The following is commentary on Episode No. 45 ("The Lost Ones") 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.





Richard Veit

The second episode in the continuing narrative of pilot Derek Robbins and his wife, Jill, is overshadowed, at least in terms of significance to the series, by the apparent reconciliation of David and Sheila Ashton. The script nicely dovetails these two story lines by having Sheila accept the invitation of Jill to stop over at the Robbins home en route to visiting her estranged husband in hospital. David, you will recall, suffered a serious head injury in a motorbike accident at the conclusion of “Breaking Point.” Now his seven-year RAF career seems over, and he is more fearful of being “nervous out of the service” than he was of flying through flak to drop bombs upon the enemy.

The bedside drama waxes and wanes in response to the various hospital visitors whom David encounters. With Margaret, he exhibits frustration at the detour his life has taken, being forced to give up the one job that he learned to do well. With Chrissie, he expresses his doubts that wife Sheila ever would come to see him, as she is far too intent upon securing a divorce. With Peter Bryant, he is once again in his true element as an RAF officer, trying to convince his friend to have the medical officer ground the mentally exhausted Derek Robbins. When Sheila does indeed pay him a surprise call, David is genuinely apologetic, assuming virtually all guilt in their marital troubles, and yet Sheila—still wary of his posturing—departs without concession. Her second visit, however, can be seen as a critical turning point in the Ashton saga. For the first time, we see David truly baring his soul and throwing away his pride, begging her to give him and their children a home. Chrissie’s arrival inadvertently threatens to destroy the fragile relationship until David shows a new-found maturity and moral fibre by physically willing himself to follow Sheila from the room, despite the skull fracture that has left him, by all prognoses, unable to arise from the bed.

An emerging sub-plot that will offer further dividends is the interaction of Labour Party treasurer John Porter and political activist Marjorie (whose surname, oddly enough, is never revealed). In the Ashton home, her warm hand of camaraderie upon his is withdrawn the instant Margaret opens the serving hatch, a guilty reflex that suggests Marjorie’s attraction to her new colleague goes beyond their mutual desire to oust the conservative government.

Some random comments about “The Lost Ones”…

Continuity from the previous episode to this one is remarkable, especially considering the fact that “Breaking Point” was penned by John Finch and “The Lost Ones” by Alexander Baron. I suspect that series creator John Finch worked closely with the other writer to maintain consistency in the complex characters of Derek and Jill, not to mention in the lesser roles of Peter and Chrissie, both of whom already were introduced in earlier episodes.

More than once before, I have alluded to the enjoyment I receive from watching young Paul Brett as John George Porter. Here again, he is mischievous on the set but in a boyish manner that seems utterly real. In the opening scene, just before the telephone rings with news that David Ashton has been injured in a motorbike accident, John Porter and his son are sitting at a table, working on a model airplane. John says, “All right. Last stretch in the masterpiece,” and the boy responds, “What masterpiece?” This well-intentioned remark cracks me up, and it seems to have the same effect on actor Ian Thompson. Watch him closely, just before the cut to Margaret. Then, only a moment later, the boy is yawning on camera and playing with the telephone. Ian Thompson is up to the challenge, remaining fully in character as he ad-libs, “Please, Johnny. We’ve got a crisis.”

This is one of the few episodes (apart from references to Christmas and New Years) of which we can determine the precise date of action. The wireless in Sheila’s new flat carries a report of President Roosevelt’s sudden death in Warm Springs, Georgia, the night before, so this must be 13 April 1945.

The scene in which children are playing warfare in the streets is well staged, with effective editing to show John’s momentary psychological flashback. I am curious to know where in Britain was the destruction of buildings in 1971 so complete as to provide a suitable setting for this stark sequence?

We learn that Derek Robbins weighs 188 pounds (13 stone, 6 pounds). The only other time a weight is mentioned is when Mess Sergeant Smith, in “Into the Dark,” discloses that he tips the scales at a hefty 252 pounds (18 stone).

Richard Thorp (Derek) and Jennifer Hilary (Jill) are intense in their scenes together. Her reddened eyes and slurred speech are convincing, indicative of her ability to identify with—and immerse herself in—the role of Jill Robbins. Incidentally, you will enjoy her portrayal of Sarah, too, in another fine John Finch series, “Sam.”

It should be evident to even the most casual observer how Freda’s wardrobe has changed since her marriage to Ian Mackenzie. She becomes quite fashionable in these later episodes of “A Family at War,” and of course this is as it should be.

Has anyone else noticed how often Freda apologises to others? She does this innumerable times, in dialogue throughout the series, and to me it is rather endearing. Clearly, it demonstrates how considerate she is of others’ feelings, but it also reveals another facet of her personality: her impulsive nature, speaking before she considers what effects her remarks might have on those around her.

What a dramatic and unexpected moment it is when Jill blurts out to her husband, “I’m crying for Jack…Jack Ridley.” Lesser series would be content to present a row here, perhaps with hurled cups and saucers, but we all know what this ginned-up couple does at such a time. “Like a pair of maniacs” is Jill’s cold appraisal of their impromptu lovemaking. “It makes no difference afterwards.”

One of the most important lines in “The Lost Ones” is stated by Jill about her husband. “I can’t leave him, not now,” she explains to Sheila, “not when he needs me most.” This sentiment profoundly touches Sheila, who thereupon resolves to visit David in hospital for a second time. It is likely that they would not have reconciled, were Jill not to have spoken these words.

That memorable final shot, with David and Sheila holding hands, speaks volumes for the healing properties of conjugal love. David, so flawed as both husband and father, possesses latent qualities that—against all odds—may very well redeem him yet.