List of When the Boat Comes In episodes

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This is list of episodes for BBC One period drama When the Boat Comes In which aired four seasons consisting of 51 episodes between 1976 and 1981.

Regular cast[edit]

Regular crew[edit]

Series 1[edit]

# Title Director Writer Designer Additional cast Original air date
1 "A Land Fit For Heroes and Idiots" Ronald Wilson James Mitchell Ray London
8 January 1976 (1976-01-08)

1919. Sergeant Jack Ford returns to the mining town of Gallowshields, on leave, pending discharge. He meets schoolteacher Jessie Seaton and ingratiates himself with her brother Tom, his fiancée Mary, and Jessie's parents, Bella and Bill. The next day Jack meets an old friend, his Corporal, Matt Headley, who has Will Scrimgour with him. Matt is now a maintenance man at a local colliery. Matt takes Scrimgour home, to his wife, Lucy. Matt returns to the pub, where he waylays Jack, who is on his way to attend Tom and Mary's wedding.

On their way to the wedding, Jessie and her medical student brother, Billy, heckle Major Pinner, the local Liberal candidate standing in the imminent election, over his party's rhetorical promises of 'a land fit for heroes', and about his reluctance to give women the vote.

At the wedding Tom takes Jack aside, to talk to him about Mary's brother. Jack was present when Mary's eighteen-year-old brother Joe was killed at the Somme, on 31 July 1916. He was in the same company as Jack and Matt. Tom has heard that Joe was "a Nancy that he went with men". Jack tells Tom that Joe was "as straight as a die". After Tom has left, Bill insists on hearing the truth. Jack tells him the truth: when Joe's body was found, he was in the arms of another soldier.

Scrimgour is frightened by a group of boys, who are running along railings with a stick. Scrimgour snaps, and brutally beats one of them, John William Francis.

Billy tries to get Jack interested in working for the local Labour party. They are interrupted by Matt, who takes Jack to see Scrimgour, who is hiding in his bedroom, believing himself to be back in the trenches. Jack plays along with Scrimgour's delusion, telling him that the company has been relieved. Two policemen arrive, and take Scrimgour away. One of the policemen, P.C. Price, tells Jack that Will will be tried in the morning, by Major Pinner, who is also the local magistrate. Price warns Jack that Pinner may be resentful, because, unlike Scrimgour, he wasn't decorated during the war.

Jack attends Will's trial. Doctor Lang gives the facts of the case, stating that Will caused the boy actual bodily harm. Jack tells the court that Will won the Distinguished Conduct Medal, (the second highest award for gallantry, after the Victoria Cross), for rescuing a colleague under fire. Will is committed for trial, and kept in custody. Pinner says that Will chose to beat the boy, and that his actions were "self indulgent". Jessie is incensed, and Jack vows, "to fettle old Pinner".

Jack and Matt enlist the help of their fellow soldiers, who attend the election result announcement. The soldiers flank the exit as Pinner leaves, victorious. Jack confronts Pinner, saying he understands that Pinner didn't get any medals. Jack and the other soldiers throw their medals on the ground, humiliating Pinner. Furious, Pinner turns to PC Price for help, but Price adds his support by throwing his own medals to the ground.

Tom Seaton also served in Jacks Regiment, but in a different battalion (the 9th), and didn't go to France. Jack served under Captain Peter James Bertram Manners, MC.

Mary is an orphan: her father was torpedoed while serving in the Merchant Navy, and her mother died of tuberculosis.

Before returning from the trenches, Jack made a detour via Russia (explaining why he hadn't seen Matt for some time).
2 "Say Hello... ...Say Tirra" Gilchrist Calder Tom Hadaway Barry Newbery
15 January 1976 (1976-01-15)

Bella is visited by young Harry, whose mother Connie is dead in bed, probably as the result of poverty and hunger.

Bill, Jack, Tom and Matt attend a Gallowshield Labour Party and Worker's Council meeting. They are petitioning the Board of Guardians for an increase in the Poor Law rates, and for greater social equality. Jack admits that politics isn't really his game. Bill invites Jack back for a meal.

Returning home, Bill discovers that Bella has taken Harry, now an orphan, under her wing. Bella takes Harry to the fairground ("the hoppins"), and buys the urchin a new ten shilling coat.

Father Keenly visits, suggesting that it might be best if Harry is deported to a facility in Melbourne, where he'd be able to continue his Catholic upbringing. The alternative would be for Harry to be permanently adopted by the Seatons, which would be a considerable strain on their resources.

Bill and Tom return to work at the pit. Jessie tells her mother that, by caring for Harry, she is neglecting her family. Harry injures his knee, preventing Bella from visiting Mary in the hospital, with Jack, Tom and Jessie.

Harry steals a red dress from Mrs Palmer's washing line, knowing that Bella would like it. Bill and Bella argue about punishing the boy. Despite being short of money – and the rent – Bella buys Harry some expensive grapes, to cheer him up. Harry steals money from the greengrocer's stall, and is arrested by the police. Bella realises that Harry is too much of a handful. Father Keenly tells Bill that the court will allow Harry to stay with the Seatons, but, reluctantly, Bella and Bill have decided to follow Father Keenly's deportation plan. Keenly tells Bill that he shouldn't reproach himself.

A football talent scout arrives in town just as Tom is about to attend a union rally, but there are more pressing matters: Mary is in labour.

This episode evidently takes place sometime after A Land Fit For Heroes and Idiots. Mary is in hospital, about to give birth, and Jack is practically a member of the Seaton family (he's been there long enough for Bill to nag Jessie about them getting engaged).

Bill Seaton is the Union's lodge secretary. Both of Jack's parents are dead. Jack's mother was buried as a pauper.

The title is a phrase used by Tom, to note how briefly the miners will see the sun that day.

