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52 Episode 7.10

Viewers of Rentaghost may be familiar with two of the other childrens' series that Bob Block created, both of which came after Rentaghost began - Grandad and Galloping Galaxies! However, less familiar, perhaps, are his earlier series for ITV: Pardon My Genie (1972-1973) and Roberts Robots (1973-1974).
      Pardon My Genie featured, of course, a genie, and there's a very real suspicion that Block expanded Mr. Claypole's magic powers for the sole purpose of reworking some of his Pardon My Genie scripts. Back in 1976 Claypole was just a "poltergeist" who had a little extra power than normal ghosts, but in the later series his powers went far beyond this.
      In fact, the scripts, plots, situations and even dialogue of Pardon My Genie got so heavily reused in later Rentaghost episodes that it explains random events, such as Harold Meaker opening a previously-unreferenced hardware store for no reason whatsoever in episode 6.6. (Pardon My Genie is set in a hardware store).
      A likeable, quietly charming programme, Pardon My Genie may not have been as flat-out inspired as Rentaghost at its best, but it was a cut above the noisy, screechy excesses of the 1980s episodes. The Pardon My Genie episode upon which this episode is heavily based ("Chicken Feud") is actually quite amusing, and certainly succeeds in many ways that this virtual remake doesn't.
      It's not just the yelling excesses of the panto era of Rentaghost that can grate if you're not in the mood, it's that the basic ideas behind Pardon My Genie are lifted and transplanted wholesale without thought to whether they make sense when repurposed. In "Chicken Feud", shop owner Mr. Cobbledick (it was a children's programme, after all) has been seeing a psychiatrist after exposure to the genie's antics make him doubt his sanity. Buying chickens is the suggestion of his psychiatrist as "occupational therapy". Whereas travelling businessman Harold Meaker buying chickens for no reason at all makes a lot less sense.
      This also extends towards many of the jokes, which are also extracted verbatim, whether they make any logical sense in being reappropriated or not. When the genie is told he needs to sit on a giant egg to hatch it (yes, the plots are that similar) and objects that he's "not a chicken", he's told "at your age, that is an understatement." Said to a genie aged 4001 years, it fits. Said by Harold Meaker to a ghost, and one who died at a young age, it makes next to no sense at all.
     Huge chunks of the 1973 script are reappropriated, with a fenceside argument between Cobbledick and his female neighbour reprised almost word-for-word for Harold and Arthur Perkins. Chickens being turned so large they lay giant eggs, chickens laying square eggs, cockerels laying eggs, and even the line "she must be a very unhappy bird" - all repackaged. Both episodes even have the same resolution, with the Genie/Claypole becoming a father/daddy. The concept of a genie mistakenly causing the laying of a giant egg which he's then forced to hatch makes sense by its own internal logic... without taking it all too seriously, the idea of this happening to a ghost makes pretty much no sense at all. This line of surreal "why did any of this actually happen?" plot developments are what make this such a terrible episode of Rentaghost, yet such a good one of the former series.
     This isn't to overly criticise Bob Block, as if you're going to rip off another writer, it's obviously not such a crime if the writer you're ripping off is yourself. While the situation does raise questions like: "does this mean Thames TV own a percentage of Rentaghost by proxy?" and "did he just tippex 'Pardon My Genie' from the script and write 'Rentaghost' over the top in biro?", this is merely presented here for information purposes, not for any express criticism.
     A video file showing some, but far from all, of the reused scenes can be seen above. One of the few scenes in this episode not taken from "Chicken Feud" - Harold wants "forty winks", then can't stop winking at women on a train who think he's a pervert - is taken in full from the Genie episode "Your Present Is Requested".
     However, while no other Pardon My Genie episode was quite as mined for material as "Chicken Feud" (there's even a "plank is magically removed from a barrel, causing the person standing on it to fall into water" scene, which, while not reused here, did get revisited during episode 6.3) there are many other instances of plots and dialogue being reworked throughout Rentaghost. These include, but are not limited to:

