"Whatever fresh hell that poor man's into, we pushed him there.
We did. Frank, you, me
" - Jenny

A man is alone in the woods staring at what looks like a photograph. Nearby, Hubert who has
broken off from the main party is looking for the electrician, Campbell. He is singing aloud as
he goes.

Jenny, Frank and Charles have stopped for a rest in a clearing. Charles is considering
the chances of Hubert's success. Jenny takes the opportunity to complain once more
about the time it has taken them to travel this far without success. She accuses Charles
of wanting to find Campbell for his own glorification.

Frank tells Jenny that after they find Campbell he won't hold them up any longer and
they will be free to chase after Greg again. Jenny replies that wasn't complaining
about him. She muses that she is not so sure that they will go after Greg again.

Hubert meanwhile has found the man in the woods. Hubert asks him if there is a
settlement nearby and whether he has heard of an "electrics boffin name of
Campbell". The man angrily tells him to go. Hubert replies that a civil question
deserves a civil answer.

The man grabs his axe and makes for Hubert, who falls of his horse onto the ground. As he
sinks back he appears to have injured himself.

Meanwhile, Frank is extolling Charles virtues to Jenny. He thinks that Charles has got
to concern himself with a broader context than Greg and Norway. Now that it is two
years on since 'the death' he thinks people need a wider social organisation with a
good leader. He sees Charles as the perfect man for the job, given his charisma and
presence. He thinks he is a natural.

Jenny begins to mock Charles, but Frank stops her and tells her about his experience in
personnel selection. Jenny retorts that she can't see his halo. Charles adds that he doesn't
think he can just ride into settlements "like its Palm Sunday". Frank questions whether he
will therefore just wait for an invitation? They are interrupted by the return of Hubert's
horse without its rider.

A woman has found the injured Hubert and is taking him to a nearby church in a cart.
Charles rides up and the woman introduces herself as Letty. She thinks Charles and
his band must be guerrillas involved in a revolution. Hubert thinks she is potty. Charles
agrees given that she intends to take him to a church.

Reunited again the foursome travel with Letty to a church nearby. Charles carries Hubert
over his shoulder as they go in.

The church is inhabited by several people and a few cows. Jenny mockingly comments
"and Jesus came unto the temple". Letty takes Charles to the vestry where there is a
bed. She says Hubert is welcome to it. Hubert confirmed that its his back that has gone
and that he went down on it like Evil Knievel.

One of the women in the church, Bet, talks to Jenny and Frank and establishes that
they have come looking for Alec Campbell. A man called Queenie enters and
tells them they are welcome to him.

Frank asks Bet if Campbell has ever been violent before. She relates that most of the time
he is like a zombie, but does recall one occasion when a man in a balloon came to see
him. Clearly Greg has visited at some point in the past. Bet asks Frank when they'll
be switching them on again? She tells him that Campbell answers to the name of 'Sparks'.

Frank, Charles and Letty return to the woods to speak to Campbell. On the way Letty
expounds her views about why the world is the way it is now, believing it to be the
fault of 'reds' and the left wing who destroyed public services. She believes that the
rats and disease followed as a result. Charles and Frank listen to her disjointed
ramblings, which includes a comment about the worthless creatures down at the
church, until they arrive at Campbell's clearing. Letty tells Campbell, who she calls
Alec, that "they're on our side".

Alec tells them the answer is "No!", before they even explain what they want of him and says
he heard this all last summer. Recovering a little from his anger, he asks after Hubert. He
goes on to explain that he lives his life as he chooses.

At the church, Queenie is showing Jenny how honey is derived from a honeycomb.
Hubert has got up and remarks from the vestry that honey is precious stuff. Queenie
explains that they live in the church to defend themselves from scroungers who
want to get their hands on the honey. The others came to live at the church
because of the honey, which is why they call him Queenie. Queenie sees them in
turn as drones, idle and useless, with Alec Campbell the most sluggish of the lot.
Jenny goes to check on Hubert and asks him why he's out of his bed if he's injured?

That night, over supper, Charles asks about their living arrangements. Queenie tells him that
they boil their water and haven't got a fresh supply. A man called Vic says they have a
problem with worms and Frank suggests fern fronds as a cure.

Charles goes to speak to Alec and tells him he is crucial, as a former electrician with the
Electricity Generating Board, to the rebuilding of civilisation. He tells him about the
hydro-electric power stations in Norway and the need for a better life. Alec retorts that he
is mad, wanting a world of pensions, mortgages and rush hours again! Charles angrily
exclaims that he can't believe they are better off back in the dark ages! Alec storms off
and Frank stops Charles following him.

