Mary Straker, who has been nicknamed “The Screecher” by most female UFO fans, especially most fanfiction writers, is a highly controversial character, as is her marriage with Ed Straker. And if she is not deemed to be in the wrong and utterly obnoxious, she is usually written back into his life and as his wife, as if things were that simple either.
This persistent one-sided treatment of the character, whom I – I have to confess – do not much like myself either, has intrigued me into looking for assessments more understanding of the entire ramifications and the realistic background of what happened to that woman, to Straker and to that marriage. Add to that that I wanted to also voice my own take on the whole situation, including pointing out why quite some so-called repair!fics (stories which try to repair things gone wrong in the opinion of the writer) do not work.
During that search for different opinions I came across a response to criticism of Mary, written by Dave, which is refreshingly neutral, insightful and on the spot in almost everything. It also expresses a lot of what I am thinking, so I decided to combine his and my take. Dave has been so kind as to allow The Herald to use his post in this article.
First however, there seems to be the need of some clarification as to the timeline:
1970 UFO-incident in Great Britain, Henderson and Straker get hurt, the minister gets killed.
ca. 4-6 weeks later Mary and Ed marry, proof: Straker is back to full health
next day Ed is asked to meet Henderson instead of boarding a plane to his honeymoon in Athens, Henderson’s state would be in line with 4-6 weeks after the incident.
same day Henderson asks Straker to hold the UNO speech in his stead, the flight for Athens leaves without Mary and Ed
2 days later Straker holds his speech in front of the UNO, SHADO is said to take between 7-10 years to set up
a few days later Henderson, still in hospital, tells Straker he shall take over SHADO
a few months later Straker and Mary buy a house near Harlington, Straker starts working for SHADO
a few weeks later Mary starts making a home out of the house they bought, Straker fully working now, they both are very much in love
ca. 1971 house is almost done, Mary asks the insurance agent over, Ed contends he has to work late
ca. 1972 Freeman and Straker meet with Henderson who is fully recovered, Mary waits for Ed. They have their first bad onscreen fight, more are hinted at.
ca. 1973 Freeman and Ed talk about Mary, SHADO is in shell construction state
summer 1975 Mary tells Straker she is pregnant
fall 1975 Straker works overtime, Mary gets asked about Ed by her mother, baby is due first week in April, the mother insinuates Ed cheats, on coming home they have another row, clearly one of many. She suggests he has cheated. She wants to know what he does.
winter 1975/76 Ed and Alec talk during a walk of the grounds, Ed is desperate about his marriage and child by then.
spring 1976 Mary’s mother has Ed followed to a staff meeting at Nina Barry’s place and photographed with Nina
day after Mary has a cesarian after Straker strikes her and she falls down the stairs. John is born, Ed doesn’t stay to see Mary conscious, the couple separates
ca. 1976/77 divorce – subsequent marriage of Mary with Rutland
1977 to 1983/84 somewhen during this time Mary gets a surname change for John, on the sly
1980 SHADO is fully functional
1983/84 John is killed
Several factors were taken into account for this timeline: the actual references to dates on screen, the normal logistics of planning and practical construction of such a large building complex and the timelines of referencing other incidents.
While this timeline disagrees with what Chris Bentley has postulated, who seems to have tried to incorporate time references from discarded scenes, scripts and other sources, it is the one based in the most logical manner on what is visible and spoken canon.
E.g. it is impossible to design, excavate and lay foundations for a building of that size in significantly less than two years. Straker’s marriage however starts before he is given the task to build SHADO and it ends in the spring SHADO is basically functional (as opposed to fully functioning).
It also makes little sense to expect a woman of that era to so quickly give up on a beloved husband and much wanted marriage and child, as some have it down as. That does take longer than a few months as well.
Hence it can be rather safely said that Straker’s marriage was killed over the course of roughly 6-7 years, during the inception and building of SHADO HQ.
It’s amazing the way this gal has been vilified … I suppose one can understand why though, when some people are so transfixed by a character that they will demonize anyone who even looks crosseyed at him.
What Dave remarks upon is not uncommon and it is called “character bashing”.
