1 9 7 9 (UK)
8 x 55 minute episodes
This BBC serial was based on a novel by Howard Spring and covered a period of 50 years – from the 1870s to the 1920s – following the paths of two young men who made their way from the backstreets of Manchester to fame and fortune in London.
Each man had a son, and their fathers’ ambitions and private dreams for their sons affected everything and everyone around them.
A succession of flashbacks and the introduction of numerous characters initially proved confusing. But things eventually settled down and the dominant motif of the friendship between Dermot O’Riordan (Frank Grimes) and William Essex (Michael Williams) emerged and was skilfully developed.
Both actors seemed very much at home in their contrasting roles and the underlying themes of artistic endeavour, political concern and religious opinion were carefully integrated to add depth to their personalities.
The first episode began in Manchester In 1891 at the church where Dermot O’Riorden was being married. During the service and the reception, the best man, Bill Essex reflected on their friendship.
One of Dermot’s strongest commitments as an expatriate Irishman was to the cause of independence – a cause to which he vowed to dedicate the son he dreamed of.
Bill visits the haunts of his poverty-stricken childhood recalling, among other incidents, the kindness of Moscrop, the baker, who always found the opportunity to give him a free “penn’orth.” At the bakery, he is able to return Moscrop’s kindness and set off a chain of events that affect Dermot’s ambitions as well as his own.
Kate Binchy as Sheila O’Riordan and Sherrie Hewson as Nellie Essex (née Moscrop) were well equipped to meet the demands made on them. Miss Hewson in particular had a perceptive grasp of the psychology of her character and her performance grew in stature as the story progressed.
In a large supporting cast, Willoughby Goddard as the short-lived Moscrop, Frank Jarvis as earnest salesman Mark Harborough and Maurice Denham as the eccentric Captain Judas were notable. Elizabeth Seal added a welcome touch of vivacity as Mary Latter and the gentle sincerity of Prue Clarke’s young Maeve was pleasing.
Authentic domestic settings were augmented by commercial premises such as the Easifix factory and Moscrop’s bakery, and all were meticulously executed.
Family sagas are always good value and one that traced a relationship, cemented by the joining of dimpled infant hands in the very first episode, could hardly fail. Ambition and obsession, marital discord and the building of dynasties are reliable elements and were all here in good measure.
Nellie Essex (Moscrop)
Sir Charles Blatch