In one of the church's anterooms, Jenny, Charles and Frank are discussing Alec. Jenny
thinks he should be left alone given his response to them so far. Charles thinks he's
invaluable and must be convinced. Frank thinks there may be something more to Alec's

The next morning, Charles and Vic try to get the pump working, but it is too rusted.
Charles thinks they need a hoist and asks Alec if he's got any ideas. Alec walks away
refusing to help them. Vic tells Charles of a nearby engineering works which may
have some equipment they could use.

Frank speaks to Queenie about Alec's behaviour. He confirms that the only other time
he was violent was when Greg visited. He advises Frank to speak to Letty to find out

Letty tells Frank that Alec had two children but that they never come to see him. She is
clearly deluded about what has happened to them. She believes her own sons have
taken up arms against the reds, as guerrilla fighters paving the way for the Americans.
Frank steers her back onto track by asking about Alec's wife. Letty tells him she was
called Rita and that she died of a disease two years ago ('the death') and asks him if
he'd care to see a photo.

Letty and Frank look for the photo but only come across an old wireless that Alec used to
tinker with. Letty explains that Vic was glad to move out of the room when he began
to share with Bet, because he would be away from Alec who was always having
nightmares and shouting out his wife's name whilst sleeping.

At the engineering works whilst Vic goes off to look for a ladder to get a chain down,
Charles tries to engage Alec (who has come with them) in a technical conversation
about voltage, but he does not take the bait. Charles comments on the worth of the
machines in the factory, all mothballed and ready to go. Alec tells Charles he is besotted
with technology just like Greg, babbling about it being their golden heritage and their
duty to preserve it.

Charles is undeterred and talks about men's dazzling achievements. Alec ironically calls
'the death' science's crowning glory. Charles argues that 'the death' was the result of a
handful of scientists and politicians and not the fault of science. He asks Alec why he
doesn't see the worth of the precision tools in the factory. Spotting a skeleton of a man
at one of the machines, Charles points him out to Alec, saying that he could have died
in bed, but he wanted to preserve the machines for their future use and believed that
they would continue to be valued.

Jenny takes Hubert some rabbit stew and finds him drunk. She also discovers some
pethadine in his rucksack which she confiscates.

That evening, Charles explains to Queenie why they need Alec's skills, which are
different to Greg's, as he was a civil engineer.

Queenie and Bet try to persuade Alec to go. He agrees to leave but not with Charles
and company.

Outside the church, Frank explains to Jenny and Charles that Alec has a thick shell
of resentment because of his years involved in the rat race and the promotion
ladder being taken away by 'the death'. Jenny thinks there must be another reason.

Frank thinks about using the drug belladonna (deadly nightshade) or the fly agaric
mushroom on Alec, to effect his central nervous system. Jenny protests, saying
they can't use him like a guinea pig and that she is surprised at the extremes he is
prepared to go. Frank responds by telling her to have a go at getting through to him.

Jenny meets Alec in the woods and sees the photograph of his wife Rita. She tries to
sympathise with him, but also tells him that she doesn't think she would want to see
him like this.

Alec becomes angry and Charles and Frank arrive on the scene having come along
to ensure Jenny's safety. Jenny doesn't think he would have harmed her.

Jenny gives Frank the pethadine, which he uses to drug Alec's drink. They pretend it
is a brew for getting rid of worms. It is not long before Alec begins to look ill and
holds his stomach.

Frank explains to Queenie that it must be an allergic reaction to the worm brew as
Alec is taken to his chamber to lie down. Jenny is worried because he is burning
hot and attempts to get some water. Frank forbids her saying it will dilute the drug.

Alec calls out to Jenny as if she is Rita. Jenny is uncomfortable with this and wants
to leave. Frank encourages her to stay saying that it might help matters if he thinks
of her as Rita. Alec is delirious but does blurt out that "had to go" and that he'd have
been back if it hadn't been for the traffic. He comes across as feeling guilty for
something. He begs 'Rita' not to go.

Alec regrets that he 'she didn't hold on until he got back' as he wanted to explain
some things to her. He complains that he was "forever on call out" and that there was
never time for the real things in life. He goes on to say that he always took her for
granted and spent too much time pitying himself and blaming her and the children
for 'the system'. Jenny cries as Alec, now in extreme anguish, says how he left Rita
alone in a hostel without even the girls and how he would give anything just to hold
her hand and ask her forgiveness.

Charles asks Frank sharply if he is satisfied with this turn of events. Frank replies that
this is cathartic ab-reaction, akin to lancing an abcess, and could be doing him some
good. Charles leaves the room. Frank follows him and tells him that Alec's story is the
same as his. He wasn't with his wife when she died. Charles reveals that he was with
his wife at her death and that his last words to her were that he was sorry, sorry for
surviving. Jenny stays with Alec whilst he sleeps.

The next morning, Frank tells Charles that Alec's troubles all stem from the fact that
things were left unsaid with his wife. He believes they should carry on with what
they have started, using Jenny as Rita. Charles sees this as a big emotional
responsibility and thinks she may have enough on her plate with the missing Greg.
He insists that they have to cure Alec to make it worthwhile.

