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Howards' Way is a television drama series produced by BBC Birmingham and transmitted on BBC1 between 1 September 1985 and 25 November 1990. The series deals with the personal and professional lives of the wealthy yachting and business communities in the fictional town of Tarrant on the south coast of England, and was filmed on the River Hamble and the Solent. Most of the location filming for the series was carried out in Bursledon, Hamble, Swanwick, Warsash, Hill Head, Lee-on-the-Solent, Lymington, Southampton and Fareham—all in Hampshire.[1]


Howards' Way was created and produced by Gerard Glaister and Allan Prior, with lead writer Raymond Thompson as story and script consultant—at a point in the BBC's history when the organisation was making a concerted populist strike against ITV in its approach to programming. The series debuted on BBC1 in 1985, the same year that the BBC launched its first ongoing soap opera EastEnders as a challenge to the ratings supremacy of ITV's Coronation Street. Although Howards' Way is commonly cited as an attempt to provide a British alternative to glossy American sagas such as Dallas and Dynasty, it also acts as a continuation of plot themes explored in a previous Gerard Glaister series, The Brothers, which involved a family's personal and professional crises running a road haulage firm, and embraced several soap opera touches in its characterisations and storylines.[2]

The original working title for the series was "The Boatbuilders", which was ultimately rejected when it was felt that it sounded like a documentary series and wouldn't grab viewers’ attention. The subsequent title, Howards' Way, included a play on words, a 'way' being an abbreviation for a slipway, down which boats and ships are launched.

The theme music was composed by Simon May and performed by his orchestra.[3] Marti Webb reached number 13 with "Always There", the lyrical version of the theme tune, 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.

In 2016, it was reported that the BBC was set to revive Howard's Way, reflecting US revivals of series such as Dallas and Dynasty [4][5]. This return series was to have been a "soft reboot" - set in the same continuity, but mostly introducing new characters - including the next generation of the Howard clan - and new situations within that context. Actor Stephen Yardley, who played arguably the most memorable character of the original series, Ken Masters, was reportedly in talks to return as his character, as was Jan Harvey, who played Jan Howard. However, plans for the revival fell through, and as of 2018 the project has been discarded.


The protagonists in the early episodes are the titular Howard family—Tom (Maurice Colbourne), wife Jan (Jan Harvey) and grown-up children Leo (Edward Highmore) and Lynne (Tracey Childs). Tom is made redundant from his job as an aircraft designer after twenty years and is unwilling to re-enter the rat race. A sailing enthusiast, he decides to pursue his dream of designing and building boats, putting his redundancy pay-out into the ailing Mermaid boatyard, run by Jack Rolfe (Glyn Owen), a gruff traditionalist, and his daughter Avril (Susan Gilmore). Tom immediately finds himself in conflict with Jack, whose reliance on alcohol and whose resentment of Tom's new design ideas threaten the business, but has an ally in Avril, who turns out to be the real driving force behind the yard with her cool, businesslike brain. Jan, who has spent the last twenty years raising the children and building the family home, is less than impressed with her husband's risky new venture and finds herself pursuing her own life outside the family through establishing a new marine boutique whilst working for flash "medallion man" Ken Masters (Stephen Yardley).

Other major characters introduced during the first series are Kate Harvey (Dulcie Gray), Jan's sensible and supportive mother, the suave, scheming millionaire businessman Charles Frere (Tony Anholt) and the wealthy but unhappy Urquhart family. Gerald (Ivor Danvers) is a financial wizard and the right-hand man of Charles Frere. Polly (Patricia Shakesby), a friend of Jan's, is a bored corporate wife preoccupied with preserving her social status, and their daughter Abby (Cindy Shelley) is a socially awkward young woman who has returned to Tarrant after completing her education at a Swiss finishing school and who establishes a friendship with Leo Howard. Unlike the comparatively close and secure Howard family, the Urquharts have secrets to hide. Gerald and Polly's marriage is a sham—an arrangement to cover the fact that Gerald is bisexual to give him respectability in the business world and a name to Abby, Polly's illegitimate daughter after an affair at university. Abby herself is pregnant, after a brief relationship in Switzerland.

The first series establishes the narrative blueprint for the remainder of the programme's run: combining standard melodramatic storylines involving family drama, romance and extramarital affairs (Tom and Avril, Jan and Ken) with business-related plots of corporate intrigue and scheming for power, climaxing with an end-of-series cliffhanger. In the first series, Lynne Howard is seduced by the ruthless Charles Frere. She runs tearfully across the Tarrant harbour during a rainstorm after finding him in bed with another woman, trips and falls unconscious into the water... Later, cliffhangers would involve a fatal water-skiing accident, a plane crash, an accident during a powerboat race and a road accident.

By virtue of being produced during the mid to late 1980s, Howards' Way gives much insight into Thatcherite values, in its portrayal of the years of boom and bust, of individual aspiration and enterprise, and the conspicuous consumption of wealth. The class clashes during the decade were reflected in the character of Ken Masters, a nouveau riche chancer always involved in shady schemes to establish himself as a credible figure in the business world, but generally looked down upon by those with 'old money' (for example Charles Frere and merchant banker Sir John Stevens (Willoughby Gray) and often used as an unwitting pawn in their wider power games. Through the character of Jan Howard and her attempts to go it alone as a businesswoman by establishing her own fashion label, the series explored a standard 1980s melodramatic motif of female emancipation via capitalism, similar to that associated with the characters of Alexis Colby in Dynasty and Abby Ewing in Knots Landing and the ITV drama series Connie.


Although derided by critics as a cheesy melodrama, Howards' Way nevertheless proved to be a hugely popular programme for the BBC, both domestically and in overseas sales. Whilst the series was unable to compete with the likes of Dallas and Dynasty in terms of opulence, its stylistic aspects did develop as it went on, with the staging of powerboat races and fashion shows and extensive location filming in Guernsey, Malta and Gibraltar as the storylines dictated. A number of new characters were also introduced later in the series, such as Sarah Foster (Sarah-Jane Varley), a glamorous business partner for Ken Masters, Sir Edward Frere (Nigel Davenport), the rich tycoon father of Charles Frere, Orrin Hudson (Jeff Harding), the American father of Abby Urquhart's baby, Emma Neesome (Sian Webber), a beautiful engineer who came to work with Tom Howard and Jack Rolfe at the Mermaid yard and Vanessa Andenberg (Lana Morris), an elegant widow and old flame of Jack Rolfe. Midway through the show's run, Charles is revealed to be Abby's biological father. Perhaps in a conscious move to make Howards' Way seem more and more like a British Dynasty, actress Kate O'Mara, who had previously starred in The Brothers and had recently appeared in the American supersoap as Caress Morrell, was also brought in to play ruthless businesswoman Laura Wilde.

The roots for the demise of Howards' Way were sown in 1989 when, during the production of the fifth series, lead actor Maurice Colbourne, who played central character Tom Howard, suddenly died from a heart attack during a break in filming. Episodes were hurriedly rewritten to explain the character's absence, before he was finally killed off at the beginning of the sixth and final series, commissioned to end the programme and to tie up all the storylines. The final episode of Howards' Way was transmitted on 25 November 1990, three days before the resignation of Margaret Thatcher as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Main cast list

Series overview

DVD releases

The show is rated  PG  for Parental Guidance in Australia and  PG  in New Zealand for violence and coarse language.

In other media

A medley of the theme songs from Howards' Way and EastEnders was recorded by the Shadows and reached No. 86 on the UK singles chart in December 1986.[6]

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