We Could Be a Lot Worse Off

by John Finch

Episode Number: 22
Director: Richard Martin



Edwin Ashton   Colin Douglas
Jean Ashton   Shelagh Fraser
David Ashton   Colin Campbell
Sheila Ashton   Coral Atkins
Margaret Porter   Lesley Nunnerley
Freda Ashton   Barbara Flynn
Robert Ashton   David Dixon
Michael Armstrong   Mark Jones
Frank Cox   John Alkin
Brent   Alan Bennion
Dimmock   Peter Hawkins
Peter Maitland   Robin Langford
Russell   Gerard Hely
First Sparks   Richard Hampton
Hopkins   Ron Pember
Walker   Chris Harris
Rawson   Roger Rowland



A Hospital in Shropshire   David is visiting Margaret, and he proudly informs her that he is up for a commission, having an interview at Group with the Air Officer Commanding two days from now.

Margaret cautions him not to count on it before it actually happens, and David accuses her of sounding just like Sheila.

He complains to his sister that Sheila will not be pleased to hear of his promotion, adding that he cannot seem to do anything right for her these days.

Margaret tries to comfort him by saying the war will be over someday, and everything will be just the same as it was.

But her comment does not have the desired effect because David says he does not want everything to be just as it was.

Michael Armstrong comes into the ward, bringing Margaret a cup of liquid medicine that a nurse asked him to make sure she drank.

When David leaves, Margaret reads to Michael a letter that Philip has sent to her, in which he writes that sometimes he becomes quite homesick.

Margaret says that David certainly would never feel that way, though she thinks that her youngest brother, Robert, might very well be homesick, adding, "I can never think of him as grown up."

New York Harbor   In the radio room, Robert—who has been ashore, shopping—brings his young friend, Peter Maitland, the chantung silk he wanted for his girl back home.

And Peter, in turn, gives Robert the three jars of cold cream he requested.

Peter tells Robert that he saw the Petty Officer Third Class tearing up the silk stockings he bought at Macy's after he received a "Dear John" letter from his fiancée.

Just then, in walks the very same PO3, Russell, collecting the cold cream he asked Peter to purchase for him.

Russell assures the jittery Peter that their ship is going home, despite rumours to the contrary.

The Ashton Home   Freda and her parents are relaxing in the living room, and an organ rendition of Johann Strauss’s Wiener Blut can be heard playing on the radio.

Freda gets up to say that she is going to bed after she and her father have a cup of cocoa.

Jean remarks to Edwin that Freda seems happier now than she did at Christmas, maybe because she and Owen Thomas are getting on better.

When the doorbell rings, Freda goes to answer it, and it is Michael, chilled from his train ride but bearing good news about Margaret's improving back condition.

To Edwin's pleasant surprise, Jean invites Michael to spend the night in Margaret's room rather than hiring a taxi for the ride to his hospital lodgings.

Alone in the kitchen, Freda says to herself, "Oh, if only I felt this way about Owen, but I didn't," and she thinks, "Why, why, why? Oh, Michael, why you?"

The Turk's Head   Frank and David are drinking beer and exchanging the usual pub small-talk.

David suddenly becomes serious and confesses to his friend that his marriage to Sheila is "all slack and ashes."

He admits that his miserable Christmas leave was all his fault but wishes that Sheila only had come halfway to meet him.

Over a game of snooker, he complains that Sheila does not want him to do anything with his life.

Frank says perhaps Sheila does not want him to end up a hypocrite like Teddy Main, who put on a show of wealth, fooling everyone until he was killed on a bombing run over Cologne.

New York Harbor   Robert and Peter are playing chess in the radio room, and Robert tries to cheer up his friend by telling him about his first trip to the States, before Pearl Harbor, when the judies were all over the British sailors.

Peter says he learned to play chess from his father, a vicar, but then he confides to Robert that he himself is probably an atheist.

With a frightened look, Peter says rumour has it that the drums they loaded was aviation fuel, ninety-five octane, pretty explosive.

Peter confesses to Robert that he regrets joining up, now that he realises that his father is all alone in life, with no close relatives.

Looking a bit concerned, Russell comes in, making certain that Peter has been charging the radio batteries.

Robert tries, in vain, to ease his friend's fears by talking about the judies of New York City.

