Category Archives: randall and hopkirk (deceased)

Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.6 – A Man of Substance

Well… I liked the first forty minutes of that quite a lot, anyway.

In the last episode of the first series, Randall’s hired to find a missing person who was supposedly last seen in a very, very remote village called Hadell Wroxted. It’s a really timelost place, with some very deliberate echoes of The Wicker Man, and nobody can quite get away from it. This little town’s very big secret is that somehow, everybody can see and hear Marty, and Marty can taste, smell, and feel again.

Naturally, Marty takes this opportunity to drink his weight in bitter – poured by no less than Gareth Thomas, who learned a thing or two about remote villages nobody can quite get away from when he starred in Children of the Stones twenty-three years before this – and take an attractive woman to bed. He’s so pleased to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh again that he doesn’t pause to ask how she has the same supernatural undress-yer-partner-from-across-the-room powers that he has.

Part of the joy of Randall & Hopkirk is that Marty is selfish. In the sixties, Kenneth Cope played that angle beautifully, with petulant and unreasonable jealousy. In the remake, Vic Reeves plays Marty as very resentful, and this selfishness comes out in a remarkably ugly way. I think that the writer, Charlie Higson, really misjudged the ending. Marty doesn’t find some bravery or heroism to get him to do the right thing in the end. He only does it because the attractive lady he was hoping to spend immortality with was just a magical mask worn by the much older Elizabeth Spriggs. So the writer painted himself into a corner, with no way that Jeff would ever, ever trust Marty again without a reset button. Five and three-quarters’ good episodes of six is a fine batting average, but it was a shame the series ended so poorly.

And with that, we’ll take a break and return Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) to the shelf for a while to keep things fresh. But stay tuned, because I believe we will watch the second series in January!

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Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.5 – Blast from the Past

For a show that’s more about Limbo and the afterlife than we’ve ever seen in either series before, “Blast from the Past” is a lot more down to earth than the lunacy in the previous story. Paul Whitehouse, another compatriot of Reeves, Mortimer, and Higson from The Fast Show and their various sketch comedies, plays the ghost of a criminal who had died on the run from Marty’s policeman father in 1970. The ghost then began haunting his brother, but since the brother took a bullet himself a few years later, the ghost has been locked in Limbo unable to make a connection with the mortal world.

But despite the fantasy storyline and focus on the rules of the spirit world, this one’s played completely straight. The only real giggle the adults got was a tiny little use of some archive footage of Mike Pratt to wink at the original series, although there were some silly special effects that had our son chuckling. But that’s not a bad thing, because it’s a fine dramatic story with an interesting mystery in the real world. Familiar face Dudley Sutton has a tiny part in it. He maybe the first actor that I’ve noticed to have appeared in both the original series and the remake.

The very last shot of the episode – it’s the second and last one directed by Rachel Talalay – is a pretty gruesome image that hints at what fates the afterlife may have in store for people who don’t deserve a cloud and a harp. It’s a terrific little surprise that left our favorite eight year-old viewer wincing with his eyes wide. That image might just linger in his brain a little longer than any of the goofy afterlife animation gags.

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Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.4 – Paranoia

Well, that was about as perfect an hour for eight year-olds as can be imagined. There are fart jokes. A heck of a lot of fart jokes. We thought our kid was going to stop breathing at a couple of points. And then there’s the farce around several assassination attempts, which all of us enjoyed, not just the kid.

In “Paranoia,” a former government employee is ready to publish a book blowing the lid off several worldwide conspiracies. He’s targeted by five different players, including his former mistress, and his wife, who schemes with the publisher to get rich off the sales figures if his paranoid nightmares come true and he’s assassinated at a top-security conference. Some of the movers and shakers who decide this man has to go are a little less competent than each other. Charlie Higson’s Fast Show co-star Arabella Weir plays the wife; Simon Pegg and Buffy‘s Alexis Denisof also have solid roles.

As for the fart jokes… Marty is trying to learn how to levitate things, but he only succeeds in moving paper when he breaks wind. The byproduct is an unholy room-clearing smell. This becomes useful when he needs to get everybody out of a room with a bomb and Jeff is, literally, tied up elsewhere. It may be immature, but good grief, it’s funny.

