Foiled again! I selected “To Kill a Saint,” which was first shown in February 1967, because I thought it just possible that our son might recognize two actors from their very familiar voice work on the Gerry Anderson shows that our son has enjoyed so much: Peter Dynely, who was Jeff Tracy in Thunderbirds, and Francis Matthews, who was Captain Scarlet. But the joke was on me: the episode is set in Paris, and they’re speaking with French accents, so even with a great big hint, of course the kid didn’t recognize them.
It did mean we got one last glimpse of the bumbling Parisian police contacts Quercy and Luduc, played by John Serret and Robert Cawdron. This was the sixth and last appearance of these characters. We actually saw Serret briefly in another role in the last episode we watched, “The Queen’s Ransom”. Our kid really enjoyed this one. It’s full of twists and mistaken identities and somebody trying to kill Templar and frame a crime boss, and somebody else trying to kill the crime boss and frame Templar. At one point, someone breaks into Simon’s hotel room to trash it and make him think the crime boss ordered it. As Simon, knowing he was going to catch somebody up to something and having left Luduc behind*, stomped down the corridor, eyebrow raised, our son just howled with laughter.
But I can’t help but be amused by our son just not paying any attention to actresses. I told him up front that he wouldn’t recognize Pamela Ann Davy, as he really only knows her as a cartoon version in “The Power of the Daleks”, and he certainly wouldn’t recognize Valerie Leon, who has just a tiny cameo, but this is the third of seven Saint episodes we’ve watched with Annette Andre, and she’s just another pretty girl to him. I think I’ll make a “you’ve seen her before” sign and point it at the screen. I’ll get to do that twice Sunday night…
*Simon really does owe Luduc a nice lunch once all the paperwork on this one gets finished. He did give the poor sergeant his word of honor…
Everybody knows that Ivor Dean played the Saint’s regular foil at Scotland Yard, Inspector Teal. It’s less well-remembered that he had another recurring irritant among the French police, Sergeant Luduc, played by Robert Cawdron. Luduc appears in six episodes, although unfortunately they couldn’t settle on a regular actor for Luduc’s superior, Inspector Quercy, and he was played by four or five different people. This time out, Templar calls Quercy a “second-hand Maigret,” which was a bit mean.
“The Abductors” is another one packed with memorable guests, including Annette Andre again, and a trio of villains played by Dudley Foster, David Garfield, and Nicholas Courtney, whose character is strangely more violent and base than we usually see from this series. Andre and Courtney crossed paths again a few years later for the Randall and Hopkirk that everybody remembers for its own amazing guest cast, “The Ghost Who Saved the Bank at Monte Carlo”, and weirdly, in 1969-70, Foster, Garfield, and Courtney each appeared one at a time in consecutive Doctor Who serials: “The Space Pirates,” “The War Games,” and “Spearhead From Space.” No, I don’t know why I know that, either.
The kid liked this one much more than the previous two. It is a very straightforward tale of criminals with a goal that’s easy for a ten year-old to follow. No weird adult stuff like mistresses or market manipulation, just plenty of driving around, making the police look like idiots, with some funny quips, great brawls, and a credibility-straining dungeon where the bad guys stuff their captives. I’ve always liked it a lot. It was one of the episodes I taped off-air in 1986-87 and rewatched several times later, but I had forgotten just how ugly and bloodthirsty Courtney’s character is. We’re so predisposed to love Who‘s Brigadier that it feels downright wrong to know this dude strangled a prostitute to death. Maybe WATL cut some of that part out from their copy to make room for an extra commercial or something.
Afraid our son wasn’t in the right frame of mind for tonight’s episode of The Saint. He said that he enjoyed all the fights – there’s a brawl about every six minutes – and didn’t like all the smooching, but he got lost in a plot detail. He’s done this before when he’s a little tired and overstimulated, but he convinced himself that the story’s macguffin was vitally important to his understanding of the plot. Plus he misheard “Process G” as something else, and stayed completely confused until he asked us to pause and explain why in the world some American company is going to pay an old man a million dollars for processed cheese.
Since he didn’t understand the macguffin, he decided the story was too complex for him and tuned out. It’s been a while, but I remember a New Avengers left him similarly stumped and bored. Interestingly, he realized afterward just where he misunderstood. He recited straight back to us a pretty good definition of a macguffin, that it’s merely the object that drives the plot and the action. Once he understood he was hung up on something unimportant, he conceded that he enjoyed the scraps.
