of the title sequence, it’s also rather good. Certainly good for the time and isn’t anywhere near as melodramatic and cheesy as the Dallas/Dynasty titles which showed various cast members posing/pouting/shouting over their title cards. This time sequence just features the cast being credited against the backdrop of the sea. Nice, simple, effective and sets up the premise of the show, it’s about boats.
Not overly dramatic, you think, but it’s more to do, really, with arguments caused by boats. Yes Tom Howard’s investment in a boat yard seemingly destroys his family through a series of boat-related arguments. While Tom invests all his money in a struggling boat yard his daughter, Lynne, will do pretty much anything to sail a boat. She’s obsessed with them and doesn’t in the least come across as a stroppy, selfish little madam…ahem. Then there’s Leo, the son, who likes wooden boats and following around after Avril Rolfe, she likes boats, and Abby, she doesn’t. Mum Jan doesn’t like boats and doesn’t like Avril Rolfe [who has bigger hair than her] but she does like fashion, although you wouldn’t have guessed by the clothes she wears, and starts up her own fashion boutique, which Tom doesn’t like. Then there’s Jan’s friend Polly, who also has big hair, and is the bitch of the piece. She flirts with Tom and anyone else who wears trousers and is married to a gay man. She drink’s a lot, likes fashion but doesn’t like her daughter, Abby. Polly has some wonderful bitchy lines and is always putting her daughter down. Avril Rolfe likes boats; she’s a partner at the boat yard, and also likes Tom. She has a thing for married men, it seems. Her father, Jack, is obsessed with boats and likes to drink. There are several other characters, more females with big hair, but these are the main big players in the first season. Oh there’s Ken Masters, Jan’s boss. He likes Jan, has a live-in lover, doesn’t like Tom and is losing his hair. Tom thinks that Ken fancies Jan, his life-in lover thinks he fancies Jan, Polly thinks he fancies Jan. Jan thinks Avril fancies Tom. Arguments follow. There’s a lot of arguments between Jan and Tom; arguments over boats, arguments over Avril, arguments over Ken. There’s also a very melodramatic cliff hanger to the series which is so hammy its rather laughable but that’s more to do with the production techniques at the time really.
But Howard’s Way is actually, despite my put downs, a good, strong drama that’s well acted and easy viewing. It’s not surprising it became a success for the BBC as it offers a British twist on the Dallas/Dynasty style of drama. It’s more about the families involved, at least in the first season, than the silly and daft plots like Dallas was. The show is produced by Gerald Glaister who gave the British public The Brothers, Colditz and Secret Army in the 1970s, Kessler and Blood Money in the 1980s. Glaister had a reputation for producing good, ratings winning drama and his formula certainly works in Howard’s Way.
Although, watching it, it does feel rather dated due to the hair and fashion that doesn’t deflect away from what’s going on-screen. The breakdown of Jan and Tom’s marriage, and their flirting with their respective interested parties, is realistic to a point and somewhat compelling drama. There are plenty of other storylines across the season to keep you interested and it’s worth buying just to be reminded of the 1980s. Certainly worth paying the money for the box set and once you’re at the end you’ll want to go out and buy season two. They certainly don’t make drama like this anymore. Nowadays it’s all gimmicky and flash, without any substance but this show has substance, flare and awful 1980’s fashions. What more could you want?
Season One Cast:
Tom Howard: Maurice Colbourne
Jan Howard: Jan Harvey
Lynne Howard: Tracey Childs
Leo Howard: Edward Highmore
Kate Harvey: Dulcie Gray
Jack Rolfe: Glyn Owen
Avril Rolfe: Susan Gilmore
Ken Masters: Stephen Yardley
Polly Urquhart: Patricia Shakesby
Abby Urquhart: Cindy Shelley
Gerald Urquhart: Ivor Danvers
Bill Sayers: Robert Vahney
Davy Malik: Kulvinder Ghir
Phil Norton: Anthony Stewart-Head
Charles Frere: Tony Anholt
Created by: Gerald Glaister and Allan Prior
Howard’s Way: Drinking Way
If you’re sitting to watch Howard’s Way with a nice bottle of wine, it’s probably the best way to enjoy the show, here’s a little game you can play. Refill your glass with wine every time:
The theme tune/part of plays over a scene
Tom and Jan have an argument
Jack mentions the Boat yard is his
Lynne is in a bikini
Polly flirts with someone
Polly puts down her daughter, Abby
There’s a woman with big hair on-screen
Avril and Tom flirt
Ken flirts with Jan
The word boat is mentioned
It isn’t, however, advisable to refill your glass every time you see a boat as there’s a bloody lot of them in the show and you’ll be zapping through bottles of wine before the first fifteen minutes are over with!