Hey, it’s Jean Marsh and Michael Gough! Reckon they’re up to no good? Just look at them.
Back when I first started watching The Saint in 1986-87, “The Imprudent Politician” became one of my favorite episodes, in part because of the story and in part because Marsh and Gough were in it and I knew who they were from their roles in sixties Doctor Who. In time, I’d come to recognize most of the great guest cast, including Anthony Bate, Moray Watson, and Mike Pratt. And in the spring of 1988, after reading a little bit about the Profumo Scandal of 1961-62, I caught that guest star Justine Lord is being a little bit Mandy Rice-Davies in this story about blackmail that involves an accidental death and a country house full of suspects.
So no, for the small number of you hoping our kid would recognize Lord after seeing her in another episode just four days ago, he didn’t. This one took a little more work, and a little backtracking after we got started, than I would have thought. It seemed simple enough: a politician’s being blackmailed because he has a cute mistress and once passed her some insider stock information. I overlooked the reality that the kid has only a vague idea of what a mistress is or why anyone would want one, and no clue at all what insider trading is. But I wasn’t going to let this one collapse because he didn’t understand it, so we got it all cleared up and once he understood there’s a big country house full of brooding visitors who don’t seem to like each other, he said “Okay, it’s like Clue,” and he was good to go.
Mike Pratt plays one of the blackmailers in this, and you’ll remember how, as Jeff Randall, the poor guy lost just about every fight he got in? He coshes Simon Templar from behind about halfway through this story, and that’s it for his luck. He gets thrashed to within an inch of his life later on. When Monty Berman and Dennis Spooner were putting together Randall and Hopkirk, they might’ve looked at this episode and said “That’s our man!”
A few nights ago, I introduced our son to the legendary story of “The Party” at Hyperbole and a Half. If you’ve not read it and don’t feel like clicking the link, it’s the story of someone who really wants to attend a party just a couple of hours after being put under for major dental surgery. We laughed like hyenas of course, and it must have stuck with our son, because in tonight’s episode, Isla Blair’s character has had far too many glasses of cognac and stumbles across the room to answer the door. Our son quietly riffed “Parp, parp,” understanding this much of the episode perfectly.
The rest of it was a bit too dense for him. I think it’s an absolutely fine script by Donald James, but I think it juggled a few too many things for him to really understand, including a secret Nazi document, mistaken identities, Swiss bank security, stroke victims, assassins, and Ronald Lacey’s weasel of a character pushing King into another ugly situation.
And what a freaking cast! The good guys include Isla Blair, Christopher Benjamin, and Derek Newark. The baddies are Alan McNaughtan and Barbara Murray, who have hired a top assassin played by Mike Pratt, who is sporting some unbelievable sideburns, to kill her husband, who seems strangely in on the deal and very, very willing to stand in place long enough to get shot. Hard to believe that with all that going on, the kid takes away a drunk scene, but these things happen.
Our son asked “Hey, is that one of the Doctors?” and the world smiled, or at least we did. Good to see him recognizing a favorite. Tom Baker starts a recurring role in this episode. He plays Wyvern, a “spirit guide” in Limbo who helps Marty get accustomed to the afterlife and learn his trade.
Baker’s part of a powerhouse cast this week. Hugh Laurie plays the villain, and in smaller parts, there’s Martin Clunes, Richard Todd, and Wanda Ventham. I should probably know these three from other roles than in eighties Who, but I’m like that. Another Who connection: it’s one of two episodes from this series to be directed by Rachel Talalay, who would later direct seven episodes in the Peter Capaldi years. Earlier, she’d directed the Tank Girl movie and she’s more recently been calling the shots on several of the CW’s superhero series.