Plus, we got to pause the show and explain what all this talk of government conspiracies was about, which meant that I got to tell him how, among other tales of hollow earths and lizard people and aliens, some people believed the Queen of England was the head of an international drug smuggling operation, and ran for president many times hawking that story. Our son gave an animated facepalm. LaRouche died earlier this year. He knew too much. Fnord.

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Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.3 – The Best Years of Your Death

Peter Bowles guest stars as the headmaster of a school with a very strange secret and a growing body count in tonight’s episode. So Jeff and Jeannie go undercover, but Jeff is so breathtakingly ill-equipped to teach history that it became so cringe-inducing that Marie left the room entirely. Humor built around embarrassment makes her incredibly uncomfortable.

She also wasn’t really thrilled with the interview scene, where Marty makes short work of the other three candidates for the teaching position, although my son and I were howling with laughter. The third guy gets sassy with Jeff about his chances, so Marty uses his newfound power of possession to completely ruin the interview. Possessed, the guy starts babbling about big walnuts and shouting incoherently.

Our son has, of course, been reading Captain Underpants, and he’s discovered the cartoon series on Netflix. This scene reminded me of the shenanigans that George and Harold inflict on Mr. Krupp. It must have struck a chord with him as well, because I thought he was about to stop breathing.

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Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.2 – Mental Apparition Disorder

Our son asked “Hey, is that one of the Doctors?” and the world smiled, or at least we did. Good to see him recognizing a favorite. Tom Baker starts a recurring role in this episode. He plays Wyvern, a “spirit guide” in Limbo who helps Marty get accustomed to the afterlife and learn his trade.

Baker’s part of a powerhouse cast this week. Hugh Laurie plays the villain, and in smaller parts, there’s Martin Clunes, Richard Todd, and Wanda Ventham. I should probably know these three from other roles than in eighties Who, but I’m like that. Another Who connection: it’s one of two episodes from this series to be directed by Rachel Talalay, who would later direct seven episodes in the Peter Capaldi years. Earlier, she’d directed the Tank Girl movie and she’s more recently been calling the shots on several of the CW’s superhero series.

“Mental Apparition Disorder” is a loose rewrite of a celebrated episode from the original run, “A Disturbing Case,” and that episode’s co-writers, Mike Pratt and Ian Wilson, get a credit at the end. They don’t spend nearly as much screen time on Marty impersonating the criminal hypnotist-psychiatrist in this version as in the original, and it isn’t as funny, but it involves a lot more hypnotized patients, so it has its own charm. Our son made the very disturbing observation that he even liked it better than the original, but in fairness, this one does include a lot more shouting. That said, an earlier scene where Marty tries to get the hypnotized Jeff’s attention by bellowing in his ear really is funny.

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Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.1 – Drop Dead

“I bet that’ll be good,” I said, twenty years ago when I heard they were making this. I hadn’t seen much of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer’s comedy, but I had landed about eight episodes of their demented and hilarious game show Shooting Stars a few years earlier, toward the end of my VHS tape trading days, and laughed myself stupid. If, like most people in the US, you’ve never seen Shooting Stars, you’re missing out. Any time I see the name “Daws” anywhere, I don’t think “Butler,” I think Vic and Bob screaming bloody murder at Matt Lucas, dressed like a baby called George Daws and ignoring them.

So anyway, I had heard that the two comedians were doing a remake of the classic Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), and traditionalists cringed and wept. There are probably still eight or nine people on rec.arts.tv.uk bashing their keyboards in horror. Charlie Higson, who’d been writing for as well as performing small parts in Reeves and Mortimer’s various programs throughout the nineties, produced and co-wrote most of the episodes. The BBC commissioned two short series made by Working Title which aired in 2000 and 2001, and our heroes, who are played sort-of straight with a few gags, are joined by Emilia Fox as Jeannie and by a host of recognizable faces. The first episode alone has Charles Dance, David Tennant, and Mark Gatiss, and I understand we’ll be meeting a very interesting recurring character pretty soon.

