The first ever episode of our long-running family soap from 1961, specially written for My Weekly by the wonderfully talented E.M. Holland, may seem quaintly old-fashioned with its traditional gender roles.
But its heart-felt loving sentiments and family values still hold true for the present-day.
Here, especially for you is the whole of the first ever episode of Life and the Wadhams. We hope you enjoy this nostalgic look back.
Life and the Wadhams
by E.M. Holland
first published in My Weekly, March 4, 1961
He had planned to buy a special engagement ring for her finger, and together they had planned a grand wedding and a luxury honeymoon in the sun.
But things hadn’t worked out that way.
Because they couldn’t find a place to live, all the money they’d saved had to go on a deposit for a house of their own.
So Mike Wadham had not been able to buy a ring for Polly. The wedding had been a quiet affair and, and the planned honeymoon abroad had been three rainy days in a small Brighton hotel.
Mike hadn’t wanted a big wedding in the first place. He hated a lot of fuss, and the very thought of it had made his collar feel too tight.
But he had successfully pretended to be in favour of a big splash, because he knew Polly wanted it that way.
All the same, she didn’t seem to have any regrets about it when the day came. The radiance that was Polly had caught his breath, and he had known what pride was.
It was the feeling in a man’s chest when his bride hurried to him on dancing feet, and had to be restrained by her father to a more sedate pace in keeping with the solemnity of the occasion.
There were tears in her eyes
And then, on the last day of their honeymoon, as they sat in a shelter along the promenade watching the rain come down, he had noticed there were tears in her eyes.
He had suddenly felt sick, believing she sat there beside him, regretting the wonderful honeymoon in the sun he had promised her.
But she had turned to him, the tears wet on her cheeks and her lashes in damp spikes, and Mike Wadham had discovered his wife would sob, giggle and gulp all in one fell swoop.
“It’s because I’m so happy,” she said. “I’ve got to cry or burst!”
There and then in that shelter in Brighton he had wanted to give her the whole wide world. He had wanted to explain how much he loved her, to make her understand how he felt. But he hadn’t been able to say a word for a long, long time, and when at last he spoke his voice had been gruff, the words blurred.
“Polly,” he said, “I’ll give you that engagement ring, darling. I promise you I will.”
She looked at him, her eyes wide with surprise at his intensity.
“Dope!” she laughed, putting all the love of her heart in the insult. “You can’t give a married woman an engagement ring. It just wouldn’t make sense. You’ll have to make it an eternity ring instead, Mike!”
“All right then, an eternity ring it’ll be,” he said, and he made the words sound more solemn than a promise – almost like a vow.
Mike saved every penny he could
Neither of them had ever mentioned the ring again. But for eleven months Mike Wadham had saved every penny he could, saved with a silent stubborn perseverance, saved with a quiet, unflagging determination.
He wanted to give Polly an eternity ring for her twenty-second birthday, her first birthday as a married woman.
Saving hadn’t been easy. The house they had on mortgage would be entirely theirs in another twenty years. Some of the furniture in it was theirs already, but the a great many things were still on H.P. and a great many more were still needed.
The need for a new boiler had put paid to his dream
And so, on a chilly Wednesday morning, Mike Wadham stood in the kitchen and watched the thin sunshine of early dawn filter through the window.
There was a bleak look in his eyes and his shoulders were hunched under the tawny material of his dressing gown.
“Blast,” he said forcefully, as he banged the teapot on the tray, and gave the brand new boiler a glance of loathing.
The old boiler had come with the house, and had given up the ghost, once and for all, the previous week. Just ten days before Polly’s birthday.
Because they’d needed hot water and some sort of heating in the kitchen they’d had to buy a new one.
That simple fact had put paid to his dream of an eternity ring for Polly.
He filled the teapot, then marched upstairs with the tray.
Although married nearly a year, Mike still couldn’t get used to the way Polly slept.
She didn’t just get into bed. She dived under the bedclothes, surfacing only at the sound of teacups rattling.
He was sure she’d end up quietly choking to death there one day, and although his heart no longer missed a beat when she did her vanishing act, it still left him uneasy.
You’re in a mood, Polly accused
This particular morning was like any other. There was a hump under the bedclothes and a wisp of dark chestnut hair on the pillow.
Without ceremony he dug his knee into the hump, then put the tray on the floor, sat himself on the side of the bed and proceeded to pour out.
Dawn never saw Polly Wadham at her brightest. Waking up was a process that required time and concentration, long moments of gathering scattered wits still muddled with dreams.
