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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.24 – Murder Ain’t What it Used to Be!

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.

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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.23 – The Ghost Who Saved the Bank at Monte Carlo

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.

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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.21 – The House on Haunted Hill

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.

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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.18 – When Did You Start to Stop Seeing Things?

Another short entry: Tony Williamson’s “When Did You Start to Stop Seeing Things?” requires a lot of “TV logic” when it comes to hypnosis, doubles, masks, people alerting the heroes of the story to keep the narrative running for fifty full minutes instead of phoning Ivor Dean’s character of Inspector Large and wrapping things up much more quickly. But it’s incredibly funny and had us all laughing out loud, so why complain? Keith Barron has a small role as one of the villains; always nice to see him.

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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.14 – Never Trust a Ghost

We resumed Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) tonight after a few weeks on the shelf, but unfortunately Tony Williamson’s “Never Trust a Ghost” isn’t one of the strongest stories. Our son just flat out said it was the worst episode we’ve watched, probably because he doesn’t like seeing anybody not able to be believed. Marty stumbles on a killing and quickly gets Randall involved in some criminal scheme being played out by a trio of baddies – Peter Vaughan, Caroline Blakiston, and Philip Madoc – but Jeff can never get to the scenes of the crimes in time to actually see what Marty has seen. This doesn’t do him any good when the police get involved.

I think I wasn’t pleased because the bad guys act really “TV bad,” and time their scheme to the television hour. And for otherwise competent baddies, they seem to have overlooked that even the least competent policemen on Earth would notice that the room that they plan to leave for the cops will have one fresh corpse and two that had been shot about three days before. It’s always nice to see Philip Madoc, but this isn’t Williamson’s best script.

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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.13 – When the Spirit Moves You

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!

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The Champions 1.24 – Project Zero

Tonight, we rejoined The Champions for a run of seven last episodes of this incredibly entertaining show. “Project Zero” was written by Tony Williamson and it features a good, meaty part for Peter Copley as one of several scientists who’s been conned into thinking the top-secret research establishment in Scotland where they’re working is a government project, when it’s actually, of course, run by this week’s diabolical masterminds. And I use that term deliberately: this is a very Avengers scenario, right down to the nearby village, which is not quite abandoned, but overseen by one “everything is normal” fellow who’s there to pull the “gasp! you haven’t escaped at all!” routine. That fellow’s played by Nicholas Smith, and Jill Curzon also has a small role.

This is an incredibly good Sharron episode which more than makes up for a couple of the recent disappointments where the character was sidelined badly. It’s so satisfying on that front that I really should have used a picture of Alexandra Bastedo this time, except that there’s this scene with Craig and Richard which is completely amazing. Richard’s cover is blown and the bad guy has clamped a bomb around his neck. The scene where they free him is one of the most tense things I think our son’s ever seen. His eyes were wide and he didn’t dare breathe until it was over. They held the tension for so long that he about turned blue. If our son comes back to this blog to relive old memories once he’s grown up, he’ll certainly remember this scene.

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Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.10 – Whoever Heard of a Ghost Dying?

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!

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