Billy is in Edinburgh, studying to become a Doctor, explaining Edward Wilson's absence from this episode.
3 "Fish In Woolly Jumpers" Paul Ciappessoni James Mitchell Peter Brachacki
22 January 1976 (1976-01-22)

The miners have been on strike for a month, over a pay claim. Tom, now supporting a wife and son, borrows some money from Jack, who, despite being out of work for two months, doesn't seem to be short of a few bob. Jessie and Jack discuss having a baby, but Jessie says that her entire family is relying on her income. Jack claims that he's got money put by, and is supplementing this with "odd jobs".

Mary is sick: she has tuberculosis, but won't acknowledge it, claiming it's just a cold.

Jack, Matt and a couple of other men meet at the pub. Matt is concerned by a remark the barmaid has made, about them being "flush". They agree that they should change their meeting place. They conspiratorially discuss their next job, but Jack warns that the conditions aren't right.

Matt and Jack return to Matt's home, where Matt's sister Dolly Mather has prepared a steak and kidney pie. Dolly, whose husband was killed in Ypres, flirts with Jack, before retiring to bed. Jack and Matt drink on, into the night. Later, Dolly brings Jack another blanket, and they share another cigarette. They kiss. They are overheard by Tom, who has followed Jack and Matt from the pub.

Billy and Jack discuss Mary's condition. Jack invites Billy out for "a hike", in Morpeth. Tom has left Jack a veiled message, about finding Bert Mather's widow. Tom confronts Jack, who tells Tom that he can't help him. Tom threatens to reveal Jack's liaison with Dolly: "You were doing alright, helping her..." Tom wants to be included in whatever scam it is that Jack is running.

Jack and Billy roam the countryside, armed with Captain Manners' binoculars and some mutton sandwiches. Billy tells Jack that Mary is dying, and rages against the inequality of wealth that's put her in that condition. Billy tells Jack that he wants him to fight for people like Mary "because you're a leader". A local policeman warns them to keep moving: "we don't want tramps". Billy affects "a posh voice", shows him Captain Manners' binoculars, and the policeman apologises

Jack visits Dolly again, and they make love.

Jack, Matt, Charlie and Paddy [Boyle] discuss their next "trench raid": they are rustling sheep. Jack tells them that Tom will be joining them.

Jessie says she's willing to have a child with Jack. Jack invites Tom to a "fishing" expedition.

At dead of night, the gang begin catching and killing sheep. They prepare to leave, but Tom has forgotten one of the buckets (for the blood). He goes back to collect it, but is confronted by a patrolling policeman (the same policeman who had approached Billy and Jack). Tom struggles with the policeman, before Jack clubs him with a pick handle.

Jack takes the injured Tom back to be treated by Billy. Jack admits to Jessie that they've been stealing sheep, so he couldn't take Tom to a hospital. Jack is expecting a sharp rebuke, but Jessie approves of his Robin Hood-style plan.

Tom is twenty-four years old; Mary is twenty-two. Matt's sister, Dolly, is being courted by a bank clerk.

Dolly's husband, Bert, was killed in Ypres, four years earlier, after they had only been married for three months.

The sign on the side of the van used by the sheep rustlers says "Trailer Specialists... Trading Estate Peterhead".

Jessie refers to Jack as her "husband".

The episode title is explained by Jack, who says that they dumped the guts of the sheep and their hides into the North Sea: "If the fish round here could knit, they'd all wear woolly jumpers!"
4 "Swords and Pick Handles" Gilchrist Calder James Mitchell Barry Newbery
29 January 1976 (1976-01-29)

Jessie chastises Bella for taking the baby to the off-licence, leaving Mary alone. Tom has a job, even though the pits have been closed because of the strike for seven weeks. Jessie suspects that Tom is strike-breaking.

Jack visits Dolly at her place of work, and teases her about her bank clerk suitor. Jack learns that Captain Manners' father, Sir Horatio, is due to visit, and senses an opportunity.

Jack arrives at the Seaton house carrying a sword he's bought for five bob, from Sammy Foster, an alcoholic who's fallen on hard times. Jack sets about cleaning it. Tom arrives, and a furious row breaks out when Tom admits to being a scab. Tom is defiant, even though Jack warns him that the striking miners may attack him if they discover he's crossing the picket lines.

Jack visits Sir Horatio, bearing the sword. Sir Horatio is intrigued, having heard about Ford in correspondence from his son. Ford tells Manners that his son died in his arms, and that his last words were "What the hell am I doing here, Sergeant, I said I'd be at the Saville". Jack tells Manners his son died quickly. Sir Horatio warms to Jack. Manners is planning to open a factory. Manners sees through Jack's scam with the sword, as Jack suspected he would. Manners offers Ford a job: "don't sound so surprised, it's what you came here for, isn't it?" Jack realises that the whole meeting has been a job interview.

Tom and the other blacklegs, from all over the United Kingdom, are bussed into the pit, with a police escort.

Jessie tells Jack that Tom's hardship case is far from unique, and tries to rally Jack into doing something about changing the system. Jack tells Jessie he has a job, as a boss, admitting that he has joined the system, and will be in charge of Sir Horatio's non-union labour. Despite the lure of a healthy income, and the prospect of a house in London, Jessie is incensed, and Jack storms out.

Bella urges Jessie to stick with Jack, and use her womanly wiles to change him over time.

One of Jessie's students blurts out that Tom is a scab. Suddenly the class is un-cooperative. Later, when she leaves, the children chant "Scab! Scab!". Jessie tells her father that everyone knows Tom is a strike-breaker. Bill sends her to find Jack.

Tom is attacked by striking miners, but is rescued before any serious injury is sustained by Jack, armed with a pick handle. Jack drags off the mob's leader, Davy, to see Mary. Davy promises Mary that there'll be no [more] trouble, but warns Jack to keep hold of the pick handle. Jack and Jessie are reconciled.

Mary catches Tom with more than £30, which he has stolen.

This episode takes place three weeks after Fish in Woolly Jumpers.