Character bashing occurs when fans are hostile to a particular character and express their dislike through fanfiction and other fan activities. What is done is rewriting/reinventing canon to idealize one character at the cost of another. It frequently takes place when the hated character is seen as a threat to the fans’ preferred relationship, or when it is perceived not to treat the idolized character in what the fans consider the appropriate manner.
In short – the term applies perfectly to how Mary is viewed especially by avid Ed Straker fans. An Ed Straker, who can do no wrong in the eyes of such fans, is seen as the blameless victim of his wife. This of course is, as we will find out, not just faulty, it is also a misrepresentation of what we get shown in canon and it is doing disservice to the layered and deep characterization that character was invested with.
One further reason for character bashing, apart from idolization/idealization of the character this vilified person is paired with, is to heighten and strengthen alternate relationships the relevant writer has planned for – in this case – Ed Straker.
The nastier Mary Straker is painted, the easier and faster and more thoroughly Ed Straker will fall for the Mary Sue that that writer inserts into the UFO ‘verse to pair Straker up with. Even in the case of no self insertion this taking down of Mary makes it so much easier for a weak writer to argue e.g. for episodes/incidents of cheating or rapid re-marriage. And that of course is a cop-out instead of careful plotting and characterisation.
But Mary’s reaction to this situation is entirely normal in these circumstances.
For one, she did seem like a good match for Straker in the beginning, for at first, they both seemed like rather quiet, reclusive, and private people … and they seemed very much in love. Straker had not yet taken on the hard-assed persona that the later solitary years with SHADO (the years the show shows him in) had given him.
The way Suzanne Neve and Ed Bishop portrayed Mary and Ed Straker in the beginning of CONFETTI CHECK A-O.K. was that of a quite shy, somewhat repressed, breathlessly in love, young and inexperienced couple. They were very much in love with each other, and both their expressions and behaviour spoke of deep commitment.
Indeed, had Straker stayed the aide of Henderson, a scientist and deskjockey with regular working hours and a predominantly sedate job, even if helping Henderson manage or set up SHADO, the way it was initially planned to take place, then there is no reason to assume that this marriage would have broken up at all! Even given the fact that Straker potentially would have – still occasionally – been on space missions in the course of this work, makes it still unlikely that Mary would have reacted with more than simple concern and fear during those instances.
As for it being a mistake for them to marry in the first place – don’t forget, they did marry before SHADO took off and began bulldozing Straker’s life. True, Mary did know beforehand, as a military man, he had work issues he couldn’t talk about, and for a long time she did put up with that issue like a champ. It was only after a prolonged duration that she eventually began to break down….
Yes, Mary had married someone in Military Intelligence. But that obviously was no James Bond or Rambo type assault weapon. Straker was a scientist instead, a planning and evaluating ressource, as well as a direct personal aide of the one general dealing with UFOs. She did not have any reason to expect him to end up working 20 hours a day, and those out of their house. Indeed, she was rather understanding of initial demands made on him, and thus also her.
It is definitely not as with choosing a vet or surgeon or even policeman or airline pilot or the officer on an oceanliner as husband, where you can foresee that this partner will spend lots of time being called to deal with emergencies or that the job per se involves much time spent away from home. Straker had a deskjob at the time they married.
The “prolonged duration,” as we will see, would have taxed practically every woman not having counted on that.
She put up with months, a year, of being alone all the time and rarely seeing her husband, this all in the beginning of what was supposed to be a wonderfully looked forward to marriage and new life….and with no end in sight! Add to this her pregnancy and the fact that she was having to go through it all practically by herself….She was feeling at the absolute bottom of Straker’s priority list….and Straker wasn’t doing much to counteract this feeling!
Not just a year, it was indeed even much, much longer. Mary decided to leave Straker after a full 6 years worth of all that! Canon clears this up beyond doubt, the marriage lasted from 1970 to roughly 1977, and the construction of SHADO (and hence the workload for Straker) started the very same year they married.
I really would like to watch any of those who are so ready to take Mary Straker down as a woman making things unnecessarily hard on the poor Commander and being unprepared to follow up with marrying a superhero/warhero (which Straker certainly was not) deal with such behaviour in their own husbands or partners. I doubt there would be many submitting to such treatment for longer than 2-3 years, at most!
