The Straight and Narrow

by Susan Pleat and John Finch

Episode Number: 28
Director: Gerry Mill


NOTE: During the making of this episode, there was a trade union dispute,
which resulted in "The Straight and Narrow" being produced in black and white.



Edwin Ashton   Colin Douglas
Jean Ashton   Shelagh Fraser
Margaret Porter   Lesley Nunnerley
John Porter   Ian Thompson
Sheila Ashton   Coral Atkins
Freda Ashton   Barbara Flynn
Michael Armstrong   Mark Jones
Celia Porter   Margery Mason
Colin Woodcock   David Bradley
Mrs. Evans   Beryl Hall
John George Porter   Ben Grieve



The Ashton Home   Margaret and Jean are upstairs in Margaret's bedroom, and Freda is in the backyard, playing with John George.

Jean asks Margaret if John is sleeping better, and Margaret replies yes, that he has been quieter the past few weeks.

Margaret informs her mother that John has received official notice of his discharge.

Jean asks Margaret when the family will be getting its spare bedroom back, and Margaret responds, "What you're really saying is, when am I going to move in with John."

Margaret says it was John's idea to have separate bedrooms and that she was prepared to "stick it."

"Stick it?" repeats Jean, objecting to the use of such a term, and Margaret sheepishly states the obvious—sleeping with two men is not really her.

She has promised that she will stay with John, and she intends to do so.

"Look, Mum," she says, "I'm walking on the edge of a tightrope. If anybody shouts, I'll fall off."

Aboard a Train   Celia Porter tells a lady in their compartment that she is going to visit her son, who was missing and had a terrible time.

Now she is going to take him home with her and build him up.

The Ashton Home   John is in the living room, adjusting the "station finder" (tuner) on the table radio.

Margaret is pleased to see him tinkering with electronics again, judging this to be a sure sign that he is feeling better.

John mentions that he met Mrs. Metcalf, the headmistress, while he was wheeling John George.

He tells Margaret that Mrs. Metcalf wants her to return to work, and Margaret responds, "Yes, it might be the answer, I suppose," a cryptic statement that puzzles John.

She asks him if he plans to return to the Treasurer's Department at Town Hall, and he answers that he probably will.

"Margaret, we're going to be all right, aren't we?" John wonders, but Margaret is spared from having to reply when Freda announces through the serving hatch that tea is ready.

The telephone rings, but Jean walks down the stairs and into the kitchen without so much as noticing it, forcing Freda to scamper in order to pick up the receiver in time.

It is Mrs. Porter on the line, wishing to speak with her son, and she proceeds to inform him that she is in Liverpool and will be coming around at six o'clock.

David's and Sheila's Flat   Sheila is searching frantically, trying to find her misplaced ration book.

Colin comes in, notices the foul smell, and, stripping to his undershirt, begins to work at clearing her clogged drain.

The Ashton Home   In the kitchen, Freda asks Margaret if she has made arrangements to see Michael again.

Margaret tells her yes, but she cannot leave the house, now that Mrs. Porter is coming, so Freda offers to go instead.

On her way out, Freda stops to chat with her father for a moment, and Edwin asks her about Doris, whom he considers to have a fun personality.

Freda thinks so, too, but complains that Jean seems to regard Doris as a bit common.

When Freda shouts in the general direction of the bedroom that she is about to go out, no answer is forthcoming, so Freda tells Edwin that her mother seems to have gone deaf today.

Upstairs, Jean informs Edwin that Celia is coming at six, and she insists that Margaret will have to tell John about Michael.

But Edwin argues that first John needs to regain his health, and the main thing is that Margaret has decided to stick by him.

Michael Armstrong's Flat   Michael is disappointed to see that it is Freda who has come instead of Margaret.

He explains to Freda that he loves Margaret, he needs her, and he sees her slipping away from him.

Michael says he has begun to resent the Ashtons because they are all pressuring Margaret to do the "right" thing.

Besides that, Michael continues, he is a conscientious objector while all the Ashton sons are…

He stops his rant, in deference to Robert's sad fate, and apologises to Freda, thanking her for taking the time to visit.

"Michael, don't hope too much," advises Freda, and the comment hits Michael hard.

He felt this way once before, he confides, when his wife was dying, and he desperately clung to a hope.

He laments, "The minute you start to care about anyone—a dog even—there's pain somewhere at the end of it."

The Ashton Home   John and Margaret are getting dressed prior to Celia's arrival.

