Saturday, 1 March 2014

Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased): The Man From Nowhere

I am beginning to think that these eccentric sixties tv series are a cultural genre unto themselves that must be approached in a particular way. They have to be watched in a relatively unquestioning way, & enjoyed for what they are without picking holes, because they're not built for any great analysis. This episode is a perfect example of that: I have watched it countless times, aware that the entire basis of this episode is wrong. The problem is is that it is obvious from the start that what is going on is a confidence trick of some sort. I can only assume that Randall's head was so turned by talking to his dead partner that he did not ring the police there & then. That is what anyone sensible would do faced with the scenario delineated here.
This - rather major - plot failure isn't the only hole in this plot, which when you examine it looks like an old-fashioned string bag. The fake Marty's plot wouldn't have worked, because of the simple fact that most women faced with a man claiming to be her dead husband would ring the police. His plot is doomed. Nonetheless I would rate this Randall & Hopkirk *if* it is watched in a way that does not subject it to an analysis it can't support.
Perhaps the way these series (I would probably include virtually all of the series I have written about here so far, but I'm using this episode to support a theoretical way of viewing for a whole genre) should be watched in a way that is dictated by their strong points. I have commented several times that one of the underlying characteristics of TV programmes of this age is that they were never intended to be viewed (usually) more than once. The domestic viewer saw them once, with no pausing or repetition at all, & that was it.
These series are therefore probably better watched in that way, & their strong points that would dictate this way of viewing are perfectly embodied in this Randall & Hopkirk episode. It is essentially a whole stable of vividly-drawn, almost caricatured, characters. Other series didn't usually explicitly use The Avengers's principle of unreal characterisation, but it clearly applies here. I mean, is any character played by Patrick Newell ever really anything other than a caricature? Hopkirk himself is the unreal character that allows all sorts of things to happen in this show that would otherwise be impossible. The barman at the hotel is also a stock character. It is important therefore not to subject these characters' actions & emotions to too much scrutiny.
Similarly, the flawed plot of this episode acts as a vehicle for an atmospheric jaunt through a variant on Avengerland, which may perhaps be best called Randall & Hopkirk Land. It differs in that in addition to the wholly upper-class milieu of The Avengers it adds what is supposed to be a gritty poverty. Once again it is unreal - I will grant you that the sixties were a different time from now, but I do not see the up-to-date furnishings of Randall's flat as indicative of a real hand-to-mouth existence. Jeannie maintains her apartment as well, despite Randall not paying her at times. Where this is similar to The Avengers is that it is not real, there is no real discomfort here, it therefore remains escapist viewing, since the threat of poverty is never a real threat.
And these people are at liberty to just drive off to a palace for a visit. Like Mrs Peel being woken up by Steed in her car, where she's having a nap in the country in the middle of a case, the actual business of the detective agency is just dropped at the drop of a hat to allow Jeannie to get to know the fake Marty better, & for Randall to investigate him. The villains in the piece can suddenly be digging up a road here. *None* of this is a reflection of real working life lived by anyone then or now, & suggests that this show & a whole stable of sixties TV programmes should be watched in a way that approaches them as a merry romp. They should be watched for the atmosphere, for the escape, for an opportunity to sympathise with unreal characters experiencing a threat which is no great threat, & these are the things I love best about these shows.
This episode has made me make an exception to my normal policy. Normally I would be writing that it is a distraction, since not only is this show a feast of familiar faces, but all of the familiar faces are of such quality that you notice their roles rather than thinking, 'Oh, that's so-&-so.'
The most obvious familiar face is Patrick Newell. It is an indicator of his quality of an actor that I do not think of Mother appearing in Randall & Hopkirk for some strange reason. In fact he is such a good actor - although I can't begin to visualise what he'd be like as a thin person - that I really question whether he needed to do his famous plan of getting fat to get work at all:
'We were a bumper crop in my year at RADA," he explains.  "Peter O'Toole and Albert Finney - and me.  I looked at them and I saw talent.  I looked at me - and thought fast.  I decided it was a question of getting fat or going home to Suffolk for keeps."
'He paused delicately.   "As you may see for yourself, I chose the former course."  Not the most orthodox way to theatrical distinction but a highly effective one.  At 36 he's one of the best-known heavies in the business.' (TV Times, 1968. http://deadline.theavengers.tv/mother.htm)
A second familiar actor is Neil McCarthy. It is only now I discover his appearance was as a result of a disease, & he also died an absurdly early death: one of the things I wanted to do by keeping a weblog was to be forced to go deeper into elements of the TV programmes I love. I am unsurprised to discover that contrary to the roles his appearance forced him into, McCarthy was quiet & unassuming in private life. His TV career, however, reads like a star cast list from classic 60s independent television.
Michael Gwynn is best known to me personally from The Avengers episode Takeover, but he is best known to the world from Fawlty Towers. Ray Brooks may now be better known for Eastenders but I had no idea that he was the narrator of Mr Benn. All four of these actors appeared in cult tv series, the first three in The Avengers at one time or another, but in the case of this episode they don't crowd it with reminders of other series. It's quite a relief for me to discover that I don't always get irritated by these returning faces.
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