Episode Five: That's How Murder Snowballs

Original Air-Date:
Duration: 50'33m
Screenplay by: Ray Austin
Directed By: Paul Dickson
Availability: Try store

Starring: Mike Pratt (Jeff Randall), Kenneth Cope (Marty Hopkirk) and Annette Andre (Jean Hopkirk).

Guest-Starring: Grazina Frame (Gloria Marsh), Arthur Brough (Snowy), Patrick Holt (Barry Jones), Harold Berens (Tony Lang), Valerie Leon (Kay), Michael Griffiths (Inspector Nelson), James Bilchamber (Mark), Tony Thawnton (Fernandez), David Jason (Abel), Marie Makino (Old Lady), Stuart Hoyle (Kim), John Gazadon (The Doctor), John Styles (The Ventriloquist) and Simon Barnes (Man With Cards)

Technical Personnel: Ronald Liles (Production Supervisor), Gerald Moss (Director of Photography), Charles Bishop (Art Director), Cyril Frankel (Creative Consultant), Edwin Astley (Musical Director), Philip Aizlewood (Post Production), Rod Nelson-Keys (Editor), Jack Morrison (Production Manager), Jack Lowin (2nd Unit Director), Brian Elvin (2nd Unit Cameraman), Denis Porter/Bill Rowe (Sound Recordists), Guy Ambler (Sound Editor), Alan Willis (Music Editor), John Owen (Casting), Val Stewart (Camera Operator), Michael Meighan (Assistant Director), Sally Ball (Continuity), Peter Dunlop (Production Buyer), Elizabeth Romanoff (Make-Up), Jeannette Freeman (Hairdresser), Laura Nightingale (Costume Supervisor), A. J. Van Montagu (Scenic Artist), Frank Maher (Stunr Co-Ordinator), Cinesound (Sound Effects Suppliers), Chambers + Partners (Titles), Dennis Spooner (Creator/Executive Story Consultant) and Monty Berman (Producer). An ITC Production.

Jeff: Jeff has a newspaper contact named Barry Jones whom he has known for several years and pays him for story information. We also learn that Jeff once paid Jeannie with a gold earring "in lieu of salary" and, as he ends the story in a "private ward", are we to assume he doesn't take NHS treatment?
Jeff Scraps: Not much Jeff action this episode, with him playing the detective role to the full. However, his actions do see him coshed over the head, shot at four times, nearly hit with a sandbag and a thrown revolver, and - worst of all - knocked out by a shelf. However, he's lucky - one poor woman is murdered by having someone batter her cushion.

Marty: Marty still goes to restaurants out of habit - he has recently dined at the Savoy with Harold Wilson. As Wilson was the Labour Prime Minister, does this also suggest Marty's political leanings?

Jeannie: Jeannie shows some moral compunction by questioning Jeff's ethics in selling a story. "Well, did you get your blood money?" she demands of Jeff.

Story: Jeff and Jeannie are in the audience of "The Fabulous Fernandez and Abel" at the Palace Theatre. While performing a stage act that involves a gun, Fernandez is killed, causing Jeff to go undercover to try and track down the murdererer.
Joining forces with the police, Jeff adopts a mindreading act (with Marty's help) and infiltrates the theatre. They discover that one of the performers, Gloria Marsh, was the wife of Fernandez, aka Ronay Thompson. (For completeness' sake, Abel's real surname is given as Townsend, and the partners had been working together "for about six years"). Some years ago she had been involved in a drunken car accident whereby she had killed someone and Fernandez took the blame to save her from prison. With this hold over her, he refused to allow her a divorce when they grew apart, and demanded money from her while seeing a string of other women. When Gloria took a lover of her own, the lover - Kim, the Choreographer - killed Fernandez by dressing as a woman in the audience and placing a loaded bullet in the gun's chamber. Kim kills Gloria to try and protect his secret, but is eventually flushed out by Randall and arrested by the police - though in so doing, Randall is injured falling from a stage rope and confined to a hospital bed...

Production Order: This was the eleventh episode to be filmed.