Neither expresses much happiness at the prospect of his mother's visit, but John must admit that he is pleased that she wants to see him.

David's and Sheila's Flat   Sheila finally discovers where she had put her ration book—in her coat pocket.

Colin is washing his hands and arms after unclogging the scullery sink, and Sheila scolds him for using her quota of soap, whereupon he playfully flicks droplets of water at her three different times.

After he dries her face, he holds the towel around her and begins drawing her near.

Sheila struggles free and declares, "I hate you sometimes. Honest to God, I really hate you."

Playfully, he approaches her again, refusing her request for a cigarette and instead surprising her with an embrace and kiss.

Now Sheila is very angry, so Colin uses a lit cigarette as his peace offering.

Colin explains that he will be in Liverpool for a couple of days, checking some designs.

Sheila instructs him not to come around—"Well, not so often anyway."

But Colin can see that she does not hate him, and he invites himself over tomorrow night at seven.

The Ashton Home   John answers the front doorbell, and his mother comes inside, immediately hugging him and smothering him with love.

She wonders where his woolly is, fussily concerned that he might get too cold.

Margaret walks into the hallway and gives her mother-in-law an obligatory kiss on the cheek, explaining that it was her idea that he not wear that hot woolly.

Celia remarks that Margaret looks well, and when Margaret inquires about Harry's health, Celia gives her the automatic response that he sends his love.

As mother and son leave the hallway, Celia makes him promise to put on his woolly later, stating, "Such a good boy. I knew you'd listen to me," and this remark elicits a frown from Margaret.

In the living room, Celia contends that he is not getting enough sleep, no doubt because of the noisy house and all the people.

John argues that there are just four of them—now that Freda sleeps at the nurse's home, and David…

Celia says, "Yes, I know about David. Ah, it was doomed from the start, that marriage, if you ask me."

John blames it on the war, but his mother sees it differently: "While the cat's away, the mice will play."

At this, John comes to Sheila's defence by claiming that she is a nice girl, and Celia says she agrees fully, saying that the trouble does not come from Sheila's side of the family.

Freda is a bit flighty too, she notes, while conceding that she certainly has her share of the Ashton charm.

Then she observes that it is just as well that Margaret is "a nice, plain sort of girl."

When John takes exception to this comment, his mother elaborates by saying, "We can all be tempted, given the circumstances—all of us."

Celia retreats from controversy by recalling how much John and Margaret both liked the Porters' garden in Chorley.

Suddenly, John has had his fill of all this motherly attention, and he tells her that he wants to lie down for a bit.

He tunes the radio to a church service and leaves the room, while Celia remains, promising to wait for him there.

John greets Edwin in the hallway and decides to discuss something that is troubling him.

It is the way his mother spoke to him about Margaret and other people: "While the cat's away, the mice will play."

She did not accuse Margaret of anything—directly—but she did seem to be implying something, especially when she added that we can all be tempted, given the circumstances.

John expresses his appreciation for how the Ashtons have treated him, and he says it makes him feel ashamed to have his mother say such hateful things.

"I’ve always felt that Margaret's too good for me," he confesses, but Edwin insists, "She loves you, and there's no other kind of life she'd have wanted."

Just as John is going upstairs, he asks for assurance from his father-in-law that he would not lie to him—because of his illness—but Edwin responds, "I wouldn't lie to you, John."

Upstairs, Margaret and Sheila are making the bed and discussing Mrs. Porter.

When Sheila asks Margaret if she likes her mother-in-law any better, Margaret replies in all candor, "I think I hate her."

Sheila wonders if Celia knows about Michael, and Margaret says no, that she had no way of finding out about him.

Then the subject turns to Sheila's children, whom Sheila would like to bring back to Liverpool in the morning, after staying the night in Wales.

She reasons that having the children home might help to keep her "on the straight and narrow"—to fight off temptation.

Sheila explains to Margaret that there is a lot of good in David that nobody else knows about.

If there is a chance that David might come back to her, she reasons that falling to temptation would spoil it forever.

Margaret suggests that Sheila stay for a couple of days with Mrs. Thomas in Wales, and Sheila sees the wisdom in this because Colin would be gone from Liverpool by the time she returned home.

In the kitchen, Celia remarks to Jean how tired she looks, much in need of a holiday, like those they used to have before the war.

Sheila pops in to tell Jean she is leaving on a trip to see the kids in Wales, and Jean asks her to give them her love—and David's.

