Randall and Hopkirk (Repeated) 16Jan2017
Thirty years ago this weekend – on Thursday January 8th, 1987, to be exact – viewers in ITV’s Central region were treated to their first look at Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) in over a decade. And appropriately, fans should be getting their hands on the first of our new Blu-ray releases any time now, with the third volume available to pre-order from Friday.
This timely coincidence has prompted us to take a look back at how fans first renewed acquaintance with this and other ITC classics back in the mid 1980s.
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By 1987, when it returned to the small screen, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) had been off air across the ITV network for over a decade. Its last sighting in the ATV Midlands region had been on a Sunday lunchtime repeat run during 1973, at a time when interest in the ITC series – at least on the part of programme schedulers – was beginning to wane. Beginning in the mid-’70s, and barring a few regional variations, most of the classic ITC titles would be off air for the best part of a decade.
It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that some of these titles began to resurface, prompted by the resurgence of interest in cult series like The Avengers and The Prisoner. In 1984, the return of The Champions kicked off a repeat run for a package of ITC classics that also included Man in a Suitcase and The Baron. Dates and times of these screenings varied across the ITV regions, but in the Midlands, Central’s schedulers stuck rigidly to a slot on Thursdays at 1.30pm, and barring accidents and opt-outs over the festive season, each series was shown in an uninterrupted run.
Only a few years earlier, a lunchtime slot like this would have had fans groaning in frustration… but by the mid-’80s, home video recorders were becoming commonplace, and repeats like these must have convinced many to splash out on VHS or Betamax machines. With tape prices tumbling, fans began to compile their own hefty ‘box sets’ of favourite titles.
Surprisingly, it was some three years before Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) joined the raft of ITC repeats, but the good news for fans was that, as with the previous series, brand new prints had been struck from the original negatives. This in turn led to the mystery of the altered opening titles, which we looked at in a previous article.
For many, this was their first encounter with the paranormal pair, and for others (myself included), the first chance to see the episodes in colour. In the Central area, episodes were shown in a fairly chaotic sequence, following neither production order nor the ITC episode guide order; but fans were treated to an unbroken 26-week run, beginning (of course) with My Late Lamented Friend and Partner on January 8th, and ending on Thursday 2nd July with Somebody Just Walked Over My Grave.
Although the prints were freshly struck, they were not as pristine as might have been expected. In line with standard practise at the time, they were broadcast ‘warts and all’ with any dirt or printed-in defects clearly visible on screen. The restoration era was still many years distant, and in 1985, a telecine transmission from a brand new 35mm print was the best anyone could hope for. Unfortunately, one of the regional ITV operators (who shall remain nameless) took it upon themselves to shorten the episodes by something in the order of five minutes, removing scenes considered extraneous to the plot. When the prints were passed on to the next region for screening, the excised material was retained and spliced back in, but the resultant damage and dirt was clearly visible on screen (almost all of the mid-80s ITC repeats suffered in this way, with huge chunks missing from a 1985 repeat run of Fireball XL5).
By mid-1987, many fans now owned a complete set of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) on VHS – with all the attendant bulk of those old cassettes – and these off-air recordings would endure until the advent of DVD, then still over ten years in the future. Now the DVDs themselves are yielding place to a new generation of Blu-ray discs, which, it’s fair to say, are the best we’re ever going to get.
And what of those old VHS recordings? Well, they’re still playable, and, if you’re not fussy about picture quality, more than watchable. By the standards available at the time, they were as good as anyone had any right to expect, better indeed than some commercially available tapes which often suffered from soft picture quality and tape drop-outs. But if you want to see how far we’ve come in thirty years, run an old VHS copy alongside the new, remastered edition of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). There’s no comparison!
Martin Cater writes the vintage pop culture blog Sunday in Old Money: http://sundayinoldmoney.blogspot.co.uk