Let’s face it folks, Mary was the victim of severe neglect here, and prolonged exposure to such conditions leads to serious depression and loss of self esteem. That is enough to change anybody’s commitment to another person and a relationship.
In fact, we do not just deal with severe neglect, there was physical spousal abuse in that marriage as well. Ed Straker hit his wife, he hit her hard and in the face, and there was absolutely no reason for him to hit a very much pregnant woman practically on the eve of birthing.
This is quite unforgivable. You don’t beat women around. You really don’t beat pregnant women around. And you cannot expect as of rights that after such physical abuse and personal humiliation you would easily be forgiven or forgiven at all! That slap was violent, it was brutal and it was something no balanced, civilized man ever would have done.
Mary’s reaction to the slap that Straker deals her on the staircase shows what this was and that she knew it. Straker’s responding expression to her look of utter hurt and humiliation clarifies that he as well realizes what he just had done.
Let us make this a bit more concise, because for me it is a pivotal, a very important point in not just their relationship, but also regarding the often-found fan assumption of Steven Rutland allegedly being a wifebeater.
Mary’s reaction to that slap was unmistakable. She was devastated that the one person she loved, the one person she had trusted, so much as to be willing to marry him and bear him a child, would turn on her and hit her. That devastation is the reason why she faints. It was at this precise moment that Straker lost all his chances and arguments for a potential reunion, it was precisely then that Mary decided upon a full and not just a temporary separation. And indeed, he lost her with ample cause. There are enough women, and men for that matter, to whom one single hit is one too many.
That Mary would marry a man who is abusive, after that very clear show of how much she abhors such behaviour, would be entirely out of character for her and hence is out of the question.
As to Straker turning violent and hitting her, it is fitting the rather complicated and realistic character Ed Bishop has built there with such great care. It is a reaction of helplessness, of resorting to something which – at one point in his life – must have been set as an example for him (by his own father?), it is a reaction of someone at the very end of his devices.
All of that is no excuse by the way, and unlike some who idealize Straker, instead of enjoy the multilayered, realistic character Ed Bishop gave us with him, I do not consider this explanation an excuse. Indeed, given that I do not vilify Mary the way she usually is, this hitting her is, for me, the grave incident it has to be regarded as:
Ed bars her way, grabbing her hard, Mary is frightened
Mary gets slapped when she insists on leaving.
That is quite some violence, no mistake!
Straker realizes what he has done
Mary has finished with the man in front of her
There is a scene in CONFETTI CHECK A-O.K., where after yet another disappointing cancellation from Ed, they show a severely depressed and very pregnant Mary struggling up the stairs to yet another lonely night alone…. I can’t help but feel so sorry for that girl! Life was absolutely terrible for her!
The only mistake she made in that relationship was initially being naive…. Not stupid or bitchy, but naive. She was a perfectly fine girl who got trampled on by a situation that got out of control, namely her husband’s career crushing everything else out of his life, and the husband neglecting to support her needs, seemingly at all….
It is here that I have to part company with Dave.
Yes, I again agree, life dealt Mary a really bad hand with Straker’s change of posts, and she manoeuvred herself into a no-win situation with that pregnancy as well. However, there is something which is called self-responsibility. It was rather obvious that Straker was, albeit absent a lot of time, a very good provider. Mary had no financial worries, she had lots of free time on her hands, at least after she had renovated the house.
She could have got herself a meaningful occupation. Not necessarily paid work, voluntary work instead, e.g. helping an orphanage, the homeless or a local youth club, could have given her perforce husband-bereft time and life a meaning. She would not have been the first, and definitely not the last.
Such work and meaning in her life might have carried her through the hard times Straker had told her about, and told her would end some day. It is there where she acted irresponsibly, childishly and self-centered.
A husband cannot be held entirely responsible for a wife’s life, and vice versa. It would have been Mary’s duty to not just passively “endure”, or rile, or give up in the end. It would have been her duty to occupy herself in a manner balancing her life.
In the end, she bailed on the relationship. Her needs weren’t being met. She got burnt out and left. It’s what any woman in her right mind would do in the same situation. It is because she stuck with him so long, absorbing all his neglect and feeling so lonely and unappreciated all the time, that she got paranoid, and lost her judgement and composure. Then anyone else’s input and advice would seem so good to her, because she wasn’t getting anything from her own husband!
