This story by Donald James begins with an amusing setup: every worker at a chemical plant, both on the floor and in the office, phones in sick for a day. Only two didn’t phone in: the secretary, who can’t be found, and the fellow who never, ever called in to miss a shift, who is found dead in the river. The setup is a fine start to an intriguing scheme, but I thought it was done without any sense of urgency or wit. Annabelle gets more to do in this story than most. Watched over by a thug played by Leslie Schofield, she is resourceful, cunning, and cool under pressure, and calmly uses psychology to get the upper hand. She’s the best part of this episode, which doesn’t happen often.
This one’s terrific. I enjoyed it a lot and it’s easily my favorite so far. It’s the one with the ghost village, where everybody has disappeared. It’s so reminiscent of a Doctor Who they did seven years later called “The Android Invasion” that I was expecting to see its writer credited. It’s actually written by Donald James, who of course was turning out lots of quality scripts for ITC in the late sixties. It’s a really entertaining mystery that kept me guessing, and I still hadn’t figured everything out by the end. About the only thing I could guess was that we’d see a couple of actors enter the story again after the script tried to tell us they weren’t important. But ITC typically didn’t hire people like Richard Vernon or Jeremy Young for single scenes.
Department S was in production at the same time as Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), so I was expecting to see some locations and sets used between the two shows. This episode uses the village of Latimer and a pub called The Duke of Cumberland. The crew from Randall and Hopkirk was back here a few months later to shoot their installment “The Man From Nowhere”.
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.
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… ?
He didn’t complain aloud, but our son really didn’t enjoy tonight’s episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) all that much. Guest star George Sewell plays an escaped con who is unable to take revenge on Marty, the man who put him away, so he targets his widow. The criminal’s just too mean and violent, and Jean, while occasionally possessed of quick wits, is one of the least resourceful regular characters we’ve seen on any TV series that we’ve watched together. She’s simultaneously being romanced by an old friend who has taken her in with a lie about being a widower himself. I wouldn’t say that it’s always nice to see Annette Andre take center stage when Donald James’s story makes her a double victim.
On the other hand, Kenneth Cope is so entertaining to watch that his selfish jealousy over Jean thinking about moving on is really amusing. And it’s nice to see Jeff win a fight. Unfortunately, the fight he wins is with a supporting character. Once George Sewell’s brute gets his paws on Jeff, he doesn’t last very long.
A powerhouse trio of fine actors playing villains in tonight’s episode. That’s Patrick Newell, Neil McCarthy, and Michael Gwynn, and the story keeps us delightfully in the dark for almost the whole of the episode wondering what on earth they’re up to. It really was a joy watching this story unfold, as a criminal acquaintance of theirs tries to con Jean into believing that he is the reincarnation of Marty for some reason or other. Unfortunately, the question of why in the world did he go to all that trouble – I mean, an enormous amount of trouble – to get such a simple question answered is a plot hole so mammoth that Jean and Jeff actually wonder aloud about it at the end of the show, and they can’t find a satisfactory answer.
Also, Jeff wins a fight for once. He almost wins two!
Our son wondered about Marty’s powers, noting that in ghost stories that he’s read, ghosts typically do have the power to possess people, which makes the scam sound almost plausible. But Marty doesn’t actually have that power, probably because it would be far too easy a crutch for a show like this. He was also curious about Michael Gwynn’s character being so polite by gently touching his hat with greetings and goodbyes. He asked us to pause the show so we could talk about the lost art of men’s hats and the body language that came with wearing them. He’ll probably pay more attention when we watch the next episode of Brisco County Jr. in a couple of nights, or how Steed greets people when The New Avengers returns to our lineup next month.
Our son enjoyed tonight’s episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) much more than the previous one, but it still left him cold for a good while. The problem is that Ivor Dean’s character of Inspector Large jails Jeff on suspicion of heisting half a million pounds of very used notes that were en route to be destroyed in a furnace. Donald James’s script leaves it open as to whether Jeff knows a lot more than he’s saying… and he’s saying nothing, not to Marty, and not even to his attorney, played by Sue Lloyd.
Once everything comes out in the open, our favorite eight year-old critic came around and started liking this one a lot more. He even noted an similarity between this story and the Hardy Boys episode “The Flickering Torch Mystery,” which we watched in the spring. He likes it when the police foil the bad guys’ plans to escape via airplane, apparently!
I was thinking that tonight’s episode of The Champions, written by Donald James, might have been too complicated for our son, but he breezed right along with it and quietly said “This is really exciting!” as Craig executes a prison break. At its core, the story is a mystery: who is paying a man who broke into an embassy in London to photograph plans, and what did he do with the film. The ambassador believes the British government is behind the theft and has imprisoned their own agent, so while Craig and Richard are planning to break him out, the ambassador engages an underworld fixer and his gun-toting moll, played by Gabrielle Drake, to bring the convict to him.
The most surprising moment of the story comes when Richard loses a fight. Even superhumans have an occasional off day, but in Richard’s defense, there were three of them, they were huge, they caught him by surprise, and he did kayo two of the thugs before losing consciousness.
Ah, well, we had to hit an episode that the grownups didn’t enjoy eventually. No series bats a thousand. At least Donald James’ “All Work and No Pay” starts out incredibly entertaining, with guest villains Dudley Foster and Alfred Burke playing very well-dressed brothers who are up to something. For a good chunk of the story, it was really entertaining trying to figure out what in the world they’re actually doing, and why they’ve targeted Jean with a fake poltergeist. But the truth isn’t so much disappointing as it is utterly nonsensical, and not even Adrienne Corri, playing an actress friend of Jeff’s who ends up in the villains’ clutches, can really save this one.
But on the other hand, our favorite eight year-old critic had a very different experience. There is one moment about half an hour in where the story seems to take a very uncharacteristically gruesome turn, and he didn’t like that at all. But the rest of the episode had him on the edge of his seat and smiling. He loved the villains’ fake poltergeists, even while his fuddy-duddy parents were squinting and asking “…how?” And when Marty saves the day by exercising a little previously unseen control over the output of power plants, he was in heaven. The closing revelation that things hadn’t ended so gruesomely earlier had him guffawing, because Adrienne Corri gets to ride home wearing nothing but a newspaper. That’s not sexy to an eight year-old, that’s just funny.
This afternoon’s episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), written by Donald James, is another example of the more hard-boiled route the program might have taken in its earliest days before they landed on a sillier formula. Tracey Crisp plays a courier / hostage between two rival criminal gangs, one in London and the other in Glasgow, and Jeff has to escort her back to England and then take a receipt back to the mob boss in Scotland. You know that at least one double-cross is coming, but when? Poor Jeff gets the absolute daylights thrashed out of him three times in this adventure. The grown-up stuff kept our son entertained, but his favorite part by far was Marty using his supernatural powers at a small public works site and whipping up a sandstorm.