Monday, 19 May 2014

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased): Never Trust a Ghost

Somewhere - I didn't make a note of where & of course I now can't find a single instance of this criticism online - I have read a criticism that Randall & Hopkirk didn't really make full use of the basic premise that one member of the firm was deceased, & so not subject to the usual limitations that we humans tend to have. Walking through walls, for one. Being a fly on the wall at your boss's appraisal for another. Those kind of things. Of course I now have no way of knowing whether these were the sort of things the reviewer referred to. The point of this is that in this episode, a murder is witnessed by Hopkirk, the murderer is convinced nobody saw him, & Hopkirk imposes on Randall to do something about it, in the middle of a date.
This has set me thinking to what extent the show did actually use Hopkirk's deceased status, within the confines of the technology available at the time. I haven't watched the remake of R&H, but I feel that with today's CGI technology it would be much less realistic. Hopkirk is woefully easily stopped by a simple thing like a shut door - surely ghosts are supposed to be able to walk through things like that? It is interesting that the omniscience of the unseen Hopkirk is the reason for this show, yet Hopkirk's role is both limited by the technology of the time, & his very integrity questioned as part of the plot. I love the way when several people go through a door, Hopkirk casually goes through amongst them, & nobody notices the gap. There are other occasions in R&H (sounds like a brand of cigarettes) when Randall uses Hopkirk as an agent of the firm - there is one where they are investigating an allegedly haunted house, for example. You would think a dead member of staff would actually be an advantage to an enquiry agent. Or possibly a disadvantage, because of the inadmissibility of the evidence, which of course is the major problem here. If Hopkirk's abilities were actually used to their full extent the majority of the narrative would be rendered redundant, & certainly the detective work would go out of the window. So in fact, to my mind, it is the rather conservative use oh Hopkirk as a member of the firm that makes the series work.
So on the surface this episode draws on repeated themes in R&H about who you trust, who your friends are, fidelity, whether you can always believe the evidence of your eyes. These are the things that make it a classic - & one of the better - episodes. Like all episodes of R&H these themes overlay a fairly straightforward detective story. The basic premise here - that a murder is witnessed by a ghost alone - actually would not have to have a ghostly character to make it work. It could be done by having a witness who happens to overlook the murder, fading back into the shadows or behind their bedroom curtains so that the murderer does not know he has been observed. From there on in the plot becomes a classic one, of the witness to a murder whom nobody believes. The plot even draws on several other classic tropes such as the hatred of the police for private investigators, completely innocent colleague used to provide an alibi, & so on.
I like this episode a lot - I think it's the appealing sixties ambience. The cars, clothes, interiors are all so sixties - I mean who would be able to rest in an apartment decorated like Randall's now? Although I love the posters. There is another episode where Randall has to sell (or pawn) everything from his flat, right down to the carpet. I've always wondered how he could afford to have such an up-to-the-minute apartment, when Jeannie often didn't get her wages paid & the office is so threadbare.
I have quibbles apart from that - would Scotland Yard really have given Randall the inspector's home number or even put hin through? Would he really have turned out of bed himself on the basis of what he actually calls a 'vague' report of murder? Would a doppelganger really be able to get away with pretending to be someone else in the civil service? Is there ever such a thing as an identical double? Would this identical double be able to take in the original person's familars? Of course the answers to all these questions are 'No'. So despite my conviction that the main support for this episode is a completely bog-standard detective story, that is not how this one is best watched. The playing with identity takes us into familiar Avengers territory - some of those episodes have already been posted on here - & is even used in an episode of The Prisoner: admittedly in both of those shows the subjects' personae are actually swapped rather than a doppelganger being swapped for a muder victim. Perhaps it was a sixties preoccupation. Another Avengers touch - which actually comes up quite often in Randall & Hopkirk - is that the baddies are - apparently - the great & the good. Here Randall's modern decor is contrasted with the leather & solid tradition of the murder viictim's home(it actually looks rather like the furnishings of Steed's apartment in Stable Mews, but no, the books don't seem to be his in any number), suggesting that the Establishment itself is at risk from dangerous infiltrating forces. The Establishment of course protects & contains any number of eccentrics, such as a ghost expert who thinks they must never be trusted.
So this show may best be watched in an Avengers vein as a glorious sixties romp. It is also packed with sixties regulars - the only one who really sticks out as an intrusion for me personally is Philip Madoc: there is one scene where he rather unfortunately is stood next to Hopkirk wearing white & it looks like there are two ghosts! Although you have to admire Randall for getting a date with Egon Ronay's daughter, poverty obviously not precluding the sixties high life...
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