As explained above, there would have been loads of women, who would have occupied themselves in a positive, self-supportive and meaningful manner, had they been in the same situation as Mary Straker.
This is not exactly what she is being reproached for by the already mentioned fanfiction writers, though. There the common accusation is that a wife of a USAF fighter pilot and Military Intelligence agent ought to know better, to support her husband better and to simply take everything in stride.
Looking at this I can only shake my head, much like Dave, but for different, more practical reasons.
At the time and in the place England-born and so very essentially British Mary met with Straker, he long ago had ceased being a fighter pilot, that was just the first step in his military career. Nor was he some Bond-like or Ethan-Hunt-style field agent, what we get to see is a scientist and bureaucrat who is the personal aide of a general who, like Straker, appears to work in the gathering and dealing with informations area. A valid part of any Military Intelligence set up, indeed something the majority of Military Intelligence consists of. A desk job, potentially even a nine-to-five one, to anyone looking in on both him and Henderson.
So no, Mary had no cause to assume that Straker would end up working crippling hours, every day, after their marriage. And given that she had aimed at the same kind of upper middleclass, regular man in an office, much like what her father was and what later Steven Rutland would be, maybe with the added “spice” of holding such a desk job within the US military intelligence, she also was not prepared for what happened to Straker’s work load, nor did she have to be per se.
Maybe she did close her mind off to him in the end…. on the “alleged affair”, and loose patience with his never giving her any of his time. But tell me, who of you all wouldn’t wear down and loose patience just the same, given the same circumstances?…. Don’t lie now!….
I find the assumption so many people automatically have, that Mary’s mother is a meddling, catankerous, overbearing bitch poisoning her daughter against her foreign-born husband to be stretching what we get in canon. It seems to again be coloured by some fans’ idealisation of Straker.
Mary so very obviously is a sweet, innocent English rose, the much loved sole child or at least the sole daughter of an upper middleclass or even upperclass British family. She has, to those who are able to read the signals, the air of having been properly convent raised, endowed maybe with a slightly adventurous streak, but still demure and very mannerly in all and everything. As such a daughter she is loved and cared for, by both her parents.
It may come as unwelcome news to some modern American UFO fans, but portraying parents as being leery of and rejecting US military staff is nothing extraordinary. “Over-paid, over-sexed and over here” is what many British people flipped during that time, when confronted with US forces on their own soil, meaning that there was a largish enough part among the British population who did not at all welcome the military during the period after WW II. There certainly was quite some resentment when it came to interaction with local women, not just in the UK by the way, but also in France and Italy for instance.
Thus, their rejection of Straker, which in no way is depicted in canon to be above the then common warning issued young women, of not mingling with the G.I.s/US military, is absolutely normal.
As to Mary’s mother assuming that Straker was cheating on her daughter, that also is just a logical consequence of what was happening.
Not in love with him the way Mary was, her mother looked at what was taking place with a much colder eye. There was a husband who spent practically all but a few hours every day out of the house. When asked he was unwilling to explain what he did, and “work” has been an excuse for men maintaining a double life, complete with a mistress set up in a flat somewhere, for ages.
Seriously, what normal man would leave such a loving, beautiful woman and later a pregnant wife, so much alone?
That Mary’s mother decided it is finally necessary to check up on what Straker is doing, given his neglectful behaviour over the course of six years, is perfect solid reasoning. She wants to minimize the trauma for her pregnant daughter, the trauma she foresees when Mary – as she assumes – will discover Straker’s cheating at last, potentially then saddled with more than one child and her life ruined.
Thus, while I may not find the way her mother approached the problem acceptable, I certainly do not reproach her for trying to guard her beloved child from throwing away her life. Because that is what Mary’s mother is trying to do.
Many a passionate, can’t lose relationship fails under the punishment of harsh reality. Straker may be the misty blue eyed Apollo, irresistable to some women….at first. But then try to live with him for a few years and put up with his neglect, and try being the fragile, lonely, housewife and on the bottom of your mate’s priority list, and see how you feel after a few years.
Fully with Dave again here. It is interesting to note that in a lot of fanfiction Straker is turned into an out of character, perfect partner and lover – over again and again. The stories in which he suddenly is a dream husband doing no wrong are indeed legion by now, and he is depicted as being everything he is definitely not in canon.