     • Someone is mistaken for an intruder, and is given a black eye by
     someone trying to stop them. Wanting to avoid being identified, it's
     magically fixed so that multiple people have black eyes;
     • The wish to sing "at the drop of a hat" is expressed, and then
     becomes a literal occurrence they're helpless to prevent;
     • A new outfit is magically placed on someone who, unbeknowest to
     the person transporting the clothes, is in the bath at the time;
     • Someone wants to buy a boxer dog for security, but the term
     "boxer" is misunderstood and a pugilist is magically transported to
     the property;
     • A store owner suffers from a spell that makes them tell the truth to
     customers, including revealing their own hiding place when an angry
     customer wants to beat them up;
     • A car that literally takes off "like a rocket" and floats in space;
     • An attempt at being a Cockney salesman by someone who has
     no understanding of how to act like one, complete with word-for-word
     reuse of the "love be a duck" dialogue;
     • A boxing match where the gloves are magically tampered with, but
     then the gloves are changed... causing the tough opponent to knock
     himself out.

51 Episode 8.4

An episode where Mr. Claypole celebrates his 860th birthday, which would put his date of birth at 1123AD. However, in series six, Queen Matilda remarks that Claypole was her fool "800 years ago", which, if we take this accurately, puts his jestering at 1181AD. This means that not only was Mr. Claypole jestering in his sixties, but he was doing so during a time when Queen Matilda had died. Perhaps Matilda's "800 years" wasn't entirely literal, but clearly Bob Block didn't plan out a detailed backstory for a show that features a living pantomime horse.
      The episode includes, naturally, a birthday party, with all three ghosts dressed up in bizarre costumes and playing games. Of course, no one ever expected Rentaghost to be grounded in reality, but when you've already got a sitcom that's based around the spirits of the undead, you don't really need wacky costumes, flying robots and far-fetched situations to make it work. Sadly, by this point in the programme the inspiration is clearly drying up, and the way all concerned invade the Perkins's privacy is more likely to irritate than amuse.

50 Episode 7.1

The Meakers try and go on holiday, but a visiting Queen Matilda demands that they stay and entertain her. When Matilda complains about how "tedious" events are, or how old the jokes are, it's a moment of unfortunate self-commentary for the show. Better is that Harold finally decides to tell the Perkins about the nature of Rentaghost, though they assume his talk of "spirits" is a joke and don't take him seriously.
      The reading habits of the Rentaghost crew are something to note. While in other episodes the Meakers can be seen reading The Telegraph, Arthur Perkins here reads a tabloid. Perhaps most damning of all, though, is that Mr. Claypole is shown reading The Beano, perfectly illustrating the level that the series was being aimed at by this stage.
      The first break of the fourth wall in Rentaghost occurred in episode 4.2, and was an occasional event in the programme. However, by this stage it's become a regular happening, just ahead of series 9 where it became an epidemic. To go with this, all of the performances are "bigger", too, and the whole thing ends with a song and tap dance number. Ann Emery (Ethel) reputedly taught Wayne Sleep how to tap dance, and is credited with choreography on this episode... there's the suspicion that doing a tap dance routine was the entire point of it being written.

49 Episode 7.9

When Mr. Claypole turns Harold's new stills camera into a movie camera, they decide to make their own superhero movie, with Ethel as Batwoman, and Claypole as Blunderwoman. Although other characters are involved, such as Harold as Spider-Man, it was these two characters that were reprised in episode 8.5 a year later, as seen on the first page.
     Time, of course, passes judgement on everything, and so there are items in Rentaghost that may seem jarring to viewers almost forty years on. There's two of the main characters at this point being a Scottish stereotype and a "funny foreigner" cliche, but there's also the series' loose association with mental health support, given that nearly every other episode someone is labelled as a "nutter". But this particular episode has dated to a world where everyone can make their own movie by use of their phone, and the idea of a movie based around superheroes isn't novel, but almost mandatory.
     One thing about the later series of Rentaghost is that, while a programme just for children, it's always possible to feel sorry for the neighbours, the Perkins. While the Meakers are to be pitied if the ghosts cause them trouble by doing something that gets accidentally observed, by this stage in the programme they'e almost actively seeking out the Perkins' attention. Episodes will end with Ethel jumping on their sofa, or the entire crew doing a dance procession through their living room.
     It's as if the concept of personal space no longer exists for the new, "anything goes" Meakers, and here a particularly selfish act is carried out: McWitch, not wanting the Meakers to be intimidated by villains, uses a spell to swap their door numbers around. Sure, it is only a kids' show, but the idea that the Perkins are there just as foils to be constantly violated is a little disturbing. If nothing else, it does make the ghosts and co. seem incredibly inconsiderate, bordering on aggravating... when they're supposed to be the show's central focus who viewers like and care about.