“Mental Apparition Disorder” is a loose rewrite of a celebrated episode from the original run, “A Disturbing Case,” and that episode’s co-writers, Mike Pratt and Ian Wilson, get a credit at the end. They don’t spend nearly as much screen time on Marty impersonating the criminal hypnotist-psychiatrist in this version as in the original, and it isn’t as funny, but it involves a lot more hypnotized patients, so it has its own charm. Our son made the very disturbing observation that he even liked it better than the original, but in fairness, this one does include a lot more shouting. That said, an earlier scene where Marty tries to get the hypnotized Jeff’s attention by bellowing in his ear really is funny.
I was explaining to our son that one reason British TV shows typically make fewer episodes per year than American shows is that American shows have crews that work lots and lots of overtime hours. Sixteen hour days are not uncommon. That usually doesn’t happen in Great Britain. It took ITC something like fourteen months to shoot 26 episodes of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), and then during the production of the 25th, Mike Pratt went and broke his legs.
So to get one last episode in the can, they didn’t do a clip show, mercifully, but had Marty tell Jeff a flashback story from back when he was still alive, and worked a case with Jeannie while Jeff was in Scotland. This meant that Kenneth Cope and Annette Andre actually got to actually interact in front of the cameras for the first time in more than a year. That must be unique in television, mustn’t it? I can’t think of another case where you go to work five days a week and are actually onstage with an actor for much of that time and not actually make eye contact with each other for more than twelve months.
“The Ghost Talks” is pretty amusing. Our son grumbled that this one wouldn’t be fun without Marty being supernatural, but there were some surprises and a few moments of good humor. Marty takes a hush-hush assignment from a government type played by Alan McNaughtan who is not entirely honest about the job and things go very amusingly wrong. It may not have been the sort of “final episode” that modern TV viewers might hope for, but it pleased us.
Sadly, Lew Grade wasn’t able to sell the series to an American network. Retitled My Partner the Ghost, it appeared in a few markets in direct-to-station syndication, but it didn’t clear enough of the country to warrant resuming production. That’s a darn shame, because I’d have loved to have seen more of this.
But we WILL see more of it… sort of. Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) – now with an ampersand in the title card – returned as a remake thirty-some years later, and we’ll be looking at its first series next month. And for ITC fans in our audience, there’s another show from that great gang that we’ll watch several months from now. Look out for our take on Department S in 2020!
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.
Folks, this just wasn’t fair. There have only been a couple of installments of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) that I didn’t enjoy very much. Otherwise, this has just been an incredibly entertaining and fun program. But right toward the end of its production run, they managed a hat trick of three absolute treasures right in a row. This was a show that had found the perfect balance of amusing action and comedy and was getting better all the time. If an American network had bought the program, they would have made some more. I hate to use that hoary old defense of fans who want to stick up for a cancelled-too-soon series, but a second season of Randall and Hopkirk could have been the greatest thing ever.
Tony Williamson’s “Murder Ain’t What it Used to Be!” finally brings another ghost into the actual plot of the story, rather than the handful that we’ve seen on the fringes. 35 years previously – say 1934 – a Chicago gangster named Bugsy, played by one of ITC’s stock American actors, David Healy, was double-crossed by his partner in a bootleg whiskey heist. The incident’s actually presented in a terrific black and white flashback as Bugsy pulls Marty back through time to witness it! Bugsy has been trying without success to kill his partner in accidents as his powers and control over the material world has grown far past Marty’s abilities. The partner can occasionally see Bugsy, just as Jeff can see Marty, so he’s always on alert for crashing chandeliers and swerving cars. But while the ghosts can interact, neither living man can see the other’s ghost.
So the partner is now in England to conduct some syndicate business, and Bugsy now has somebody to help him exact revenge. Bugsy tells Marty that Jeff must murder the partner or else Bugsy will arrange an accident for Jean. This leads to one of the series’ all-time greatest lines: “Well, I can’t do anything, can I? If I start telling Jeannie that her late husband is being blackmailed by the ghost of a Prohibition gangster, she’ll go spare!”