Sir Horatio served in the army for twelve years, as a Sergeant. After being discharged he went into business, using his savings and wits to become a rich man.

Jack will be paid £7 a week during his three-month trial period, working for Sir Horatio. After that he's promised £450 a year, plus expenses.
5 "Coal Comfort" Ronald Wilson Alex Glasgow Ray London
5 February 1976 (1976-02-05)

Billy returns home to find an empty house, and no coal for the fire: the strike has been running for two months. Billy tells Jessie that he's leaving university, fed up with being patronised.

Bill visits an old colleague, pigeon fancier Sep Walker, hoping to find, and re-open, a coal seam that was closed fifty years earlier, the waterlogged "Sammy" pit.

Billy is caught trying to break into a coal yard by a former schoolmate, Police Constable Robson. After a brief lecture on politics from Billy, Robson lets him go: he's under instructions to treat people stealing coal as if they were schoolboys stealing apples.

Jack brings the Seatons half a hundredweight of "best roundies". Bill arrives with some logs, but says they're not for burning. Bill refuses Jack's gift, telling him that black market coal is no better than coal mined by blacklegs. Bill tells Bella to roll up the carpet in the front room, telling her that there may be coal under the floorboards. Jessie tells Jack and Bill that Billy is quitting university.

Someone has stolen leeks from Tom's allotment. Tom investigates, and is told that Arty Stephenson may know something about it. Arty tells Tom that he chased off two children. Following Arty's lead, Tom and Billy find leak leaves in a dustbin, but tempers cool when they discover the culprits: two emaciated children. Their father was killed whilst off-duty, so their mother, Elsie Carter, doesn't receive a widow's pension. Tom tells Elsie that she's welcome to his leeks.

To everyone's surprise, Bill doesn't seem to mind that Billy is quitting university. Bill and Tom dig for coal, but the hole soon starts to fill with water. Bill refuses Billy's offer of help, telling him he's "bloody useless". Bill continues to belittle Billy, hoping to shame him into going back to university. After pumping out the water, Billy finds coal. Jack arrives, bearing poached rabbits and pheasant.

This episode takes place a week after Swords and Pick Handles.

Police Constable Robson is earning £3 10s a week.

The Seatons rent their home from Lord Lampton.[1]

Billy tells Tom and Bill that troops are preparing to quell civil unrest.

Several references are made to the Bowes-Lyon family, and to the romance blossoming between Elisabeth Bowes-Lyons and Prince George, the Duke of York.
6 "Empire Day on the Slag Heap" Paul Ciappessoni James Mitchell Peter Brachacki
12 February 1976 (1976-02-12)

After eight weeks, the miners' strike is over, but the pitmen have settled without gaining anything. Empire Day is celebrated at Jessie's school: the headmaster, Mr Ashton, leads the children in a spirited, patriotic rendition of Land of Hope and Glory.

Mary is feeling better, and hopes that Tom will be allowed to return to work (after strike-breaking).

Jessie still resents Jack working for Sir Horatio. Bill warns that "Jack is only one side, pet, his own... I can't say I blame him". Although engaged to Jack, Jessie has arranged to go to dinner with Mr Ashton ("an old man").

Manners is pleased with Jack's progress, although voices some concern that Jack is dating "local girl" Jessie, believing that Jack will soon outclass her. Jack tells Manners that he loves Jessie very much, and that he won't find any better.

Jack visits Bill and Bella, who evade Jack's question about Jessie's whereabouts. Bill and Jack have reached an understanding. Bill realises that, although Jack will be one of the bosses he despises, he'll be able to offer Jessie security and a chance to escape her humdrum life.

Over dinner, Mr Ashton, who still refers to Jessie as "Miss Seaton", asks Jessie if she will marry him, offering her "respect, admiration, and, if I may say so, devotion".

Jessie defends her decision to have dinner with Mr Ashton, telling Bella that he made her feel special, telling he that Jack: "is very kind, but he doesn't think I'm that important". Bella warns her about diverting her attention from Jack. Jessie tells her that Ashton asked her to marry him.

Jack visits Matt, who is becoming slightly resentful that Jack is getting on so well with Sir Horatio, Jack's "fairy godfather". Matt tells Jack that Dolly is pregnant: "it was you who was waving his magic wand over my sister". Jack is the father. Dolly had asked Matt for money for an abortion (a very dangerous procedure). Jack tells Matt that he will accept responsibility, offer to marry Dolly, and break up with Jessie.

Bill and Tom return to work. A pit prop collapses, breaking Bill's back. Bill is taken to the hospital, where he is attended by Bella and Jessie.

Mr Ashton offers Jessie his support, and his savings, but Jessie politely refuses.

A representative from the mining company arrives offering a settlement for Bill's injury: one hundred pounds, if Bill will sign "a receipt" (which is actually an admission of blame, and absolves the company from any further claims). Jack arrives, calling the man a "ghoul" and a "vulture". Bill, taking Jack's advice, refuses to sign. Later, Bella admits that they'd be lost without Jack, boss or no boss.

Billy returns to Gallowshield. He still wants to leave University, and is using Bill's accident as an excuse. She updates Billy on Jack's progress, telling her brother that she intends to marry him.

Jack visits Mr Crawford. Bill's Area Secretary. Jack wants to know why Crawford wasn't there to support Jack. Jack and Tom shame Crawford into action. Tom begins taking statements from the miners who witnessed the accident.

Jack visits Dolly, and tells her he'll marry her. Dolly admits she's not sorry about her condition: "I wanted you the minute I laid eyes on you". He gives Dolly an engagement ring, a ring he'd bought for Jessie. This new situation puts Jack's ambitious plans in jeopardy.

Jack breaks the news to Jessie: "I've got a girl into trouble and I'm going to have to marry could wait, I couldn't, I'm sorry". Jack says that he'll have to stay in Gallowshield: "there's work to be done here, and I can do it better than most". Jessie is upset, but is also pleased that Jack is staying to fight for the workers.