Letty interrupts their discussion. She tells them that Alec has gone missing. They soon
find him on top of the church tower, preparing to jump. Charles angrily shouts at Alec "so
much for your lanced abcess!"

Alec tells them to get out of the way. Charles instructs Frank to keep Alec talking and
climbs the steps to the tower, despite Vic's warnings that they are dangerous and falling

Frank tries to talk some sense into Alec who is talking about a dream he has in which he
is switching on the volts to charge an electric chair in which his wife is seated. Frank
shouts up that he never harmed is wife.

Charles has reached the roof and grabs Alec. They tumble to the ground safely away from
the edge of the roof.

Some time later Jenny is talking to Charles about what happens next. She strongly believes
that they are responsible for whatever "fresh hell" Alec is in now and that they can't leave
him like this.

Frank talks to Alec once more about his recurring nightmares and bottling up of guilt and
goes through with him what he understands happened at the time of the death. Essentially
Alec had gone to see his sick mother and tried to return to his wife but got back to her after
she had died. Frank tells him not to blame himself.

Queenie, Bet and Vic approach Charles for help. They don't feel their honey trading is getting
them anywhere and want to be part of something bigger. They want him to go to the settlement
at Greenham and persuade them into joining forces.

Frank tells Letty that they are going on to Greenham and asks her to tell Alec. Jenny is confused
by this as she thinks they're not leaving. She realises this must be another of Frank's tricks.

Charles and Frank are preparing to leave when they are suddenly joined by Alec, who is
talking about hydro-electric power stations in Pitlochry which should be serviceable. He thinks
these are a better bet than Norway. Charles is amazed.

Frank tells a surprised Jenny that they are leaving with Alec. He explains that he had resorted
to shock therapy, namely the news of their impending departure. He also tells her that they
intend to go to Scotland not Norway. Unfortunately for Jenny, Alec has made a condition that
he will only go with them if Letty can have her boots.

Letty is pleased with Jenny's boots and with the news that Alec is going to Scotland which she
sees as "the heartland of the counter revolution!"

Before they set off, Charles tries once more to get the water pump working, but his attempts are
in vain. He finally gives up and observes that "You can't win 'em all!".

Episode Review

Out of all the 38 episodes of Survivors, Sparks was without a doubt my least favourite on first viewing. The episode came over as dull, uneven and slow-paced. Seeing it again more recently I find this initial judgement to have been a little harsh but still find the plot to be curiously uninvolving and disjointed.

There's nothing wrong with William Dysart's performance as Alec. He is especially good after he is drugged by Frank, however it is difficult to muster sympathy for the character given that everyone else we have ever met in the programme has suffered the same type of tragedy and got on with their lives. This is two years on after all.

The search for Greg has effectively been abandoned by this point and it does seem strange that Alec has within the space of an episode become the sole focus of the plot. We learn that Alec is a different and therefore more vital engineer than Greg but Jenny (and I) remain unconvinced!

John Bennett and Linda Polan are given little to do and are by no means stretched by their very incidental parts here, whilst Gabrielle Hamilton's Lettie is occasionally unintelligible, but this can be forgiven as intended characterisation.

My favourite aspect of the episode is the subtle subplot regarding Charles's leadership and the deliberately scripted parallels that are drawn between him and Jesus. As the episode begins he bemoans the fact that he can't just walk into a new settlement 'like its Palm Sunday' and expect them to accept his leadership (as Jesus did). Later he arrives at a new settlement (in the church) and Jenny quips "and Jesus came unto the temple" (quoting from the New Testament) and finally the people at the church positively request his leadership, but he is ultimately unable to give them what they want. OK the parallel is being stretched a little at the end here but its definitely there in part, as is the message that Frank's assertion about Charles was correct, namely that he could walk into a settlement and become its leader. This is testament to the kind of man Charles is.

It is the combination of the static and isolated feeling of the Imber location, the drone-like characterisation of the church's inhabitants, and most of all Alec's severe depression that rub off on Sparks ensuring that a fire never gets going...

Rating: 6/10

Episode 34: Sparks

writer: Roger Parkes
first broadcast:
4th May 1977

Regular Cast:

Charles Vaughan: Denis Lill
Jenny Richards:
Lucy Fleming
Frank Garner: Edward Underdown
Hubert Goss: John Abineri

and introducing:

Alec Campbell: William Dysart

Guest Cast:

Queenie: John Bennett
Gabrielle Hamilton
Linda Polan
Vic: John White

designer: Geoff Powell
Tristan De Vere Cole
producer: Terence Dudley

episode recorded: 1st - 6th March 1977

For biographies of the guest cast in this episode click

For the location details for this episode click here


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Page Last Updated: 25th February 2003  All text Andy Priestner   Screen Captures BBC