Oscar-nominated actress Susannah York (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They, Tom Jones, Superman) stars in this highly-regarded series set in a rural Suffolk village (the exteriors were actually shot in Lenham and West Malling in Kent) during World War Two. Originally broadcast on ITV in 1982, We’ll Meet Again – The Complete Series contains all thirteen episodes of this culture clash drama.
For three-and-a-half long years, the small town of Market Wetherby has been doggedly getting on with the war; contending with ration books and shortages, of ‘Digging for Victory’ and news on the ‘Wireless’. Into this quiet corner of wartime tranquillity arrive the 525th Bomb Group of the US Eighth Air Group. Consequently, welcoming ‘Flying Fortress’ bombers and 2,500 officers and men does not come easy to the inhabitants of this sleepy village…
Only one series of We’ll Meet Again was ever made, despite a public protest for more due to the success with which it was met. Other stars in this fondly-remembered show include Ronald Hines (Van der Valk, Wycliffe), Michael J Shannon (Prime Suspect Three, A Very Peculiar Practice) and Ray Smith (Dempsey and Makepeace, Sam).
I came to this enchanting series in a strange way. I was a kid when it was first aired in 1982 and had vague recollections of it. I'm sure I caught glimpses of it but not enough to have remembered it vividly. Then in January 2012 I caught the repeats on the Yesterday channel. I found out it had been originally repeated in April 2011 and it was re-repeated here on the graveyard shift of 2am in the morning! That, somehow lent appeal to the series. In the quietness, the loneliness of the middle of the night with the lights off you could almost be anywhere, any place. Thus I was transported back some 30 years and once seen it hooked me, mesmirised me like so many were hooked when it was originally aired.
Boy what a show. Of course for a series to stand-out the writing and directing has to be top-notch and here it is. But what makes it especially memorable is the brilliance of the ensemble cast. The star, the late and much-missed Susannah York has always been watchable in whatever she has appeared in and here it goes without saying that she is at the top of her game. Her on-screen lover, Michael J Shannon is also good. But for a series to hold you the supporting characters also have to be equally as good and the sub-plots as captivating as the main love-affair. Here it works to perfection. I haven't seen characters I cared about so much since seeing the first series of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet in the 1980s. Not one sub-plot is boring; not one is superflous. They all build-up the picture of life in that Suffolk village in wartorn 1940s and hold you like few other shows could hope to do.
The balance of suspense and comedy is perfect. The characters become names that you won't forget: Elmer, Hymie, Jim Kiley, Rosie, Vera, Albert ... Go on, I dare you to watch it and say afterwards you can't remember the names! That is how good it is. You will care for these characters because they are so well-acted, so rounded, that they could almost be real.
Another factor of its magic is the fact that none of the actors went on to really big success. Sure Susannah York was a big star then but did she really do anything as memorable after this? Did any of the other actors go on to really big things. I think the splendid Kevin McInally, who appears in two of the episodes, has had the most commercial success. Some you see in small parts on other shows especially Carolyn Pickles and Christopher Malcolm but no-one became bigger than the show itself. So you could almost think they were the characters as that is really what most of us remember the actors for. Hymie is Hymie, ditto Elmer.
It has been lost in the midst of time why a second series was never commissioned. It was a ratings success when it first came out on LWT on a Friday evening at 9pm (in the 1980s that was one of the best TV slots) so there was never a commercial reason why it wasn't. Rumour has it that LWT wanted to concentrate on contemporary dramas but whatever the reason you do find that after seeing it you are dying to know what happened to the characters afterwards. Such was the clamour from the public for more that a novel was commissioned detailing what happened to them afterwards. That is We'll Meet Again: The End of an Era and is available usually for a pound or so at amazon.co.uk.
So after seeing it rather that say goodbye to these wonderful characters I bought the Dvd boset so I can catch up with them anytime. Sounds corny but wait to you see it and you'll feel corny as well.
Sidetracking somewhat but does anyone else remember that LWT jingle and promo banner before the show started?? For me, as a nostalgia trip it's second only to that iconic Thames television dramtic jingle and London landmarks hnched together graphic.
- © Paul Page, 2012
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