In the completely charming series finale, the ghosts finally get out of Motley Hall… and they can’t get back in! Thanks to all that bell, book, and candle stuff, when Gudgin brings a dirty old bell into Motley and gives it a good ring, he drives the residents out. They materialize a couple of miles away and find that their home now has a barrier around it. Between them and the hall, there’s another ghost, an old acquaintance of Fanny’s. He’s a highwayman who haunts the hill where he was hanged.
Amusingly, writer Richard Carpenter’s next project was the LWT series of Dick Turpin, which ran from 1979-82. This highwayman is a lot more talkative than the one we met in The Sarah Jane Adventures last month, which led me to show our son that program’s title sequence.
Overall, this wasn’t one of the more comedic installments, although I was amused that the apparent problem of a banshee is introduced and very little is done with it, and also entertained by an odd continuity error. Peter Sallis’s character’s name is spelled “Gudgin” on his office windows and “Gudgeon” on the keep out sign on Motley’s front door. Our son, however, laughed like a banshee himself when the White Lady threatens to haunt him all the way to Outer Mongolia. He was still giggling about that when we finished.
This show was a complete delight, and I’m so glad that I took the chance on it. It is less well-remembered today than Carpenter’s earlier triumph, Catweazle, but I think this was every bit as good. It’s a genuinely clever, inventive and often surprising little show that still holds plenty of appeal for eight and nine year-olds today. And I’m also thrilled to have watched Arthur English’s excellent performance as Bodkin. I really need to see him in some of the other shows he made. Overall, a very good little show, definitely worth picking up the DVD set from Network.
Tonight’s episode was a very silly and very different change of pace. On Halloween – the episode was actually shown in February 1978, but you can’t have everything – Gudgin moves a piano in the hall. Naturally, it turns out to be haunted. The ghost of Ludwig Schtupp comes with the piano, but instead of a half-hour of mild mayhem and what you’d normally see with a guest star, in this case John Ringham, it’s a musical episode, with the characters doing a few silly music hall numbers.
Our son was a bit restless this afternoon and a couple of the performances left him doing a bit of clockwatching, but it ends with a tremendously fun tune where they each take turns singing a song where they’re not meant to say the word “dead” but somehow manage it anyway. Call it a cute little detour, done playfully with goofy charm.
Gloriana! This has got to be one of the weirdest coincidences at our blog yet. We just saw Joan Sanderson this morning in The Great Muppet Caper, and here she is again in the only Ghosts two-parter. And she’s really entertaining, too. She plays the ghost of Sir George’s sister, Alexandra, and she is extremely unhappy about how George is allowing all these other ghosts to have free run of the place. A stable boy! In Motley!
I was interested in how Richard Carpenter neatly tied in some previous continuity into this story, answering a couple of questions in the back of my mind. It turns out that Peter Sallis’s character, Gudgin, does indeed still own Motley – he was gifted the hall at the end of series two – but he still needs to sell it because he cannot afford to live in it, and that’s why it’s become all dirty and cobwebby again. I would guess that the taxes must be enormous on a property like this.
Also, they return to the idea that Sir George is also, somehow, able to leave the hall as well as Matt, even though he doesn’t know how he does it. Once they realize that he can get out when he loses his temper, it’s not much help. Crushed under Alexandra’s iron thumb, the poor ghost has got no temper left!
This was completely hilarious, and a great opportunity for some of the cast to briefly do something a little different. A supposed historian and presenter for a “Schools Television” educational program is doing a show about an incident that is said to have happened in 1601 at Motley Hall. The problem is that it’s only the presenter who says it happened. It’s entirely fictional, and it makes the Uproars of the time, and the “fool” who lived and worked in the hall then, look terrible. And I don’t just mean the inaccurate Party City costume that the actor who plays “Boddykin” wears.
The joy, of course, is that’s Arthur English, playing both our beloved Bodkin and some slumming luvvie actor cast to play this sham version of him. Freddie Jones and Nicholas le Provost also get to pull double-duty, but it’s only Bodkin who gets to react in disbelief, asking what he’s supposed to be wearing. But then the chaos starts. Since the ghosts can’t really rely on Mr. Gudgin to find Bodkin’s grave and prove the events cannot have happened the way the script claims, though he leaves the set to try, they start screwing with the production. It’s very hard to have all quiet on the set when the set has five spirits with poltergeist powers, you know. I got a kick out of the actors playing stage hams; our son loved the constantly surprising ways the ghosts find to drive the director and crew mad.
