Monday, September 21, 2009

Ghost of Honor

video

My Partner the Ghost. That’s how I remember Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), because it was under the title My Partner the Ghost that this supernatural detective drama from Britain was syndicated in the States during the early ’70s. According to Wikipedia, “audience research suggested that Americans would not understand the word ‘deceased.’” I’m not sure whether that means Americans refuse to acknowledge the inevitability of death (not inconceivable among a people who insist on happy endings), or because the nation’s association with English vocabulary is often so abysmal.

In any event, it was My Partner the Ghost that I happily sat down to watch on weekend afternoons as a boy. But this series, which lasted only 26 episodes, actually debuted on LWT-TV 40 years ago tonight.

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) revolved around a pair of less-than-brilliant private eyes, Jeff Randall (Mike Pratt) and Marty Hopkirk (Kenneth Cope), the latter of whom was run down and killed in the first episode, during a probe into marital infidelity. Even death, though, doesn’t keep Marty down. Having acquired a new wardrobe (all of saintly white), he comes back in revenant form to aid Jeff in catching the killer. “However ...,” Wikipedia notes, “Marty stays out of his new grave for too long and is cursed to walk the Earth for 100 years. Seeing the advantages of having a ghost at the detective agency, Marty stays as an invisible partner, playing the key role in helping Jeff solve crime thereafter ...”

This might have seemed like an ideal relationship. I mean, think about how successful a professional sleuth could be if he or she had an ally capable of spying on suspects unnoticed, eavesdropping on conversations without the speakers being aware, and covertly covering his or her back in dangerous situations. Bu the limitations of this gimmick soon became evident. Because Marty was incorporeal, he couldn’t touch anything; his hands just slipped through physical objects, so he was unable to physically stop attacks directed at his extant partner or waylay suspects from escaping--a frustrating situation for both P.I.s, but a source of comedic enjoyment for the TV audience. (As this series developed, though, we were led to understand that Marty could psychically manipulate objects, and could stir up winds that often proved convenient.) And while Marty could teleport himself from one place to the next, and witness things in secret that Jeff could not, he had no extrasensory abilities; he didn’t know, for instance, what had happened in places and at times when he wasn’t present.

Another humorous subplot rolled out during this series’ too-short run. With Marty having breathed his last, his pretty and petite young blond wife, Jennie (Annette Andre), who was employed as the detective agency’s secretary, turned for succor--and pootentially more--to Jeff Randall. This didn’t sit well with the late Mr. Hopkirk; he might’ve gone to his grave, but he didn’t want his partner going out with the woman on whose finger he’d once slipped a ring. What Marty missed seeing all too often was that Jeannie still loved him, even if he wasn’t around. Bewilderingly naïve at times, she was more than willing to believe shady spiritualists (some of whom could actually tune in to Marty’s presence almost as well as Jeff) who insisted that her hubby had not vanished entirely from her life. There were many opportunities in this show for Marty to protect his spouse in death, as he might have done in life.

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) wasn’t expensively made, and some of its special effects weren’t very special at all. (“Hopkirk’s appearances were achieved by the simplest and cheapest of means which had been in use since the earliest days of cinema,” says Wikipedia. “While the camera remained static, the other actors would freeze, Kenneth Cope would enter the scene and the other actors would unfreeze. Cutting out the extraneous footage in between was all that was necessary.”) Yet as a boy with an expanding imagination, I found this series enormously entertaining. I loved Marty’s ghostly limitations and the friction caused by his frequent insistence that short-tempered Jeff pursue lines of inquiry that the latter thought would come to naught. Truth be told, as fictional partnerships go, theirs was made in heaven.

As one Web site dedicated to this show puts it, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) “remains fondly remembered due to multiple repeat screenings.” Yet while the series has had a long run of repeats in the UK, I don’t believe it has been as well broadcast in the United States. I’d be curious to know how I might view it today. A DVD set of the series was released on this side of the Atlantic five years ago. Maybe it’s time to give it a go once more.

When the spirit moves me, of course.

1 comment:

Ali Karim said...

That's funny, "Randall & Hopkirk Deceased" was a fave of mine too.

It was sort of remade a few years back by 2 x British comedy actors [Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer] but was rather lacklustre] - When I remember that time in my childhood , I feel comforted. Life was simpler, and way, way less fast paced.

Ali

PS I haven't posted for a while as things in my world have become a tad hectic [but in a good way] thanks to the economy starting to come out of the red.