Edwin goes into the bedroom and warns Margaret that Celia has told John some things that have upset him a bit.

When he repeats what she told her son, Margaret is shocked, fearing that Celia knows about Michael and the baby.

Edwin, though, believes it is more likely that the problem lies in the way John has interpreted what she said.

"I lied to him very adequately, I think," Edwin remarks, and Margaret apologises to him for putting everyone in a terrible position.

"If only I could tell him," says Margaret, to which Edwin pointedly responds, "John or Michael?"

In the kitchen, Celia offers to take John off Jean's hands for the evening, but Jean assures her that it is a pleasure to do anything for John.

When Celia declares that sometimes John is her only pleasure in life, Jean cannot resist telling her, "They grow up, Mrs. Porter. They grow up and leave us, just as we grew up and left our parents."

Celia discloses that she was an only child, and Harry is the one with a large family.

"Do you ever think about your parents?" asks Celia, and Jean becomes very pensive and replies, "Yes. Yes, I do. Quite often these days."

Celia states that she would like to take John over to the Grants, and she could have a nice mother-and-son talk with him on the way.

Suddenly, Celia is startled to see that Jean has cut her hand while chopping vegetables, and yet Jean is not aware of her accident.

David's and Sheila's Flat   Sheila is hurrying to throw some clothes in her suitcase for the trip to Wales.

There comes a knock on the door, and it is Colin, explaining that he got off work early.

Colin notices that Sheila has been packing for a trip, and he is hurt that she would try to slip away before his planned arrival at seven o'clock.

Sheila fabricates a story that little Janet is ill, but she is not very convincing, and Colin is resentful that she did not have the common decency to tell him that she would not be home when he arrived.

Colin accepts her apology and begins to leave, but then he comes up with an idea that will help them both.

He offers to accompany her to Wales and then come back, leaving her to stay with Mrs. Thomas.

The Ashton Home   Margaret is in the kitchen when Freda pops in, having only five minutes until the ambulance comes by to give her a lift back to the hospital.

When Freda takes off her coat, Margaret can see that her nurse's apron is covered in blood, and she urges Freda to stop talking about enemas.

Freda asks if Mrs. Porter is still there, and Margaret is sad to say that she will not be leaving until tomorrow, adding, "She poisons everything."

Margaret wonders what Michael told Freda when she visited him, and Freda answers that he said there was sure to be pain at the end of any relationship.

Hearing that, Margaret asks her what she would do in her situation, but Freda says it is up to Margaret to decide—it comes to that in the end.

The ambulance driver rings the doorbell, so Freda rushes off to work wearing a clean apron.

Aboard a Train   Colin has not been very good company, sleeping most of the way to Roslyn, North Wales, so he considers waiting for Sheila and then riding back to Liverpool with her as well.

He asks to meet the kids, but Sheila does not think that is a very wise idea.

Instead, she suggests that he spend some time at a local tea shop—long enough for her to say hello to the kids—and then she can come say goodbye to him before his return trip.

The Ashton Home   John and his mother are in the living room, and she tries to convince him to move to their house in Chorley.

She says the Ashtons do not need him, but she does.

When John is unreceptive to the idea, Celia approaches close to his chair and continues begging him to move with Margaret and baby.

Finally, John has had enough of her cajoling and walks away, shouting, "No! No!"

Celia insists that surely Margaret will change her mind, but John says it is he who is saying no, not Margaret.

Things happened while he was away, he explains, and life is not as he thought it was.

He blames his mother for making him different from the other kids.

More than anything else, John resents what she did when he was leaving for France—not telling him where his wife had gone when she knew it all the time.

Celia denies this charge, but John will not back down—"You knew!" he shouts to her face. "You bloody knew!" and he storms from the room.

Staring at the doorway, she clearly is shocked by her son's boldness.

Meanwhile, on the stairway, John weeps uncontrollably over what has happened.

A Tea Shop in Wales   Colin has finished his second pot of tea by the time Sheila finally returns.

She describes Peter and Janet as having grown quite a bit since she last saw them.

The shop owner, Mrs. Evans, notices that Colin has company at his table, so she says, "Oh, I didn't know your wife had come. I'll get another pot."

Colin finds this mistaken identity amusing, telling Sheila, "Well, obviously we don't look too ridiculous together," but Sheila complains that he should have said something.