Our son was instantly charmed by the arrival of the new ghost character, and with the exception of one pretty poor bit of wire work with some visible-from-space strings that demanded his raspberries, he chuckled all the way through this one. Marty finally pushes back against the more powerful Bugsy in a bizarre fight at the end – a fight that leaves Jeff able to see just one player – that has vases flying across the room and comedy sound effects as the ghosts stomp on each other’s feet. “That was GREAT,” our son said while hopping up and down nursing his own pretend-stomped-upon foot. I didn’t join him in slapstick, but agreed completely.
I’m always happy to spot a familiar face or five when I’m watching an old show, but Tony Williamson’s “Ghost Who Saved the Bank at Monte Carlo” might be my favorite episode of the whole series because its guest cast is just so darned terrific. The story itself is a riot. Marty’s wacky old aunt hires Jeff to act as her bodyguard – surely he could have recommended somebody more physically capable of such a job? – as she takes her foolproof system to Monte Carlo to win £100,000 over three nights.
She attracts the attention of two rival gangs of crooks, as well as the casino’s security team, who are determined to discreetly keep their customer, and her little red book, safe. Joining our heroes for the shenanigans: an absolute powerhouse cast that includes BRIAN BLESSED, Veronica Carlson, Nicholas Courtney, Roger Delgado, and John Sharp. And astonishingly, Jeff doesn’t have to scrap with any of them. Most of them are too busy scrapping with each other to worry about the old aunt’s bodyguard.
The story’s an absolute treat because Jeff is kept completely in the dark about all the shenanigans. Marty knows what’s going on, but he can’t make Jeff believe him for more than half the story. And as the villains start double-dealing and Veronica Carlson’s character proves she shouldn’t be trusted by anybody, the old lady keeps racking up the winnings. Finally, Nicholas Courtney, playing a pretty sleazy lady’s man, pulls a gun on Jean and leads her discreetly onto the terrace. Of course Marty’s going to save the day – it’s in the title, after all – but the way this story resolves was a very pleasant and ridiculous surprise, and we all enjoyed it tremendously.
I thought that this episode might prove to be memorable, because the DVD comes with two separate audio commentaries. I was right. I had an initial giggle when one of ITC’s resident American-born actors, David Bauer, got called upon to play a psychiatrist with a German accent. Gerald Flood, who also did three or four of these shows, also has a small role in this one.
Then I stopped giggling and we all started roaring. Jeff gets hypnotized, in the TV way of hypnotizing that isn’t terribly realistic, and the only way that Marty can communicate with him is by speaking in Bauer’s accent. Making matters sillier, Jeff can’t do anything whatsoever without express direction from Marty. He can, however, win fights pretty handily, because he’s been conditioned to do whatever the German-accented voice tells him to.
“A Disturbing Case” is hilarious. Mike Pratt co-wrote the goofball adventure with Ian Wilson, and I thought for a moment or two that he was giving himself a break, because Jeff spends several minutes of screen time laid up in a private nursing home while Marty does all the actual work. When things pick up, we were all incredibly amused. Marie felt compelled to tell our son that hypnotism really, really doesn’t work this way – and she also wondered just how many psychiatrists were running around hypnotizing patients in the London of this world – and I’m pretty sure that he knows that, but I’m also pretty sure that he might soon be seen jauntily hopping down a hallway with a silly “hypnotized” grin on his face like Jeff.
Our son managed to lock the guest bedroom door, as kids are known to do. He showed his mother a safety pin. “I tried opening the door with this, but it’s much harder than it looks on television.” I think there’s a lesson there for all of us.
Anyway, Tony Williamson’s “The House on Haunted Hill” doesn’t break the mold too much. It’s a pretty funny story that explains that even though he’s a ghost, he’s still afraid of haunted houses. Other ghosts might not be as agreeable as him. There could be something out of Macbeth creeping around in an old property that Jeff’s been commissioned to investigate. Naturally, the law of television conservation means that this case has something major to do with another case, where Garfield Morgan is playing an uptight corporation dude. Peter Jones is also in it, briefly, and while there actually isn’t anything out of Macbeth in the old house, there is a goon dressed like a Scooby-Doo villain, just in case anybody gets too nosy.
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… ?