I thought it was good, if not groundbreaking. This Randall and Hopkirk are typical late nineties lads. They’ve got a PlayStation in the office, and nobody should find that surprising. This Jeannie is far more resourceful than the original, and she and Marty hadn’t tied the knot yet. In this version, Marty is killed the night before their wedding.

So while the first episode didn’t rise anywhere near the original at its best, our son adored it and had some great laughs, and I found a lot to enjoy as well. I think Higson must have had a ball writing the script and filling it with moments where the audience gets to ask “Is THIS it? Is this where Marty dies?” only to fake us out about four times. Anybody who doesn’t smile when Vic raises his arms in imitation of Kenneth Cope, only to not get run over, has a heart three sizes too small.

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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.26 – The Ghost Talks

I was explaining to our son that one reason British TV shows typically make fewer episodes per year than American shows is that American shows have crews that work lots and lots of overtime hours. Sixteen hour days are not uncommon. That usually doesn’t happen in Great Britain. It took ITC something like fourteen months to shoot 26 episodes of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), and then during the production of the 25th, Mike Pratt went and broke his legs.

So to get one last episode in the can, they didn’t do a clip show, mercifully, but had Marty tell Jeff a flashback story from back when he was still alive, and worked a case with Jeannie while Jeff was in Scotland. This meant that Kenneth Cope and Annette Andre actually got to actually interact in front of the cameras for the first time in more than a year. That must be unique in television, mustn’t it? I can’t think of another case where you go to work five days a week and are actually onstage with an actor for much of that time and not actually make eye contact with each other for more than twelve months.

“The Ghost Talks” is pretty amusing. Our son grumbled that this one wouldn’t be fun without Marty being supernatural, but there were some surprises and a few moments of good humor. Marty takes a hush-hush assignment from a government type played by Alan McNaughtan who is not entirely honest about the job and things go very amusingly wrong. It may not have been the sort of “final episode” that modern TV viewers might hope for, but it pleased us.

Sadly, Lew Grade wasn’t able to sell the series to an American network. Retitled My Partner the Ghost, it appeared in a few markets in direct-to-station syndication, but it didn’t clear enough of the country to warrant resuming production. That’s a darn shame, because I’d have loved to have seen more of this.

But we WILL see more of it… sort of. Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) – now with an ampersand in the title card – returned as a remake thirty-some years later, and we’ll be looking at its first series next month. And for ITC fans in our audience, there’s another show from that great gang that we’ll watch several months from now. Look out for our take on Department S in 2020!

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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.25 – Somebody Just Walked Over My Grave

Well, maybe emphasizing the comedy wasn’t necessarily the best idea that the producers of Randall and Hopkirk had, because Donald James’ “Somebody Just Walked Over My Grave” is completely ridiculous. Mike Pratt injured himself really badly after a day’s shooting had concluded, breaking both his legs in a fall. This necessitated using a pretty obvious stand-in for a few scenes, but I wonder whether this also meant that they had to rework the script and give the two comedy bad guys more to do. There’s a lot of material filmed at Knebworth House – where The Champions had shot the year before in “The Night People” – which is just pure farce, as they try and fail to deliver a ransom note. It really does go on for a long, long time.

There’s also the matter of the new Lord Mandrake’s errant son, an agoraphobic dropout who doesn’t dig the establishment and just wants to paint, man. Underneath the most over-the-top hippie ‘fro that the ITC costume department had ever built, that’s Nigel Terry of all people. Other familiar faces this time out: Patricia Haines, Michael Sheard, and Cyril Shaps. It’s a clever story, and we enjoyed trying to guess how all the disparate parts would eventually fit together, but is it ever silly.

Actually, the biggest double-bluff that the show pulls is having the new Lord Mandrake help a freshly-trounced Jeff to his feet, take him back to his estate, make him an extremely curious job offer… and it not be part of the criminal scheme that the show has let us glimpse. It’s all set up to be really suspicious, but Lord Mandrake’s being perfectly honest. He stumbled across a detective and figured that maybe he could help him out with his rotten kid. Crazy, man.

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