And that’s a shame, because he could have enjoyed a good one, packed with great actors, with a very funny opening. It begins with Simon in a fancy hotel bar overhearing two young men mocking him, because he’s got the looks of a fellow upon whom damsels in distress throw themselves. Cue, immediately, a damsel in distress played by Annette Andre.
So Simon doesn’t give her story of death threats and macguffins any attention, congratulates the chaps on pulling a good gag, and has to run to her rescue because some villains, among them Peter Vaughan, Neil McCarthy, and Michael Robbins, really did send her that death threat because they want her father’s macguffin. McCarthy and Andre appeared together a few years later in a Randall and Hopkirk. Other familiar faces include Justine Lord as the maneater who wants to do all the smooching that bothered the kid, along with Ed Bishop, Geoffrey Keen, and David Jackson. That is a really terrific cast for a fun and entertaining story. Hopefully he’ll be less wired for the next episode, although I’m not expecting him to recognize Justine Lord in it since he tuned her out completely tonight.
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!
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.
Folks, this just wasn’t fair. There have only been a couple of installments of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) that I didn’t enjoy very much. Otherwise, this has just been an incredibly entertaining and fun program. But right toward the end of its production run, they managed a hat trick of three absolute treasures right in a row. This was a show that had found the perfect balance of amusing action and comedy and was getting better all the time. If an American network had bought the program, they would have made some more. I hate to use that hoary old defense of fans who want to stick up for a cancelled-too-soon series, but a second season of Randall and Hopkirk could have been the greatest thing ever.
Tony Williamson’s “Murder Ain’t What it Used to Be!” finally brings another ghost into the actual plot of the story, rather than the handful that we’ve seen on the fringes. 35 years previously – say 1934 – a Chicago gangster named Bugsy, played by one of ITC’s stock American actors, David Healy, was double-crossed by his partner in a bootleg whiskey heist. The incident’s actually presented in a terrific black and white flashback as Bugsy pulls Marty back through time to witness it! Bugsy has been trying without success to kill his partner in accidents as his powers and control over the material world has grown far past Marty’s abilities. The partner can occasionally see Bugsy, just as Jeff can see Marty, so he’s always on alert for crashing chandeliers and swerving cars. But while the ghosts can interact, neither living man can see the other’s ghost.
So the partner is now in England to conduct some syndicate business, and Bugsy now has somebody to help him exact revenge. Bugsy tells Marty that Jeff must murder the partner or else Bugsy will arrange an accident for Jean. This leads to one of the series’ all-time greatest lines: “Well, I can’t do anything, can I? If I start telling Jeannie that her late husband is being blackmailed by the ghost of a Prohibition gangster, she’ll go spare!”
Our son was instantly charmed by the arrival of the new ghost character, and with the exception of one pretty poor bit of wire work with some visible-from-space strings that demanded his raspberries, he chuckled all the way through this one. Marty finally pushes back against the more powerful Bugsy in a bizarre fight at the end – a fight that leaves Jeff able to see just one player – that has vases flying across the room and comedy sound effects as the ghosts stomp on each other’s feet. “That was GREAT,” our son said while hopping up and down nursing his own pretend-stomped-upon foot. I didn’t join him in slapstick, but agreed completely.
I’m always happy to spot a familiar face or five when I’m watching an old show, but Tony Williamson’s “Ghost Who Saved the Bank at Monte Carlo” might be my favorite episode of the whole series because its guest cast is just so darned terrific. The story itself is a riot. Marty’s wacky old aunt hires Jeff to act as her bodyguard – surely he could have recommended somebody more physically capable of such a job? – as she takes her foolproof system to Monte Carlo to win £100,000 over three nights.
She attracts the attention of two rival gangs of crooks, as well as the casino’s security team, who are determined to discreetly keep their customer, and her little red book, safe. Joining our heroes for the shenanigans: an absolute powerhouse cast that includes BRIAN BLESSED, Veronica Carlson, Nicholas Courtney, Roger Delgado, and John Sharp. And astonishingly, Jeff doesn’t have to scrap with any of them. Most of them are too busy scrapping with each other to worry about the old aunt’s bodyguard.
The story’s an absolute treat because Jeff is kept completely in the dark about all the shenanigans. Marty knows what’s going on, but he can’t make Jeff believe him for more than half the story. And as the villains start double-dealing and Veronica Carlson’s character proves she shouldn’t be trusted by anybody, the old lady keeps racking up the winnings. Finally, Nicholas Courtney, playing a pretty sleazy lady’s man, pulls a gun on Jean and leads her discreetly onto the terrace. Of course Marty’s going to save the day – it’s in the title, after all – but the way this story resolves was a very pleasant and ridiculous surprise, and we all enjoyed it tremendously.