Yet, he never would have been. SHADO would always have come first, and regardless of who he would have been married to/partnered with, this woman would have had to deal with cancelled suppers, most likely not even phoned home about, and rejected social dates every other day.
This – the idealization which takes place – is most likely one reason for rejecting Mary Nightingale as a valid, and maligned, UFO character.
Frankly, I think she did the right thing in leaving him. The situation started out right but went sour. It happens. She moved on, found another man who stayed home with her and met her needs. Surprizingly, if you watch A QUESTION OF PRIORITIES with an open mind, you’ll see that in the beginning she’s still not bitter with Straker yet. In fact, she seems still affectioned to him, and seems (at least in the eyes of *this* insensitive male pig) to feel regret for the unfortunate way things have turned out for the poor guy.
I agree, she shouldn’t have sent Straker away before the kid got to show him his boat, but then Straker could have very easily stood his ground for a few more measly minutes. She didn’t seem vindictive in asking him to go, so he *could* have waited for Johnny.
And as for her yelling at Straker to “do something!….”
….He was his father, and he is the problem solver for his kid! Of course she’s going to look to Straker to deal with the problem! She’s not going to look to Rutland, She didn’t snog Rutland to make this kid!!!!
Here I agree partially with Dave, yes, after all that happened, including – in her situation – the assumption that he cheated on her, but also his repeat desertion of her in time of need, and his physical abuse, leaving Straker was a clearcut consequence for Mary. Understandable and nothing she should be blamed for,.
Unlike Dave I do not agree with that she still was much affectionate. She controlled Straker through visiting rights, and she did that with an iron hand. If anything we get to see a practically cowed man in A QUESTION OF PRIORITIES, a man who has to justify himself for a half hour excess time with his son, a man who is told to go scoot, instead of waiting for his kid to show off a present he himself bought the boy. That Straker appears to be so cowed as to meekly accept her sending him off, means she must have threatened him prior to that scene with cutting off all contact with John. At the time it would have very easily been possible for her to do that and even today fathers in the UK do not have such a good standing in front of the law regarding visiting rights.
What weighs heavier though is something else. Mary has changed John’s surname somewhen before A QUESTION OF PRIORITIES. This is not easily achieved in the UK where the law insists on the child wearing the natural father’s surname up to its 16th year at the very least. Changes to the surname are possible without trouble only with the agreement of the father.
We do learn in that episode however that Straker never knew that John’s name had been changed. So no one ever asked him about that. The only way this can take place is by some very sneaky and nifty court action, and that cannot have been benign in manner. For Mary to do that, she already needs to have been very embittered with Straker.
In the final end, after all the botching up Straker did in dealing with his family life, and the death of his son, I can’t blame Mary for being bitter. The situation isn’t all that cut and dried; nobody was totally at fault for Johnny being able to run loose in front of the car, and nobody was clear of blame either.
This as well is often rather misrepresented. A seven years old kid is no toddler anymore. What you would not expect a four year old do – pay attention to traffic – you can expect a child of John’s age doing. Let us not forget that seven is when most children in Europe are expected to walk or bike to school on their own, or to at least participate in normal traffic on the streets.
Maintaining that Mary was at fault, simply for allowing John to run down the driveway, is stretching her motherly responsibilities quite a bit.
In the end Straker has to take the biggest hit for taking on the responsibility of obtaining the medicine from overseas, and then half assedly following through on it. After all, Mary’s new husband did offer to charter a special plane for it and the problem would have been solved right there. But Straker took the responsibility away from Rutland, and then used an uncertain and risky scheme to get it brought over, and then in the end didn’t have the stones to force the situation through to a successful conclusion.
This is something much overlooked. Yes, Rutland did offer to charter a plane, he would have organised the transport of the drug.
Straker insisted on doing that himself, thus he is fully responsible for what happened in consequence. That Mary downright hates his very presence after his failure to procure the antibiotic is more than understandable. I don’t know whether I would have been as composed as she was right then.
While I can understand his wish to be the one to come to his son’s rescue, and while I also understand that he may have reasoned that a SHADO transporter would have been much faster than a standard passenger plane, he still took sole responsibility at that moment and reduced Rutland to being a bystander.
