S21-E51 : LEMONS
If you've somehow got this far without being aware by now that tonight's was Lee's last episode as Nurse Ben 'Lofty' Chiltern, my apologies for the massive spoiler! We say goodbye to our favourite curly-haired nurse after more than five and a half years, starting back on 1 March 2014 when Lofty dropped (quite literally) into the Holby-verse, with a convoluted backstory gifting him a nickname, an unfortunate accident introducing him to future best mates Robyn (Amanda Henderson) and Max (Jamie Davis) and a convenient vacancy putting him on the staff (and cast) of Casualty.
After 84 episodes (and one mini-ep!) in the ED, Lee took a year's break in 2016 to tour his fourth album Some Enchanted Evening and star in both a UK tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the first pantomime in 30 years to grace the stage of the London Palladium. But in 2017, Lofty was back... this time upstairs on the wards of sister programme Holby City, though he did pop back to Casualty for a crossover episode later that year.
Soon after his return, came the surprising but exquisitely played revelation that Lofty was gay, opening up a whole new world in terms of character development. That eventually took him into a relationship with Dom (David Ames) and the slow, slow build as the two danced endlessly around each other was my favourite phase of Lee's time at Holby. But there's no such thing as a happy ending in serial drama and, once they were established as a couple, it was only a matter of time before trouble headed their way.
If I have one disappointment, it's that though many of the storylines that followed were excellent and always beautifully played by both Lee and David, they failed to deliver on that initial promise of a more-rounded character for Lee to get his teeth into. Increasingly, I felt, Lofty was being written more as an accessory to Dom than as a character in his own right. So while I will miss immensely seeing Lee regularly on my TV screen and will mourn the Lofty that might have been, after a further 83 episodes in the role, I do think the time is right for Lee to move on to new adventures and can't wait to discover where they will take him (and us!).
But back to tonight... knowing in advance roughly how it was going to end, I couldn't see how they could take Dofty from where we left them last time to where we knew they were going in the space of a single episode. I feared it would mean the final destruction of all I loved most about Lofty - his huge heart, his kindness, his quiet determination to take care of people (remember his 'bromance' with Dylan back in Casualty days?). Happily, my fear was unfounded.
Starting, uniquely perhaps, with Lee voicing "previously on Casualty and Holby City..." over a clip from his first episode in Casualty, reuniting him with Robyn and Max who could talk to him as only close friends can, letting Carol (the wonderful Julia Deakin) deliver some home truths to her boys, offering up delicious little scenes with Donna (Jaye Jacobs) and Xav (Marcus Griffiths) and Serena (Catherine Russell) and even an Albie's send off - I thought it a well-crafted, and surprisingly satisfying, conclusion to a sometimes troubling story arc. A fitting ending for a couple who tried so hard to be together but could never quite beat the odds - finally parting while they still loved each other, because they each wanted for the other what would make them happy. Bittersweet, with pitch perfect, emotional performances from both men. And perhaps a door left open...
Synopsis: It's the day of Lofty and Dom's ostentatious wedding vows renewal which they're sharing with family and friends, including Robyn and Max from the ED. When Lofty starts to have doubts about their marriage, he takes stock and finally makes a decision about what he really wants in life. Meanwhile, Chloe has to decide what to do about her pregnancy and needs to open up to Ange in order to find peace. Sacha is torn when his daughter Beka tells him he needs to distance himself from Essie at Christmas - it's for his own good, but Sacha being Sacha finds it hard to say no.
The full episode can be viewed on BBC iPlayer until 17 December 2020 while below, with my apologies to those of the cast who have hit the cutting room floor, is my final Lofty edit. I appreciate that, as the character left behind, the story now is all about Dom, but I hope you'll forgive me ending my edit not on Dom as the programme did, but on our lovely Lofty cycling into the night.
Check out the Timeline's HOLBY & CASUALTY INDEX for all the latest Meady Holby news and episode info.
Published: 21/11/2019; last updated: 18/12/2019