In the 1960s, no other TV company did crime drama like ITC. In fact, few British series of the time boasted the Hollywood-like gleam and ambition of Man In A Suitcase, The Saint, The Champions, The Baron or Department S. But whatever the cultural wallop of those shows, it’s another, one that this year marks its 50th anniversary, that has perhaps endured more than any of them.
Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased), which debuted on ITV on 21st September 1969, was markedly different to its ITC stablemates. Not only was it proudly fantastical, it was also killingly funny, and where most of ITC’s other shows aimed for a seductive fantasy of transatlantic sophistication, Randall & Hopkirk presented a scuzzier and more recognisably real world.
Key to Randall & Hopkirk’s uniqueness in the ITC canon, was the casting of Mike Pratt. He may have only been 37 when he played Jeff Randall, but he already had the deep-grooved face lines of someone 20 years older. Randall seemed to be someone more at home in the grungier, fag-stained world of Public Eye than a series about a private dick partnered up with a crime-solving ghost. More ABC than ITC.
Jeff was a man who, unlike Craig Stirling (The Champions), Simon Templar (The Saint) or McGill (Man In A Suitcase), lost more fights than he won. A faintly seedy, leather-jacketed gumshoe who can’t even afford a decent flat (though he seemingly had fine taste in music, from the look of his LPs).
It’s said that droll Irish comedian Dave Allen was considered for the role of Jeff, before it went to Mike Pratt. Pratt was then best known as a songwriter (he co-wrote, with Lionel Bart, the Tommy Steele number Little White Bull, for which they received a prestigious Ivor Novello award) and was once memorably described as having “the weather-beaten features of a mountainside”. Despite being under 40, his body-punishing lifestyle gave him a look way in advance of his years.
“When people remember Randall and Hopkirk they talk about the comedy.”
What also sets Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) apart from its crime show peers, is that it’s not afraid of being funny, and if Pratt does most of the heavy lifting dramatically, it was Kenneth Cope, as the spectral Marty Hopkirk, who proved the whimsical heart of the show. If guys liked Pratt for being the cigarette-chewing, whisky-glugging perpetual bachelor, women – and kids – embraced the cuddly and Beatle-mopped Cope. “When people remember Randall and Hopkirk they talk about the comedy,” the actor said a few years ago. “That’s what made the show.”
Only 26 episodes of Randall & Hopkirk were ever made, and it’s heartbreaking, and somewhat mystifying, that ITC never continued the series into the 1970s. It was eventually remade, overseen by The Fast Show’s Charlie Higson, by the BBC in the early noughties, with a fatally miscast Bob Mortimer and Vic Reeves as the titular ‘tecs. Yet it couldn’t hold a torch to the original, a series that, even five decades on, remains one of ITC’s most cherished and warmly-remembered shows. Many happy returns.