The following is commentary on Episode No. 52 ("…Yielding Place to New") 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.
The final two episodes
of “A Family at War” share an unusually close kinship, and indeed
they quite easily can be viewed in tandem, as something like a 100-minute
movie. Series creator John Finch wrote both of these episodes, each is set
entirely in Liverpool, and the passage of time between them is minimal (December
of 1945). Even the two titles are complementary, with one ellipsis phrase
completing the other. Together, they form a quotation from Tennyson’s
La Morte d’Arthur:
And slowly answered Arthur from the barge:
“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,”
And God fulfills Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
In many cases, changes begun in “The Old Order Changeth…” are resolved in “…Yielding Place to New.” We learn that Edwin’s insistence upon paying off the mortgage is a means of presenting the house as a Christmas gift to Margaret and John. Marjorie has withdrawn from the love triangle, a voluntary decision that stabilises the relationship of the young Porter couple. Freda now is resigned to the medical fact that she and Ian are destined to remain childless, and Doris’s offer to give her infant son to the Mackenzies is rejected in favour of placing the baby with an adoption society. Sefton Briggs has come to terms with selling his house, a grievous solution made a bit more palatable by the impending departure of Helen and Tony. And Trevor Howells’s shady dealings have been brought to closure by his arraignment on multiple charges of fraud.
One development that is not a holdover from “The Old Order Changeth…” concerns David, who of course was still working in London during that prior episode. Back in Liverpool, he is finding it impossible to confess to Sheila that he has failed in yet another job prospect. That is when Edwin, with some fatherly “tough love,” delivers to his son an ultimatum. If Tony places him on the printing works payroll in a sales position, David must succeed at this one last chance or forever be on his own.
As befits the final show in a long-running series, “…Yielding Place to New” has appearances by a higher percentage of the regular cast than any other episode. All of the surviving members of the Ashton, Porter, Briggs, and Mackenzie clans are represented, with the exceptions of Celia, who is said to be visiting her sister for Christmas, and Mrs. Mackenzie, who has moved to Bournemouth.
Some random comments about “…Yielding Place to New”…
Ian Thompson plays his part well in John’s confrontation with Margaret at the breakfast table. After posing the outrageously presumptuous question, “Whatever happened to trust?” he winces when Margaret mentions Marjorie’s name, and then he retreats, unable even to look his wife in the eye.
What a dramatic sequence that is when Edwin recalls telling son David, “Well, it is time you started to bloody well care,” only to be shocked back into the present by violently tearing in half the worksheet that lies in front of him on the desk. Tony witnesses this painful outburst of emotion and then hears his uncle deliver what may very well be the most intense speech of the entire series.
Are the printing works still called Briggs & Son at this point, or has the firm been renamed to reflect the new ownership of Eric Fraser?
Why is it that Peter Ashton (Michael Condon) is listed in the credits but does not appear on screen? Was his scene perhaps deleted in the editing room? In the original script, was Peter to join Janet in greeting their father on his first morning home from London?
I always have liked the character of Doris, but she certainly does have a mean streak. Uncalled for (in my opinion) is the cruel way she reminds Freda that she never will have any children of her own. Yes, I know she is trying to help Freda see the stark reality of life, but I think she could approach the subject a bit more tactfully. Perhaps her rough upbringing has not prepared her to be more genteel.
There is a funny moment when Helen laughs as Sefton recounts for her how Mrs. Foster’s unscrupulous brother, Harry Jenkins, once sold him back his own pig, piece by piece.
Two wonderfully warm relationships are revisited in this episode: Edwin with Sheila and Harry Porter with Margaret. Both, as it happens, are father-in-law and daughter-in-law.
It was an inspired decision by writer John Finch to have many of the principal characters depart from the Ashton home following Christmas dinner. This serves to give viewers one final look at people with whom they have become quite close over the course of some fifty-two hours of screen time. The effect is similar to that magical moment in a theatre when cast members take their curtain calls before an appreciative audience.
But there is a brilliant coda yet to come, and how satisfying it is, leaving us with just the right touch of drama, nostalgia, and historical context. Edwin and Sefton are alone, puffing on their cigars and listening to the King’s message on radio. Soon the camera lingers upon framed photographs of those three in the family who did not live to enjoy a post-war Christmas—Robert, Philip, and Jean. It is a touching conclusion to “A Family at War,” one of the most remarkable achievements in the long annals of television.
I think that Peter Ashton does appear in this episode. He's only seen briefly in the penultimate scene in the hallway as everyone except Edwin and Sefton is making preparations to leave. He can be seen briefly at the back of the group between the bannister rails next to his sister. Presumably in the Christmas dinner scene in the back room, he's sat on the extreme left of the set at the children's table and thus doesn't come into the camera's view.
Good catch, John, and right you are. Peter Ashton (Michael Condon) is indeed visible for a few seconds in the scene that you describe, and his sister, Janet (Jane Hutcheson), can be seen behind him. Both are somewhat obscured by the bannister rails but clearly identifiable. Thanks for having such keen eyes!