Back in the 1960s, crime stories were all the rage (well, crime stories and spy stories. But crime stories particularly.) Finding a way to differentiate the main characters and give a series a unique selling point compared with others was often a challenge.
Possibly the most differentiated – and indeed interesting – crime show of the 60s was Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) (known more prosaically in the US as My Partner The Ghost because focus group research suggested viewers wouldn’t understand the word ‘deceased’). Its premise was simple: two down-at-heel British private investigators, Jeff Randall (Mike Pratt) and Marty Hopkirk (Kenneth Cope), are investigating a case. The bad guys don’t like this and think they’re getting too close so they kill Hopkirk.
Except that doesn’t stop him. Hopkirk is so dedicated to his friend, Jeff – and so keen to bring his murderers to justice – that he returns as a ghost to help solve the case and stop the bad guys. Unfortunately, it takes him too long and after the bad guys are rounded up, a curse dooms Hopkirk to walk the earth as a ghost in an eternally spotless white suit for 100 years.
So Hopkirk stays on to help Jeff solve further cases as best he can, despite being intangible and invisible to everyone else. Cue catchy theme tune and 25 more episodes.
Surprisingly – or perhaps unsurprisingly given the subject matter – Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) was a mixture of comedy, pathos and crime drama. Each episode would typically feature a client coming to request the services of Randall; Randall would investigate the crime, with Hopkirk tagging along invisibly, passing through doors and walls, and ‘teleporting’ from place to place with a blink of his eyes to access information that Randall couldn’t possibly get by himself. At various points, Randall would get into fights and get captured, requiring Hopkirk to find a way to communicate with someone other than Randall in order to free his friend: whether that was through a medium or by using his minimal ‘poltergeist’ powers to move things around varied from episode to episode.
The key draw of the show was Randall and Hopkirk’s buddy-buddy friendship. Hopkirk, despite being dead and intangible, is a somewhat OCD character, nervous and afraid of pretty much everything, including other ghosts, real or imagined. Randall is a hard-drinking, rumpled kind of guy, who is eternally grumpy and getting into fights with everyone. A womaniser, he’s also got flexible morals in some areas, he desperate need for cash making him do somewhat unethical things. The two opposites clash with one another constantly and their badinage is what makes the show fun.
But the show also has one constant reminder that despite their antics, the situation is fundamentally a sad one: Marty’s widow, Jeannie (Annette Andre), who continues to work on as Randall’s secretary even after Hopkirk’s death. Sometimes someone to be helped and rescued, sometimes someone who helps Randall in his investigations, Jeannie’s a somewhat sad character who clearly misses her husband deeply. Although there’s a potential romantic interest in the shape of Jeff, he can’t do anything with Marty still around even intangibly, and Jeannie still loves her dead husband enough to occasionally visit (and get fooled by) psychics, bogus and real, who claim to be able to help her communicate with Marty.
On top of that, Marty, of course, is stuck with only Jeff for company and never sleeps, so occasionally seen wandering the streets by himself, lonely. Randall isn’t exactly doing well for himself, either, and is frequently shown at home by himself, or waking up after one too many the night before. While not dwelt upon, this side to the show certainly gave it a greater depth.
As was common with other high-concept ITC shows of the time, such as The Champions, the high concept itself was used surprisingly little as the focus of the main plot. While Marty used his ghostly powers every episode, the cases he and Jeff solved were the regular stock in trade of other crime shows – indeed, the same writers and even same plots were often used on different shows.
There were a few exceptions, however. One episode saw Jeff nearly drown and for a moment appear as a white suit-clad ghost to glare at Marty. Murder Ain’t What It Used To Be sees the ghost of a 1920s Chicago gangster haunting one of Randall and Hopkirk’s suspects, and much of the episode is about the two ghosts’ interactions, ‘Bugsy’ having had decades more experience at using his own powers than Marty.
Whoever Heard of A Ghost Dying? sees a psychic who can see Marty in league with criminals. Aware that Marty is present but unobserved by others, the psychic is able to warn the criminals and mislead Marty and Jeff through scenes staged for Marty’s benefit. With the psychic also ‘helping’ Jeannie to get over Marty, he’s almost able to exorcise Marty when the two detectives discover what’s been happening. Finally, When Did You Start To Stop Seeing Things gives us an episode in which Marty finds himself unable to communicate with Jeff anymore – the real Jeff has been replaced with a double – forcing Marty to investigate by himself and find other avenues of communication with the living.
The show was this close to getting renewed for a second season, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Nevertheless, the show garnered a lot of fans and fond memories along the way, being referenced in pop culture in the 1980s by the likes of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. The show is available on DVD, but in a minor miracle, every single episode is (currently) available on YouTube in a single playlist below.
British comedians Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer also loved the show enough that together with Charlie Higson of Fast Show and now Young James Bond fame, they remade it for the BBC in 2000, with Reeves as Hopkirk, Mortimer as Randall and Emilia Fox as a somewhat more kick-arse Jeannie. Added to the roster was a ‘ghost mentor’ for Hopkirk, ‘Wyvern’, played by former Doctor Who Tom Baker. Featuring many tributes to both ITC shows of the same period as well as the original show, including a CGI cameo from Mike Pratt in the afterlife, the show went the opposite direction from the original in having the vast majority of the episodes revolve around the dead Hopkirk and the supernatural, with Jeannie largely rescuing Jeff.
Unfortunately, the show lacked a lot of the charm of the original and its CGI focus on the supernatural made it colder and less engaging. With Bob Mortimer essentially playing the part of Randall as a straight role, Reeves going massively over the top as Hopkirk and the scripts somewhat mocking of their own subject matter, it’s unsurprising the show didn’t do well in the ratings. As a result, the BBC only ended up commissioning two series of the show, both of which are available on DVD and also on the playlist below, you lucky people: