The farming folk of King’s Oak

Ed Lawton.

Life moves at a much slower pace at the Farm than at the Motel, with spring following winter, the days lengthening into summer and shortening again as the autumn leaves fall, for nature takes its time and cannot be hurried. But the farming folk of King’s Oak still have problems to solve. Incidents happy and sad, bringing laughter and sometimes a few tears, and many minor seasonal problems make up the working day of that oddly-matched farming duo, Benny and Ed.

Lately Ed has been in hospital suffering from a slipped disc. He worried about how Benny was coping, although Diane managed to install a friendly housekeeper named Doris Luke to help out and make sure that there would not be absolute chaos in the kitchen when Ed returned.

His stay in hospital gave Ed a little time to reflect on his life. Like Benny he loves the land and all he wants is to be allowed to make a decent living from the soil, and to be allowed to enjoy the quiet beauties of nature around him. An honest and hardworking man, he is not too ambitious, and although grateful for help in the past from people like Hugh Mortimer, who was genuinely trying to help Ed make more use of his land, Ed resents the men who see land as a profitable asset and not as something which feeds man and beast and pleases the eye. He is afraid that one day someone unscrupulous and far cleverer than himself will find some way of tricking him out of his land, and leaving both him and Benny homeless and without jobs.

Although this secret fear is always with him, Ed is more afraid for Benny’s sake than for his own, for because of the way life has treated him, poor Benny cannot think as clearly or as quickly as others and he is far more trusting and much more easily hurt.

He is like a playful puppy, eager for friendship, and willing to accept teasing if it will make people like him.

He cannot understand that there are girls like Josie who, after teasing Benny and arousing his interest in her, makes him the butt of her unkind jokes and dubs him ‘Barmy Benny’.

This Benny certainly is not, he is just slow, but he responds immediately to kindness and understanding, both of which he gets in full measure from Diane, Ed’s niece from the Motel. Diane treats Benny with compassion, affection and understanding. She listens to his problems and tries to help him to solve them.

Benny found Diane a tower of strength when tragedy struck his life. A family of gipsies named Flynn occasionally visited the Farm – indeed Seamus sometimes lends a hand -and Benny fell in love with Maureen, a really beautiful gipsy girl. To everyone’s amazement, Maureen agreed to marry Benny, but on the morning of the wedding she was killed cycling to see him to tell him something important.

Everyone expected poor Benny to go to pieces, but he reacted with a quiet dignity which impressed all his friends. But none of them realised that Benny would always be tormented by wondering just why Maureen wanted to see him … if she had intended calling off the wedding because she realised she did not love Benny enough.

But although he sometimes wondered about another of the gipsies, Pat Grogan who worked at the Motel and visited the Farm on his day off, Benny insisted that Maureen had been ‘his girl’ and he is saving up hard to buy a headstone for her grave as his last visual token of his love.

The two actors who play Benny and his ‘Gaffer’, as Benny calls Ed, are in no way like the two farming characters they play.

Paul Henry went to drama school which was followed by a spell in rep and then it was into TV in Shakespeare and other classical dramas. Since then he has been a popular member of the Crossroads cast for several years. Benny is not an easy character to play, he could so easily become a buffoon instead of a human being who needs care and understanding because he is mentally growing up much slower than people in his own age group.

Paul Henry manages to portray this trait of Benny’s character very well, and he makes Benny a completely sympathetic character.

Thomas Heathcote can claim some forty years of acting under his belt, starting at the Old Vic and going on to a series of plays and films both in the theatre and in TV, which include his memorable performance as the Common Man in the film Man for all Seasons, about the life of Sir Thomas More.

Thomas brings that extra touch of Heathcote magic to all his varied roles, and in Ed he has created a real honest-to-goodness countryman, gruff and bluff, yet with a love of the land which seems to have been passed on for generations to men like Ed.

He protects Benny from the outside world and helps him all he can, while in return Benny likes and respects his ‘Gaffer’. On occasions they have had differences of opinion and Benny has left the farm angry or depressed, but he has always returned.