In the completely charming series finale, the ghosts finally get out of Motley Hall… and they can’t get back in! Thanks to all that bell, book, and candle stuff, when Gudgin brings a dirty old bell into Motley and gives it a good ring, he drives the residents out. They materialize a couple of miles away and find that their home now has a barrier around it. Between them and the hall, there’s another ghost, an old acquaintance of Fanny’s. He’s a highwayman who haunts the hill where he was hanged.
Amusingly, writer Richard Carpenter’s next project was the LWT series of Dick Turpin, which ran from 1979-82. This highwayman is a lot more talkative than the one we met in The Sarah Jane Adventures last month, which led me to show our son that program’s title sequence.
Overall, this wasn’t one of the more comedic installments, although I was amused that the apparent problem of a banshee is introduced and very little is done with it, and also entertained by an odd continuity error. Peter Sallis’s character’s name is spelled “Gudgin” on his office windows and “Gudgeon” on the keep out sign on Motley’s front door. Our son, however, laughed like a banshee himself when the White Lady threatens to haunt him all the way to Outer Mongolia. He was still giggling about that when we finished.
This show was a complete delight, and I’m so glad that I took the chance on it. It is less well-remembered today than Carpenter’s earlier triumph, Catweazle, but I think this was every bit as good. It’s a genuinely clever, inventive and often surprising little show that still holds plenty of appeal for eight and nine year-olds today. And I’m also thrilled to have watched Arthur English’s excellent performance as Bodkin. I really need to see him in some of the other shows he made. Overall, a very good little show, definitely worth picking up the DVD set from Network.
Tonight’s episode was a very silly and very different change of pace. On Halloween – the episode was actually shown in February 1978, but you can’t have everything – Gudgin moves a piano in the hall. Naturally, it turns out to be haunted. The ghost of Ludwig Schtupp comes with the piano, but instead of a half-hour of mild mayhem and what you’d normally see with a guest star, in this case John Ringham, it’s a musical episode, with the characters doing a few silly music hall numbers.
Our son was a bit restless this afternoon and a couple of the performances left him doing a bit of clockwatching, but it ends with a tremendously fun tune where they each take turns singing a song where they’re not meant to say the word “dead” but somehow manage it anyway. Call it a cute little detour, done playfully with goofy charm.
Gloriana! This has got to be one of the weirdest coincidences at our blog yet. We just saw Joan Sanderson this morning in The Great Muppet Caper, and here she is again in the only Ghosts two-parter. And she’s really entertaining, too. She plays the ghost of Sir George’s sister, Alexandra, and she is extremely unhappy about how George is allowing all these other ghosts to have free run of the place. A stable boy! In Motley!
I was interested in how Richard Carpenter neatly tied in some previous continuity into this story, answering a couple of questions in the back of my mind. It turns out that Peter Sallis’s character, Gudgin, does indeed still own Motley – he was gifted the hall at the end of series two – but he still needs to sell it because he cannot afford to live in it, and that’s why it’s become all dirty and cobwebby again. I would guess that the taxes must be enormous on a property like this.
Also, they return to the idea that Sir George is also, somehow, able to leave the hall as well as Matt, even though he doesn’t know how he does it. Once they realize that he can get out when he loses his temper, it’s not much help. Crushed under Alexandra’s iron thumb, the poor ghost has got no temper left!
This was completely hilarious, and a great opportunity for some of the cast to briefly do something a little different. A supposed historian and presenter for a “Schools Television” educational program is doing a show about an incident that is said to have happened in 1601 at Motley Hall. The problem is that it’s only the presenter who says it happened. It’s entirely fictional, and it makes the Uproars of the time, and the “fool” who lived and worked in the hall then, look terrible. And I don’t just mean the inaccurate Party City costume that the actor who plays “Boddykin” wears.
The joy, of course, is that’s Arthur English, playing both our beloved Bodkin and some slumming luvvie actor cast to play this sham version of him. Freddie Jones and Nicholas le Provost also get to pull double-duty, but it’s only Bodkin who gets to react in disbelief, asking what he’s supposed to be wearing. But then the chaos starts. Since the ghosts can’t really rely on Mr. Gudgin to find Bodkin’s grave and prove the events cannot have happened the way the script claims, though he leaves the set to try, they start screwing with the production. It’s very hard to have all quiet on the set when the set has five spirits with poltergeist powers, you know. I got a kick out of the actors playing stage hams; our son loved the constantly surprising ways the ghosts find to drive the director and crew mad.
And now back to 1978 and the two most impatient ghost hunters I’ve ever seen. An American couple, looking for missing facts from their family tree, come to Motley Hall and the wife, who’s all California and macrobiotic sandwiches, hopes to contact Sir George. She has questions about the fellow with whom his youngest sister eloped. I realize that things need to move quickly in a short sitcom, but you know how when people break out the ouija board, they know that they’re going to be waiting for a while? She gives it about four seconds. She’s probably secretly tired of her incredibly disinterested husband being sarcastic and bored, but doesn’t want to lose face. What a pair.
Our kid loved the ouija board scene, just like he does any situation where the living can’t speak with the ghosts but the ghosts go on answering them anyway, usually rudely. Fanny at least gets the hint and uses the board to tell them that Sir George is N-O-T-H-E-R-E, and these dimwits are about ready to pack up and try another room. Lady, you’re talking to a ghost. You can look for the “right” one later!
