Howards' Way

Howards' Way

1985 - United Kingdom

Dubbed 'Dallas on Sea', Howards' Way was the BBC's attempt to emulate the success of the American super-soaps of the 1980s. Created by Gerard Glaister and Allan Prior, with lead writer Raymond Thompson as story and script consultant, the show revolves around the personal and professional lives of the wealthy yachting and business communities in the fictional town of Tarrant on the south coast of England.

The show follows the fortunes of 44-year-old Tom Howard (Maurice Colbourne) who is made redundant from his job as an aircraft designer after twenty years, and decides to sink all his money into fulfilling his dream of designing yachts, and investing in the much-in-need-of-funds Mermaid Boatyard run by Jack Rolfe (Glyn Owen). Tom immediately finds himself in conflict with Jack, whose reliance on alcohol and whose resentment of Tom's new design ideas threaten the business.

Howards' Way
Maurice Colbourne

Tom’s ally in the business is Jack’s daughter, Avril (Susan Gilmore) who turns out to be the real driving force behind the yard. However, Tom faces challenges on the home front. His wife, Jan (Jan Harvey), has dedicated the past two decades to raising their children, drop-out student Leo and the spoilt, sailing obsessed Lynne (Edward Highmore and Tracey Childs). Unfortunately, Jan isn’t particularly supportive of Tom’s risky new venture. Instead, Jan focuses on her own life outside the family, working at a new marina boutique under the supervision of Ken Masters (Stephen Yardley).

Howards' Way
Jan Harvey

As the story progresses, Tom and Avril begin an affair and Jan embarks on affairs with Ken and ageing businessman Sir Edward Frere (Nigel Davenport), the father of smarmy millionaire Charles (Tony Anholt) as the series goes full Dallas through the dodgy business deals, low morals and gaudy lifestyles displayed by the 'gin and Jag' set of the Solent.

Howards' Way
Glyn Owen and Dulcie Gray

Other major characters introduced during the first series are Kate Harvey (Dulcie Gray), Jan's kind-hearted mother, Polly Urquhart (Patricia Shakesby), Jan’s friend and a bored corporate wife who is preoccupied with maintaining the social standing afforded her by her husband Gerald (Ivor Daniels). Abby Urquhart (Cindy Shelley), Polly’s socially awkward daughter, who returns to Tarrant after completing her education at a Swiss finishing school. Unlike the relatively close-knit Howard family, the Urquharts harbour hidden secrets. Gerald and Polly’s marriage is a facade—an arrangement to conceal Gerald’s bisexuality, granting him respectability in the business world (this was the 1980s when such a revelation may have been an issue - we have moved on since). Additionally, it provides a name for Abby, who is Polly’s illegitimate daughter resulting from an affair during university, and in this drama the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, because Abby herself is pregnant following a brief relationship in Switzerland.

In a parallel with the US series Dynasty, actress Kate O'Mara, who had previously starred in The Brothers and had also appeared in the 1980s American super-soap, was brought in to play ruthless businesswoman Laura Wilde.

Howards' Way
Kate O'Mara

For many critics, the depiction of wealth, aspirations and glamour were the epitome of the Thatcher years, and the series was derided as nothing more than a cheesy melodrama. Nevertheless, despite its slow uptake by viewers, Howards’ Way became a huge success when the BBC repeated the first series in the summer of 1986 as the lead-in to the second series.

The writers ramped up the ‘cheesy melodrama’ with even more entangled affairs, romantic liaisons, cut-throat business skulduggery and power scheming plans. 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.

Howards' Way
Edward Highmore and Cindy Shelley

The series was renowned for its groundbreaking camerawork aboard yachts. It frequently captured multiple yachts racing through turbulent waters and strong winds. Additionally, the show extensively filmed on location in various Hampshire spots, including Bursledon, Swanwick, Warsash, Hill Head, Lee-on-the-Solent, Lymington, Hythe, Southampton and Fareham. Interestingly, the Mermaid Boatyard depicted in the series was actually the Elephant Boatyard, which dates back to the 1780s. This historic yard was responsible for constructing Lord Nelson’s flagship, HMS Elephant, used during the Battle of Copenhagen. All interior scenes were filmed at the BBC’s Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham.

Howards’ Way aired on BBC1 from September 1985 to November 1990. The series suffered the tragic loss of its leading actor when Maurice Colbourne died of a heart attack in 1989 aged just 49. Episodes of the fifth series were hurriedly rewritten to explain the character's absence before finally killing him off at the beginning of the sixth and final series. 

Howards' Way
Stephen Yardley

The theme for Howards’ Way was composed by Simon May and performed by his orchestra.  After series one, Don Black was commissioned to write lyrics for it and the song (Always There) was recorded by Marti Webb. It became a Top Twenty hit in the UK in 1986.

Inspired by a storyline in Howards' Way, Gerard Glaister went on to create Trainer (1991–1992), set in the world of horse-racing, and also featuring several of the same cast members.

Howards’ Way was never going to compete with the likes of Dallas and Dynasty in the budget stakes, but where it succeeded was in its superb writing and excellent acting, which was enjoyed by audiences once more when it set sail with a re-showing on cable television UKTV Play in 2023, reminding viewers that this was a must-watch for anyone craving a bit of 80s nostalgia, mixed with drama and a touch of ocean breeze.

Published on March 3rd, 2024. Written by Malcolm Alexander for Television Heaven.

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