There are references to Tom strikebreaking (Swords and Pick Handles), the sheep rustling (Fish In Woolly Jumpers) and digging in the front room for coal (in Coal Comfort).

This episode introduces Mr Ashton, the headmaster at Jessie's school, first mentioned in Swords and Pick Handles. He was born in Kent. He was stationed in Gallowshield during the war, where he met his wife, who is now deceased. He is 43, and holds a second class honours degree in history from the University of London, and earns £370 per annum.

Jessie is 25.

George Irwin is a pupil at Jessie's school. Mr Huxpeth (presumably a teacher) plays the school piano. Two teachers were killed in Flanders: Mr Smithers and Mr Watson. Other teachers include Mr Gregg [sic?]. The deputy headmaster is Mr Turnball, who fought in South Africa.

Matt and Dolly's parents are still alive.
7 "A First Time For Everything" Gilchrist Calder Alex Glasgow Fanny Taylor
19 February 1976 (1976-02-19)

Bella is visited by a French onion seller, Pierre. Bella has an idea to open a shop, using the front room, and some of the money they've received for Bill's accident. Bill is due home from the hospital, but doesn't know of her plan.

Despite Jessie's best efforts a talented fourteen-year-old pupil, Ronnie Fairburn, is leaving the school to start work down the pit. Jessie and Mr Ashton visit Ronnie's mother, a widow. Jessie tells her that she's trying to get him a job as an apprentice draftsman. Her eldest son had left for America. Ronnie is looking forward to doing "grown-up" work. Jessie tells Ronnie to call on Tom at 3.30am the next morning, and he'll walk Ronnie through his first day.

Jack and Dolly have made arrangements for her wedding, at the registry office, the next morning.

Bella asks Jack to put some shelves up for her. Jack is currently "on the dole". Bella offers Jack five pounds, "two week's wages". Jack tells her that the shelves will be "as solid as the Moritania". Bella shows Jack how to get rid of fleas (using a candle and a plate of water). Jack slyly suggests that for another five pound, he and Dolly could emigrate to Australia, to help spare Jessie's disappointment.

Bill returns home, wheelchair-bound. He's furious with Bella, who threatens "It's either the shop, or I walk through that door and don't come back". Bill has to admit that they need a steady income.

Mr Ashton apologises to Jessie, for proposing to her. Jessie invites him to ask his question again.

Tom negotiates with the pit deputy for a decent job for Ronnie, but has to settle for carrying water. Tom is concerned that he won't be able to keep a close eye on Ronnie, who'll be working twenty yards away. Tom tells Ronnie to watch out for the "chummins" – empty coal carts that speed by on the tracks, telling him that before they pass, there's a warning rap on the pipes. Ronnie dodges the chummins, but is startled by a rat, falls onto the line, and is killed. Tom is shattered, and vows not to return to the pit.

Matt and Dolly nervously wait for Jack at the registrar's office. Jack arrives at the last minute, bearing a bouquet. Later Jack tells Matt and Dolly that he was delayed by a broken-down tram, and that had to hitch a ride with a passing rag-and-bone man.

Following Jack's intervention, Bill received £300 compensation for his accident (three times the company's original offer).

The episode's title comes from Bill's admission that he was wrong about Bella's idea about the shop.
8 "Paddy Boyle's Discharge" Leonard Lewis James Mitchell Geoffrey Patterson
26 February 1976 (1976-02-26)

Mary has died. Jack is joined at the pub by an old army friend, black and tan soldier Sid Hepburn. Jack is surprised to hear that he's being paid ten bob a day, all found. Tom and Bill arrive, and Jack hears about Mary's death. Bill calls Jack a "fornicating bastard". Jack leaves. Sid is joined by a loutish colleague, Harry Bartram. Another man eavesdrops, Paddy Boyle [one of Jack's sheep-rustling gang in Fish in Woolly Jumpers].

Matt, Dolly and Jack are decorating. Dolly is being especially argumentative. Jack gets a letter, inviting Jack to a meeting.

Sid Hepburn wants a discharge from the army, and has been offered this if he can recruit a suitable replacement.

The eavesdropping man, Paddy Boyle, is joined by a like-minded Irish colleague, Michael Lynch. They plan to track down and execute the two soldiers, who, back in Cork, have committed rape, arson and murder.

Tom wants to invite Jack to Mary's funeral. "If he goes, I won't", Jessie threatens, "I couldn't bear to be in the same room with him ever again". Mr Ashton, who is now engaged to Jessie, calls to pay his respects.

Paddy Boyle visits Jack, enquiring after Sid Hepburn. Jack is suspicious, realising that Paddy is a member of Sinn Féin. Jack "accidentally" paints a yellow streak on the arm of Paddy's coat. Tom visits, to explain that he wants to invite him to Mary's funeral, but it will be awkward. Jack says he understands.

Hepburn and Bartam report to Captain Leslie. Bartram says that Sergeant Ford had a reputation for being soft, and that there were half the charges in Ford's platoon, compared to others. Hepburn tells Leslie that, on the contrary, Ford was ruthless, but only if you crossed him. Leslie expresses an interest in recruiting Jack.

Jack shares a drink with Sid Hepburn, dressed in civvies. Sid offers him a job in Ireland: and "twelve bob a day, plus kit, rations, allowances". Sid invites Jack to a meeting with Captain Leslie. They are followed from the pub by Paddy Boyle, but he is spotted, and confronted. Jack stops the soldiers from giving him a serious beating.

At the hotel, Jack is being waited for by both Manners and Leslie. Jack apologises in person for turning down Manners' job offer. Manners tells him there's a local property deal brewing, and that there might be something in it for him.