The Ashton Home   Edwin and Jean are in the living room, and he ruminates over how much he resents the hours spent in sleeping, now that he has reached an older age.

Then Edwin describes the odd telephone call he received at the office that day—from a security official, wanting information on Harry Porter.

There is a strained moment as Edwin goes up to bed, and Jean seems to want to say something conciliatory to him but thinks better of it.

The North Atlantic   Russell comes into the radio room and talks with First Sparks about who is on duty.

First Sparks shows him a book of poetry he found, assuming that it belongs to the PO3 because it is inscribed, "To Russell, from Pam, with all my love."

Russell tells him to keep it for himself, for all he cares, as the book no longer has any sentimental value to him.

They discuss the submarine spottings, which First Sparks describes as, "More or less dead ahead and nicely spaced out."

Russell says that young Maitland does not like the life at sea, but Ashton seems to be coping rather well.

In a fatalistic tone of voice, First Sparks states that the ship should be reaching the U-boat positions just about dawn.

On the bridge, Peter tells Robert that the ship is a bit exposed, now that they have left the convoy.

Robert is trying to cheer him up, without much success, when they witness a sobering sight: a depth charge exploding not far away, indicating an enemy below.

The Turk's Head   David and Frank are having beer, and David tells him that he is working up to placing his telephone call home.

A pretty lady comes into the pub, flirting at them with her eyes, and soon is joined by a sergeant who must be in his fifties, causing Frank and David to burst out laughing.

Frank talks about how wonderful his life might be without the war, and then he hypothesises that David may not get his commission after all.

David, of course, takes exception to this thought, loudly berating his friend with accusations of disloyalty.

Ironically, Frank explains that David may not get the commission because he flies off the handle too quickly.

The North Atlantic   Robert and Peter are in the radio room, showing each other the gifts they have bought for their fathers.

Both young men are very nervous, so Robert opens his tin canister and suggests they have a cigarette—though neither of them is a smoker.

On the bridge, Russell and First Sparks are watching as an oil tanker is struck by a torpedo and goes up in flames.

Below decks, Robert and Peter have heard the explosion and hurry into their life jackets.

Suddenly, the ship is hit, and all men run for their lives to escape the flames and burning oil.

The Ashton Home   Two military officers, Dimmock and Brent, are visiting with Edwin and Jean.

Though their stated purpose is to investigate Harry Porter's background, they seem to be more interested in his son, John.

They make special note of the fact that John was able to construct his own radio sets.

Dimmock mentions that they are due at 19-TC in Formby tomorrow morning, and Edwin confirms that is where John trained before shipping out to France.

The security officers ask to see a photo album of the wedding—explaining that they need to establish that this is the same Harry Porter—but Jean says that Harry and his wife left the wedding before photographs were taken.

The North Atlantic  

Survivors of the torpedoing are struggling in the icy waters to climb aboard a lifeboat or at least secure a grasp of its side to keep from drowning.

When one sailor in the boat breathes his last, his body is tipped overboard, making room for Peter Maitland.

The Ashton Home   In the kitchen, Michael tells Sheila that perhaps David is flying, and that is why he has not rung her.

Sheila and Freda exchange glances, scoffing at this naïve notion, which has become something of a joke to them.

When Sheila goes upstairs, Michael informs Freda that he has found a flat for himself, Margaret, and the kids (meaning his Barbara and Margaret's John George).

Freda seems disinterested in what he has to say, so Michael approaches her and asks if she thinks he is such a terrible person.

She smiles at him and warmly replies, "No," a tender moment that is disturbed when Edwin enters, asking for more sugar.

The North Atlantic   Another dead sailor's body is tipped over the side.

The lifeboat is drifting into some fiery wreckage, so all hands are needed to paddle away from that imminent danger.

They pull Robert aboard to join in this effort, but he appears to be in no condition to help—coughing, wheezing, and spitting up oil and blood.

The Ashton Home   Sheila is asleep in the living room, but Edwin, Jean, and Freda still are waiting up, just in case David happens to ring.

Finally, Freda decides to go to bed, leaving only the other three to maintain their telephone vigil.

Jean mentions that the two security officers will be calling again in the morning, on their way back from Formby.

Edwin questions the need for their investigation—making a background check on someone as upright as Harry Porter.

Jean, however, suggests that the two officers seemed more interested in John than Harry, and Edwin is quick to agree.

