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28 Episode 7.5

Mr. Claypole enters one of his mischievous phases, causing the Meakers to fire him. Rather oddly, Harold talks about how much "money" the replacement will receive... said replacement is a heap big "Red Indian" stereotype, Big Chief Leaping Deer (Maurice Thorogood).
      A fun episode that relies heavily on the talents of its cast... not many actors could get laughs out of pretending a cake weighs a ton (a reworking of the same event in Episode 1.2), or sharing the screen with a pantomime horse, but Edward Brayshaw's considerable ability makes such things work exceptionally well.
      In terms of trivia, then look out for Mr. Claypole's copy of "Astral Opportunities" which, dated April, may give some idea of when it was filmed... sadly, by the time this episode aired in November 1982, Mr. Claypole's copy was either out of date, or an advance edition. Also look out for the end of the episode with the medieval sprite throwing his head back in full laughter, which appears to reveal some very modern fillings.

27 Episode 6.5

The first appearance of Queen Matlida, and some halfway decent gags, such as Harold Meaker asking not to kneel for the Queen and being asked if he's claiming favouritism: "No, rheumatism." Or Matilda telling Ethel she's her second favourite person, then giving Ethel the answer to who her favourite person is: "anybody". (Bob Block clearly liked the latter joke, too, as he reused it for the fifth episode of Galloping Galaxies!)
      Not the funniest episode of Rentaghost by any means, it nevertheless has a higher level of subtlety and sophistication (relatively speaking) than the vast majority of episodes from the '80s. In fact, even at this late stage in the series, there's still signs of a programme that dares to go a little bit above standard kids' fare: Harold quoting Hamlet won't be a reference that everyone would get. There's also the series' frequent use of classical motifs in the incidental music, as with this episode's Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K.467 - Andante.
     Some nice pieces of invention include a spell on Harold that causes his clothes to vanish when he lies... cue him complimenting Ethel on her looks, cooking and intelligence. Also a nice piece of trivia is that Matilda pronounces the day as "Friday the 22nd".... the episode did air on Friday 22nd May 1981. An oddity is Nadia shown casting a spell along with McWitch and Claypole at the end, something she shouldn't be able to do, but all is forgiven for Harold's reaction to Ethel realising Harold being knighted will make her a lady: "I doubt if anything could do that."
      The aforementioned Rentaghost Annual was similar in intent to the World Annuals of the time, which offered up comic strips and features, sometimes related, oftentimes not. However, a little bit more care was given to it, including having features contributed by Edward Brayshaw, Ann Emery and Michael Staniforth. As these things used to be written and drawn by anonymous staff, it's not clear if this was all features, or whether the bulk were written/illustrated by uncredited workers, but, regardless, there's little bits of extra content in there, such as the notes and words for the Rentaghost theme, with additional extra lyrics.
      The reason for its mention here is that page 30 of the Annual features an illustrated guide to the camera set-up of the Meakers' living room in this episode. Taking the scene where Ethel is insulted by Matilda, it highlights the positions of three cameras, with one each pointing at both principal actresses in said scene, then a third for a wide group shot. It's not a technical draftsman's take on the topic - this is an annual for kids, after all - but it is quite an interesting little diversion in an annual given a little more care than average.

26 Episode 5.4

The ghosts (minus McWitch, who doesn't appear in this episode) work for Adam Painting in his new boutique. Although such plots are really a diversion from the central core of the series, there are some amusing moments, even if many of them, such as Mr. Claypole's "truth spell" and its consequences, were again straight lifts from Pardon My Genie ("Too Many Cooks"). Also look out for Paddie O'Neil as a disgruntled customer... clearly O'Neil got on well with the cast as she was recalled the following year to play Queen Matilda.
      Ethel talks about having a job as a journalist before meeting Harold, and being tired of her housewife status. Her taking up a secret job as an agony aunt is pretty much Sitcom Plot #101, but it works fine enough. And if the programme hasn't quite got silly enough to adequately contain the character of Dobbin, the horse does provide some amusement as he sulks with Harold.
      That Dobbin qualifies as a spirit despite never having been alive has always shown a series losing its way, but this isn't the show in freefall just yet... it all ends with a dinner party with the Perkins, which predictably, but very amusingly, ends in disaster.

