Saturday, January 28, 2023

Rentaghost ( 1976-1984 )

"If your mansion house needs haunting just call Rentaghost..." 

Growing up in England in the 1970s, you would no doubt remember Rentaghost, a children's show that had a delightful blend of punny humor and downright silliness, not to mention an unforgettable theme song! A ghost never dies....and neither does Rentaghost, which is now being introduced to newer generations through streaming on BritBox. 

The series was created and written by Bob Block ( who was also responsible for devising the equally silly Pardon My Genie and Robert's Robots ) and concerned a ghost rental agency, run by Fred Mumford ( Anthony Jackson ) a recently deceased young man.

Fred was a failure all of his life and, unfortunately, he dies before he can rectify that situation. Now that he is dead, he decides to start a business back on Earth to have a second chance at starting a successful enterprise. He creates Rentaghost, a ghost rental service "Poltergeists in your parlor? Don't suffer from lack of exorcise - send for us!"

To aid him in this new business, he recruits two other ghosts who were failures when they were on Earth - Mr. Hubert Davenport, a Victorian gentleman, and Mister Timothy Claypole, a medieval court jester who is now a mischievous poltergeist. This threesome tries its best to make Rentaghost a success, but each undertaking turns into a dismal failure by the end of the episode. 

Their landlord Mr. Meeker ( Edward Brayshaw ) knows that his tenants are a "bunch of flippin' layabout spooks!" and, in spite of being disgusted by their ineptitude, becomes their business manager and tries to dream up new ways for the gang to make money. Each week they try their hand at different enterprises - a moving service, taxi business, storage service, detective agency, etc. There is no shortage of occupations a ghost can undertake!

Most of the humorous situations in the series arise from the ghosts running out of "psychic energy" or teleporting themselves at the wrong time to the wrong places. Fred is particularly lousy when it comes to teleporting since he is relatively new to the ghosting process, having just been dead for six months. All he has to do is hold his head back and pinch his nose but he always ends up landing somewhere he shouldn't be....such as in a closet. This is particularly embarrassing when Fred visits his parents. He never had the heart to tell them that he died and so he tries to act normal but strange things happen when you are a spirit. His mother is especially worried about Fred's lack of appetite. "He always chucks away his food!" she tells his father, not knowing that ghosts don't eat. 

Occasionally, Mr. Davenport's own mother ( long since dead ) visits to scold her son. She is a young woman in her twenties. Even Mr. Davenport finds it unsettling to have a mother half his age but she died much younger than he so naturally she would not be older in the spirit world. Mr. Davenport is quite a gentleman and much of the ways of the modern world shock him...especially "pop" music and those "frightfully noisy aeroplanes". 

Mister Claypole is even more astounded by modern technology! Being from the middle ages, much of what he sees amuses the box with the little people in it ( a TV set ) and the machine that talks back ( telephone ). Fred's modern lingo usually goes over his head and he tends to take everything said literally. When Fred tells him to help Mr. Meeker "move house", Mister Claypole moves his house....with Mr. Meeker in it!

Later in the series, Mister Claypole becomes the leading character and other ghosts are added to the cast, including Hazel McWitch, Miss Popov and a pantomine horse called Dobbin. Unfortunately, beyond the fifth season, Rentaghost became rather childish and it no longer had its sitcom structure. 

The principal actors all do a grand job of getting "into the spirit" of their characters. Anthony Jackson is especially appealing as the clumsy Fred Mumford. When Michael Darbyshire ( Mr. Davenport ) passed away in 1979, Jackson did not want to continue the series without him and so both characters were written off the series. They were said to be on an extended tour haunting the stately homes of England. 

In fact, all three lead actors have since passed on. Darbyshire died at the age of 62, Michael Staniforth ( Claypole ) at the age of 44, and Jackson at the age of 62. Even Edward Brayshaw ( Mr. Meeker ) died at the age of 57, so none of the original cast members are alive today. Perhaps the spirit world did not look kindly upon this playful spook sitcom. 

Rentaghost ran for a total of 9 series, beginning in 1976. The show only had 5-6 episodes per series, so there are not as many episodes as one may expect to find. BBC destroyed the few episodes that were made when, in the late 1990s, they wiped ( taped over ) many of their children's programming videotapes, discounting the programs as "low priority". Thankfully, the television station UK GOLD were airing episodes of Rentaghost at the time and had backup copies. 

Memorable as the characters may have been to youngsters, even more memorable is the Rentaghost theme song, written and performed by none other than Michael Staniforth himself. It's a catchy jingle that perfectly captures the light-hearted "spirit" of the show. 

Click here to have a listen to the theme.....and here to view one of the episodes. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this brilliant review. So sad to hear of the casts demise. I loved Mr Claypole - what a shame he left this world so son.