The idea of an earthbound spirit lingering to make life difficult for a particular hapless member of the still living wasn't exactly original, even in 1969 when Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)-US title: My Partner the Ghost-joined ITC's successful stable.
In fact productions such as Noel Coward's stage play and movie Blithe Spirit, and in Hollywood the series of Topper films and their later TV spin-off series had already mined the comedic possibilities of such an haunting situation with varying degree of success. However, Dennis Spooner and Monty Berman's touch of brilliance with Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) was in marrying the comedic possibilities inherent in this aspect of one-on-one haunting to the classic private eye format, to create a pleasing hybrid imbued with a unique charm all of its own.
Indeed, the most successful aspect of the series was the totally believable core relationship between experienced comedy actor Kenneth Cope as the ghostly Marty Hopkirk, struggling to come to terms with his new, non corporeal existence and Mike Pratt's consummate performance as the hang dog, slightly seedy, resolutely world-weary, Jeff Randall. An ordinary man plunged into an anything but ordinary situation.
The key to their mutually interdependent relationship, cleverly given centre stage by the series writers, was the conceit that apart from the single fantasy element of Marty being dead, it was business as usual for the partnership. The two investigators bicker, disagree, fight and fall out during the course of an investigation, but the bond of friendship between them is obviously deep, warm and strong beyond the limitations of mere mortality. Never is this more apparent than in the understated, amusingly omnipresent romantic triangle which simmers as a constant undercurrent throughout the series. Marty may indeed be dead but his love for his beautiful young window, Jeannie (Annette Andre), remains intact. Jeff's love for her is an unspoken given, as is her obvious attraction for him. But their mutual attraction is doomed to remain unfulfilled due to her deep grief for the untimely loss of her husband, and Jeff's loyalty to a friend who, although dead, is still very much in every day evidence.
Although a popular series both in its day as much as now, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) was destined never to progress past a single season. Perhaps this is just as well, as the planned season two would have seen the format altered to a much heavier emphasis on broad comedy, which would have fatally flawed the delicate balance which on the whole, season one had walked with genial aplomb. That the format is a strong one can be attested to by the decision to revive the show some 30 years later as a high budget, glossily produced starring vehicle for the comedy duo Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.
Consideration of the merits of Randall and Hopkirk 2000 aside for the moment, it should be remembered that without the trail blazed so successfully by the original, its entirely possible that the latest incarnation wouldn't have stood the ghost of a chance.
Published on January 24th, 2019. Written by Peter Henshuls (2000) for Television Heaven.