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Rentaghost (1976-84)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Rentaghost (1976-84)
BBC 1,6/11976 - 6/11/1984
58 x 25 minutes episodes in nine series plus two specials, colour
DirectorDavid Crichton
ProducersJeremy Swan
 Paul Ciani
ScriptBob Block

Cast: Anthony Jackson (Fred Mumford); Michael Darbyshire (Hubert Davenport); Michael Staniforth (Timothy Claypole); Edward Brayshaw (Mr Meaker); Jana Sheldon (Catastrophe Kate); Molly Weir (Hazel The MacWitch); Sue Nicholls (Nadia Popov)

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If your mansion house needs haunting just call Rentaghost / We've got freaks and fools and creeps and ghouls at Rentaghost / Hear the phantom of the opera sing a haunting melody / Remember what you see is not a mystery at Rentaghost

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Rentaghost (BBC, 1976-84) began with an intriguing premise for a children's programme: a recently deceased ghost, Fred Mumford, whose own parents don't know he is dead, returns to earth to set up an agency hiring out the services of other ghosts to still-living humans. The ghosts he employs, a Victorian fop, Hubert Davenport, and a medieval jester, Timothy Claypole, are themselves quite as scared of the twentieth century as any living human is of them. Made in any context other than 1970s children's TV, it could have been quite dark. With the addition of its own idiosyncratic mythology of the dead (walking through walls, 'psychic energy', and the need for a ghost to pinch his nose in order to transport himself), and Fred Mumford's inability to get the hang of his ghostly powers, the first few series were both funny and intelligent.

After the end of the fourth series and a brief break, Mumford and Davenport's characters disappeared. Landlord Meaker took over the business, and Claypole remained as the central ghost character. The series got gradually weaker, with new situations and businesses (the ghosts ran a beauty salon, casting spells on frumpy women) disguising a lack of energy and imagination in the characters themselves. Rentaghost's new employees were increasingly stereotypical foreign caricatures with cod accents and 'amusing' characteristics - hayfever-suffering dutchwoman Nadia Popov (played by Coronation Street's Sue Nicholls) and Scots sorceress Hazel the McWitch. TV detective drama writer Lynda La Plante (using the name Lynda Marchal), put in an appearance as Popov's sneezing predecessor, Tamara Novek.

Running for nine seasons and nearly ten years, it was perhaps inevitable that Rentaghost would lose its way. Later episodes had a dully pantomimic quality (greatly enhanced by the presence of an actual pantomime horse as a regular character) and routinely ended in gleeful chaos around a rueful Meaker. Nevertheless, the germ of an interesting premise and the sheer energy of Michael Staniforth (who also performed the theme tune) as Claypole made it one of the longer-lasting children's television series, if not always the most fondly remembered.

Danny Birchall

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Video Clips
1. Back from the dead (0:47)
2. Claypole and Davenport (3:54)
3. Mr Meaker (1:52)
4. Visiting mum and dad (2:30)
Children's Entertainment and Comedy
Children's Fantasy and SF
Children's TV in the 1970s