Just then, the telephone rings, and Jean rushes to answer it while Edwin awakens Sheila from her slumber.

It is David on the line, and Jean talks with him for a moment before handing the receiver to Sheila.

David asks his wife if she has heard from Mrs. Thomas in Wales, and she replies that Peter wrote to her, saying how lovely it was, seeing him at Christmas.

David realises that she made that up, and he responds that he is "just another fellow to our Peter now."

When he informs Sheila that he got his commission, her reaction to the news is decidedly cool.

David says that he will have a week's leave and that he will continue to send an allowance.

But Sheila snaps back, "Don't bother. I'll be all right. I can manage," and David tells her in no uncertain terms that he resents her attitude.

When she asks if the commission is definite, David accuses her of not wanting him to get on, always wishing that he would stay in the same old rut.

She begins to cry, and the telephone operator informs David that his time is up, whereupon he says goodbye to Sheila, but she says nothing.

The North Atlantic   The survivors are sitting in their lifeboat, exhausted and barely able to speak.

Robert is coughing up oil and just clinging to life, while Peter seems to have died.

A dinghy approaches, but it proves to be the crew's other survivors rather than the harbinger of a rescue vessel.

Rawson tells Robert, "We could be a lot worse off, couldn't we, lad. Hey?" and Robert manages a weak smile.

The Ashton Home   Sheila comes down for breakfast and asks Edwin if he thinks it would be all right to bring the kids home for good, now that the raids are diminishing.

Edwin is not so sure and recommends that Sheila leave them in Wales for the time being.

Sheila reveals to her father-in-law that David received his commission, so now he will never come out of the Air Force, even when the war is over.

"It's the best thing that ever happened to David," she says. "And if he can get rid of me as well, he'll have everything that he ever wanted."

Edwin does not see it that way, contending that he doubts if David even knows what he does want.

He wanted a commission, says Sheila, but Edwin tells her that when the novelty of that wears off, he will return to her.

Sheila laments that she cannot blame her problems on the war, to which Edwin replies that the war split them up, and if it had not done so, they would have stuck it out.

She asks Edwin if that is all marriage is—just sticking it out—and he declares no, but that is what some of it is about.

He confesses that the war has done things to his own marriage that he would not have believed possible.

Jean, he says, has never forgiven him for letting young Robert go off to war.

The North Atlantic   The men are now in the larger boat, the dinghy which approached them earlier.

Robert's precarious condition has taken a turn for the worse, as he is coughing up an oily substance and having difficulty breathing.

The other men distribute some of the remaining rations for sustenance.

First Sparks comments to Russell how bad Robert's coughing sounds, but Russell indicates there is nothing he can do about it.

He says it is caused by the oil Robert swallowed while being in the water for so long.

It is in his lungs, he explains, and it is corrosive.

First Sparks stops transmitting, to spare the battery for now.

The corvette that picked up survivors must have been hit, surmises Russell, because otherwise it would have come back for them.

Russell decides not to put up the sail quite yet, thinking it wiser to remain where they are, in case a rescue vessel comes looking for them.

He goes to check on the injured men and sees that Peter Maitland is dead.

Noticing that the tin cap has fallen off Robert's cigarette canister, Russell puts it back into place.

The Ashton Home   Dimmock and Brent return, and Dimmock readily admits that they are really wanting information on John Porter, not his father.

Brent reveals to Edwin that the army picked up a radio transmission from Belgium a couple of weeks ago, and the radio operator identified himself as John Porter.

However, Dimmock quickly cautions Edwin that the signal may very well be nothing but a ruse by the Germans, trying to locate this John Porter's unit.

What British Intelligence needs, he explains, is some obscure details that only John would know but not the Germans.

With any luck, says Dimmock, they can clarify the meaning of that telegram—"Missing, believed killed"—and Brent adds, "One way or the other."

They ask what sort of chap John is, and Edwin replies that he is quiet and very ordinary.

Dimmock says that some of these resistance groups are rather brutal, locking their captives in cellars for months on end, to elicit work out of them.

The North Atlantic   The crew's survivors are listening to Walker play his mouth organ (harmonica), but Robert is no longer among them.

His lifeless body has been cast overboard to a watery grave, and all that remains is his spilled canister of cigarettes.

Script Excerpt 1

Script Excerpt 2
Peter/First Sparks/Robert