Jack meets Leslie, who offers him a Warrant Officer Class 2 position, with special responsibility for interrogating political prisoners. Leslie tells Jack he also has a job for Matt and Charlie Stobbs, if they want it. Jack says he'll think it over, and let Leslie know the next evening.

Jack and Matt discuss Leslie's offer. Jack will be turning it down, to Dolly's disappointment. Matt tells Dolly that Paddy once saved their lives, by throwing back a German stick bomb.

Jack visits Paddy, returning a medal that Paddy lost in the struggle with Hepburn and Bartram. Jack is buttonholed by Lynch, who wants to know where Leslie, Hepburn and Bartram can be found. Paddy saves Jack from being attacked.

At Mary's wake, Jessie is told that Jack might be joining the black and tans. Jessie leaves, intending to talk him out of it.

Matt tells Jack that he visited Paddy the night before. Jack realises that Matt can be loose-tongued once he has a drink or two in him, and may well have told Paddy where Bartram, Hepburn and Leslie might be found. Jessie arrives, and is reassured to find that Jack has no intention of joining Hepburn's unit.

Jack and Matt rush to the railway station, but they are too late. Lynch and Boyle shoot the two black and tans, but are themselves shot by Captain Leslie, despite a warning shout from Jack. "At least Sid Hepburn got his discharge. Pity poor Paddy had to get his 'n all".

Jack is reading an unbound copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin. He had been seconded to an intelligence unit in Murmansk, as an interrogator. This episode does not feature Edward Wilson (Billy), and is the last to feature Michelle Newell (Mary). Ralph Watson reprises the role of Paddy Boyle, who first featured in Fish in Woolly Jumpers.
9 "Angel on Horseback" Bill Hays Sid Chaplin Michael Young
3 March 1976 (1976-03-03)

Miner Ralph Murphy has been off work, following an accident with a full coal tub, but he's well enough to be visiting the pub, and is moonlighting as an illegal bookie's runner, to Matt and Tom's disapproval. Tom asks Ralph to visit Bella's uncle, Mick Murphy, a widower who left his position as secretary of the union following accusations of embezzlement.

Tom is staying with his parents while his roof is being fixed. The Seatons are visited by Rosie Trotter, a young nurse, who has been summoned back to Gallowshield by one of the local hospitals (at Westbourne). Rosie had been taught by Jessie, and, despite her mother being their next door neighbour, Tom hasn't seen her for many years. Tom is attracted to her, but Bella warns him that it's too soon after Mary's death.

Mick Murphy passes on racing tips to his neighbour, Jimmy. Soon afterwards Mick keels over with a stroke.

A few days have passed. Bill is jealous when Bella goes to visit Mick in hospital: Mick has been a rival for Bella's affections.

Bella is joined at the hospital by a dapper-looking Ralph. Mick places a five bob accumulator with him, despite the long odds: "If I have to gam, I'll gam with a bang, like an angel on horseback". Since he doesn't expect to be around to collect his winnings, he places the bet in Bella's name. Soon afterwards Mick dies, with Bella at his bedside.

During a train journey Tom and Rosie discuss getting married.

Bella makes arrangements for Mick's funeral with the undertaker, Mr Cribb. His "first class for every class" funeral will cost fifteen pounds. Mick's insurance policy will only cover ten pounds. Bill reluctantly offers the balance from his compensation money, but Bella refuses. She takes a cleaning job, working for the boss's wife, and relishes the independence it gives her. Bill is furious, but his overriding emotions are feelings of helplessness, self-pity and despair.

Tom tells his mother that he plans to marry Rosie, and move to Edinburgh for a fresh start. Rosie tells Tom that both their mothers are against the marriage, and that their opinion carries a lot of weight. Rosie tells Tom he must wait for a year: "I'll never forget me pitman".

Mick's funeral is well-attended. It is partly funded by the union, who also provide the pallbearers.

That evening Ralph, who didn't attend the funeral, visits the Seatons, explaining that he and the bookies he worked for had been locked up and, although Mick's combination bet was a winner, he wasn't able to place Bella's bet, and returns her stake money.

Mick Murphy is Bella's uncle (Tom and Jessie's great uncle).

This is a rather confusing episode[original research?], with odd narrative jumps in order to progress the rather forced relationship between Tom and Rosie. Rosie seems too old to have been taught by Jessie, and although the age difference between Rosie and Tom is supposed to weigh against their chances of having a successful relationship, she doesn't appear to be substantially younger than Tom, either!

James Bolam (Jack Ford) and Madelaine Newton (Dolly) do not appear in this episode.
10 "King For A Day" Paul Ciappessoni James Mitchell Paul Joel
11 March 1976 (1976-03-11)

Manners visits the recently married Jack and Dolly. Dolly is heavily pregnant, but Jack looks leaner than Manners remembers. Manners offers Jack whisky and smoked salmon sandwiches, and a job: £20 for a week's work. He wants to buy a house from Lord Calderbeck, and wants Jack to act as a front-man.

Bill refuses to serve Dolly, who is feeling ill, and cannot afford to see a doctor. Bella, who had cravings for strawberry jam when she was pregnant, is more sympathetic.

Jack tells Manners the good news, and asks her to help him practicing being "la di da".

Tom is prospering, with a tailor-made suit, and shoes to match (which he tells his parents he bought at a jumble sale, to avoid embarrassing them). Bella catches him with more than seven pounds: "I suppose you're going to tell me you got that at a jumble sale 'n all?"

Jack and Manners visit the Calderbeck mansion. Believing himself to be alone in the greenhouse, Jack gives a Tarzan-like cry... and turns around to discover...Jane. He also meets Lord Calderbeck's nephew and heir, Freddy. Freddy confides to Jane that he's going to ask Jack for £70,000 for the house. (Manners wants to pay no more than £50,000). Manners tells Jack that Jane was recently widowed. Jack is posing as a working-class chap who's made a fortune from making automobile spares.