Her early morning face always fascinated Mike. Bright pink cheeks and a nose to match. Dark hair standing on end, blue eyes wide but unseeing, and then at last they focused on him, first in amazement for all the world as if he had no right to be there, then in sudden joy because he was.
“Hi,” she greeted him dopily.
Five minutes later she held out her cup for a second pouring.
“You know what you’ve got?” she asked him happily.
“Yes, a bone lazy wife!”
“A clean cut jawline,” she informed him, ignoring the wisecrack.
“Meaning I need a shave?”
“Meaning I like the way you look. I love thin men!”
“Just one thin man if you don’t mind. And if that’s the case, why do you keep on trying to fatten me up?”
“So you’d sit still sometimes. Fat men can always sit still, but thin ones keep fidgeting.”
“I wish you’d fidget your way out of bed, or am I not supposed to get any breakfast today?” he asked grumpily.
“You’re in a mood,” Polly accused. “Why do you keep staring at my hand?”
“I’m not,” he protested, hurriedly averting his eyes.
But he had been staring at it. Seeing it as it should have looked the next day. With an eternity ring sparkling on the finger that wore his wedding ring.
Polly had a childlike love of bright colours and all things shiny. She had never said anything more about wanting a ring, but he knew she did, guessed she was hoping for one for her birthday, and the thought of having to disappoint her shamed him somehow, made him angry with the bitterness of frustration.
“Get a move on, Polly,” he growled.
I wonder what the postman will bring
Half an hour later, down in the kitchen, he had to remind her again.
“Do hurry up, Polly, you’ll burn the toast if you keep staring out of the window.”
She gave him a swift smile, flicked the toast over, pale side up and explained:
“The postman is just coming down the road. I was wondering whether he has anything for us this morning.”
“As it’s your birthday tomorrow you might get a card or two.”
He spoke matter-of-factly as he slipped his feet into his shoes, but he had hesitated a moment before saying the word “birthday”.
“Birthdays are exciting!” Polly announced, breaking two eggs in the frying pan.
“What’s so exciting about being a year older?” he demanded coldly.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Polly said happily. “It’s – well, an occasion, and there are cards and presents and things.”
“Cards and presents perhaps, but why ‘things’? Are you expecting some wonderful surprises?”
“You never know!”
“I do know,” he said. “We don’t do the pools, we haven’t a single Premium Bond, and none of our relatives is likely to leave us a fortune. But you’re always expecting something to happen!”
He had turned on the tap in the sink and spoke loudly because the rushing sound of water was drowning his voice, but also because he was angry.
Polly didn’t know that for eleven long months he had been saving like mad to be able to buy her that eternity ring for her birthday.
Nor could she know he was at this very moment eaten up with a kind of shamed disappointment because he hadn’t managed what he he’d set out to do. Her incurable optimism got him on the raw.
Hurting Polly was the last thing Mike wanted to do
Aware at last that he was really annoyed for some mysterious reason of his own, she looked at him, the smile dying out of her eyes.
“Perhaps I am always hoping for something to happen,” she agreed, “but you’re always afraid something will.”
Mike Wadham was startled. In a few clear words she had explained the essential difference in their characters.
Hurting Polly was the last thing that Mike Wadham wanted to do, and yet he deliberately set out to do just that, knowing he would regret it the minute it was done.
“I don’t want anything to happen because I’m perfectly happy as I am, and because of that I don’t want any changes. Apparently changes are what you want, so you can’t be very contented! But you’ve only got yourself to blame, Polly. You should have married someone who could have made you drip mink and diamonds!”
And then the postman came to the house, not with birthday cards but with a bill for the new boiler.
Mike studied it in silence, his eyes bleak.
“Is that what’s worrying you?” Polly asked softly, her face still white with shock but her eyes understanding.
“Well, in a way.”
“I thought it wouldn’t come till next month,” Polly said sadly, “And why did they charge us nine pounds more than the price they gave us?”
Dismantling the old one, carting it away, fixing in the new one,” he said quietly.
“Mike – haven’t you got – can’t you – ?”
“Pay for it? Yes I can, just about!”
“Then why worry,” Polly asked in tones of wonder.
“You don’t understand,” he said moodily.
Polly would pretend to be thrilled
And the mood sat on his shoulders for the rest of the day.
Mike Wadham found it difficult to concentrate on costing, production and control techniques.
The office was stuffy and airless, and somehow Polly’s ringless hand kept coming between him and his work.
At lunchtime he skipped the canteen and went window gazing.
Unfortunately, he had to pass the jewellers where a small sapphire and diamond eternity ring had winked at him for the past few months.
