I’m afraid the previous three episodes were really uneven, but Randall & Hopkirk went out on a high note written by Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson as a very cute tribute to The Avengers. It’s “Death at Bargain Prices” crossed with “The House That Jack Built” as Jeff and Jeannie are trapped in an escape-proof department store full of lethal traps. And just to add to the tips of the bowler, they brought along some mannequins that evoke the Autons from Doctor Who and dressed one of them like Steed.
Weirdly, in both the previous season ender, “A Man of Substance,” and this, Marty becomes incredibly petulant and selfish. This time, he has such a ridiculous and petty argument with Jeff that Limbo actually recalls him and dumps him in a seaside town where the very creepy ghosts of others who have fallen out with their chosen ones reside. Eleanor Bron and Roy Hudd play two of these sinister weirdies, who had our son even more riveted than the department store plot. I enjoyed both threads a lot, even if the twist to what’s going on in the shop will be obvious to anybody older than our kid.
My favorite moment of the experience, though, was the kid asking me to pause it to tell him where he’s seen Roy Hudd before. As it happens, I’ve double-checked and he’s never seen the actor in anything. I’m pretty sure I’ve only seen him twice myself. What I think happened is that early in the story, Jeff and Marty are watching a repeat of an old kids’ show with Hudd and an uncredited actor who plays his eventual chosen one, and our son didn’t quite make the connection that “Dicky Klein” is both the man in the silly popcorn slapstick while alive and the ghost stuck in the end of the pier show while dead.
I haven’t read much about this show’s background, but apparently the ratings were pretty good and some people were surprised that the BBC didn’t commission a third series. But one viewer who wouldn’t have watched a third series would be Marie, who gave up on this show partway through the first, finding Reeves and Mortimer like nails on a chalkboard. What a shame; I like everything I’ve seen them in, together or solo. I really like Vic Reeves as a singer. “Dizzy” is my favorite Wonder Stuff single, and if you want to hear a real surprise, find a copy of Twentieth Century Blues: The Songs Of Noel Coward, which is jam-packed with songs by performers I absolutely love – Bryan Ferry, Paul McCartney, Suede, Texas, Pet Shop Boys – and Reeves has the best song on it. Then go to YouTube and search for Bob telling his story about Chris Rea on Would I Lie to You?. I was still chuckling ten minutes later.
About ten years after Vic & Bob’s Randall & Hopkirk ended, the Syfy Channel was said to be developing an American version with Jane Espenson, who was then best known for her scripts for Buffy and Battlestar Galactica, in charge of production. It never made it to the pilot stage, but ten years on from that, who knows? I think the Vic & Bob version shows that you can approach a classic with a different perspective, and a different sensibility, and occasionally come up with something really interesting.
And just to underline how strange the passing of time feels, when I was in high school, I was hunting high and low for episodes of The Avengers, a show that was then twenty years old and felt like it came from a different era. Twenty years. That’s how old the Vic & Bob Randall & Hopkirk is today. It always feels like “only yesterday” when you actually lived it, doesn’t it?