Have you ever seen the old noir film DOA? It’s from 1950, and opens with probably one of the cleverest openings in cinema. The protagonist would like to report a murder: his own. But what if he had died in the murder? What if he was solving his own murder from beyond the grave?
That was the premise of the first epsiode of Randall and Hopkirk (deceased). Private detective Marty Hopkirk (Kenneth Cope) is a victim of a hit-and-run, in an attempt by the criminals to cover up their misdeeds, and decides that the only way is to haunt his former partner, Jeff Randall (played by Mike Pratt, who is also famous for writing Tommy Steele’s hit “Little White Bull”).
Marty has some suitably ghostly powers: he can generate wind storms by blowing, can break glass through mind power, and can teleport himself anywhere he chooses (although not necessarily reliably). In addition, only Jeff, genuine psychics and (sometimes) people under hypnosis or in a trance can see Marty, leading to some interesting scenarios.
R&H is played for comedy but there’s deadly serious detection going on. They are genuinely whodunnits, although there may be more Scooby Doo than The Sweeney about some episodes. Not that Jeff was shy of a fight, of course…
Delightfully, Annette Andre as the secretary, Jeannie Hopkirk (Marty’s widow) isn’t just used for decoration. Not only does Marty’s jealousy form a strong plot point, but she’s a strong and resourceful person in her own right, even if occasionally her own gullibility does get her into trouble and Jeff has to rescue her, it’s as often the other way around. OK, I very much doubt that many of the episodes of the series pass the Bechdel test, but it certainly is an improvement on some. (Other than “Murder of a Rockstar”, I can’t even remember many female detectives in Columbo, and she’s in a uniform).
Created by Dennis Spooner for ITC (and there’s entire books to be written about those two right there), Randall and Hopkirk ran for 26 episodes, all in colour (despite limited colour TV in the UK, ITC filmed everything in colour specifically for overseas sales). There were plans to make a second series, but the main cast weren’t available at the same time, and eventually the plans just fizzled out. It was sold abroad however, and for some reason best known to themselves, they decided to retitle the series “My Partner, The Ghost” in America.
Consistent, high-rating repeats led to a remake in 1999 that lasted for 13 episodes over 2 series. Featuring the comedy duo Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer as the title characters, Emilia Fox as a more fighting Jeannie, and fourth Doctor Who Tom Baker as Hopkirk’s spirit counsellor. If that sounds awful, well, it was pretty much a bad idea, forgotten and unloved by pretty much everyone that starred in it fortunately. Which reminds me – they remade DOA about that time as well. Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan. I’d watch the original, if I were you. Just saying.
Ahead of the game: Your partner is a ghost, who can jump anywhere he likes at any time, and can report back on what he’s seen. Better yet, without the criminals knowing. Yeah, providing you know what you’re looking for. Oh, and guess what Marty’s afraid of? Ghosts! (Although that’s probably down to what happens in Murder Ain’t What It Used To Be, sorry for the spoiler…) Score: 7/10
Car: a 1968 Vauxhall Victor FD. A nice car, but fairly new. It may be a Columbo-style classic now, but then it was just a fairly ordinary new car. Although points for occasionally borrowing Jeannie’s racy 1964 Mini… Score: 3/10
Catchphrases, ambience, etc: Swinging ’60s London, with its slightly darker criminal underworld that Randall inhabits, may not be well-heeled Los Angeles, but it’s remarkably cozy for all that. Score: 5/10
Investigative style: Jeff’s not above strong-arming people, but generally speaking Marty is the key ingredient in all the investigations (even helping with an undercover mindreading act…) Score: 5/10
Personality: Jeff’s a smoker, a heavy drinker when stressed, he’s a womaniser and handy with his fists. Not the most sympathetic of characters. But for all that, and the chronic shortage of money, Jeff comes across as a lovable rogue – and his loyalty to Jeannie and Marty is never in doubt. Score: 6/10
Sidekick: now, this has to be Marty. He’s played very sympathetically by Kenneth Cope, and played essentially as the comic foil to Jeff’s straight man, be it interjecting comments against fake mediums, or joining a chorus line where only Jeff can see him, and frequently rescuing Jeff from his scrapes (with Jeannie’s help), or (in the episode that was hastily re-written to accommodate Pratt’s broken leg), keeping Jeff company and talking about his old cases. He’s not Dog, but even taking into account Tinker Dill, he’s the closest so far. Score: 7/10
Violence: not a great deal, actually. Yes, there are a few fist-fights, and occasional murder attempts, but nothing that would preclude it as being Sunday afternoon family watching. Given that I’ve rated Morse 8 for violence, and Dixon of Dock Green 7, I think the only mark I’m justified for giving this is: Score 7/10.
That’s a final Columbo Index of 40. Which makes for an interesting rewriting of the top 5:
- Inspector Morse – 48 points
- Randall And Hopkirk (deceased) – 40 points
- Lovejoy – 39 points
- Dixon Of Dock Green – 34 points
- The Racing Game – 30 points