48 Episode 7.8

Kenneth Connor, star of 17 Carry On movies, here makes his debut as "Whatsisname Smith", a neurotic ghost crippled by knowledge of his own mediocrity. It's a hark back to the "failure looking for a second chance" comedy of Fred Mumford, only now - in an era where the three main ghosts can look to camera to simultaneously deliver a line to the audience while Dobbin dresses up as a ballerina - it's completely anachronistic.
      Connor would reprise the role in two further episodes, and also appeared with the stars of the show in the Children's BBC production of Aladdin and the Forty Thieves in 1984. Connor does expectedly okay with something of a thin role, but, like a lot of guest stars of the period, isn't able to scale the heights of pure over-the-top that the main cast are now accustomed to.
      This is never clearer than when the end credits play out, where Connor isn't sure where the camera is for his credited appearance. He's standing amongst a group of actors who are always aware of where the camera is, and never stop playing to it. As a result it seems like underplaying in amongst all the yelling, singing and screaming happening around him. Whatsisname Smith doesn't become a down-on-his-luck ghost, instead he becomes the sole voice of reason.

47 Episode 7.3

The "acting" of the regulars has become so far gone at this stage that when another "villainous ghost" appears - Leslie Schofield as a ghost pirate - there's a jarring clash of acting styles. Schofield does his best with a nothing part, but, like Kenneth Connor, is unable to reach the over-the-top heights of the regulars. Really, there's rarely been a show like Rentaghost before, where trained actors defy all known laws of the craft.
      In terms of trivia, then occasionally there'll be a joke in the series that involves a cultural reference point that the child audience probably won't get. Episode 8.2's punning reference to "A Hard Day's Knight" is one, and here there's McWitch performing a sting on Mr. Claypole, accompanied by "The Entertainer" as part of the incidental music.
      Incidental music isn't something often discussed with Rentaghost. Understated or stock at first, by this point in the series it's gone very "Ronnie Hazelhurst", with Jonathan Cohen underscoring each terrible joke with bangs, whistles and crashes. Lastly, the boom mic is in prominent display this episode, most notably around the 22 minute mark with the Perkins. However, it's worth noting that with the screen resolutions of the time, this may not have been apparent.
      In all, with an episode that ends with Ethel as a mermaid, there's the nagging feeling that, even for a kids' show, it's all got a little too silly.

46 Episode 8.1

No one ever watched Rentaghost for its labyrinthine, multi-layered plots, though this "the Meakers go camping" episode is particularly plotless, even by the standards of the later years. A series of visual and verbal mishaps ensue, where the only real item of note is that Harold ends the episode talking about a goat that butted him... except when he says it, it sounds like "I've been buggered by a goat." Rentaghost occasionally went in for racier, campy innuendo that would have gone over the heads of the child audience, though in this particular case, it's probably safe to assume it's just the way he says it.

45 Episode 7.7

Concerned about Claypole's growing stupidity, Harold gets McWitch to create an intelligence potion. Unfortunately, Dobbin drinks some of it, too, and turns into a centaur. With both Dobbin and Mr. Claypole now geniuses, they decide to build a rocket to explore space. There's a decent enough joke when the cocky centaur version of Dobbin calls Ethel "flower", causing Nadia to sneeze, Pavlovian style, before apologising. It's a little throwaway gag, nicely underplayed, which is in direct contrast to all the silliness and Beano Annual jokes elsewhere. It seems odd to criticise Rentaghost for being a kids' show, when that's exactly what it is, but this is the programme at nearly its least sophisticated.