For the Duration

by David Weir

Episode Number: 34
Director: Baz Taylor



Edwin Ashton   Colin Douglas
Margaret Porter   Lesley Nunnerley
John Porter   Ian Thompson
Philip Ashton   Keith Drinkel
Freda Ashton   Barbara Flynn
Sefton Briggs   John McKelvey
Doris Jackson   Diana Davies
Gwyn Roberts   Ioan Meredith
Temple   Robert Hartley
Haydon   John Keogh
Ridge   Alan Collins
Marcel   Barrie Dain Fletcher
The Girl in the Cellar   Christine Keogh



The Ashton Home   Margaret, Freda, and Edwin are in the kitchen, anticipating what they call "The Big Day," and John George has been taken to Mrs. Taylor's.

Finally, the honoured party, John Porter, arrives for his morning meal, prior to beginning his first day back at work.

Margaret lays his lovingly prepared plate in front of him, a breakfast that defies the constraints of rationing—egg, bacon, and rye toast—and the others eye it with envy.

Edwin asks if he is apprehensive, and John replies, "Uh huh, a bit.”

The others wonder why he merely picks at his food, and he explains that he is not very hungry.

Freda stares at her brother-in-law's untouched bacon and advises him, "Don't force yourself."

Nervously, John arises, and the others wish him well.

No sooner have John and Margaret left the room than Freda has seated herself at the breakfast feast.

John puts on his hat and carries his raincoat to the door, pausing to tell his wife, "I do…"

She interrupts him by saying, "I know, love," and they kiss goodbye.

Edwin must leave, too, but first he pilfers a bite of bacon from Freda's plate.

When Margaret sees that Freda is eating John's food, she scolds her, "That's a week's rations there. I could've used it for something else."

Freda tells Margaret that she is turning into a sour old maid, adding, "We all know why, don't we?"

Margaret cannot let that pass, and she demands an explanation from her younger sister, who suspects that Margaret still has not told John about her affair with Michael Armstrong.

This Margaret readily admits, though she also contends, "A little bit of romance with your Ian doesn't make you an expert on marriage."

Freda says, "Look, you owe it to him to tell him, Margaret."

Margaret argues that there is no point, now that her affair with Michael is over.

"Is it?" asks Freda. "Up there in your head, is it?" and Margaret responds with finality, "All over."

Freda can see that it is not right between Margaret and John, and she wonders why.

Margaret insists that John still is not well enough to be a husband to her, and Freda suggests that he cannot respond honestly to her because she holds back, due to guilt.

"Tell him, Margaret," repeats Freda, walking away from her.

Margaret pursues her sister and says she wishes she could tell him, if only to relieve the strain of people talking about her scandalous affair with a conscientious objector.

"I can't because I daren't," says Margaret, insisting that John still is not strong enough to handle such shattering news.

Margaret reminds Freda of John's overdose of sleeping pills, claiming she cannot risk another such incident.

Her conscience will not allow her to tell him, she explains, and Freda alleges that is nothing but an excuse.

Margaret concedes that it might sound like an excuse, but it is not, whereupon Freda argues, "If it sounds like an excuse, Margaret, it is one."

The Town Hall   All eyes are on John Porter as he enters the Borough Treasurer's office.

He approaches Mr. Temple's elevated desk, explaining that he is a bit late because he went to the wrong office.

Temple cannot understand why, as not much has changed in the intervening years.

He asks John if he feels well enough to return to work, and, though answering in the affirmative, John looks very unsure of himself.

Temple explains that the department has been rearranged to give John his old desk and even his old jurisdiction—public health accounts.

If there is something he cannot remember, the worker at the facing desk, Haydon, probably can help.

"And of course," adds Temple, "you'll remember that we start at nine o'clock. At our desks, ready to start, on the dot. Same desk. Same job. Same hours."

"And the same old fogies," quips Haydon when Temple has walked out of earshot.

"I suppose I'm an old fogy now," muses John, ruefully noting that even the pens are the same as before.

Haydon adds, "The war might never have happened," and this remark provokes a mental flashback for John.

Once again, he is in the cellar, a virtual prisoner of Belgian resistance fighters—ill fed and clothed, held in unhygienic conditions and forced by leftist fanatics to construct a wireless transmitter.

Dripping water and ticking clock have deranged his mind, but the clock now says 4:59 and is hanging on the wall of the Treasury Department.

The very instant that the minute hand clicks to the top of the hour, Temple is on his feet, ready to leave—a pathetic, almost robotic creature of bureaucratic routine.

Upon reaching the door, he turns to say, to no one in particular, " 'Night," and all the clerks dutifully respond, " 'Night."