After having stared at it for a good ten minutes the other shops seemed to have precious little to offer.
At five-to six that evening Mike knew he could no longer dilly-dally and at five-past six he emerged from a shop clutching a bottle of scent done up in a fancy box.
When he got home he kissed Polly absent-mindedly, ate steak and kidney pudding as if it were sawdust and ashes, then sat frowning over his newspaper.
Mike couldn’t sleep very well that night and woke heavy headed the next morning.
In the kitchen he made the early morning tea, then put his present to Polly on the tray.
He knew his wife. She was hopefully expecting a diamond ring, but she would pretend to be thrilled with the perfume and the pretence would fool neither of them.
She was reasonable, of course, and when he explained to her all his savings had gone on a necessity, a new boiler, she would understand.
Mike knew all that, and kept reminding himself of it, but it didn’t alter the fact he’d set his heart on giving her what she wanted, and being unable to do so made him feel – well, small in a way.
With his heart in his eyes, he watched her unwrap the small parcel
As usual he dug his knee into the hump under the bedclothes, but when at last Polly smiled at him his throat felt too tight for words.
“Happy birthday, pretty Polly,” he said soberly.
She hated being called pretty Polly. She said it make her sound like a parrot, and he only called her that when he was in a teasing mood.
Now the two little words were at odds with his fixed smile and she looked at him questioningly.
With his heart in his eyes, he watched her unwrap the small parcel, expecting the swift shadow of disappointment in her glance, steeling himself against the hurt of it.
Her fingers tore at the gold string and fancy paper, and then suddenly she squealed, her voice high and breathless with excitement.
“Mike! Oh, Mike! Perfume! French perfume! Oh, how wonderful!”
Disbelievingly he stared into her laughing eyes, looked at her flushed cheeks, listened to the lilting note of pleasure in her voice, and he froze with amazement.
“You’re pleased, really pleased!” he whispered in stunned accents.
“But of course I’m pleased,” Polly carolled, putting the cold glass against her cheek and smiling at him with stars in her eyes.
“I knew you’d give me a present, but I thought you’d settle for something useful for the house. You said we needed a new dustbin and, well –”
“A dustbin!” Mike said.
“Well, or a bedside table, or a bigger tray or something like that. But this – this is a marvellous surprise! Something useless and glamorous. The kind of present a man gives a woman because he loves her. Oh, Mike, thank you! This is wonderful and you’re wonderful and I love you!”
Polly burst into helpless giggles
She flung her arms round his neck and almost choked him.
Then, his rigid stillness surprising her, she sat back in bed and looked at him.
“What’s the matter, Mike?”
“I thought you wanted an eternity ring,” he said like a man speaking in his sleep. “I was sure you were expecting one. I’ve been saving up for it that day ever since the shelter in Brighton. Remember? I promised you one!”
“An – eternity – !”
To his amazement Polly burst out in helpless giggles.
“What’s so funny?”
“You!” she gurgled. “Of course I remember you promised me one, and of course I’m expecting it, but when you promised you didn’t say when you’d give it to me.
“I mean that’s the kind of present a man gives his wife when they have their silver wedding anniversary, not when they’re newly-married. Don’t tell me you’ve been worrying about a thing like that!”
“Well, not exactly worrying,” he fibbed manfully, and suddenly he felt ten feet tall, and he loved her so much it was like a pain inside him.
Love was a pride and a tenderness and a passionate longing to give and to protect. Love was a lump in a man’s throat, a song in his heart, and blood coursing warmly in his veins.
Mike knew exactly what love was, because he could feel it with almost a frightening intensity.
But he couldn’t put his emotions into words.
“I do wish you wouldn’t bury yourself under the bedclothes at night,” he grumbled. “What are you anyway? A woman or a mole?”
Polly wasn’t even listening.
She sat there frowning over the label on the little bottle.
“Mike, what does ensorceleuse mean?”
“It means I want my breakfast,” he said firmly, suddenly and unexpectedly aware that he was ravenous, and that the morning was a perfect one.
Mike whistled in the rain
Mike Wadham the pessimist had been known to glance at a pale blue sky with not a cloud in sight, and take his mac, just in case.
On the morning of Polly’s birthday he left for the office in a drizzle and didn’t remember his raincoat.
He wondered whether they’d have a French dictionary at the office. He wanted to look up that word – what was it? Ensorcel … something. If Polly asked again what it meant, at least he’d have the answer pat.
He rather liked to see her eyes widen with surprised admiration at his unexpected bits of knowledge.
Mike Wadham walked along and whistled in the rain.
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