I thought that this episode might prove to be memorable, because the DVD comes with two separate audio commentaries. I was right. I had an initial giggle when one of ITC’s resident American-born actors, David Bauer, got called upon to play a psychiatrist with a German accent. Gerald Flood, who also did three or four of these shows, also has a small role in this one.
Then I stopped giggling and we all started roaring. Jeff gets hypnotized, in the TV way of hypnotizing that isn’t terribly realistic, and the only way that Marty can communicate with him is by speaking in Bauer’s accent. Making matters sillier, Jeff can’t do anything whatsoever without express direction from Marty. He can, however, win fights pretty handily, because he’s been conditioned to do whatever the German-accented voice tells him to.
“A Disturbing Case” is hilarious. Mike Pratt co-wrote the goofball adventure with Ian Wilson, and I thought for a moment or two that he was giving himself a break, because Jeff spends several minutes of screen time laid up in a private nursing home while Marty does all the actual work. When things pick up, we were all incredibly amused. Marie felt compelled to tell our son that hypnotism really, really doesn’t work this way – and she also wondered just how many psychiatrists were running around hypnotizing patients in the London of this world – and I’m pretty sure that he knows that, but I’m also pretty sure that he might soon be seen jauntily hopping down a hallway with a silly “hypnotized” grin on his face like Jeff.
I enjoy watching old TV for lots of reasons, but one of them is learning little conventions about life in the past or in other countries. It might not be all that important, but look at how this police lineup is staged, compared to the indoors / behind windows lineups that you see in modern crime and detective TV. Even more remarkable, the uniformed policeman in charge of the lineup actually calls his two witnesses by name to step outside and make their identification.
As it happens, this particular criminal’s gang already knows who the two witnesses are – they’ve sent a pair of thugs played by Dudley Sutton and Norman Eshley around to rough up Jeff, in case you spotted his black eye in the photo above – but man, is this ever a good bit of evidence why this procedure has evolved over the years. Police lineups have to keep the witnesses anonymous.
Donald James’s story is strangely down-to-earth for this show. There aren’t any treasure hunts or larger-than-life baddies or vengeful relatives bent on inheriting everything, and certainly no robots like last time. It’s about two warring protection rackets and the jargon and understated threats required me to pause the episode and explain to our son what the characters in the opening scene were talking about. I figured out where the gang had stashed one of the witnesses and enjoyed challenging our son to solve the puzzle. “Do YOU know where she is?” I asked. That got him thinking, and he was initially disappointed when he turned out to be wrong, and pleasantly surprised by the neat revelation once Jeff and Marty stumble upon the answer.
It’s a good enough story for a detective show, but the best episodes of Randall and Hopkirk have a few funny scenes. Because the last one was so absurd, they were probably due for something more mundane, and I guess it’s hard to fit some screwball comedy in something this ground-level.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned – many, many, many times – that our son is that age where the sight of anybody smooching drives him batty. Tonight’s episode really had him sympathizing with Marty. Donald James’ “Just For the Record” features Marty stumbling upon the silliest and least plausible robbery ever, involving a pair of spectacles with a hidden blade, a beauty contestant being photographed by paparazzi, a robot, and a highfalutin’ claim by some fellow in a Rolls to be the rightful king of England. It is the most ridiculous thing ever, and blasted Jeff has to have a gorgeous girl in his apartment now of all times.
Marty. Chill. This can wait a minute.
Anyway, this episode does feel a lot like they’re running out of money – you can always tell when the villains mock up a fake test room that is somehow precisely like the real room they’re going to rob – but we all laughed a lot, especially when Marty is dumbstruck by the unlikely sight of the robot reaching across the room. But there was one great use of savings toward the end of the story. I’d enjoyed hearing the tale, in the documentary about The Champions on its DVD, of how producer Monty Berman had arrived at the Elstree Studios where ITC worked just as the fire department had been called to battle a burning warehouse across the street. Berman grabbed a camera and filmed the blaze, and used the footage in the episode “Happening.” As soon as the bad guys in this story start a fire in a warehouse, I knew exactly what was coming next. I wonder whether any warehouses get set on fire in Department S… ?
Another short entry: Tony Williamson’s “When Did You Start to Stop Seeing Things?” requires a lot of “TV logic” when it comes to hypnosis, doubles, masks, people alerting the heroes of the story to keep the narrative running for fifty full minutes instead of phoning Ivor Dean’s character of Inspector Large and wrapping things up much more quickly. But it’s incredibly funny and had us all laughing out loud, so why complain? Keith Barron has a small role as one of the villains; always nice to see him.