Howard's Way: Series Four Review
Where were we? Ah yes, Tony Anholt in bed with a young lady and saying to Lynne Howard, "And this is Honey Gardiner, my wife!" That Honey Gardiner, a name that never featured in my rolodex but which clearly did in Tony Anholt's, was wearing only a basque was typical of the Sunday night sex'n'sailing of Howard's Way. Ladies lounge about swimming pools in bikinis, Lynne Howard never lets herself be troubled by a bra and the likes of Tony Anholt and Stephen Yardley leapfrog over one another to prove themselves the bigger bastard. Albeit a bastard wearing soft pastels, deck shoes and polo shirts, which does tend to take away from just how bastardly they were. It's hard to take a man seriously when he's wearing a lemon-yellow shirt underneath a green linen suit. And that's without mentioning the espadrilles.
Unfortunately, due to us being somewhat tardy with 2 Entertain releases, we fell off their list of preferred reviewers for a while and so missed series two and three of Howard's Way. We arrive back in the seaside town of Tarrant with this fourth season finding that things have changed a great deal. Honey Gardiner doesn't seem to be around any longer and nor is Lynne Howard, which allows Charles Frere to do exactly as he pleases. And when you look like Tony Anholt, who drove even alien women frisky in the second series of Space: 1999, that seems to include bedding an awful lot of women. He drives a white Lamborghini Countach as well, which means that, if he'd asked, even I'd have slept with him.
As we begin, it appears that Charles Frere has taken a tumble out of a private jet and into the Atlantic Ocean. He is together with Avril (Gilmore) once again and as Seaking helicopters scramble and a Royal Navy battleship sets sail, his father, Sir Edward Frere (Nigel Davenport) and others wait in Tarrant for news of their rescue. I suspect the battleship may be something of an exaggeration for two people lost at sea in Irish waters but it may have been that stock footage was in short supply. No matter, though, as a helicopter spots a dinghy adrift in the choppy water and, wrapping Charles and Avril in the tinfoil so beloved of long-distance runners, they are hoisted aboard and taken to a hospital in Ireland.
That's an exciting beginning to the series but rather than lose another couple of characters, the handsome Tony Anholt amongst them, Charles and Avril are safely rescued. Howard's Way breathes a sigh of relief and gets back to the minutiae of life in Tarrant, being the shipyard, the boutique and the sailing. There is a powerboat race to spice things up later in the series but the sailing is mostly of the splice-the-main brace kind that so confused Dara O'Briain and Rory McGrath in Three Men In Another Boat this past Christmas/New Year. And like the first series (and the two thereafter) there is such a good deal of talk about the layout of boats that anyone who still refers to them as having a front and back (as opposed to a bow and a stern) will get a faraway look in their eyes every time Tom Howard opens his mouth to speak. There's stolen couture designs, talk of the America's Cup and, perhaps cocking a snook at the goings-on at Southfork, a sideways step into the oil business. Unfortunately, the limitations of Howard's Way, though it stretches to a white Lamborghini, doesn't quite make it so far as a drilling platform being tugged upstream so we make do with flipcharts and the sight of Sir Edward Frere staring through binoculars at where he thinks the oil might be. Which seems to be directly underneath a duck. However, Ken Masters bucks this trend and seems to have gone up in the world from the boating shop and petrol station that seemed to be all that he owned in the first series and into making deals with the Russians.
All that, though, is only a part of Howard's Way. The boating, the business deals and the bird sanctuary that happens to sit above an oil field are but the showcase events in between the day-to-day relationships between the dozen or so major characters. Ironically, things off the water are very far from what you might call smooth sailing. On what this viewer makes to be her third affair since the beginning of the series, Jan becomes engaged to Sir Edward Frere but when he announces their marriage plans, he does so without her permission. Ken is interrupted in flagrante by Sarah, his now-disappointed aide who resigns thereafter, and Polly and Abby, who are new to this viewer with this fourth series, go about their setting up of a new business and attempting to make it as a photographer. Meanwhile, Tom Howard, being the man who started it all with his win in the Commodore's Cup, plods ever onward with his character developed as much as Scooby Doo and Shaggy have been. Three years on from that first win, he's still sailing about the Solent, still as grey as a February day and still arguing horsepower and reef knots (or somesuch) with Jack Rolfe at the Mermaid yard.
But that's not really the point of Howard's Way just as one didn't really need to have any knowledge of the petrochemical industry to enjoy Dallas. Howard's Way is glossy and often daft in its bid to entertain an audience then getting itself ready for work the next morning. Howard's Way was recently celebrated by BBC4 in its Cult Of Sunday Night show and, fashions aside, there isn't anything here that would prevent its audience from the first time around enjoying Howard's Way once again. The plots are detailed, written with an obvious sense of fun and of such complexity as to bamboozle those watching the likes of Holby City or Hotel Babylon. Howard's Way offered its audience a slight amount of raunch, some intrigue and lashings of dishonesty and is not shamed at all by watching it twenty years on from when it was first broadcast. In that, it really hasn't aged badly at all. Perhaps there is more good fortune in that than good guidance - the BBC should be pleased that pastels are a more forgivable error of fashion than flares - but it more than holds its own against current shows. Granted, there's little point in coming to this fourth season if you haven't bothered with the previous three but, if you have, there's plenty of life in these old sea dogs (and bitches) still.
This is pretty much a reprint of what I wrote when first reviewing Howards' Way for this site some time ago. The show was obviously very well made and, in most respects, it doesn't look at all bad on DVD but fitting in four fifty-minute episodes on the first disc has obviously had an impact on the amount of noise in the image. There are some obvious problems with the encoding on the first disc but, to be fair, things to get better on the remaining discs in the set, which offer only three episodes apiece. However, I would say that this series does look slightly better on DVD than the first, although that's probably less to do with the quality of the transfer and more the amount of money that the BBC were spending on Howard's Way in 1988. Still, there remains a softness to the picture and there isn't a great amount of detail even in the best shots but watching it on a reasonably-sized television wasn't a particularly upsetting experience. As a summary, this is probably a fair representation of the show at its time of broadcast rather than being a grand restoration job by the BBC.
As for the audio track, it does its job but it makes very little impression. There isn't ever a problem with understanding the dialogue - or at least hearing it as some of that sailing talk can be terribly hard to comprehend - but that's probably got a lot to do with how sparse Howard's Way sounds. It's often as it the BBC production crew shushed a vast part of the southern coast of England while filming. That theme tune, as rightly famous as any, does sound good, though, and 2 Entertain have once again included English subtitles. They are very good for that.
There are no extras on this DVD.