After dinner, Jack and Jane escape the pack, to Freddy's irritation. Jane flirts with Jack, so Jack kisses her. Jane later tells Jack that they'll get on famously, if he can be discreet.

Freddy gives jack a polite warning, telling him that he and Jane are "more or less engaged". They encounter Billy, herding cows, but Jack bluffs his way through, pretending that Billy used to work for him: "I used to have some agricultural interests... sheep, you know..."

Jack meets Billy in the pub. Billy gives Jack a few tips that will help him establish how much Calderbeck's house is worth, and to the family's financial standing.

Jack delights in shocking his hosts over dinner, with tales of his impoverished upbringing. Later that night Jack finds Jane in his bed, and they spend the night together. Jack learns that Lord Calderbeck resents Freddy, because the war claimed the lives of his three sons. Jack takes Jane to the local pub, signalling Tom to ignore them. Jack meets with Rogers, a man recently dismissed from Calderbeck's employ, who is bearing a grudge, leaving Jane at the bar. Jack meets with Manners, to tell him what he's learnt: that Calderbeck is willing to sell, to fund his retirement in the south of France, but feels he has to provide for Freddy. However, Jack has manoeuvred Jane into marrying Freddy, who is grateful to Jack. Jack renegotiates his deal with Manners, earning himself £150 for sealing the sale for £35,000.

Jack receives an urgent telegram. Dolly has had a miscarriage, and will not be able to have children. Manners has arranged for her care in a private ward.

Jessie and Arthur were married in the week before this episode takes place: married in St Oswald's (sic?) "honeymoon in Scarborough, reception at the Station Hotel". Although they married off-screen, there's a scene in this episode where the Seatons receive the wedding photos, showing the cast in suitable costume (left).

Tom pays five bob a month rent to his parents.

Jack's sly reference to his "agricultural interests" is a nod to his sheep-rustling days (see episode 3: Fish In Woolly Jumpers).
11 "Happy New Year, Some Say" Bill Hays Alex Glasgow Austin Ruddy
18 March 1976 (1976-03-18)

It's New Year's Eve. Three young boys (Davie, Tich and Jacker) steal bottles from the Seatons' yard, to claim the ha'penny deposit, to spend on Bella's cinder toffee. Bill remonstrates with Bella for giving neighbour Sarah Robinson credit ("tick"). The boys repeat the scam, but Bella has rumbled them.

Jack and visiting Glaswegian socialist lecturer Sandy Lewis visit The George Hotel bar, where Billy is working. Tom is there. The Seatons are going to Jessie's that evening, to celebrate the New Year. Tom lurks at the Conservative Unionist Women's Association annual shindig, where Richard Harley Evans is guest of honour, celebrating the party's recent election win. Tom sneaks into the cloakroom, stealing items of value. He is interrupted, and narrowly escapes capture, by slipping into Sandy Lewis's lecture.

Jessie and Arthur prepare for a family gathering. Billy takes Bill to the party, despite his protests. Each guest gives their party-piece. Arthur reluctantly recites a monologue.

After the lecture Sandy and Jack share a bottle of whisky, and Sandy tells Jack that the Labour party is in the ascendancy. They find no one at home at the Seatons' home, so Jack takes Sandy to Jessie's house, where he joins the party.

Bill performs his party-piece: playing a headmaster in a comedy skit.

The next morning the police arrive, with a summons for Bill, for opening his shop too long (he's supposed to close at 8pm). Bill suspects that the owner of a nearby sweet shop, J.L. Davidson, has reported him.

Sandy throws a brick through the rival shop's window. It has a message attached to it: "HAPPY NEW YEAR".

Presumably this episode takes place sometime after the previous episode, since Billy has a new job.
12 "Heads You Win, Tales I Lose" Leonard Lewis Sid Chaplin Geoffrey Patterson
25 March 1976 (1976-03-25)

Tom and a group of other men are on moorland, illegally gambling on a game of Pitch and Toss. Handfuls of notes change hands. Tom leaves the men with his winnings (about sixty pounds) but his good fortune isn't appreciated by two sore losers, Dodger Green and Dickie Edgar.

Matt and Jack have been at a memorial gathering for Harry Armstrong, where they've raised less than three pounds for the widow and children of a man killed in a pit accident six months earlier. A former "outside man", Mr Gibson, who used to work with Harry, makes a handsome contribution.

Jessie visits Tom's home, where Daisy Meadows is house-sitting.

Jessie then visits Lizzie Armstrong, and her son, Robert, who is excelling at school, and may be eligible for a scholarship. Matt and Jack are there, which makes for an uncomfortable atmosphere. Matt agrees to baby-sit for Lizzie, so that she can attend the annual Labour Party meeting, where she'll second Jessie's nomination for the Executive. Jack senses romance blossoming between Matt and Lizzie.

Tom has been forced into hiding, in the stables. Billy finds Tom, who is planning on escaping to London.

Dolly resents Jack's support for Jessie's political aspirations. They argue, and Jack storms out. Later Jack meets Matt in the pub, and is warned that tongues are wagging. Matt doubts that Jack is motivated by politics.

Jessie is elected to the Executive. Arthur doesn't approve.

Jack employs Robert and another boy to keep an eye on Tom's hiding place, from a nearby pigeon coup.

Jack and Matt return from a day at the pit, to find themselves locked out by Dolly. Jack bursts his way back in, warning her never to do it again.

Lizzie expresses her concerns about her developing relationship with Matt, who proposes marriage. She tells Matt that there's no room in her life for new man.

Jack has arranged a safe route to the docks for Tom. Green and Edgar catch up with Tom, but they have a surprise in store: a "tin panning", which means they're hounded home by the womenfolk, bashing pots and pans.

Jack returns home to find Dolly apologetic and a hearty meal on the table. Lizzie arrives with a letter from Mr Gibson: she's been offered a cleaning job paying a very respectable "fifteen bob a week...half a man's wages".