Then Colin notices that Sheila has her case with her, and she fibs that Mrs. Thomas has her in-laws staying there, so there is no room for her.

Aboard a Train   Celia Porter is riding back to Chorley, staring straight ahead, visibly shaken by the confrontation with her son.

The Ashton Home   John is lying wakefully in bed, worrying over the dramatic turn his life has taken.

Meanwhile, Edwin in is the kitchen when in comes Margaret, informing him that John is going to read a book until bedtime.

Then she curses her mother-in-law, referring to her as "Mrs. Bloody Porter."

Edwin can sense from her uncharacteristically harsh language that she is experiencing a great deal of emotional pain.

Margaret breaks down in tears and cries that she cannot stand anymore.

Edwin agrees, claiming that the secrecy and duplicity are too much for her and must stop.

He says that Celia Porter is a poor, misguided woman who has an obsession for a man, and Margaret, in a sense, has one too.

Edwin adds that Jean once felt that way about him, too, but now there is nothing left—she has told him as much.

Finally, he explains that John's relationship with his mother will never be the same again because he has "burned his bridges," fearing that Mrs. Porter would come between him, his wife, and their child.

Aboard a Train   Sheila and Colin are riding back home from Wales, sitting directly across from three silent, unsmiling gentlemen.

When he asks how the children were, Sheila becomes despondent at having had to leave them behind after such a short visit, calling herself their "favourite auntie" instead of a proper mother.

Colin tries to cheer her up, saying what is going to win the war is an optimistic attitude, referring to the three men as "these happy, loving people."

Sheila asks him if he would be a conchy (conscientious objector), were he not exempt, and he replies, "If they sent for me, I'd go."

The Ashton Home   John is sleeping in bed as Margaret enters the room, but he awakens when he hears the door shut.

She tells him she is sorry about the quarrel he had with his mother.

When he expresses surprise that she could be aware of that, she explains that her father overheard the disagreement and told her about it.

"He said that you've burned your bridges," she adds. "I think he meant that you've only got me left now."

"Have I?" he asks. "I don't know. It hasn't felt like that."

Margaret explains the reason—that he has been ill—but John suspects there is more to it than that.

He says he cannot remember what their life together was like before he went away, but he knows it was different from now.

Ever since his return home, he claims, "You just weren't there."

He breaks down and cries, and Margaret tries to comfort him in her arms.

David's and Sheila's Flat   Sheila and Colin are sitting on the floor with their arms around each other, enjoying the ambience of the romantic fireplace.

She wonders aloud why they are sitting on the floor, and he responds, "Well, you didn't invite me upstairs."

When Colin begins lightly kissing her hair and face, Sheila becomes concerned and asks him to lie still.

But he persists, and eventually they embrace in a passionate kiss—until Sheila suddenly can go no further and begins to cry, sobbing, "I can't."

Colin wonders why she has declined his advances after scheming to come back home to Liverpool with him—especially when she could have stayed the night alone in a hotel.

She pleads with him, "Oh, Colin, please. Oh, please, don't make me," and Colin feels hurt, responding, "Make you? What, me?"

Humiliated by the rejection, he puts on his coat and hurries away, leaving Sheila to weep alone.

Michael Armstrong's Flat   Michael returns home to discover that Margaret is already there, wearing her coat and sitting in a chair.

He is annoyed that she did not show up on any of the buses he expected her to be aboard, but she explains that she walked instead.

Michael wonders why she has not removed her coat, and she replies that she can only stay for five minutes.

He is surprised, having misinterpreted what she told him on the telephone as an indication she was planning to stay the night.

"We sound like an old married couple, don't we?" he observes. "Except that's what we'll never be. Isn't that what you came to tell me?"

Yes, she confesses, and he assures her that he understands, having expected it for some time because too many things were pulling the other way.

Michael says it will be a rough time for him, but nonetheless Margaret begs him not to try to see her again, as that will only make things difficult for both of them.

When she begins to leave, he begs her to stay a bit longer.

"It's two years of my life you're walking out on," he declares. "For God's sake, leave in a decent manner. Two years, and you can't give me five more minutes?"

Michael says he started to believe in something when he met her, finally seeing the war as having some kind of purpose.

And yet he did not enlist in the military, sensing that she needed him, adding, "Well, need me, Margaret."

"Need me," he repeats, but now she can take no more, rushing away as he calls again, "Need me!"

Michael is left alone, bitter and heartbroken.

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