This review is for a television series for which only one single episode is known to have survived in the archives. As a result I have relied on a selection of articles published at the time to give as full an explanation as possible, and to preserve the memory of this series.
In March 1958 the BBC launched Starr and Company, a twice-weekly serial which they hoped would rival the popularity of ATV’s hugely successful Emergency-Ward 10. In fact, a short article by journalist Shirley Long in TV Mirror and Disc News dated 5 April 1958 explained how ITV chiefs were keeping a close eye on the new pretender:
“The battle of the serials is on. Programme chiefs and the audience measurement organisations of all networks are watching the fight between ATV’s Emergency-Ward 10 (one of television’s all-time successes) and the new BBC entry Starr and Company. And this is not paper talk. I can tell you that a few months ago the ATV bosses had planned to give Emergency-Ward 10 a summer holiday. In that lay-off time the idea was to shoot a cinema film of the further adventures of the doctors and nurses who have taken such a hold on the public affection. That plan is held up.
The ATV brass will not risk taking their favourite offscreen until the know what success the BBC series Starr and Company has. If the Starrs and the Turners manage to exert a really hypnotic effect on the viewers of Britain every Monday and Thursday night, something comparable to the lure of Emergency-Ward 10, then the hospital series will not get its summer holiday.
For here is another test case to discover whether we have lost our itch to switch. Clearly both rivals believe in the theory that whichever network gets the early evening viewers will hang onto them until closedown. It may be that the ITV net will lose to the BBC with Starr and Company. Therefore they will be doubly anxious to retain their Tuesday and Friday audience which switches on to see Emergency-Ward 10 and stays on the same channel.
As the spring season develops I anticipate some quick, shrewd programme reshuffling. But I wonder which network will make the move to put Emergency-Ward 10 bang up against Starr and Company – if it is a success – same night, same time?”
By way of an introduction to the new BBC serial the Radio Times dated 28 March 1958 ran an article that presented its readers with a history of Sullbridge, the fictional town where Starr and Company was set.
“The story of Starr and Company, is the story of a town and its people. It is set in Sullbridge - a small imaginary town not fifty miles from London. Once a quiet little place, not much more than a market and shopping-centre for the farmers and market-gardeners of its neighbourhood, in the late twenties Sullbridge became the focus for the policy of encouraging light industry in the South of England. Suddenly and crudely, it grew from a town of five thousand people to one of thirty thousand inside two decades.
Most of its working population are therefore not native to the place, but skilled and semi-skilled workers attracted to this new centre of employment from every part of the United Kingdom.
One of the first manufacturers to set up Sullbridge was the old-established engineering firm of Starr and Co. Starr's have an interesting history. In the 1850s, Joseph Starr, a retired naval engineer, invented and began to manufacture the famous Starr Buoy Light. His small factory was situated at Rochester on the Medway, and prospered quietly over the years, developing many allied lines of production. Its chief customers were the Admiralty and port authorities in this country and overseas.
During the First World War, Starr's expanded greatly, and in the twenties began to look for a new centre of operation to which the right kind of labour would be attracted. They found it in Sullbridge.”
The Starr Family was made up of the following members; Joseph Starr (William Sherwood), fifty-four, and the managing director and undisputed controller of Starr & Co. A working engineer, he would have got where he was without the benefit of inheritance. The naval tradition is strong in the Starr family, and Joseph inherited something of the quarter-deck manner. Edith (Barbara Cavan) is his wife. Aged fifty, she also comes from naval stock, and exhibits the Starr tradition of marrying well. There is a good deal of her money in the business, along with that of various outlying uncles, aunts, and cousins. Robin (Mike Murray), their son, is twenty-eight, and deputy manager of the firm. He has worked his apprenticeship the hard way, through the factory. He is married to Jane, who at the opening of the serial is expecting a baby. Julia (Pat Ann Key) is Joe and Edith's daughter, aged twenty-four, is the best brain in the family. But she has turned her back on the company to take a job on the public relations side of a large advertising agency in London, where she shares a flat with a friend.
The second family in the series is the Turner Family. Jim Turner (Philip Ray) comes from Lancashire and has known the bitterness of unemployment and insecurity. Now fifty-six years of age, he first came to Sullbridge in his twenties and found steady employment with Starr's. He is a natural conservative, imbued with self-respect, a sense of duty, and loyalty towards the firm. His wife is Megs (Nancy Nevinson) who came to Sullbridge to work in Starr's canteen from her place of birth: Wales. After meeting Jim at the company and marrying him, her life hasn't moved far from the kitchen stove. She remains buoyant and is inclined to be impetuous and is very much a people-person. Tom (Brian McDermott) is their eldest son and works in the design office at Starr's. Hard working and ambitious he regards himself, after his father, as the other authority in the Turner household. Hughie (Barry MacGregor) is the youngest son and is more inclined to be like his mother displaying a verve and imagination. The youngest member of the family is daughter Gwyneth (Gillian Gale). Still at school, she pretty much leads her own life and doesn't appear problematic. Or so the family think...
Although the series featured a largely unknown cast, future familiar faces such as Arnold Ridley (Dad's Army), Graham Crowden (Waiting for God), Warren Mitchell (Till Death Us Do Part), and Stratford Johns (Z Cars) appeared in one episode or more.
Whether or not the BBC’s faith in the new series was a match for ITV’s concern is unclear. However, the series, which debuted on Monday 31 March 1958 had only a twenty-minute slot from 7.30 to 7.50pm. It continued in that timeslot until September when it was switched to the earlier broadcast time of 6.20pm, although it was granted an extra five minutes of airtime. By then the series was clearly struggling. According to television critic Peter Black writing in a Daily Mail publication from 1958 titled All Channels TV Book (most likely printed as a stocking-filler for Christmas) “after an uncertain start (Starr and Company) had established itself firmly by the year’s end.” One can only imagine that Peter Black had written that piece before the year’s end as, on 22 December 1958, the BBC transmitted the final episode of Starr and Company. The finale was only given a fifteen-minute slot and was titled “Time To Say Goodbye.”
Published on February 12th, 2021. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.