Sunday, 21 February 2016

Railways on TV: A Sentimental Journey (Randall and Hopkirk Deceased)

I have an impression that Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) is rather less popular than many of the shows I post about here. I find the most popular is The Avengers (particularly posts where I talk about Mrs Peel – I think I may have explained those posts’ popularity) and then The Man from UNCLE, although I haven’t really posted on many of those episodes. You would think, with the show’s 1960s vibe and appearance, it would be right at the top of the list. Perhaps there may be a problem with genre, although I would place it firmly into 1960s unreal genre myself, but a railway journey contained in this episode is enough excuse to include it in this series of posts on the railways. Perhaps I should post more on this show and see what happens.
Please don’t get the impression that I don’t like this show – it is actually one of my favourites to put on and just drift into the mood of the episode – but I find I want to start off with a few criticisms. I feel there is a difficulty of credibility with this show – on the one hand it shows the hand-to-mouth existence of the self-employed private eye, with the grinding debt and violence that go with it. On the other hand this bloke has his deceased partner to help him and while I’m not too up on the economics of the time Randall seems to have a lifestyle which couldn’t possibly be financed by someone who never seems to have any money. I don’t mean the essential things for his job, his car and beat-up old office, but I mean his relatively spacious flat furnished in the latest style with furniture which definitely didn’t come from a junk shop. Of course once again I am over-analysing a show intended to be watched once and not paused, but on consideration this does create a dissonance. I think a further weakness of Randall and Hopkirk is to juxtapose the elements of realism with the elements of unrealism found in Hopkirk’s character, since this has the effect of making Hopkirk’s character stand out too much against the ordinary background. I am also never sure whether the show is intended to be funny, which creates a further confusion. I seem to have answered my own question as to the relative unpopularity of this show. While one of this show’s strengths is usually the excellent visuals, a visual confusion in this episode is caused by Randall wearing too much white so that he looks too much like Hopkirk, who is the ghost! And nobody, repeat nobody is called Dandy Garrison. The alarm bells ring immediately.
I didn’t realise he was in this one but Drewe Henley, who was so good as the evil groom in A Funny Thing Happened… reappears as a double-crossing baddie and once again gives a wonderful impression of enjoying it. This does not detract from his fury when he is himself double crossed! There are other familiar faces from the 1960s, but none of them is intrusive enough to make you think of the actor rather than the character.
This show is another which immediately takes us into a different age of British trains. Not just the livery, the spaciousness, the sleeping accommodation, the ‘BR’ etched onto a mirror, all bring back an age of gracious and spacious train journeys. I stand to be corrected on this but I don’t think there is such a things as a train journey, even overnight, within the British isles nowadays where you would have an actual bed to sleep in. I don’t think I’ve ever travelled first class in my life, but I’m fairly sure that even in first class you wouldn’t nowadays get the restaurant car service that you do on that train. The train effect is of an era with the episode of The Avengers in the last post, and thus gives a good impression of actually being on a train and once again soothes the viewer with the sound of the train.
On a completely personal note, one of the things Randall and Hopkirk (and in fact much classic TV although I have just been reminded of it) does for me is remind me of how much older everyone used to look when smoking was more common. Of course Mike Pratt died of lung cancer not many years after this show was broadcast, and looking at him in this episode the smoker’s skin around the eyes is very evident, as are the smoker’s teeth with withdrawn gums and brown staining (perhaps that was missed, since I can’t think of another example of such obvious staining in TV shows of this age – in fact usually people’s teeth are immaculate, even those actually shown smoking). The never-smokers in my audience will find it bizarre that I feel nostalgic for the smell and look of smoking, but my own addiction is not dead, witnessed by how pleased I was when a woman came up to me in the street the other day and asked me if I had a fag, although I gave up years ago. The never-smoker also finds it difficult to understand how one relates to the lady Nicotine, and the intense associations it has. The never-smoker will never understand how nice it is for me that my voice of tobacco in my head is Fenella Fielding in Carry on Screaming, and how nice it was the other day when my godmother was talking to me about a clock my father gave her, to have her comment that she thought I’d stopped smoking, since she could smell fags. Hello, dad. Anyway, enough of the weird world of the addict.
I like this episode enormously, I find it soothing. If you’re looking for a whodunit this is not the place to look, since it is very obvious from very early on that Randall is a ‘stooge’ and the girl is not telling his everything. She is also rather too obviously the femme fatale! Nonetheless it is a good romp, and I am indebted to the Randall and Hopkirk Declassified site (as for the screen cap) for this insight into something I have never noticed before:
' An ITC inter-series in-joke is hidden in plain sight in this episode. Shortly after the opening title sequence, when Jeff enters the Glasgow tenement building to collect the item he is to take to London for Sam Seymour, he walks past a wall covered in graffiti. Eagle-eyed viewers would no doubt have spotted the familiar stick-man symbol of Leslie Charteris' creation, The Saint. However, this particular representation of the sign was somewhat limp-wristed and fey and scrawled diagonally across it was the distinctly politically incorrect legend, 'IS BENT', implying that the character's fondness for the ladies was a bit of an act. The Saint was of course a phenomenally successful ITC series starring Roger Moore and many of the cast and crew of A Sentimental Journey had worked on that series over the years, including director Leslie Norman. Had The Saint continued into Randall's era, one wonders if a similar piece of outspoken graffiti might have manifested itself in that series, perhaps along the lines of 'Jeff Randall couldn't fight his way out of a wet paper bag'?' ( http://www.randallandhopkirk.org.uk/programmes_04_a_sentimental_journey.htm)

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