25 Episode 3.1

Rentaghost set up a weather control business to open the third series, and it also introduces two new regulars: although Ethel Meaker had appeared as a guest character during series two, from this point on she was in all but two episodes. Then there's Jana Shelden (AKA Karen Milner from The Sandbaggers) as a semi-regular Catastrophe Kate, a cowgirl ghost. It's quite surprising to discover that Shelden actually is an American (albeit from LA, not from the South) as her "yankee" schtick never sounds anything but forced. Arguably the most childish episode up to that point, the use of Batman-style visual "sound" effects on screen is a bit of a low point, and the series just about escapes with its dignity intact.
      There's actually a debate to be had as to whether female ghosts truly work in Rentaghost. Certainly, the dynamic is changed considerably, with Bob Block's writing falling into a somewhat juvenile "they love Mr. Claypole/everyone loves the female ghost" bit. It's all a bit "Scrappy Doo" in execution, though maybe the real contention was that the programme went on for five series without changing the line about them being "extraordinary fellas".
      In terms of trivia, then Kate says it's "about a hundred years" since she was on Earth, which approximates her date of death around 1877. As a thinly-developed parody of Calamity Jane, we don't learn much more about her over the course of three return appearances, but there is that brief statistic. Then there's the revelation that Fred can send Claypole and Davenport a "psychic message"... which would have made things much easier during the previous 11 episodes.
     Lastly, there was possibly an injury associated with this episode, as Shelden reportedly fell off a rostrum during rehearsals for a flying carpet scene. As a result she was out of work for two years due to impaired hearing, balance and smell, and was suing the BBC for £36,000 in 1979. Although the facts maybe don't quite add up (she appeared in three more Rentaghost episodes for starters), the real reason why this is listed under "possibly" is, sadly, because it was reported in a UK tabloid. Even though the Daily Mirror (22 February 1977) and The Sunday Mirror (16 September 1979) are far from the worst of "the gutter press", their reporting of "news" still has to be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt.

24 Episode 4.3

Episode 4.3 offers a further lean towards the unrealistic, abject silliness that would corrode the programme in the '80s. With a variety of spells on show, Ethel spends the episode alternately barking, screeching and walking around with stick-on pink spots. It's all very silly, broad stuff, the closest the pre-Dobbin era ever got to the later years, not helped by another appearance of underwritten, cartoonesque spook Catastrophe Kate. The addition of a "love potion" invented by Hazel McWitch also has worrying implications, though this is, after all, a kids' show.
      There's also the first appearance of the Perkins, as one-off guest neighbours. By the time series five was made, they were elevated to regulars (essentially fulfilling the same dramatic function as Fred's parents) and appeared in all but two of the remaining episodes.
     What's striking is that they're not presented as victims at this stage, with Rose incredibly nosy, pointedly so, and Arthur embarrassed by her behaviour. There is, to some extent, the suggestion that they're "asking for it", and the days where episodes would end with a pantomime horse doing a conga through their living room are still some way away. And while the concept of mental health has been bandied around since the very first episode, this is the first one to contain the word "nutters", always hilarious, if inappropriate, when said via Hal Dyer's Welsh accent and superb timing.

23 Episode 3.6

Although Harold Meaker becomes a broader and more comic figure over the course of series 2/3, a sign that his relationship with the ghosts is still on shaky ground comes here, where he believes they're plotting to kill him.
      Of course, the old "they were really planning a surprise party all along" routine is a staple sitcom plot, but there are some bits and pieces that make it work, such as an invisibility ring. Series three is quite an odd mix overall... the cast seem to have settled into playing their "larger" personas of the Jeremy Swan era, and half of the episodes contain some really memorable plots... but the other half, including this one, contain events that are fairly run-of-the-mill.

22 Episode 4.4

There's a fair bit of reused material in this episode, and material that would go on to be reused further - the idea of two people wanting to "join each other in a cup (of tea)" sees Harold and Ethel literally shrunk into a teacup, something that would also happen to the Perkins in episode 7.2. However, it originally appeared in the final episode of Pardon My Genie five-and-a-half years earlier.
      Questions abound regarding "the original trio". While it's suspected that the series would be a lot more respected if "the Dobbin years" had never happened, would it have been as remembered? Certainly, there's just a couple of years in generations between those who remembered it as being a relatively sensible show, and those who only ever knew it as a pantomimic farce, whether they liked the latter incarnation or not.
      But without those later fans of the series, tuning in during the '80s in their millions, would the series have just been forgotten? After all, the 1970s output was less than half the total amount of episodes, and screened over a far longer stretch of time, repeats notwithstanding: those who like such obsessional stats might note that a new episode of Rentaghost aired, on average, every 60 days during the '70s run, but every 50 days in the 1980s. Certainly Bob Block's two earlier series for Thames Television are far less well remembered than Rentaghost, despite both being released in full on DVD.
      Then there's also the tone of the programme. This site always used to push the idea of a "line in the sand" between the pre- and post-Dobbin eras, but it's not quite that straightforward. While those times did get silly, there's the suspicion that the programme would have devolved into this state even if Mumford and Davenport had stayed with the programme. Here Ethel has already entered a "not real" persona of screaming and yelling, and by the time of "Rentasanta", Claypole had assumed a much more dominant role. Plus, Dobbin was brought to life in "Rentasanta", the post-series four Christmas special which featured the original cast.
      With an episode that features the return of McWitch (still credited as Macwitch), then she's a very silly creation to older viewers, and her final vengeful attack does look like a horrible mix of cheap studio work and exterior film. But on a personal note, I still recall to this day, just five years old, having a nightmare about it. Lastly, then while Mr. Davenport never really gets his fair share of the laughs, it's nice to see Michael Derbyshire having fun by getting to play Fred this episode... even if Jonathan Cohen's incidental music is particularly eccentric and distracting throughout.