Holy anna, was that ever hilarious! Our son fell off the sofa laughing; kids are big with affectations, sure, but we were all laughing up a storm as things in this adventure by Tony Williamson spiral out of control. A con man, played by Anton Rodgers, accidentally ends up with a far bigger fish than he’d anticipated: one of London’s biggest mobsters. With only a short time to cough up the bearer bonds that he promised his actual target, the con man pulls Jeff into the mess, not realizing he’s getting a ghost as well. The con man can see Marty when he gets drunk enough!
I really love stories which feature the stakes getting hilariously higher and higher as one thing goes wrong after another. During one such spectacular mess, when things couldn’t possibly get any worse, Ivor Dean’s recurring character of Inspector Large shows up. It’s the most perfectly timed entrance ever and it had us howling. It’s easily one of the best episodes of the series so far.
It’s also the last episode of the series for the time being… to keep things fresh, we’re sending this wonderful show back to the shelf for a rest, but Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) will be back in August, so stay tuned!
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.
“That’s How Murder Snowballs” has an absolutely wonderful opening sequence. The story is set around the Palace Theatre, and begins with the death of one of the acts, live on stage. A mind-reading trick goes wrong, and the supposed clairvoyant is killed when his assistant, played by David Jason in a very small role, shoots him dead from the seventh row of a packed house. Somebody switched the blank cartridge for a live bullet.
There is an element of the episode which has dated rather badly, and is so incredibly obvious that I believe most grownup viewers today will be able to pick out the killer almost immediately. Our kid didn’t have a clue, of course, but he loved the runaround and the hijinks. The episode is a bottle show, set almost entirely in the same theater over a couple of days, as Jeff joins the company as a new mind-reading act, whose “trick” everybody is trying to deduce. Valerie Leon has a part as one of the dancers, and if the story suffers a little from a lack of logic as the killer strikes again and again when there really is no reason at all to, that’s okay. Some killers aren’t logical, and some of them act like they’e got fifty minutes of television to fill. I certainly enjoyed this story, and it was very nice to see a police inspector who’s on Jeff’s side for once, but it does wear its “only on TV” badge with pride.
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.