Everybody except John is headed for the door, and Haydon informs him that it is five o'clock, something that has escaped John's befuddled notice.

The Ashton Home   Philip arrives home, but nobody is there to greet him.

Only a moment thereafter, Sefton is at the front door, so Philip invites him into the living room for tea.

When Margaret comes home, Sefton talks to her in private about John, offering to help him find a job—possibly in the shop—if he is dissatisfied with his old position at the Treasury Department.

John George cries in the kitchen, so Margaret goes to take him to bed, but not before Sefton tells her, "It's time you and John had a brother for him, too. Do you all a power of good."

That night, John is out of bed and suffering from a terrible bout of depression, thinking back to his nightmarish existence, held in virtual captivity by the Belgian resistance fighters.

The next day, Edwin, Freda, Doris, and Philip are playing cards, while John sits alone, ostensibly reading but actually brooding about his unsettled life.

Peeking through the hatch, Margaret requests the assistance of a strong man, so Edwin volunteers his services.

When Freda asks John to take his vacated hand in the game, John declines the offer, claiming that Edwin will be back shortly.

The telephone rings, and Edwin picks up the receiver, but nobody seems to be on the line.

Gwyn Roberts, Philip's old friend from Oxford, has rung but then elects not to speak when he hears Edwin Ashton's voice.

Philip explains to Doris that he probably will be posted when the army decides what to do with a "two-eyed, slightly shop-soiled soldier, educated beyond his class."

Doris flirts playfully with him, so Freda teases John about "these two lads with two ravishing young ladies, and we've got to drop great hints."

Freda suggests that they all go down the road for a drink, and, after some hesitation on Margaret's behalf, John agrees to join them.

Philip, though, topples the plans by announcing that he has a date for later that evening, news that leaves Doris visibly disappointed.

A Pub   Doris and Freda seem rather bored, sitting at a table, while John is buying drinks for the three of them.

Meanwhile, seated at the bar is Gwyn Roberts, who introduces himself to John.

When John invites him over to the table, Gwyn is reluctant to do so, in view of the regrettable scene he caused at the Porters' wedding reception.

John mentions that Philip is home on leave, and this causes Gwyn to feel even less sociable.

The Ashton Home   Sefton and Edwin are in the living room, speculating how the family might vote, now that Jean's shares have been distributed five ways.

Edwin refuses to be pinned down and contends that his sons and daughters all have minds of their own.

Margaret enters the room, saying that she is turning in early for the night, but Sefton confronts her about his job proposition to John.

When Margaret responds that she has not yet told him, Sefton is peeved, and their bitter discussion makes Edwin curious enough to inquire what secret plans are happening behind his back.

Sefton is evasive in his answer and so annoyed that he begins to depart with the bottle of whisky he just presented to his brother-in-law—until Edwin reminds him of the gift by thanking him for it a second time.

A Pub   Seated at the table with John, Freda, and Doris, it is clear that Gwyn Roberts is his usual, voluble self, monopolising the conversation by discoursing about two of his favourite subjects—himself and politics.

He characterises himself as a working-class intellectual, sickly asthmatic, talks too much when he has had "a sniff at a drink," Marxist, atheist, and conscientious objector.

Freda blurts that she has a friend who is a conscientious objector, but then, in view of John's presence, she quickly abandons the topic.

Gwyn tells the others that he feels isolated because nobody understands what he is expressing in terms of politics and the coming revolution.

Doris rolls her eyes and contends that it is "as clear as mud," but John seems genuinely intrigued by what Gwyn has to say.

Gwyn berates Doris for having lost all interest in him, once she learned that he works the land instead of killing Germans.

Doris is indignant, telling him that he could at least be halfway polite.

This angers Gwyn, who explains that he is talking about the agony of the human condition, and she wants him to be polite.

Doris claims that he is talking rubbish, and Freda adds that she and Doris get enough of the agony of the human condition at the hospital.

Gwyn takes this remark personally, lamenting, "Aw, Freda, I used to think you and me were friendly."

Doris leaves in a huff, and Freda goes with her, but John decides to stay for a bit.

The Ashton Home   John gets out of bed, awakening Margaret, and she wonders whether he would like to talk.

He says that sleep is a habit, and he got out of the habit during his years of imprisonment in Antwerp.

John describes what it was like to be locked in that damp, cold cellar, as he was coerced by his Marxist captors into making a wireless set, bit by bit, by hand.

It was not much different from a prison camp, he contends, except for one thing.

What made him so angry was that his captors were supposed to be on their side, a communist cell of resistance fighters against the Germans.

