Howards' Way

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, Hythe, Southampton and Fareham—all in Hampshire. The Jolly Sailor pub in Bursledon featured in several episodes.[1]

Howards' Way
Howards Way.jpg
Main title caption
Created byGerard Glaister
Allan Prior
StarringMaurice Colbourne
Jan Harvey
Glyn Owen
Dulcie Gray
Stephen Yardley
Tony Anholt
Susan Gilmore
Tracey Childs
Edward Highmore
Cindy Shelley
Ivor Danvers
Patricia Shakesby
Sarah-Jane Varley
Nigel Davenport
Lana Morris
Sian Webber
Kate O'Mara
Jeff Harding
Theme music composerSimon May
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of series6
No. of episodes78
ProducerGerard Glaister
Running time50 minutes
Production companyBBC Birmingham
Original networkBBC1
Original release1 September 1985 (1985-09-01) –
25 November 1990 (1990-11-25)


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 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 theme music was composed by Simon May and performed by his orchestra.[3] Executive Leslie Osborne secured a co-writer credit, but in reality did not contribute to the composition.[4] After series one, Don Black was commissioned to write lyrics for the theme; May had suggested the title "Almost There", which Black changed to "Always There". The song was recorded by Marti Webb, and reached number 13 in the UK singles chart.[5] The upbeat variation of the theme, "Barracuda", was used over the show's end credits in 1987–1990, and was a "re-visitation" of a section of May's song "Believe" for his musical Smike.[6]

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.


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 Ken Masters (Stephen Yardley).

Other major characters introduced during the first series are Kate Harvey (Dulcie Gray), Jan's sensible and supportive mother, the millionaire businessman Charles Frere (Tony Anholt) and the wealthy but unhappy Urquhart family. Gerald (Ivor Danvers) is the right-hand man of Charles Frere. Polly (Patricia Shakesby), a friend of Jan, 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 give 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 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 with ITV drama series Connie.


Although derided by critics[who?] as a cheesy melodrama, Howards' Way nevertheless proved to be a hugely popular programme for the BBC, both domestically and in overseas sales. While 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. In a parallel with Dynasty, actress Kate O'Mara, who had previously starred in The Brothers and had also appeared in the American supersoap as Caress Morrell, was also brought in, to play ruthless businesswoman Laura Wilde.

The seeds 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.

The BoatsEdit

Central to the plot were three yachts - The Flying Fish, a Laser 28; Barracuda of Tarrant, the prototype of the Sadler Barracuda 45, and Spring of Tarrant, the prototype of the MG Spring 25. Both the Barracuda and Spring were designed by Tony Castro.

Main cast listEdit

Character Actor Series
Series 1 Series 2 Series 3 Series 4 Series 5 Series 6
Tom Howard Maurice Colbourne
Jan Howard Jan Harvey
Ken Masters Stephen Yardley
Jack Rolfe Glyn Owen
Charles Frere Tony Anholt
Avril Rolfe Susan Gilmore
Kate Harvey Dulcie Gray
Leo Howard Edward Highmore
Lynne Howard Tracey Childs
Abby Urquhart Cindy Shelley
Gerald Urquhart Ivor Danvers
Polly Urquhart Patricia Shakesby
Bill Sayers Robert Vahey
Sir John Stevens Willoughby Gray
Claude Dupont Malcolm Jamieson
Dawn Williams Sally Farmiloe
Davy Malik Kulvinder Ghir
Phil Norton Anthony Head
Richard Shellet Oscar Quitak
David Lloyd Bruce Bould
Sarah Foster Sarah-Jane Varley
Mark Foster Graham Pountney
Orrin Hudson Ryan Michael
Curtis Jaeger Dean Harris
Sir Edward Frere Nigel Davenport
Emma Neesome Sian Webber
Vanessa Andenberg Lana Morris
Admiral Francis Redfern Michael Denison
Amanda Parker Francesca Gonshaw
Anna Lee Sarah Lam
Mike Hanley Michael Loney
Richard Spencer John Moulder-Brown
Laura Wilde Kate O'Mara
Orrin Hudson Jeff Harding
James Brooke Andrew Bicknell
Vicki Rockwell Victoria Burgoyne
Robert Hastings Paul Jerricho
Jenny Richards Charmian Gradwell
David Relton Richard Heffer
Tony Munroe John Rhean
Pierre Challon James Coombes

Series overviewEdit

Series Episodes Originally aired
First aired Last aired
Series 1 13 1 September 1985 (1985-09-01) 24 November 1985 (1985-11-24)
Series 2 13 31 August 1986 (1986-08-31) 23 November 1986 (1986-11-23)
Series 3 13 6 September 1987 (1987-09-06) 29 November 1987 (1987-11-29)
Series 4 13 4 September 1988 (1988-09-04) 27 November 1988 (1988-11-27)
Series 5 13 3 September 1989 (1989-09-03) 26 November 1989 (1989-11-26)
Series 6 13 2 September 1990 (1990-09-02) 25 November 1990 (1990-11-25)

DVD releasesEdit

DVD Series Episodes Region 2 Release Date Region 4 Release Date Comments
Complete Series 1 13 20 March 2006 6 October 2008 4 disc set included three commentaries on Episodes 1, 12 and 13 with Jan Harvey (Jan Howard),
Stephen Yardley (Ken Masters) and Howards' Way fan Tim Teeman.
Complete Series 2 13 19 June 2006 16 February 2009 4 disc set included three commentaries on Episodes 1, 12 and 13 again with Jan Harvey (Jan Howard),
Stephen Yardley (Ken Masters) and Howards' Way fan Tim Teeman.
Complete Series 3 13 11 September 2006 18 May 2009 4 disc set with no special features.
Complete Series 4 13 11 February 2008 13 July 2009 4 disc set with no special features.
Complete Series 5 13 19 May 2008 16 November 2009 4 disc set with no special features.
Complete Series 6 13 18 August 2008 8 February 2010 4 disc set with no special features.
The Complete Series Boxset 78 2 November 2009 24 disc boxset including all 6 series and all 78 episodes.

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

In other mediaEdit

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.[7]


  1. ^ "BBC - Hampshire - When Howards' Way ruled the waves". BBC News. 22 July 2009. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
  2. ^ "Hampshire - History - Howards' Way". BBC. 23 June 2009. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
  3. ^ "The Theme From Howard's Way - Simon May Song - BBC Music". Archived from the original on 20 September 2018.
  4. ^ May, Simon (2015). Doof Doof: My Life in Music. Austin Macauley Publishers. pp. 54–5. ISBN 978-1785546372.
  5. ^ May, Simon (2015). Doof Doof: My Life in Music. Austin Macauley Publishers. p. 61. ISBN 978-1785546372.
  6. ^ May, Simon (2015). Doof Doof: My Life in Music. Austin Macauley Publishers. p. 65. ISBN 978-1785546372.
  7. ^ "UK Official Chart: Shadows". Official Charts Company. 2019. Retrieved 27 January 2019.

External linksEdit