Rutland by the way nowhere showed anything but genuine concern for the kid and full, considerate and loving support for Mary. He even went out on a limb to enable Straker on one occasion to mend ways with Mary by handing her the phone. I am not sure whether I would have done that.
Additionally there nowhere is any sign – as also purported by quite a few fans – that John was afraid of his stepfather or that Rutland was anything but exactly that kind of loving and family-oriented man that Mary always had wanted. Rutland most certainly was no wifebeater as some have him down as, Mary would not have stayed with one. Especially not after what we saw as Mary’s reaction to Straker’s violence.
The bottom line…
Mary Straker is certainly much, much less to blame for the failure of her and Straker’s marriage than she commonly is being blamed.
If I were to quantify things, I would end up with Mary carrying 20% of the guilt, and Straker 80%. This is particularly true because he was aware of what was happening.
Unlike Mary, who vaguely battled with something she knew very little about and could not survey the full extent of, Straker knew precisely what he was doing, what was taking place. Right from the get-go he could have refused SHADO command. General Henderson, obviously already smarting from spousal desertion, had made it a point telling him that if unsure in the slightest to not take on the job. Do not tell me Straker was the only man capable of becoming the Commander either, because there are at any given time many people qualified for what was needed, regardless of the job you are in.
At the very latest he ought to have acted when realizing Mary was going stir-crazy. That was around the same time that he talked to Alec about her, demonstrating he knew what was happening. She had been understanding – up to then – about the needs of Military Intelligence and that he could not tell her much about his work*, he could have used that goodwill. Most people, certainly Mary, would have accepted a roundabout explanation, with a clear schedule for what would be demanded of her.
It usually is not knowing when something will cease that makes it far more unbearable than having a goal. Like the wives of sailors or scientists in the arctic, Mary would have been able to rationalize and deal with a finite period of time. But Straker never told her about that. In his mindless obeisance he never contemplated what facts he could have told her, like for instance the schedule of building and installing SHADO HQ. That schedule already was more or less public knowledge and would not have endangered SHADO per se.
Providing such a timeline would have cut down Mary’s stress level by half, telling her it is quite okay to take up work or to engage in some charity, would have done away with the rest. But Straker obviously preferred his wife the old-fashioned way then: at home, waiting for him.
So – with different reactions from Straker, with more consideration of the woman he had chosen as a partner for life, with ingenuity within the frame of his own restrictions and above all without resorting to violence, Straker might have saved his marriage. Mary is not entirely free of guilt, but that is way less than one might think at a first glance.
I still do not like her much. As explained, I really fail to be very tolerant or accepting of women unwilling or incapable of self-responsibility and functioning well without a husband. Which is why I initially resented Mary just as much as almost everyone else. But in all fairness, that is – in this case – only a minor part of the story.
Could or would she re-marry Straker? No way! It really would not matter if she now belatedly learned about Straker’s real job, nor that he never cheated on her. This would not change the worst of his failures: being unable to save John and keeping Rutland from doing so, hitting her, not doing his very best to help her understand what was going on. All of this he could have done or avoided without any further information dispensed, and this weighs heavier than the rest.
Do I regard Ed Straker as a lesser person for all that? No. As he was portrayed he gave up himself and his marriage, even his son, to the better good of humankind. At least as far as he was able to deal with the whole situation. He is not perfect, and thus he makes mistakes. He is paying for them in the series we get to watch.
That still does not justify maligning Mary Straker.
An Delen Dir, © 2011
* Like Rutland’s offer to rent a plane in A QUESTION OF PRIORITIES, another small fact often lost on the audience while watching CONFETTI CHECK A-O.K. is that right up to when Straker confronts Mary on the staircase, Mary is aware of that Straker is in Military Intelligence and forbidden to talk about this work.
Quite some conjectures and stories hinge on the assumption that Mary only needed to know that he still was in the military to realize he was working on the photos given to her by the private detective. This is wrong, as she already did know he still had the same job.
This article has 2 Comments
OK. I’ve followed the discussion and now I read this article of yours. You do make lots of sense.
A lot of thought went into this article, and it makes a lot of sense. Thank you.