Irish actor Shay Gorman (who plays Mr Gibson) appeared in several key drama series during the 1960s and 1970s, including Danger Man (The Sanctuary), The Saint (Little Girl Lost), Softly Softly (No Life For A Woman), and The Sweeney (Taste of Fear). He's also appeared in Minder (Why Pay Tax) and Boys from the Blackstuff (1982, as Malloy). Horror fans may recognise him from the 1966 film Island of Terror, or his voice from his uncredited narration on Jacques Tourneur's 1957 classic Night of the Demon (aka Curse of the Demon). More recently he featured as Father Jim Sutton in the 1995 Father Ted episode Grant Unto Him Eternal Rest.

Actress Val McLane played Dennis' sister Norma Patterson in the second season of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, but is, in fact, the sister of Jimmy "Oz" Nail. She's appeared in a couple of Catherine Cookson Tyne Tees TV mini-series (The Rag Nymph and The Moth in 1997, playing Aggie Winkovski, and in 1991's The Black Velvet Gown, as Annie Griston). She was also in LWT's 1997 adaptation of Jane Eyre (which starred Samantha Morton and Ciarán Hinds), and featured in the landmark 1996 BBC drama series Our Friends in the North in 1996, as Rita Cox.
13 "Kind Hearted Rat With A Lifebelt" Paul Ciappessoni James Mitchell Paul Joel
1 April 1976 (1976-04-01)

A strike is brewing at Whitely's Shipyard. Union Branch Chairman Les Mallow offers Jack the position of District Secretary. Discovering that Jack's not interested, Les asks if Jack will run as his deputy, a post that pays £5 a week.

Stolen goods have been found in Tom's possession: the police had been tipped off ("hunger breeds envy, Jessie, and envy breeds anonymous letters"). Tom is making his situation more difficult by refusing to reveal where other items lost in the same robberies are. He claims he sold the rest to a man in a pub.

Dolly visits a God-fearing widower, Mrs Downey, and her two children, who are living off a handout of twenty shillings a week. She's in danger of being evicted. Dolly brings Downey's situation to the attention of Les Mallow.

The miners are put on notice: short-time for two weeks, then the sack. Mallow calls a strike meeting, to discuss taking strike action.

Jessie visits Jack, to let him know about Tom's predicament.

At the branch committee meeting, Jack tables a motion preventing industrial action, seconded by Matt. As Chairman, Les' hands are tied to intervene. The workers vote against striking. Jack brings Mrs Downey's plight to the meeting's attention. Jack's advocacy wins him the support of the rank and file members. It may count for nothing: Downey's landlord has locked her out. Jack seizes a hammer, and sets off to reclaim her furniture.

As Jack prepares to break into Downey's home he discovers that she wrote the letter to the police, informing on Tom. After clearing the flat, Jack waits for the landlord, and the police (to give Matt time to get away with the reclaimed furniture).

Jack is arrested, and put in a cell with Tom. The next day Tom is brought before the court, and, despite the best efforts of his solicitor, Martin Hopkins, is sentenced to three months' imprisonment. Jack is next to be tried, and the magistrate simply repeats, word-for-word, his summary of Tom's trial. Jack refuses to accept the validity of the court: "It's all very well to say we're equal under the law, but when you're starving you're only equal to the next poor bugger who's starving". Jack is sentenced to one month in prison: a martyr. Jessie is impressed: "Bastard! You wonderful, cunning bastard!"

Jack and Tom are taken to H.M. Prison Durham.

Mallow visits Dolly with an offer of financial assistance from the Union, but Matt senses that Mallow is looking to take political advantage of the situation, and turns down the offer. Matt tells Dolly that Jack helped Downey to manoeuvre himself into a position where he can be elected as District Secretary.

After serving his sentence, Jack is released from prison. Matt has arranged for a welcoming procession, including a colliery band! Jack is paraded through the streets as a "The People's Friend", hammer in hand.

Jessie tells Jack she doesn't entirely approve of his newfound power, or the way he got it, hoping that he won't forget the people he's going to represent. "Don't you worry, bonnie lass, they'll get their share... eventually".

Jack makes yet more references to the sheep-stealing raids in Fish In Woolly Jumpers. There's also a veiled reference to Tom strikebreaking in episode 4, Swords and Pick Handles. Dolly says that Jack still has some of the money given to him by Sir Horatio in King For A Day.

Mrs Downey's husband Joe died of consumption. He was a union member for seventeen years.

The title is derived from Jessie's appraisal of Jack's survival instincts: "When the ship sinks, he'll be the only rat with a lifebelt".

Jack is tried using his real name, John (I believe this is the first time in the series that this is stated).

The previous District secretary was named Norman Taylor.

Les Mallow was a pacifist during the war, and went to prison for it.

Series 2[edit]

