The following is commentary on Episode No. 42 ("The Fundamental Things Apply") from members of AFAMILYATWAR-LIST. If you wish to add your thoughts to what is being said on this page, become a part of our discussion group by clicking the "Join" button.
This episode centres
entirely around the first and only wedding ceremony to be seen in the series,
as Ian Mackenzie and Freda Ashton become husband and wife. (You may recall
that the wedding of Margaret and John was not shown on camera in “Lines
of Battle,” and, of course, Frankie did not survive to marry his fiancée,
Chrissy, in “The Lucky Ones.”) Literally every one of the fifteen
scenes in “The Fundamental Things Apply” deals with the wedding
of Freda and Ian, never departing Liverpool for a look at military concerns.
The two servicemen of the Ashton clan, David and Philip, are far removed from
the story line, never appearing and receiving only brief mention. This approach,
I think, makes for a nicely focused script, staying on topic from beginning
to end and yet with just enough tension and changes of setting to hold our
Some random comments about “The Fundamental Things Apply”…
The author of this episode, John Ellison, is series creator and principal writer John Finch, writing under a pseudonym. I wonder why John decided to use a nom de plume here rather than his own.
An intriguing sub-plot explores the relationship between Freda and Tony Briggs. Personally, I think they would have made a smashing couple, but then there is that matter of family ties to consider. They happen to be first cousins: Tony’s father and Freda’s late mother were brother-and-sister. I am curious to know whether such a relationship—in the moral context of that day and age—would have been construed by British society as acceptable or scandalously improper. Obviously, there is a strong romantic attraction from both parties, though Freda’s schoolgirl infatuation has, over the passage of time, gradually become more repressed.
As this episode makes clear, Doris seems to have a fascination for American men: all of her wartime boyfriends come from across the Atlantic, as do every one of her conversational heartthrobs—Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Clark Gable, Robert Taylor. She is not a terribly deep thinker, so it may be that she fantasises an idyllic image that America’s streets are paved with gold. After all, are there not nylon stockings aplenty?
This is the final appearance in the series of the wonderful Joyce Heron. Mrs. Mackenzie will move away to Bournemouth, leaving the home to her son and daughter-in-law.
Judging from a perpetual calendar that is visible in the registrar’s office, the wedding day of Ian and Freda appears to be 30 September 1944.
Two actors with speaking lines should, I think, have been accorded proper billing, but for some reason these were omitted from the screen credits: that good-natured man in the pub who teases Freda at the bar and again as he is leaving, and then that bailiff in the registrar’s office who announces which couple will be next in line for marriage proceedings.
There is a moving scene, quite honestly played by both involved, when Edwin has a fatherly talk with Freda prior to the wedding. Another very natural moment is when Freda misstates her response (“unlawful impediment”) in the wedding vows. This could well happen in actual life, and I think it is a fine touch that adds a sense of realism to the stage action.
Both just before and just after the wedding, the slightly tipsy John Porter is disrespectful to Sefton Briggs—and justifiably so, considering the haughty disdain with which Sefton treated John during "This Year, Next Year," in their capacities as prospective employer and job applicant. Such continuity of character development from one episode to the next contributes much to the consistent quality of the series.
While humour may not be the first attribute that leaps to mind when one contemplates the wonderful drama “A Family at War,” a goodly amount of it is laced through the series, and perhaps nowhere more so than in this particular episode:
- Colin Douglas is very funny during Edwin’s speech preparations.
- Freda begins to tell Ian that finally they can catch up on their sleep, only to stop in mid-sentence when she realises the wedding-night implication of such a statement.
- John comes into his bedroom and glances at Doris in her slip, momentarily confusing her scantily clad figure for Margaret's.
- Doris’s current American serviceman, Ricky, flees for cover past the door marked “Toilets” upon spotting two military policemen. Was he AWOL?
- Those MPs, on intimate terms with the superintendent, interrupt the marriage of an American private and his expectant bride-to-be. (“Eugene!”)
- At the reception, Ricky slaps Sefton on the back and declares, “Well, the weather sure turned out lousy, didn’t it, Bud?”
- Shortly thereafter, Edwin asks for help with a safety pin, referring to Sefton as “Bud.”
We see actress Elizabeth Kelly for a second time, here portraying the superintendent in the registrar’s office. She appeared in an entirely different role, as a woman speaking with Owen and Freda in an air-raid shelter, in “If It’s Got Your Number on It.”
I have stated before how much I enjoy watching the unpredictable Paul Brett as John George Porter. He is at it again in this episode. Notice him chewing his gum in mischievous innocence as he sits upon the lap of his mother, Margaret, at the wedding. Then watch him having fun throwing confetti at the newlyweds. I find him to be quite amusing and always in character, though I do suspect that he may have given director Baz Taylor some headaches on the set.
Finally, can anyone tell me precisely what Freda says to Tony toward the end of the episode, just as she and Ian are about to leave for their honeymoon? It seems to be, “Thank you for…(something)…” but I am not certain exactly what her words are. Tony responds, “I’m the soul of discretion. You ought to know that by now.”
Richard points out that two speaking parts in this episode are uncredited. I don't know about the registrar's man, but the man in the pub is played by Peter Kerrigan, who is perhaps most famous for playing George Malone in "Boys from the Blackstuff" in the 1980s. A Liverpudlian by birth, he played various parts for Granada Television, including two roles in "Coronation Street" and a part in that programme's spin-off, "The Brothers McGregor".
Thanks, John. I'll add Peter Kerrigan to the cast list!
In answer to Richard's question about the unclear dialogue toward the end of this episode:
Freda tells Tony, "Hey, uh… Don't give the game away, will you?"
Do you think Freda is simply referring to the newlyweds' plans for a quick getaway from the reception? Or do you suppose that she has a deeper motive, imploring Tony to remain silent about his long-suppressed love for the bride?
I think she refers to her own affection for Tony and what almost happened the night before on her Polterabend.