John once refused to work, and the leader, Marcel, told him (through his female interpreter), "No work, no food."

He went without eating for six days, and then Marcel stopped giving him water, which of course was unbearable even in the short term.

When he returned to working, he built them a wireless transmitter with his bare hands, but Marcel made him feel as if he were worth nothing.

To keep John quiet, Marcel commanded his Marxist interpreter, a girl of about thirty, to sleep with him, and she did so without any emotion whatsoever—just following her comrade's order.

John tells Margaret that it is frustrating to heal oneself mentally, being not so clearly dealt with as a wound or a broken leg.

He says there was a part of him missing when he returned home, and he has been trying to find it by re-living the terrible ordeal in his mind.

Margaret asks whether he thinks he will ever find that missing part of him, and John reveals that he met a man tonight who made some interesting comments.

He explains that he disliked the man at first, but then, realising that he was just lonely and cut off from people, he began to like him.

"Like squirrels in a cage, round and round, no way out," says John, claiming that this man made him think that perhaps there is no cage.

John contends that people do not change at all really, and any difference in his personality is only the result of what has happened to him.

When John mentions that the man in the pub was a conscientious objector, Margaret is alarmed—suspecting that he was Michael Armstrong—and particularly so when John adds that Freda knew him.

Margaret rushes from the room, very upset, going to bring John's sleeping pills to him.

The Town Hall   Ridge and Haydon are discussing with John how things are changing because of the war, and John disagrees, though he does concede that people seem more fearful now.

John notices that it is after nine o'clock, and Haydon tells him that this is Mr. Temple's late morning.

Ridge explains that the boss has to call at the hospital on his way in because of his bad back.

Haydon puts on a hat and impersonates Temple's daily arrival at the Treasury Department, much to the amusement of the workers.

He walks to the front of the office, places his hat just so on the rack, and looks at his pocket watch, while everybody laughs at the performance.

Just as Haydon has borrowed Temple's peculiar speech inflection, the boss appears at the door and catches him in the act.

Temple says he is disappointed in Haydon and also in his audience, men who are behaving no more maturely than schoolboys.

He tells Haydon that he will overlook his disrespect but not his clowning when there is accounting work to be done.

Dismissing Haydon on the spot, he declares, "I hope not to see you in my office again."

Temple sits behind his elevated desk and, with an imperious look, notices that John is staring at him.

"Mr. Porter," he says, "have you a problem?" and John answers forthrightly, "Yes, I have."

John explains that he would like to have a word with Temple, in private, before Haydon leaves.

But Temple says he will not discuss the hiring and firing of staff until John has risen through the ranks to sectional accountant, adding, "Fortunately, long before then, I shall be retired."

"Oh, don't be such a silly old man," snaps John, to everybody's astonishment, and Temple rises to his feet to confront this overt challenge to his authority.

John alleges that Temple does not have the power to dismiss anyone without approval from the city treasurer.

He explains to Temple that his men act like schoolboys because that is the way he treats them.

John tells him that he happened to walk in on some normal, good-natured larking about amongst men.

Haydon, says John, is no more guilty than he himself was, and Temple appears ready to terminate him as well.

That is when John suggests meeting before the city treasurer to see what he thinks, a confrontation that Temple seems loath to consider.

When John deftly asks Haydon to apologise for anything the boss may have thought was disrespectful, Haydon does so, and Temple accepts.

The employees, Haydon included, return to their bookkeeping, and he and John smile at each other—Haydon grateful and Porter with justifiable pride in defusing this volatile situation.

The Ashton Home   Margaret has told her father about Sefton's offer to create a position for John at the shop, but Edwin sees through the kindness, calling Sefton a "crafty old devil."

Edwin contends that Sefton would only be doing so to help himself through the war, and then John would be thrown out on his ear when the regular accountant returns to work.

Margaret wonders when John will be home, and Edwin says he already has been there, but then he and Philip went to get a drink and to see somebody—they did not say whom.

This unsettles Margaret, who informs her father that John met someone last night, and she has cause to think that it was Michael.

A Pub   John, Philip, and Gwyn are drinking beer at a table, but John excuses himself to visit the toilet.

Gwyn says that the real war is still to be fought after this one is over, whereupon Philip accuses him of talking more rubbish now than he used to do.

"Listen, mate," snaps Philip. "If we lose this war, your class war's off the agenda because we'll all be under the iron fist of Hitler."

When Gwyn responds, "I didn't say I didn't want us to win it," Philip takes issue with his use of the word "us," wishing to know what contribution Gwyn Roberts has made to the war effort.