Well, if it’s Christmas and Alfred Marks is playing a genie, it must be time for a panto. This is a ridiculous and very funny episode with a resolution visible from space, but it’s done with such silly spirits that only the crankiest among us could possibly find fault. There are a few completely wonderful gags and a great complication. A teenage girl and her utterly rotten aunts have taken refuge in Motley after a car accident with the snow coming down in buckets. The girl can see all five ghosts and the djinn, but the mean old ladies can’t.
I’m not quite sure about the continuity of this show. I had been wondering during the second series why, if he’s meant to be the caretaker of the property, doesn’t Peter Sallis’s character actually clean up the place. He pays for a new roof at one point, but the floors are thick with dust and broken furniture and there are cobwebs everywhere. At the end of the series, as we saw last time, an incredibly rich man buys Motley, has the place cleaned up, and moves in, and then hands the property over to Sallis’s character in the end. Yet this episode sees the hall back in its decrepit state, with several years of clutter and garbage everywhere. I got curious and popped ahead to look at a couple of clips from series three and it’s all cobwebby and filthy. I wonder why.
That’s all from the Ghosts for now, because we like to rotate shows in and out to keep things fresh. We’ll be back in Motley Hall in September. Stay tuned!
Our son protested that the six episode seasons common to British comedy are far, far too short. His is a common complaint. “Horoscope” wrapped up the six-week run with guest star Brian Wilde as a parody of Howard Hughes called Stanford Hives. He can see three of the ghosts, although not Sir George, who most wants him to leave, and doesn’t make a business transaction without consulting his star charts. Previously, he lived in a lighthouse, until people found out where he was. He buys Motley Hall hoping that nobody will ever find him here, except his small live-in staff, who keep him informed of the positions of stars and planets, mainly so they can manipulate him.
I reminded our son that we’ve seen Howard Hughes analogues before, most recently in the Hardy Boys adventure “Arson and Old Lace.” It was the seventies, man. The kid enjoyed the episode, particularly when Sir George engages in guerrilla warfare to annoy him out of the house. You’d get aggravated as well if a ghost was pulling the blankets off you in the middle of the night!
But I really enjoyed the scene pictured above, where Bodkin convinces the grumpy old devil to live a little, and stop acting like Capricorns are supposed to. There’s no reason why Hives can’t be a Leo and have more fun. No, really, there’s no reason, Hives is an orphan and does not actually know his real birthday. Arthur English, not for the first time, is completely magical in the scene. I wasn’t familiar with him before we started looking at this show. He really was a great actor.
In tonight’s amusing episode, Peter Sallis’s character gets trapped inside the hall. The ghosts don’t have the tools to free him. Four of the five can’t leave the building, and Matt can only go as far as the gate, so how can they get help for him?
Our son quietly offered a couple of riffs, reflecting his familiarity with Richard Carpenter’s scripts for this and for Catweazle. Sallis brings his bicycle into the hall and our son whispered “What is this two wheeled beast?” A second quiet zinger – at least he’s quiet – and I reminded him that the ghosts are familiar with modern transport; they can see out the windows. “I know,” he said, eyes rolling, “I’m trying to make a joke.” Parents!
Another episode that’s very clever and entertaining although a bit short of actual comedy, “Godfrey of Basingstoke” introduces us to two new ghosts who have been incarnated in the grounds outside Motley after Matt finds a long-lost wedding ring that belonged to Matilda, who married her beloved and never saw him again. Sometime in the early 1400s, Henry V popped by the church where his knight Godfrey was getting hitched, and sent him off to France instead of a honeymoon. Eight years later, Godfrey returned home, but died in a dumb accident in a well. A couple of hundred years later, the land, and its well, eventually became the grounds of Motley Hall.
Godfrey is played by Iain Cuthbertson in full boasting loudmouth mode – brilliant casting, that – and he mistakes the White Lady for Matilda. This couldn’t have come at a worse time, because the White Lady is at a low over her missing memories of being alive, and while Godfrey knows Matilda’s name, it turns out he doesn’t know anything at all about her. The real Matilda inevitably turns up, and I don’t suppose the poor White Lady is ever going to learn who she was in life.
In this blog, I have been quick to mock the many and mediocre efforts by American television to present British characters while casting them with actors who put forth no effort whatsoever to sound like they’d ever left southern California. In the interest of fairness, here’s that most British of character actors, Tenniel Evans, putting forth no effort whatsoever to sound like he’d ever walked the prairies of the old west. Well, the script lets him say “how” and “heap big” and “happy hunting grounds” and talk about totem poles, because Richard Carpenter was every bit as guilty as all the writers in southern California in the sixties and seventies in mashing all of native culture into one catchphrase-spouting stereotype, but Evans didn’t put a lot of work into his accent.
White Feather is the spirit guide of a remarkably powerful psychic who can see all of our heroes and cancel their ability to disappear. It’s a funny episode with an unusual adversary, and our son really enjoyed it, but I was kind of hoping that White Feather would have confided that he’s really an actor who died on stage in “red Indian” costume and just plays along saying “how” and “heap big” to keep the medium happy because he doesn’t want to cross over. We reminded our son that this kind of character isn’t acceptable for entertainment anymore.
Hey, look, location filming!
This is the fun episode where Sir George learns, hilariously, that he can actually travel outside Motley Hall. He doesn’t figure out how he gets outside, the show leaves that to the audience to figure out. And there’s a treasure hunt. Our son put it best: “All comedies need a silly treasure hunt episode once in a while!” This one involves a buried hoard that, in life, belonged to the miserly Sir Peveril Uproar, who hated everybody except his cat. You and I know that you can’t take it with you, but evidently nobody told Sir Peveril that.