Revisiting Howard’s Way

According to an article titled “Local History – Howards Way” to be found on the BBC website:

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Howards’ Way was one of the biggest TV hits of the 1980s – every Sunday night, millions would follow the business dramas, family traumas, lives and loves of the South Coast’s sailing community – complete with big hair and shoulder pads. Dubbed ‘Dallas on Sea’, Howards’ Way was the BBC’s answer to the American super-soaps of the 1980s. The ‘gin and Jag’ set of the Solent coast were seen as providing perfect material for a Sunday night drama epitomising the wealth, aspirations and glamour of the Thatcher years.

The show follows the fortunes of Tom Howard (played by Maurice Colbourne) who sinks his redundancy money into fulfilling his dream of designing yachts, and invests in the Mermaid Boatyard run by the heavy-drinking and cigar-smoking Jack Rolfe (Glyn Owen) and his daughter Avril (Susan Gilmore). Tom’s wife Jan (played by Jan Harvey) eventually enters the world of high fashion with brash powerboating entrepreneur Ken Masters. The Howards’ marriage falls apart, but their children Leo and Lynne (played by Edward Highmore and Tracey Childs) became the male and female heartthrobs of the series.

Add to that a web of countless entangled affairs, romantic liaisons and cut-throat business skulduggery – courtesy of property tycoon Charles Frere (Tony Anholt) and his father, Sir Edward (Nigel Davenport) – and the emotional traumas of the Urquhart family. It was soon clear that the producers had a hit on their hands – all played out with the backdrop of the beautiful River Hamble, the Solent and Hampshire coastline. The setting could be one of the reasons why Jan Harvey says she has never tired of being reminded of her six years in Howard’s Way: “Everyone loved it and as an actor its great to be in a success like that.  It was one of those series where everyone got on – it was just lovely.”

I have a confession to make … I can’t recall exactly what prompted me but from the beginning of the year I undertook to watch on YouTube all the episodes of this up-market TV soap that combined sailing and boats with business and fashion, with an underlying culture of hedonism and ambition and a reminder of the values (good and bad) of Thatcher’s Britain. I loosely followed Howard’s Way “back in the day” – and in the past few weeks have watched all 78 episodes – 40-50 minutes each episode, 13 episodes per series, and 6 series – and yesterday all that ended when I watched the very last episode that in the circumstances was a credible finale, tying up loose ends and leaving the way open for more (except that was it!)

These days, I watch very little television and most of any watching I do is with computer, linked to the Internet, while doing other stuff. Much of my time is spent on the computer writing books no-one reads, by virtue of being one of those vulnerable people told to stay at home because of the Corona virus. Watching something like Howards Way, which values (illicit affairs, ruthless betrayals, slimy double dealings, gratuitous pleasure and an “it is only business” mindset) are a far cry from my own, although I enjoyed the sailing bits, is something I did by way of “light relief” and tied in nicely with my writing projects on the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. After all, the soap is an interesting commentary on following the “Way of Wisdom” (Proverbs) and “Life under the Sun” (Ecclesiastes) and, if I were preaching on these subjects, the Soap provided much in the way of good illustrative material, often along the lines of showing the way of folly and how NOT to live life under the sun.

In many ways, Howards Way was a blast from the past. After all my formative years came in the “Thatcher Years”, which continue to divide opinions. I can now reflect on what preceded and followed them. I was also into sailing and business and, although my forays were modest compared with that portrayed in Howards Way, I did own and sail my own boat and I did own and run my own business (for 12 years) and watching as I did brought back memories, including what could have been if I had the same single mindedness as the Show’s characters, to go with a quality they did not possess – a sense of the Fear of the Lord. The Show was full of plots and sub-plots, with several often on the go at the same time, cleverly swiftly switching between them. Some proved damp squibs; some were too incredible to be true – as was the case in many a great novel; and some had fantastic outcomes and finales, like in the last episode, which I could easily write a whole blog article concerning.

Credit goes to the show’s main characters, all of which played their parts superbly, as well as the minor characters, including those with cameo roles (including the amateur radio geek who picked up Lynne’s signal, the conman (played by the actor I know as Oliver in the Archers) and the girl that set out to sail around the world using Joshua Slocum as her inspiration (and the enigmatic Ken as her sponsor)), to name but three. Some of the characters, if it had been real life, I would have happily given a proverbial kicking to, for speaking with forked tongue and their “arse about face” attitude to life etc., but they were merely showing how life often is “under the sun”, yet often showing touching redeeming features. Take Ken Masters, for instance, a secondary modern school lad with high ambitions to hobnob with the already moneyed class, who would duck, dive and deceitfully delve with the best (worst) of them in order to get there and, despite how many times he was done down, gets up smelling of roses, who I ended warming toward.

The drama threw significant light on how issues we face now were dealt with in that period, like: “it is not what you know but who you know” (old and new money); lip service, at least being paid, to traditional C of E values (I lost count of the number of times the beautiful village church featured in weddings, christenings and funerals included in the plots); the use of modern technology – I could not help smiling at the way computers, tele-communications and phones were portrayed (I can just imagine someone like suave Charles Frere using his mobile, sending emails, surfing the Web if the Soap was made today); societal attitudes toward homosexuals (ref. Gerald Urquhart); that transition from the age of the traditional craftsman (ref. Jack Rolfe) to that of mass production and barriers women faced in business and their overcoming them (ref. Jan Howard and Avril Rolfe). Additionally, there were examples of the ever truism (personally experienced) of Murphy’s Law: “don’t assume anything” or “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong”; of what money can NOT buy; examples of mental health struggles characters faced, evidenced in the story lines; and what life under the sun is like … the reality being there is nothing new under the sun.

I confess, as a drama to watch, I LOVED HOWARD’S WAY!   


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