# Title Director Writer Designer Additional cast Original air date
14 "Ask for Twopence, Take a Penny" Terence Williams James Mitchell Bernard Lloyd-Jones
29 October 1976 (1976-10-29)
Jack conducts his first wage negotiation.
15 "Tram Ride to the Bluebell" Bill Hays James Mitchell Oliver Bayldon
5 November 1976 (1976-11-05)
Tom is being blackmailed by his former prison-mates.
16 "A Pillowful of Buttercups" Michael Hayes James Mitchell Peter Brachacki
12 November 1976 (1976-11-12)
An army friend of Jack's has impregnated his 15-year-old girlfriend.
17 "Roubles for the Promised Land" Michael Hayes James Mitchell Peter Brachacki
19 November 1976 (1976-11-19)
18 "Some Bulbs to Keep the Garden Bright" Bill Hays James Mitchell Oliver Bayldon
26 November 1976 (1976-11-26)
19 "God & Love & Wellesley Street" Terence Williams James Mitchell Susan Spence
3 December 1976 (1976-12-03)
20 "Whatever Made You Think the War Was Over?" Michael Hayes James Mitchell Susan Spence & Richard Morris
10 December 1976 (1976-12-10)
Jack has to replay the favour he owes…
21 "Ladies, Women, Sweethearts & Wives" Bill Hays James Mitchell Oliver Bayldon
17 December 1976 (1976-12-17)
Jack's social ambitions make his wife uncomfortable.
22 "After the Bonfire" Gilchrist Calder James Mitchell Oliver Bayldon TBA 7 January 1977 (1977-01-07)
Jack's wife leaves him.
23 "A Wreath with Our Names On" Michael Hayes James Mitchell Susan Spence
14 January 1977 (1977-01-14)
An industrial accident.
24 "The Way It Was in Murmansk" Terence Williams James Mitchell Peter Brachacki
21 January 1977 (1977-01-21)
Jack's house is burgled.
25 "In the Front Line You Get Shot At" Gilchrist Calder James Mitchell Bernard Lloyd-Jones
28 January 1977 (1977-01-28)
Jack is offered a massive bribe to "loose" an industrial dispute.
26 "The Simple Pleasures of the Rich" Michael Hayes James Mitchell Peter Brachacki TBA 4 February 1977 (1977-02-04)
Jack is asked to demolish a stately home.

Series 3[edit]

# Title Director Writer Designer Additional cast Original air date
27 "A House Divided" Gilchrist Calder James Mitchell
  • Peter Brachacki
  • Daphne Shortman
8 September 1977 (1977-09-08)
28 "A Tiger, a Lamb and a Basket of Fruit" Terence Williams James Mitchell Bernard Lloyd-Jones
15 September 1977 (1977-09-15)
29 "My Bonnie Lass Goodbye" Michael Hayes James Mitchell Peter Brachacki
22 September 1977 (1977-09-22)
Arthur drops a bombshell.
30 "A Ticket to Care for the Wounded" Gilchrist Calder Jeremy Burnham Daphne Shortman
29 September 1977 (1977-09-29)
Matt stands for election as union Branch Secretary.
31 "Travel Light, Travel Far" Terence Williams Jeremy Burnham Bernard Lloyd-Jones
6 October 1977 (1977-10-06)
32 "Requiem for a Loser" Michael Hayes Jeremy Burnham Barrie Dobbins
13 October 1977 (1977-10-13)
33 "Debts Owed, Debts Paid" Terence Williams James Mitchell Rochelle Selwyn
20 October 1977 (1977-10-20)
34 "The Empire Builders" Vere Lorrimer James Mitchell David Spode
27 October 1977 (1977-10-27)
35 "Look Up and See the Sky" Michael Hayes James Mitchell (none credited)
3 November 1977 (1977-11-03)
36 "Letters from Afar" Terence Williams Colin Morris Bernard Lloyd-Jones
10 November 1977 (1977-11-10)
37 "The Father of Lies" Michael Hayes Colin Morris Rochelle Selwyn
17 November 1977 (1977-11-17)
Dolly's baby is born.
38 "Diamond Cut Diamond" Terence Williams Colin Morris Bernard Lloyd-Jones
24 November 1977 (1977-11-24)
A shareholder's meeting.
39 "A Marriage and a Massacre" Gilchrist Calder James Mitchell Tim Gleeson
1 December 1977 (1977-12-01)
A poacher turns violent.
40 "High Life and Hunger" Michael Hayes James Mitchell Rochelle Selwyn
8 December 1977 (1977-12-08)
A poacher turns violent.
41 "Please Say Goodbye Before You Go" Terence Williams James Mitchell Bernard Lloyd-Jones
15 December 1977 (1977-12-15)
Jack announces his intention to emigrate to the USA.

Series 4[edit]

The opening and closing credits for the final series were different from those of the other three, reflecting Jack's relocation to London.

# Title Director Writer Designer Additional cast Original air date
42 "Back to Dear Old Blighty" David Askey James Mitchell Ken Ledsham
17 February 1981 (1981-02-17)
Jack returns to England, in a rough state.
43 "A Gift from Heaven" Vere Lorrimer James Mitchell Austin Ruddy
24 February 1981 (1981-02-24)
Jack learns that Matt is dead; and deals with a blackmailer.
44 "A Medal for the Argentine" David Askey James Mitchell Raymond Cusick
3 March 1981 (1981-03-03)
The shipyards are closed, but Jack may have a customer, and a fitter, for them. It is explained that the Seaton family have moved away "and now vote Tory".
45 "Flies and Spiders" Vere Lorrimer James Mitchell Ken Ledsham
10 March 1981 (1981-03-10)
Jack buys a consignment of tinned stew.
46 "Oh, My Charming Billy Boy" David Askey James Mitchell Austin Ruddy
17 March 1981 (1981-03-17)
Jack buys a consignment of tinned stew.
47 "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" David Reynolds James Mitchell Ray Cusick
24 March 1981 (1981-03-24)
Jack meets an old flame.
48 "The Bright Young Things" Jonathan Alwyn James Mitchell
  • Ray Cusick[2]
  • Ken Ledsham
31 March 1981 (1981-03-31)
Jack buys an empress' necklace.
49 "Action!" David Reynolds James Mitchell
  • Austin Ruddy
  • Ray Cusick
7 April 1981 (1981-04-07)
Jack crosses swords with the British Union of Fascists.
50 "Comrades in Arms" Jonathan Alwyn James Mitchell Ray Cusick
14 April 1981 (1981-04-14)
Jack is asked to smuggle guns to Spain.
51 "Roll of Honour" David Reynolds James Mitchell
  • Ken Ledsham
  • Ray Cusick
21 April 1981 (1981-04-21)
While fighting the fascists in Spain, Jack is shot and killed. The episode ends without the theme tune, just the sound of wind and a Chiffchaff singing.


  1. ^ There is a real Lord Lambton, the Earl of Durham
  2. ^ credited as "Ray", unlike his previous credits as "Raymond"