Written by Stan Barstow

Directed by Richard Doubleday

Cast: Colin Douglas (Edwin Ashton), Shelagh Fraser (Jean Ashton), Colin Campbell (David Ashton), Coral Atkins (Sheila Ashton), Lesley Nunnerley (Margaret Porter née Ashton ), Ian Thompson (John Porter), Keith Drinkel (Philip Ashton), Barbara Flynn (Freda Ashton), John McKelvey (Sefton Briggs), Trevor Bowen (Tony Briggs), Ioan Meredith (Gwyn Roberts), Ian Michael (1st Oxford Student), Christopher Ferguson (2nd Oxford Student), Ian Barritt (3rd Oxford Student), Peter Devin (3rd Oxford Student), Tony Malloy (Barman), Peter Finch (Peter Ashton), Janet Tute (Janet Ashton)

June 1939. 

Synopsis: Plans are well underway for John and Margaret’s wedding, though Jean  still worries that Margaret might be rushing into it. David, training at an RAF base in Oxfordshire, meets up with Philip and his best friend from university. Gwyn, a fervent socialist, feels certain War will be avoided and that the real conflict ahead will be the Class War. He and Philip interrupt their journey to a holiday in Cumbria in order to attend the wedding. John’s mother Celia is not well enough to be there on the day, and things are soured further when Gwyn picks a political argument with Sefton. This highlights the differences in outlook between Sefton and Tony, and between Philip and Gwyn. After his experiences in Spain, he finds his friend’s certainties to be naive in their simplicity but it is Gwyn’s insensitivity to Edwin and Jean’s feelings that ultimately brings their friendship to an end.

Review: Where the Ashtons are concerned this is another fine episode. Entrusted to another writer for the first time, they stay absolutely true to their established characters and voices whilst expanding and developing. The high point is not Margret and John’s wedding but a quiet scene immediately beforehand. Alone in the house with her father, Margaret confesses she nearly called off the wedding, unable to bear the thought of having children in such a threatening world. She also thanks him for giving her such a happy upbringing and for the personal sacrifices she realises this must have required. This could have been so mawkish and overdone but the writing strips it right down to believability and it’s a beautifully judged two-hander between Lesley Nunnerley and Colin Douglas.

It’s the ‘visiting’ characters who feel slightly out of kilter:  the students who attack Gwyn, for example, are just the wrong side of upper class caricatures. Gwyn himself seems like someone transplanted from an R. F. Delderfield novel although he’s played with such good humour and conviction by Ioan Meredith that the doesn’t feel any more out of place than he’s supposed to. It’s hard not to cheer him on when he’s (inevitably!) having a go at Sefton, while his final scene with Philip brings a believable friendship to a believable end. The close of the episode shows Gwyn holding forth on a train to the poor squaddie sharing his compartment, confirming the suspicion that being heard is more important to him than genuine debate. Gwyn’s fervour is that of the religious convert rather than something he’s developed over the course of his working life – by his own admission he spent all of one day at the coal face. He’s overcompensating and he knows it. Meredith’s layered performance leaves the audience in no doubt about that.

The flirtation between Gwyn and Freda feels truthful too. She’s been an under-used character so far (in a series with no need to rush these things) and it’s refreshing to see her begin to make an impact. There’s a sense that she’s just that bit too much younger than Margaret, David and Philip to have grown up feeling a part of their gang, and too much older than the as-yet-unseen Robert to be anything but a Big Sister to him. She’s slightly adrift within the family which hints to the viewer of great potential in the episodes to come.

There’s telling interaction between David and Philip, with the former excited by the prospect of seeing action in the war. In the ten months since the previous episode’s exchange with his father, Philip’s view of war and the world has changed into something much closer to Edwin’s. He now has a more realistic idea of what’s really coming and the brothers’ argument about it exacerbates deep resentments which go back a long way. It’s fine work from Colin Campbell in particular: when he sneers at Philip for having always been “A superior little sod!” we can see in his eyes the truth that, deep down, it is he who has always felt inferior…

Original Tx 28th April 1970