Commentary: The 2008 Network DVD release of the programme features a commentary from Ray Austin and Brian Clemens. Clemens is an unusual addition as, while a noted producer and writer (including many ITC shows), by his own admission he hadn't worked on Randall and Hopkirk. However, his inclusion is justified by his close friendship with Ray Austin, the director of six episodes, and the writer of this story. Both have such a good friendship that they talk throughout, even if Clemens' lack of familiarity with the programme sees him often trying to guess who is on screen, as well as describing his own eccentric idea for a Randall and Hopkirk film that never got off the ground. Both of them disparage the BBC revival series, as well as talking about the nature of television at the time. While having a rehearsed commentary would be a bad idea and lacking in spontaneity, a little more research would perhaps have benefitted, so that they could spend more time talking about the programme itself, rather than wondering who is on screen or what is happening at any given moment. Ray Austin at one point suggests they should have been supplied with a cast list, and, somewhat unprofessionally, an unnamed personnel member present shouts out the name of a cast member in the middle of their discussion. Also an oddity is that in other commentaries on the set you can hear the speakers reacting to the jokes present... whereas both men state that the footage they're watching to record their commentary for this episode is silent.

Trivia: In his 2013 autobiography My Life, guest star David Jason recounts how an error resulted in him not receiving his script until the day before filming, as a result repeatedly forgetting his lines, requiring multiple takes. In interviews to publicise the book, Jason described the situation as the worst moment of his career.

Check out 48'40m into the episode, where Michael Griffiths appear to be about to break into unscripted laughter and tries desperately to conceal his mirth.

The two showgirls from 21'07m in appear to be dubbed.

"Five minutes, Mr. Randall - they're a tough lot tonight."/"Three minutes, stand by on stage." Remember me, Timmy Lea? With those two lines of dialogue what looks like Confessions star Robin Askwith makes an uncredited appearance as a stage hand. Look out for his first appearance sixteen minutes in.

"Well, you know me, Inspector, only too happy to help."
"That's the trouble, Randall, I do know you and I wish I didn't."

I used to think that this was probably one of the least successful episodes of the original series. That's not to say it's badly made - quite the opposite. It's just that any episode that hangs on a gimmick is doomed to fail if you guess that gimmick before it ends. The well directed yet preachy Twilight Zone episode Eye of the Beholder has a similar problem, and I knew within the first minute that Stuart Hoyle was a man in a drag here - something that's supposed to be a mind-blowing revelation.

It's a shame, because this is a good story, having an embittered Jeff scraping a living from the death of a stage act. There seems a considerable amount of money thrown at this one, despite some poor dubbing, and the humour present arises naturally out of the situation rather than being a straightforward comedy episode. In fact, given the subject matter this is one of the more sombre stories, and it's nice to see a David Jason with hunger in his eyes, rather than self-conscious laziness.

Randall and Hopkirk is, of course, a series of another time (35 years ago to be precise) and so seeing Marty doing a cod Indian accent in this one did leave me feeling quite shocked. Thankfully it's not something Jeff goes along with wholeheartedly, but, like his patronising attitude towards Jeannie, it's another world that marginally unsettles today. On the subject of un-PC humour, then it's a nice touch that Mark, the cabaret act manager, seems to be subtly played as a homosexual. A surprisingly violent episode with little involvement from Marty, it's carried by Pratt, and even if you know the who and how, you still don't know the why.

Despite my reservations about the central premise, this is a cracking episode actually, quite involving. The makers of the Randall and Hopkirk update claimed that Marty needed somewhere else to go, but the Wyvern offshoot was really just unnecessary padding. Provided you've got a good, strong plot with engaging characters you don't need any extras - the central drive should be enough. It perhaps says more about the update that they felt they needed Wyvern than any shortcomings of the original. And it's to Charlie Higson's detriment that he thought the original didn't succeed. The tone between episodes may be remarkably inconsistent - is it a stock ITC adventure series, or a comedy? - but when even the lesser episodes are as good as this, then it's very good indeed.