By Will Barber Taylor
Tensions run high when shares in the family business are shockingly split not just between the three brothers, but also with Robert’s secretary Jennifer (Jennifer Wilson – Z Cars). The bombshell is that Jennifer’s daughter is also Robert Hammond’s. This explosive secret causes friction alongside the fact that each shareholder has different ideas on how to run the business.
Edward (Glyn Owen and Patrick O’Connell) is a no nonsense, well-paid executive who feels he was most qualified to run the whole business by himself; David (Robin Chadwick – Pride and Prejudice (1967)) is a disinterested “second class honours, first class layabout” arts graduate and playboy with a glamorous girlfriend (Gabrielle Drake); while Brian (Richard Easton – Finding Forrester) is a dull accountancy wizard with a controlling wife. Throw domineering mother Mary (Jean Anderson – The Railway Children) in to the mix and The Brothers delivers a winning formula of power struggles and family feuding that kept fans devoted throughout the whole of it.
Doctor Who fans can also rejoice at Colin Baker as ruthless city banker Paul “most hated man in Britain” Merroney, and the equally ambitious Jane Maxwell (Kate O’Mara).
The Brothers is one of the BBC’s most memorable TV series from the 1970s. A high class boardroom drama that ran for six series, it charted the fortunes of a London haulage company, Hammonds, as it fought to survive, advance itself further and try to ensure that it could fully embrace the market freedom without selling out its core soul. The Brothers demonstrated a change in British life and the transformation of British industry from being dominated by unions to being dominated by the market. In many ways, The Brothers is as much of a social documentary as it is a drama – it captures the essence of a change of mood in Britain and across the world that marked a transformation of the western world that we have been living with ever since.
At its core, one of the most charming and enjoyable parts of The Brothers is its writing. The mixture of riveting and sometimes melodramatic drama mixed in with softer moments, expressing real emotion as well as humour leads the series to have a poignancy and elegance that is sometimes hard to find in other series from that period. It must also be noted that certain elements of the writing are somewhat dated; the gender politics of the drama is certainly of its time and the attitudes of many of the male characters towards their female counterparts are, to say the least, cringe worthy. Conversely it can be argued that this does at least give the series some sense of authenticity.
The acting throughout the series is excellent. The main cast, that in many episodes make up the entire cast, all play their parts to perfection. From the scheming Mrs Hammond (Jean Anderson), determined to ensure that her sons get what they deserve and are not involved in unsuitable matches, that may jeopardise the Hammond family name, to her various off spring and rivals, the cast could not be better. In the first series, eldest brother, Edward is played by Glyn Owen who brings a demonstrative amount of thunder and steel to his portrayal of the character that is only softened by his relationship with Jennifer (Jennifer Wilson). Owen’s Edward is perhaps the more believable of the two as he does come across as someone who has worked his way up from the shop floor of his father’s business to becoming the top dog. This isn’t to detract from Patrick O’Connell’s performance in anyway; O’Connell plays the character for the majority of the run and is skilful in his portrayal of Edward. Yet, he never quiet captures the brutal facetiousness that makes Glyn’s portrayal so believable and captivating.
Mark McManus makes a brief but excellent addition to the cast as Australian businessman Harry Carter, a thorn in the Hammonds’ side who eventually forces his way onto the board of directors. McManus brings his usual roguish charm to the part and his witty observances of the faults that each member of the family has is a delight to see. McManus may be famous for Taggart but his skill as an actor is perfectly on display here.
Kate O’Mara’s Jane Maxwell, though a late addition to the series, is an excellent and enthralling character that O’Mara brings a great deal of intensity and humour to. O’Mara’s Maxwell brings a brilliantly barbed edge to the series and her acerbic wit is a joy to behold and O’Mara clearly revels in her part. She is particularly effective when facing off against Merroney (Colin Baker), whose boardroom manoeuvres she often deftly defeats. Her interactions with the family matriarch Mrs Hammond are also a joy to watch. O’Mara was a truly talented actress and her talents can be fully seen in this series and her presence makes it all the better.
Perhaps the best performance in the show is that of Colin Baker as banker and board member Paul Merroney. Merroney, like O’Mara is introduced later on in the series but he soon became well known and was a popular enough character to become a regular member of the cast. Merroney is a Thatcherite in all but name – ruthless, ambitious and determined to get what he wants. Though the series was produced several years before the Thatcherite Revolution, it predicts the coming change to British industry that would see figures like Paul Merronney dominate it for decades to come. Colin Baker’s performance is excellent and he portrays all sides of Merroney to pure perfection; he balances a ruthless zeal for power with a human frailty. In many ways, Merroney is Edward’s direct opposite – though Merroney’s family were much poorer than the Hammonds he, unlike Edward was able to feel that he had “removed the dirt from under his fingernails”. This contrast makes for extraordinary television and helps to ensure that the series is as memorable as it is. Merroney’s character and his role in The Brothers is one of the highlights of 70s television and a role that Colin Baker brings to life with such charm and sheer coolness that it is a wonderous sight to behold.
The Brothers is perhaps one of BBC Televisions lost treasures; with a thrilling plot that turns the world of haulage into engaging and gripping drama, wonderful characters that you enjoy seeing time and time again and a sense of reality that cements it all together. If you can, do watch The Brothers – you won’t be disappointed by what you see.
You can purchase The Brothers from Amazon here.