I was glad to see Neil McCarthy show up in the final episode of Motley Hall‘s first series. He had a regular role in the original run of Richard Carpenter’s Catweazle. I’m also always glad to see actors play really different roles than how I know them, and I’ve never seen McCarthy in a part anything like this before. He plays a fast-talking, posh professor with some theories about ghosts being nothing more than vibrations and wavelengths turned into hallucinations by the human subconscious. So while Sir George is yelling at the professor and insisting that he’s not an illusion, Peter Sallis’s character, the real estate agent, has a proper conversation with the White Lady. Much as he doesn’t want to hear it, he now knows that a small group of ghosts lives in the building he wants to sell. I hope this comes up again in the second series!
The best part of the episode came early on, as McCarthy yammers on about his theories, enraging Sir George, who bellows “Balderdash!” back at him. And our son did another one of those things where he starts laughing at a gag because he hears me roaring, and not because he actually understands the joke. The White Lady reasons that she must have had suitors once upon a time. Bodkin asks “Who, Burke and Hare?” I made sure to explain who they were after the episode, and left him a little creeped out. But it was graverobbing for a good cause, I insisted. It’s not their fault that science needed more corpses than the community would provide, really.
That’s all for the second series of The Ghosts of Motley Hall. We like to put shows back on the shelf to keep them fresh, and we’ll look at the second series in late June. Stay tuned!
This episode is back to being nice and silly again. The ghosts decide to hold a seance to contact one of Sir George’s old military buddies, but instead they pick up a nasty doppelganger of Matt. Everybody’s even more short-tempered than usual because it’s storming and Peter Sallis’s character, the real estate agent, hasn’t come by to inspect a leaky ceiling in an upstairs room, and some of them are taking it out on Matt because they’re all envious of his power to leave the building. The evil doppelganger quickly starts setting everyone at each other’s throats. I liked how it opens up a few more questions about the nature of death and the afterlife in this world, but mainly we all liked seeing everybody chasing each other around and yelling about all the slights they’ve heard Evil Matt spreading about them.
Marie had noted after we watched the first episode that the only woman in the cast is the one who didn’t have a name. I grudgingly agreed, although the White Lady is a spectral archetype. That’s not to say that they couldn’t have had a second woman in the cast, but a howling female phantasm with no identity and no memory is a recognizable figure in the lore of ghosts. “Perfidia Blackart Rides Again” isn’t a particularly funny episode, but it is interesting to see the White Lady react to some pretty solid evidence as to who she was and how long she’s been at Motley. She may have been in the Hall since the 1640s. Then again, she might not. After all, you can’t believe everything you read.
It’s nice to see Peter Sallis again as the realtor who keeps Motley Hall in cobwebby but firm shape for the right buyer. This prospect is from the British Banana Company, and he unlocks a secret panel where a broken sword hilt has been locked away. Removing the hilt removes a ghost that predates our phantasmic five: Bad Lord William, who has an awful temper and neither understands nor cares that things have changed in his absence. I didn’t think this one was nearly as funny as the previous two, but it certainly kept me entertained, and the kid just loved it. Bodkin and Bad Lord William have a swordfight that won’t go down as anybody’s favorite, but to be fair, Bodkin’s probably never fought with anybody before, and the other guy’s not had any practice in three centuries.
A few years previously, Richard Carpenter had written a hilarious episode of Catweazle where the timelost magician encounters a television for the first time. The gag is repeated here, brilliantly. Some of the ghosts figure that this thing is just a wireless radio with a glass front. There are eight of them in their home. Some thieves stole them about a week ago and dumped them in the hall for safekeeping.
Bodkin and Fanny decide to settle whether or not it’s a wireless and switch it on during a race horse, which blows their minds. But several minutes later, Bodkin has lost patience and is worried about the transfixing effects on his friends, so he switches it off. In the time it takes for the argument to end, the races have finished and the station has gone over to a cooking show. Next a yoga instructor asks the audience when was the last time you really breathed? It was several minutes for our son and me; we were choking from laughing.
There’s an actual plot beyond the gags about a policeman who finds the seven remaining televisions and can see Sir George, but not the others, and the thieves, who spend a very lucky amount of time not being in the rooms where plot is happening, and it’s all very funny, but the ghosts freaking out about the TV is absolutely next-level hysterical. I’m so glad I took a chance on this show.
The only thing that I know the actor Gerald James from is the second Sapphire & Steel story, where he played a ghost hunter named Tully. He’s also in the second Ghosts of Motley Hall story, playing a ghost hunter named Potter. There’s typecasting for you.
The presence of a ghost hunter is a neat obstacle for the five characters in this story. Normally, they’ll do something to frighten away people who poke their noses into their home, but that’s the last thing they want to do here. Giving this guy any indication that there’s anything unusual here will encourage him to come back with more psychics and charlatans and people tying string with bells on it across their staircases. So it’s a terrible time for another ghost to show up. Old Gory was a knight who was decapitated during a battle at the future site of Motley Hall during the Wars of the Roses (1455-85) and shows up every five years to complain and grumble and make everybody miserable. He doesn’t care whether he’s photographed; why should their plight concern him?
We just adored this; it’s sublimely silly, and when half our heroes drag Old Gory’s body one way while the others run off with his head, we all had a huge laugh. That’s not something you see every day. Our son called Old Gory “a headless horseman without the horse.” Poor fellow; it never occurred to him in five hundred years that nothing’s stopping him from reattaching his head to his shoulders.
