Saturday, September 21, 2019

Phantom of an Operative

Spy Vibe reminds us that today marks 50 years since the debut of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), a short-lived “cult-classic” TV series that focused on the investigative endeavors of two British private eyes, one of whom was dead but—incredibly—still on the job. As I explained in a post from 2009,
Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) revolved around … 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 supernatural detective drama debuted on the UK network ITV on Sunday, September 21, 1969. It was created by English television scripter Dennis Spooner, whose small-screen credits also included The Avengers, Fireball XL5, Stingray, Doctor Who, Thunderbirds, The Baron, UFO, The New Avengers, and Bergerac. In addition to Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Spooner created such crime/spy series as Man in a Suitcase (1967-1968), The Champions (1968-1969), and Gene Barry’s The Adventurer (1972-1973).

Spy Vibe recalls Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)—which was retitled My Partner the Ghost for 1970s U.S. distribution—as being “markedly different to its ITC stablemates.
Not only was it proudly fantastical, it was also killingly funny, and where most of ITC’s other shows aimed for a seductive fantasy of transatlantic sophistication, Randall and Hopkirk presented a scuzzier and more recognisably real world.

Key to
Randall and Hopkirk’s uniqueness in the ITC canon, was the casting of Mike Pratt. He may have only been 37 when he played Jeff Randall, but he already had the deep-grooved face lines of someone 20 years older. Randall seemed to be someone more at home in the grungier, fag-stained world of Public Eye than a series about a private dick partnered up with a crime-solving ghost.
If you’re unfamiliar with this long-ago program, you can learn more about it history, casting, and filming locations at the Web site Randall and Hopkirk (Declassified). Episode 1, “My Late Lamented Friend and Partner,” can be watched here, in three parts.

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