Our son protested that the six episode seasons common to British comedy are far, far too short. His is a common complaint. “Horoscope” wrapped up the six-week run with guest star Brian Wilde as a parody of Howard Hughes called Stanford Hives. He can see three of the ghosts, although not Sir George, who most wants him to leave, and doesn’t make a business transaction without consulting his star charts. Previously, he lived in a lighthouse, until people found out where he was. He buys Motley Hall hoping that nobody will ever find him here, except his small live-in staff, who keep him informed of the positions of stars and planets, mainly so they can manipulate him.
I reminded our son that we’ve seen Howard Hughes analogues before, most recently in the Hardy Boys adventure “Arson and Old Lace.” It was the seventies, man. The kid enjoyed the episode, particularly when Sir George engages in guerrilla warfare to annoy him out of the house. You’d get aggravated as well if a ghost was pulling the blankets off you in the middle of the night!
But I really enjoyed the scene pictured above, where Bodkin convinces the grumpy old devil to live a little, and stop acting like Capricorns are supposed to. There’s no reason why Hives can’t be a Leo and have more fun. No, really, there’s no reason, Hives is an orphan and does not actually know his real birthday. Arthur English, not for the first time, is completely magical in the scene. I wasn’t familiar with him before we started looking at this show. He really was a great actor.
In tonight’s amusing episode, Peter Sallis’s character gets trapped inside the hall. The ghosts don’t have the tools to free him. Four of the five can’t leave the building, and Matt can only go as far as the gate, so how can they get help for him?
Our son quietly offered a couple of riffs, reflecting his familiarity with Richard Carpenter’s scripts for this and for Catweazle. Sallis brings his bicycle into the hall and our son whispered “What is this two wheeled beast?” A second quiet zinger – at least he’s quiet – and I reminded him that the ghosts are familiar with modern transport; they can see out the windows. “I know,” he said, eyes rolling, “I’m trying to make a joke.” Parents!
In this blog, I have been quick to mock the many and mediocre efforts by American television to present British characters while casting them with actors who put forth no effort whatsoever to sound like they’d ever left southern California. In the interest of fairness, here’s that most British of character actors, Tenniel Evans, putting forth no effort whatsoever to sound like he’d ever walked the prairies of the old west. Well, the script lets him say “how” and “heap big” and “happy hunting grounds” and talk about totem poles, because Richard Carpenter was every bit as guilty as all the writers in southern California in the sixties and seventies in mashing all of native culture into one catchphrase-spouting stereotype, but Evans didn’t put a lot of work into his accent.
White Feather is the spirit guide of a remarkably powerful psychic who can see all of our heroes and cancel their ability to disappear. It’s a funny episode with an unusual adversary, and our son really enjoyed it, but I was kind of hoping that White Feather would have confided that he’s really an actor who died on stage in “red Indian” costume and just plays along saying “how” and “heap big” to keep the medium happy because he doesn’t want to cross over. We reminded our son that this kind of character isn’t acceptable for entertainment anymore.
Hey, look, location filming!
This is the fun episode where Sir George learns, hilariously, that he can actually travel outside Motley Hall. He doesn’t figure out how he gets outside, the show leaves that to the audience to figure out. And there’s a treasure hunt. Our son put it best: “All comedies need a silly treasure hunt episode once in a while!” This one involves a buried hoard that, in life, belonged to the miserly Sir Peveril Uproar, who hated everybody except his cat. You and I know that you can’t take it with you, but evidently nobody told Sir Peveril that.
And now back to dear old Motley Hall, for a story that begins on Christmas Eve 1976 – the day this episode was first shown – and travels back to the 1880s, when Sir George was a lad of ten. The house has brought them back in time because an elemental spirit has somehow entered Motley Hall and is making everyone extremely angry. It feeds of the negativity brought by fighting and arguing. Sir George gets to watch his parents having a holiday row while everyone else consults Gudgeon’s great, great grandfather for what he might know about the tree that was used for the yule log. It’s haunted as well!
We enjoyed that a lot. It was a very pleasant, intelligent, and sweet little surprise. There are a few smile-worthy moments, but no wild comedy. It’s anchored around the scenes of Sir George talking to his much younger self, and Bodkin talking to the elemental. They’re just sweet and charming and very well-written and acted. It’s flatly one of the best Christmas specials of any show I’ve ever seen, and since they did another in 1977, I’m very curious to see it in a few weeks.
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.