Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) – the Vic Reeve and Bob Mortimer remake of the classic 1960s detective ghost comedy – is one of the most underrated TV series of the 2000s, says KATE CHERRELL
It’s the time of year where two options present themselves:
- Turn on the TV and curl up with a blanket and DVD.
- Don’t turn on the TV and stare blankly at your reflection in the cold black surface of the screen and wait for Spring.
Both are viable options, however if the warm comfort of a DVD box set is more appealing, may I suggest one of the most underrated TV series of the 2000s: Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). Fronted by Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer at their most campy, the two short series are under-appreciated gems in the canon of modern British comedy.
The series follows the exploits and adventures of Marty and Jeff, two barely-solvent private detectives, one of whom (I doubt this is a spoiler) dies in the first episode.
This doesn’t stop Mr Hopkirk’s investigative abilities, nor his friendship with Jeff, as the two continue their professional relationship long after Marty’s body is committed to the earth.
Whether spying on the wellbeing of his fiancée, learning to walk through walls, or avenging his own father’s death, Marty Hopkirk frequently plays the comic relief to straight-laced Jeff.
However, for a series so based in nostalgia and surrealism, there are moments of real darkness, emotion, and sincerity that set the series far above the boundaries of light entertainment.
First broadcast 1969 and running for 26 episodes, the original series is referenced heartily throughout the reboot, not least through the decidedly 70s décor and colour palette.
Although the basic premise remains, Vic and Bob bring a very different flavour to this fun, weird, exciting, funny series that remains utterly enthralling, if a little dated!
Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) 2000 Series 1
Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) S1, E1: Drop Dead
Guest Starring: David Tennant, Charles Dance.
Jeff Randall and Marty Hopkirk are introduced as rather down-at-heel private detectives, taking mainly divorce cases to pay their rent. After a stake-out at the house of a two-timing Kenneth Crisby goes wrong, Marty’s high-kicking fiancée saves the day and Crisby vows revenge.
Meanwhile, the detectives are employed by conceptual shock-artist Gordon Stylus to follow his ‘suicidal’ wife, much to the disappointment of Marty who so desperately hoped for a glamorous art heist. We all know that the episode will end in Marty’s death, so the storyline plays with us, offering a speeding car, a cigarette lighter disguised as a gun, a fall from a balcony as potential causes of death.
As the party is taken over by one of Gordon’s art performances, Marty is deliberately mown down by a car, driven by the stone-faced Annette. Reaching the edge of the cliff with Marty still hanging from the bonnet, he pleads with Annette, begging her not to move. Instead, a figure leaves the back of the car and Annette slumps forward, dead. The car plummets from the cliff and Marty’s time on earth is over.
Following his funeral, Marty convinces a depressed Jeff to meet him by his graveside, explaining that he has until dawn to solve his own murder. The two return to Gordon’s mansion, where Jeff is attacked and Kenneth Crisby is revealed as Stylus’ manager and Marty’s murderer. As Jeff wakes up, he is tied to a rack, primed to lower into a vat of boiling resin as ‘a permanent art exhibit.’
Despite his ghostly rules, Marty returns, rejected from the grave but able to rescue Jeff.
Quickly, both Stylus and Crisby are dispatched with, and the episode ends at a gallery where the artist himself has become a shocking exhibit.
Quote of the Episode: ‘You’ll be hung in a gallery somewhere for streams of bored schoolchildren to gawp at for all eternity.’
Highlight: The fashionable party at the Stylus’ residence is a glorious homage to late 1990s ‘Young British Artists’ scene with director Charlie Higson enjoying a cameo as a trendy artist.
Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) S1, E2: Mental Apparition Disorder
Guest Starring: Martin Clunes, Hugh Laurie.
Marty’s fiancée Jeannie has now taken a proactive role in the business, but has become concerned with Jeff’s mental health, after overhearing him talk to Marty. As a means of having a break and seeking a little psychological health, Jeannie checks Jeff into Trilby Park, an upmarket wellbeing centre, operated by Dr Lawyer (Hugh Laurie).
It is soon revealed that Dr Lawyer is a criminal, hypnotising his wealthy guests to commit a series of thefts to help fund his gambling habit, with which he is in £250,000 worth of debt to an unscrupulous casino owner.
Meanwhile, Marty has been learning the ways of the afterlife with his mentor, Wyvern (Tom Baker). Practising mimicry, levitation, and the spectral power of farting, his attempts are incredibly funny, but Marty is far from being a star pupil.
