Sunday, 24 July 2011

"If Your Mansion House Needs Haunting, Just Call, Rentaghost" (1976 - 1984)

Sue Nicholls as Miss Popov.
Molly Weir as Hazel the Mc Witch.
Michael Staniforth as Timothy Claypole
Rentaghost was the excellent British kids TV comedy show, broadcast by the BBC between 6 January 1976 and 11 June 1984. The show's plot centred on the antics of a number of ghosts who worked for a firm called Rentaghost, which rented out the ghosts for various tasks.
The original cast of Rentaghost.
Molly Weir as McWitch, Sue Nicholls as Miss Popov.
Dobbin the pantomime horse and Edward Brayshaw.

The company, located in South Ealing, is run by Fred Mumford, a recently deceased loser who feels he can find work for ghosts whose lives were as failed as his. His first (and only) recruits are Timothy Claypole, a mischievous Jester with a comical lack of knowledge about modern technology, and Hubert Davenport, a delicate Victorian era gentleman who is morally shocked by the modern world. The ghosts work from an office, which they rent from Harold Meaker, who discovers the truth about them in the 3rd episode.

Over the course of several series, other characters were added: Hazel the McWitch, a Scottish Witch; Nadia Popov, a Dutch ghost who suffers from hayfever and telesports away when she sneezes; and the Pantomime Horse Dobbin, who first appears in a one-off Christmas special called "Rentasanta" and is brought to life by Claypole, who is unable to cancel the spell afterwards – thus allowing Dobbin to remain in the show for the rest of the run.

Another key figure is a ghost from the Wild West called Catastrophe Kate (cf. Calamity Jane), played by Jana Shelden, who is collected from outside a magic carpet shop in the Spirit World by Fred Mumford. The two ghosts are transported back to Earth on a flying broomstick, Catastrophe Kate having turned down the alternative of a flying vacuum cleaner. It is Catastrophe Kate who later introduces Hazel the McWitch to the regulars.

Adam Painting, a local entrepreneur played by Christopher Biggins, frequently appears in episodes and tries, with limited success, to involve the ghosts in his latest business enterprise.
Anthony Jackson as Fred Mumford

When actor Michael Darbyshire (who played the role of Davenport) died in 1979, Anthony Jackson (Mumford) declined to appear in the next series, leaving Michael Staniforth's Claypole the sole original ghost; Davenport and Mumford's absences were explained at the start of the series by them having acquired permanent haunting jobs at a stately home. After Mumford's departure, the business was taken over by Harold Meaker and his wife Ethel, who suffered from the various problems the ghosts brought to their lives.

The long-suffering neighbours of Rentaghost are the Perkins, who think the Meakers are mad!

Michael Darbyshire as Hubert Davenport

Edward Brayshaw and Ann Emery.

Lynda Marchal (Lynda La Plante) as Miss Novak.

Only the first series of Rentaghost has been released on VHS and DVD. It is unlikely that any other series will be released, due to complicated rights. A number of actors are blocking the release because their contracts at the time did not include video royalties. Some of the actors have been offered small one-off payments that have been rejected, and several cast members (or their families) are unable to be contacted to grant consent. Two minor actors, who have since left the profession, have blocked a number of episodes, and they are unlikely to be shown. In addition, the programme included extracts from many copyrighted songs, often played in the background. Clearance of these is becoming increasingly costly for DVD releases.

Some master copies of Rentaghost episodes were thrown by the BBC archives in 1993 on the assumption that they were 'no use' and that examples of some other episodes were sufficient. However, BBC Enterprises had requested copies of the first three series a couple of years earlier and indeed they were showing at the time on UK Gold – these were later recovered by the BBC Archive.

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