And now back to 1976 and another program I’ve never seen before, and probably hadn’t heard of when we started this blog. The Ghosts of Motley Hall is a children’s comedy made by Britain’s Granada Television for three series between 1976 and 1978. It was devised and written by Richard Carpenter and directed by Quentin Lawrence, the duo behind the delightful Catweazle, although that earlier show had been filmed entirely on location and Ghosts is videotaped by three big cameras on a big set, so it certainly doesn’t have all the farms and forests and villages and old railway stations to play in. But that makes sense here, because four of the five ghosts of this story are unable to leave their home.
From left to right in the photo above, that’s Arthur English, Nicholas Le Provost, Sean Flanagan, Sheila Steafel, and Freddie Jones as our ghosts, each from a different period of history and, except for the young fellow in the middle, cursed to haunt the building forever. Matt is the exception; he was a stable boy and has been haunting the stable for the last hundred and sixty or so years, and had no idea there were other ghosts nearby. But after the death of the last living Uproar – at least two of the ghosts are from the Uproar family – Matt overhears a developer and a corrupt building inspector planning to pull down the building, which has sat vacant since the 1950s. He decides to enter the hall since he’ll never have another chance, meets the others, and they work together to foil their scheme, thanks to a little help from the caretaker, played by the wonderful Peter Sallis.
I thought this was a pretty good pilot. It’s not a boisterous physical comedy. It’s whimsical and the tone is a little sweetly sad, and, in the way of these things, there’s not a really great obstacle to overcome because there are five rather extraordinary characters and a very outre situation to introduce in the first episode. But I smiled a lot and thought it was very charming, and, most importantly, our son was really pleased with it. In the end, the ghosts congratulate themselves on saving their hall – for now – and give themselves a round of applause, and our son jumped up and joined them! So not at all bad, and I’m looking forward to seeing what will come next.
I smiled brightly when the guest stars were named in this episode. Matt Lucas, who had been the “big baby” George Daws in Reeves and Mortimer’s hilarious Shooting Stars, is in this one as another ghost called Nesbitt. Plus there’s a great pre-credits scene: Jeff starts the episode dreaming that he’s awakened when he’s still sleeping, and waking again to find that he’s still asleep. This has happened to me a few times so memorably that the way they did it here looked like they were deliberately targeting me. And midway through the episode, thanks to Marty and Nesbitt, Jeff has a hysterically funny nightmare that’s executed flatly unlike any dream I’ve ever seen in any movie or TV show. It’s completely insane and had my son and I roaring with laughter.
And yet none of these have anything to do with why I loved watching this one unfold. Look, we all agree that the original Randall and Hopkirk is in a class by itself, but stone me if “Revenge of the Bog People” isn’t my favorite episode of either production (so far). This is completely amazing and I loved it to pieces and I didn’t see where it was going at least three times.
Anna Wilson-Jones plays an old flame of Jeff’s who asks him to take one more look into her father’s decade-old disappearance. Jeff couldn’t clear his name then, and things at the museum where he worked are no different, except his former boss has resigned in disgrace and poverty, and there’s something going on with a family buried together in a peat bog thousands of years ago and a very small entity running around the exhibits going bump in the night and frightening the poor security guards.
This was so darn good that I couldn’t wait for it to finish so that I could go back and rewatch a scene because I realized there was a clue in it that I completely missed. I frequently miss things like this because I’m not trying to build a case or out-think the writer; I just want to be swept along. I love the feeling of watching a splendid production come together and all the pieces find their right place, even if some people need a few encouraging words from a ghost to get where they need to be.
I like the decor in Jeff’s apartment. Actor Mike Pratt was a musician himself, and decided that when he’s not working cases, Jeff is also a musician, of the “Eastern mysticism” school. He encouraged the set dressers to include a guitar and some Ravi Shankar records and some posters on the wall that look like he’d gone to Rishikesh with the Beatles and that Maharishi dude six months earlier. I’ve never heard any of his music – most of it seems to have been collaborations with Tommy Steele in the early sixties – but I was actually familiar with his son, Guy Pratt, before I’d ever heard of Randall and Hopkirk. Guy has been an in-demand session player for decades, and co-wrote a great song, “Seven Deadly Sins,” with Bryan Ferry in 1987.
And speaking of sixties decor, Carol Cleveland has a small part in this one, and with her stacked hair and patterned mini-dress, it looks like she’s about to start singing “Rock Lobster” with Kate and Cindy.
Lois Maxwell and Freddie Jones are also in this one, which Donald James wrote and which we all enjoyed a lot. Jones plays a ghost hunter who can’t see Marty, but that’s okay, because somebody else in the village can. They close the resulting loophole – that there’s somebody on the outside who Marty can get messages to whenever Jeff’s in trouble – in an epilogue that’s somehow both bittersweet and very funny.
This is such a fun story! “The Phantom Train of Doom” might just be the best of all the Young Indy adventures. There are still some very good ones coming up, but this just runs rings around almost every other story that they made. It’s just a classic Indiana Jones adventure, with our hero getting caught up in escalating nonsense and a story that requires fast thinking, improvisation, and, of course, a blatant disregard for the laws of physics.
It follows the first part of the story quite closely, with all of the same cast. The “Old and the Bold” gang returns to the British lines and are immediately given a new assignment: to kidnap a German colonel. They agree to escort Indy and Remy back to the Belgian lines with a formal explanation for their absence and an apology from the British general. They just don’t tell Indy and Remy about their new mission. Everything that can possibly go wrong does, hilariously, and before long, Indy, Remy, and their prisoner are making their way across the veldt on foot.
The colonel is played by Tom Bell, who I remember seeing in Prime Suspect as DS Otley. I spent all of the nineties hoping that when Doctor Who ever did get resurrected, they’d cast Bell as the Master. There’s a parallel universe where he enjoyed some good scraps with Paul McGann’s Doctor, I’m sure.