Believing that Jeff is not a mere guest, but actively investigating his practise, Dr Lawyer becomes suspicious and aggressive, removing Marty from Jeff’s memory. Despite Dr Lawyer’s final murderous efforts, Jeannie infiltrates the building to save him. However, the evil doctor sets his full quota of hypnotised patients onto the pair.
Saving the day is Marty, who uses his new mimicry skills to impersonate the doctor’s voice and play him at his own game.
Quote of the Episode: ‘My elephant gun’s loaded and its ready to go off.’
Highlight: Marty’s ability to hypnotise Jeff with his new mimicry skills are used hilariously, as the new trigger word of ‘eggbound’ is set.
Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) S1, E3: The Best Years of Your Death
Guest Starring: Peter Bowles.
Following Jeannie’s nephew’s fear at the mysterious death of his teacher, Mr Dawkins, Jeff and Jeannie infiltrate Radlands, a strict and traditional boarding school. Taking up the positions of a teacher and a school nurse respectively, the staff and children alike are distrustful of the pair, particularly Jeff, who proves to be hopeless as a teacher, but hilariously inspiring as a ghost-assisted cricket coach. Throughout the episode, Jeff’s interactions with the invisible Marty create hilarious chaos
As the two lodge together, Marty’s jealousy of Jeff’s increasing closeness to Jeannie reaches fever pitch, with the ghostly detective possessing Jeff in a failed attempt to seduce his own fiancée in the flesh.
It is soon revealed that the headmaster’s brimming pride as to the quality of his pupils was taken a little too literally by his besotted head matron, who has developed a murderous cult system using the elite school choir as her secret police. The boys are taught military-style discipline, adoration of the headmaster, self-hatred and distrust of their kind, and to dispatch with any staff member who poses a threat to the school.
After the matron’s cult of adoration is unearthed and dismissed by the headmaster, the matron is immolated in her own ceremonial flames and the boys return to their regular, disobedient teenage selves.
Quote of the Episode: ‘Strict discipline makes it much easier – to eat boys heads! It also makes it more fun! And boys appreciate being able to learn – in a giant walnut!’
Highlight: During the interviews for housemaster, Marty causes chaos by blowing over candidates, raising the headmaster’s toupee and possessing a teacher to mad and hilarious effect.
Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) S1, E4: Paranoia
Guest Starring: Paul Rhys, Simon Pegg, Simon Day.
Following a dream of his assassination, Jeff and Jeannie are hired as private security for paranoid ex-government employee Douglas Milton. Primed to deliver an inflammatory speech at a world conference, revealing secrets of national security, he is sure an attempt will be made on his life and frustrates all around him with his fear and fastidiousness.
In Marty’s spectral development, the episode features the hilarious power and potency of Marty’s farts, and his ever-growing jealousy of Jeff and Jeannie’s relationship.
The event becomes a farce behind doors, where several groups and individuals, one of whom was hired by his wife, are indeed out to kill Milton, yet end up killing each other, in increasingly hilarious and bizarre ways. Arguably his most terrifying assassin is ex-mistress Annabell who exists in a fluffy pink world of obsession and scissors.
For all of Milton’s terror and hype, as he finally begins his speech, it is revealed the contents is little more than known facts and silly gossip and not the controversial conspiracy the audience had been expecting.
Quote of the Episode: ‘I don’t like any kind of danger, no matter how far off.’
Highlight: The gradually depleting numbers of one attack force, fronted by Justin Pope (Simon Pegg), are grimly funny with the gradual ‘We ten shall be remembered…we three shall be remembered.’
Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) S1, E5: A Blast from the Past
Guest Starring: Paul Whitehouse, Mark Benton.
Delving into Marty’s past, we watch the tragedy of his police officer father’s death, thirty years prior. In an ambush and shoot-out with a noted Kray-esque gangster family, the Crabbes, Larry Hopkirk cornered the ringleader Sidney, as he leapt to his death sneering ‘I’ll see you later.’ Sidney Crabbe’s vengeance for the Hopkirk family lasted beyond the grave and his accidental re-awakening form the spirit world causes chaos for the living.
In a revenge setup with Maurice Crabbe years later, Marty’s father is shot and remaining brother Maurice Crabbe took a shot to the head and entered a coma.
