Howard’s Way: A Saga of Ambition, Excess, and the British Dream

Spanning twelve seasons from 1985 to 1998, “Howard’s Way” became a cultural phenomenon in Britain and beyond.  This epic television series chronicled the lives and loves of the wealthy Howard family, their yachting pursuits, and the turbulent world of British shipbuilding in the 1980s.  

This article delves into the show’s enduring appeal, its complex characters, and the social commentary it offered on a nation in flux.

A World of Glamour and Grit:

“Howard’s Way” unfolds against the backdrop of Southampton, a bustling port city on the south coast of England.  The show’s central figure is Howard Kirby (played by the charismatic Maurice Cole), a self-made millionaire who runs a successful shipyard.  Howard embodies the Thatcher-era ideal: ambitious, ruthless, and obsessed with success.  He lives a life of luxury with his glamorously aloof wife, Leona (Jane Asher), sailing his prized yacht, “The Screaming Eagle.”

However, “Howard’s Way” is far from a simple tale of the rich and privileged.  The series juxtaposes Howard’s opulent lifestyle with the struggles of the working class.  We meet his loyal foreman,  Ted Wright (Griff Rhys Jones), and his colleagues at the shipyard, facing redundancies and economic hardship.  The show doesn’t shy away from depicting the harsh realities of industrial decline and the human cost of corporate greed.

A Compelling Ensemble Cast:

The show’s strength lies in its rich ensemble cast.  Howard’s volatile relationship with his younger brother,  Kenneth (Paul Geoffrey), a struggling architect with socialist ideals, adds a layer of dramatic tension.  Kenneth’s relationship with Sarah Weintraub (Edwina  Considine), a fiery Jewish lawyer, injects a subplot that explores themes of class and prejudice.  

The series also features memorable characters like  Aunt Vi (Maggie Smith), Howard’s formidable but ultimately loving mother, and  Tom Forsythe (Michael Kitchen), a ruthless businessman and Howard’s arch-rival.

Beyond Yachts and Shipyards:

“Howard’s Way” doesn’t shy away from exploring complex social issues. The Thatcher government’s influence permeates the narrative, with its policies of deregulation and privatization impacting both the shipyard and the shipyard workers.  

The series tackles themes of loyalty, betrayal, family dynamics, and the changing nature of social mobility in Britain.

Love, Loss, and Legacy:

Throughout its twelve seasons, “Howard’s Way” serves up a healthy dose of melodrama.  Extramarital affairs, financial woes, and dramatic yacht accidents propel the narrative.  The show doesn’t shy away from portraying the dark side of ambition, with characters facing the consequences of their choices. 

By the end of the series, the opulent “Howard’s Way” life has become significantly more complicated.

Enduring Legacy:

“Howard’s Way” remains a significant piece of British television history.  The series captured the zeitgeist of the 1980s, showcasing the economic boom and the social divisions it created.  

The show sparked debates about class, privilege, and the nature of success.  The central characters, particularly Howard Kirby, continue to be emblematic figures of the era.

Beyond its social commentary, “Howard’s Way” serves as a nostalgic reminder of a time gone by.  The lavish lifestyles, the flamboyant yachting culture, and the social scene of 1980s Britain are all vividly portrayed.  The show’s theme song, “The World is My Oyster,” became a catchy earworm, further solidifying its cultural impact.

Criticisms and Reassessments:

“Howard’s Way” was not without its critics.  Some argued it was shallow and materialistic, focusing on the glamorous lives of the wealthy at the expense of the working-class struggles it depicted.  Others pointed out its stereotypical portrayals of characters and its sometimes simplistic handling of social issues.

However, in recent years, there has been a reassessment of the show.  Critics have come to appreciate its exploration of complex themes, its nuanced portrayal of class conflict, and its ability to capture a specific moment in British history.  “Howard’s Way” remains a fascinating and provocative series, prompting discussions about ambition, family, and social change, even decades after it first aired.


What is the basic premise of “Howard’s Way”?

“Howard’s Way” follows the life of Howard Kirby, a self-made millionaire and shipyard owner. The show depicts his lavish lifestyle, his relationships with family and friends, and the challenges his business faces in the turbulent economic climate of 1980s Britain. It explores themes of ambition, class conflict, family dynamics, and the changing nature of success.

Who are the main characters?

Howard Kirby: The central figure, a driven and ambitious businessman with a taste for the finer things.

Leona Kirby: Howard’s glamorous wife, often portrayed as aloof and materialistic.

Kenneth “Kenny” Kirby: Howard’s younger brother, an architect with socialist ideals, creating a constant ideological clash between the siblings.

Sarah Weintraub: Kenny’s love interest, a strong-willed lawyer from a different social background.

Ted Wright: Howard’s loyal but increasingly frustrated foreman, representing the working-class perspective.

Aunt Vi: Howard’s formidable but ultimately loving mother, a source of both humor and support.

Tom Forsythe: Howard’s ruthless business rival, constantly vying for dominance in the shipbuilding industry.

When and where was the show filmed?

The series ran from 1985 to 1998, spanning twelve seasons. Filming primarily took place in Southampton, England, a major port city, perfectly capturing the show’s yachting and industrial themes.

Was “Howard’s Way” a realistic portrayal of the British 1980s?

While the series showcased the opulence and materialism of the era, it also depicted the struggles of the working class facing economic hardship due to industrial decline and Thatcher government policies. It wasn’t just about yachts and champagne; it tackled social issues of the time.

What is the significance of the show’s title?

“Howard’s Way” is a play on words. On one hand, it literally refers to Howard’s approach to life – ambitious, driven, and focused on success.  On a broader level, it symbolizes the Thatcher-era ideology of self-reliance, individualism, and pursuing one’s own path to wealth.

Was “Howard’s Way” a critical success?

The series garnered high viewership but received mixed reviews.  Some praised its exploration of social issues and complex characters, while others criticized its portrayal of materialism and simplistic storylines. However, despite the critiques, it remains a significant cultural touchstone for British television.

“Howard’s Way” is more than just a soap opera set against a backdrop of gleaming yachts.  It offers a window into British society during a transformative period.  The series serves as a reminder of the human cost of economic change, the complexities of family dynamics, and the enduring allure of the British “dream.” 

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