One kind of fascism is like another, contends Gwyn, who says it makes little difference to him whether it is Adolf or Winston in Downing Street.

Philip explains that war changes people, and he tells Gwyn about a person very close to him whose husband was presumed killed in the war, so she met another man and had his baby.

Gwyn alleges that this is an old excuse for adultery, but Philip says it was no mere excuse—that the woman was sick, tired, and even a bit deranged.

People will not be the same as they were in 1938, Philip claims, prompting Gwyn to insist that people who are starving and in debt will need to revolt, war or no war.

Both men seem to sense that the philosophical gulf between them is irreconcilable, so the heated discussion subsides to an uneasy truce.

Gwyn discloses that he intended to call Philip a half dozen times but never actually did so.

Just as John returns to the table, Gwyn begins to probe Philip about the woman he described, and Philip is relieved to hear John inadvertently change the subject.

The Ashton Home   Margaret tells her father that she is going to the pub to bring John back home, despite Edwin's advice to just let him return on his own.

Only a moment later, John and Gwyn both enter with Margaret, as she had met them coming up the walkway.

Gwyn and Edwin exchange an awkward handshake, and John explains Philip's absence by saying he had to run an errand.

But Gwyn knows better, surmising that Philip is trying to avoid him because, he says, "Me and the soldier don't have too much in common these days."

In the living room, Gwyn is drinking his whisky straight until Margaret firmly suggests that he dilute the scarce and expensive commodity with water.

John explains that Margaret's uncle brings it—black market probably—but Gwyn indicates that will not stop him from drinking it.

Gwyn confesses that he does not hold his drink well, becoming loud and nasty, and lately amorous too, though he cannot seem to get interested in the loose women he calls "cows."

When John asks what went wrong between Gwyn and Philip tonight, Gwyn explains that Philip no longer thinks with his head—that, like most people, he has become sloppy and sentimental.

But Gwyn is honest enough with himself to admit that he is beginning to doubt his own convictions these days, explaining that being ostracised by society can make one "go a bit funny in the head."

Margaret returns with water for Gwyn's drink, only to hear him re-telling Philip's tale about the war "widow" who conveniently finds another chap.

Mercifully, his story is interrupted by the clock when John realises that Gwyn's train will be leaving very shortly.

Gwyn feels no such sense of urgency, assuming that he can always sleep on Philip's floor, but Margaret snaps, "I don't think we could manage that."

Though hurt, Gwyn accepts her remark, and John goes to retrieve the visitor's coat for him.

When Gwyn resumes telling the story about Philip's faithless friend, Margaret looks him straight in the eye and says, "No! If you ever come back to this house, if you so much as show your nose even…"

Gwyn is shocked at her attack, asking, "What have I done?" but Margaret will not explain, only demanding that he go away because he does nothing but cause trouble whenever he comes to this house.

Suddenly, it dawns on Gwyn that it is Margaret who is the unfaithful wife, and he declares, "I swear. I didn't know."

Later that night, in their bedroom, John apologises to Margaret for inflicting Gwyn Roberts upon her.

She seems unconcerned about that but asks her husband whether he has given any more thought to Sefton's offer, and he responds that the present job will get better, something she doubts very much.

Downstairs, Philip comes into the living room and sees his father looking at a photograph of his late wife.

Edwin explains that Jean and he became virtual strangers toward the end.

Occasionally, he says, he feels that he has misplaced something—only to realise it is Jean that he is missing.

He confides to Philip that he feels very unhappy to think of all they missed as a couple by keeping little things from each other, severing communication.

Eventually, without even realising it, they grew apart, and it seems such a waste of potentially fruitful years together.

Sadly, they drifted apart, despite having days, weeks, months, years to live.

He turns to his son and implores, "Don't let them just happen to you, Philip."

In their bedroom, John is watching Margaret in the mirror as she brushes her hair, and she smiles at him, saying, "You make me feel self-conscious."

When she begins to turn out the light, he stops her, indicating that he has something to tell her.

Referring to the squirrels-in-a-cage analogy, John contends that he had no choice, being locked in the cellar, but Gwyn does it to himself.

Margaret lies down and says she has no desire to talk about Gwyn.

John suggests to her that perhaps he too has been doing it to himself.

"I've been sick, haven't I?" he asks, and she replies, "Yes," whereupon John declares, "I think I'm better now."

Margaret advises giving it more time, but John says he does not want to wait any longer.

She remains unresponsive, even resistant, until he kisses her repeatedly and utters the heartfelt words, "I do love you, Margaret."

At that, she draws him close, kissing him warmly, and the couple embrace in the joyful—and guiltless—pleasures of conjugal love.

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