Larry’s old partner, Harry Wallis hires Jeff to locate Sidney Crabbe’s next of kin, under the pretence of donating money to Maurice’s care. Through their detective work, they inadvertently reawaken the ghost of Sidney Crabbe (Paul Whitehouse) who had been dormant for decades. Crabbe stalks Marty across the spirit realms, determined to make his death even worse.
Once Maurice has been located, it is revealed that he has been feigning illness for some time in order to disconnect himself from the terrifying ghost of his brother Sidney.
Harry Wallis soon takes advantage of the duo and forces his way into Maurice’s house, determined to murder him in revenge for Larry’s death, the bullet lodged in his own chest.
After taking a bullet for Maurice in the ensuing shoot-out, Jeff briefly becomes a ghost himself and enters the spirit realm, just in time to save Marty from being hurled into the Pit of Oblivion by Sidney.
Upon Harry’s death, he reunites with his old partner Larry, but is soon dragged ‘downstairs’ by clamouring hands.
Quote of the Episode: Sidney: ‘I’ve always said that the only good copper is a dead copper and the only good dead copper is a good dead copper…in pain.’ Gomez (Barman): ‘Now that wasn’t a very elegant insult now was it?’
Highlight: While enjoying his time in Limbo, Marty enters a full song and dance routine of swing classic, ‘Ain’t That A Kick In The Head’. Showcasing another of Vic Reeves’ many talents, it’s a fun and unexpected treat. Also in Limbo, Marty has a short interaction with an old image of Mike Pratt, the original Jeff Randall, who is in spirit form.
Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) S1, E6: A Man of Substance
Guest Starring: Jennifer Calvert
The series closes on a triumph of folk horror; a wicker man-infused triumph of sinister village life, plague legends, devil worship, and the truly threatening nature of souvenir tea towels. The episode also possesses a genuine darkness that lingers long after the credits have rolled.
Brought into the small village of Hadell Wroxted, the glamorous and mysterious Lauren Dee hires Jeff under the premise of finding her missing husband John, who entered the village and was never seen again.
Upon entering the village, Jeff and Marty are taken aback by the fact that all villagers seem able to see Marty and keenly interact with him; Marty is as he was in life. Curiously, as Jeff asks the villagers for information on the missing man, they talk over him, pushing any talk of the outside world away with their incessant twee cheer. Jeff can neither call out of Hadell Wroxted, nor can Marty return to the spirit realm; and soon enough, Jeff finds he is unable to leave, as all roads lead back to Hadell Wroxted.
As the villagers continue to take any opportunity to talk of their history – and how the medieval inhabitants made a pact with the devil to escape the black death – things begin to take a darker turn, with brutal policing and strange preparations for the village fete.
It is revealed that the villagers have been seeking an earth bound spirit for centuries, and that Marty was their ticket to reanimation. They have been existing in limbo for 600 years, and prepare a pyre for the ceremony.
In the caves beneath the village, Marty is treated like a king, surrounded by adoring villagers and the pleasures of the flesh. Once the ritual is complete, Marty is promised his body once more, and would become a God. One thing stands in the way: Jeff. For the villagers to return, Marty’s chosen one must be killed and eaten, and Marty doesn’t seem to be bothered at all.
While the villagers gather in their medieval garb, Marty begins to lose faith, helped by their bizarre plans for mundane world domination, predominantly involving country dancing and the banning of lager. As Marty takes the flaming torch to the pyre, where Jeff is bound, Jeannie appears, changing Marty’s mind immediately; telling the villagers that they can all go to hell.
The Hadell Wroxted monolith rotates into a flaming tornado, forcing the villagers to be brutally sucked into Hell, their plans thwarted. As they scream at Marty, ‘what have you done?! You could have had everything!’ he responds with one of the most solemn lines of the series, ‘Well sometimes its not enough’.
As Jeannie unties Jeff from the unlit stake, the two escape up a hill and look back at the destroyed village. Marty solemnly erases their memories, leaving the experiences at the village as little more than a dream. Marty is comforted by Wyvern and the two coupes go their separate ways.
…until series two, at least.
Quote of the Episode: ‘So what plans do we have for world domination?’ ‘Tea Rooms. We’re going to build huge beautiful tea rooms…and more tea towels that you can dream of.’
Highlight: Marty’s ghostly stripping with the equally paranormal Lauren is both sultry and hilarious in its Morecambe and Wise-style choreography.
Kate Cherrell is now working on the second series of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) – we look forward to bringing it to you soon!
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