I’m afraid I was working on another project and had to rush, so I watched tonight’s episode out of the corner of my eye. What I saw was completely wonderful. This is a splendid and very funny adventure where Marty gets targeted by a clairvoyant criminal played by Charles Lloyd Pack. He needs to make sure that no ghosts get in his way, so he and his associate, Alexandra Bastedo under a very unfortunate hairdo, pick up Marty’s widow as a client in order to exorcise Marty! There are some good fights and great surprises, and it features Ivor Dean as a police inspector who is really sick of Jeff.
In our son’s favorite scene, Jeff consults a doctor in Harley Street to discuss all of his ailing friend’s symptoms. The quack deduces that Jeff’s friend must be pregnant, and our kid howled with laughter. This is definitely one to come back to another day!
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.
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.
Since our last visit to the fun work of Randall and Hopkirk, my replacement set arrived and we’re able to pop back and enjoy the three episodes from the first DVD, the one that snapped. Interestingly, Network released two different editions of this set, and I was quite lucky to get the original one. That has the eight disks in two fat clamshell holders in a cardboard slipcase, with two stuffed booklets containing photos and very detailed production notes from ace researcher and writer Andrew Pixley. The replacement set has the eight in a single fat clamshell, and no booklets.
After watching episodes five through nine, with their breezy, light, and mildly comical tone, it was interesting to watch this one, where the producers were still figuring out what kind of show they wanted to make. This is a much more grisly hour, with the camera following a woman’s death in the pre-credits sequence like a tawdry horror film, and Jeff receiving a savage beating, with the thugs telling him to shout all he wants, as they’ve parked next to a soccer stadium during a sold-out match and nobody can hear him.
So it’s not a particularly fun episode, and it’s also lacking in familiar-to-me faces in the cast. Joby Blanshard, who would later star in Doomwatch, is here for a single scene as a police inspector, and that’s it. But while it wasn’t very fun, it was still pretty good. The criminal scheme is a little convoluted – using a fake psychic to steer recent widows and widowers to put their finances in the hands of the baddies leaves an awful lot to chance – and the more hard-boiled tone would probably have become a little repetitive after twenty-six weeks, but we enjoyed it.
Our favorite eight year-old critic doesn’t have a lot of experience with poker games on TV, other than seeing Doug McClure win a few big hands in Barbary Coast, so I think it’s just window dressing to him, and he doesn’t know to watch for the “tells” in the actors’ faces as they communicate what’s going on, especially when the game is fixed. So he missed a big clue in Tony Williamson’s “The Trouble With Women” that leaves Jeff in debt to the club to the tune of £240. But that’s all right. He brings Marty along to the crooked game the next night.
Watching Marty spoil the bad guys’ hands was just one fun moment in a very entertaining story. It’s a play on the old detective story about the client who’s lying about her identity, with one obvious-in-retrospect twist and another that I really would never have seen coming. This week’s installment of Marty looking for help takes him to The Society of Spiritualists, which is a funny enough concept, but the obstacle that Marty finds when he gets there is completely hilarious – and spoiled by even a cast list, so don’t go looking – and revealed to the audience with one of the most perfect visual punch lines in any kind of program like this. All three of us were roaring with laughter.
Joining the fun this week are two actors we’ve seen in The Champions literally in the last month – Edward Brayshaw and Paul Maxwell. Denise Buckley, who plays the client, wasn’t in The Champions, but she was in The Avengers, The Prisoner, and Department S, so she’s familiar to fans of these shows.
I swear it feels like Donald James wrote everything that we’ve watched for the last month! “The Night People” isn’t one of the best episodes of The Champions. In its favor, there’s some great location filming around the iconic Knebworth House, and Stuart Damon chose to play Craig as being an incredibly bad mood, short-tempered, worried about the missing Sharron, and snidely patronizing to everybody, including his friends and guest star Adrienne Corri, who plays a white witch in Cornwall. Thirty episodes of that would have been twenty-nine too many, but everybody’s due a bad day once in a while.
On the other hand, it feels too much like the far superior “Shadow of the Panther” from earlier in the season. It starts as a Sharron-centered adventure involving some fake magic hocus-pocus to cover up a more mundane crime, and the boys show up when Sharron goes missing. The problem is that Sharron was in command of the situation in “Panther,” and while she’s staying put and quietly learning about the situation while allowing herself to be imprisoned by guest star Terence Alexander, she is really sidelined and left out of all the physical stuff again. Watched after last night’s New Avengers, in which Purdey isn’t sidelined by anybody, it feels incredibly retrograde.
We’ll take a short break from The Champions to keep things fresh, but we’ll be back for the final seven episodes in about three weeks. Stay tuned!
Earlier this month, I had a little giggle over a red Renault going over a cliff in an episode of The Champions and wondered when we’d see the white Jaguar doing its famous tumble. Well, the footage, which was originally shot in 1965 for The Baron, made its way into this series with this episode. John Hallam is the unfortunate driver this time out.
I had wondered how many more times we’d run into this footage over the course of this blog, and the answer seems to be at least three more. The good people at Randall and Hopkirk (Declassified) have a page devoted to the four Jags used in the footage as well as the Renault. I made sure our son knows that anybody getting into a white Jag by himself in one of these shows is asking for trouble. Let’s see whether he remembers.
I have to say that this episode, written by Donald James, doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its thunderously good pre-credits sequence. A very old man in a horse-drawn carriage commissions Jeff to take an envelope to his nephew for a much-needed fee of £50 (that’s like $1100 today). Jeff accepts, and then the guy drops the surprise: his nephew is an escaped convict who jumped the wall six weeks previously.
So I was a little disappointed that Jeff finds the nephew almost instantly, and this quickly turns into the second “somebody’s killing all the relatives” inheritance story in three weeks. But I liked this more than “Who Killed Cock Robin?,” in part because Liz Fraser plays the unlikely suspect – slash – survivor who latches onto our hero, and she’s delightful. She plays the assistant to a stage magician, which is convenient when the plot makes its way to the usual scene of Jeff getting in trouble and Marty needing to get help. Marty just has to wait until she gets put into a hypnotic trance!
A couple of months ago, I wrote about how I’d taped fourteen episodes of The Champions off-air from a UHF station in Atlanta. “Get Me Out of Here!” was the only one of the fourteen I didn’t like. I didn’t like it then and I still don’t like it.
It could have been a good adventure. It guest stars Frances Cuka as a scientist who’s not been allowed to leave after a mission of mercy to her home country, a Nosuchlandia in the Caribbean which is a bit like Cuba. But the unflattering cultural stereotyping is rampant, and Philip Madoc, who I normally like so much, is unrecognizable in his brownface, his eye for the ladies and his Speedy Gonzales voice. And for a story with the main guest role given to a woman, it’s unforgivable that both she and Sharron are completely sidelined, reaching its nadir in the final fight scene. I think we were meant to see it as Sharron getting the professor to safety, but it’s really staged like she’s running away from the fight now that Richard and Craig have arrived and they can throw all the punches. The kid liked it, but I sure didn’t.