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21 Episode 5.3

Rentaghost wasn't an especially political show, certainly not in the Dobbin era, even though the programme saw many changes in the political landscape while it was on air. Series one went out while Harold Wilson's Labour government was still in power, while by the time series two aired, James Callaghan had succeeded him as prime minister and leader of the Labour party. Finally, those wishing to make political capital may note that, due to "Rentasanta" being delayed in transmission until December 1979, the Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher was the only PM to serve while Dobbin was in the programme.
      Rentaghost wasn't Drop the Dead Donkey, and so up-to-the-minute political points weren't part of its capabilities, but it's notable that this episode starts with Tamara Novek talking of "two million spirits on the dole". The actual unemployment rate at the time was approaching that amount, and would only continue to increase during the '80s, to the point that, when series eight was screened, it had reached over three million. It's a speculation that this affected Bob Block's decision to make the series more childish and silly, given that the real world was getting increasingly bleak, and viewers probably wanted something lighter at teatimes... after all, adults were big fans of Rentaghost, too.
      There's some wittier jokes than normal for the period here, though Mr. Claypole thinking Ethel has said "smell" instead of "spell" is possibly the series' lowest-ever point. A slightly more sophisticated reference is Adam Painting claiming he's seen all of Tamara Novek's films after being introduced to her as Miss Novek... presumably thinking she's Kim Novak. But this is the series transitioned from a point where Ethel perfoming a song was there to entertain viewers, and into her performing a song so badly ("Tangerine") that it's supposed to be comic how terrible she is.
      In terms of trivia, then Michael Staniforth was incredibly talented with rollerskates, and in 1984 he was in the first production of Starlight Express. His ability with skates gets a real showcase here, as Adam Painting opens up a roller disco, and Claypole gets introduced to the concept for the first time. After this, Claypole could be seen skating in seven other episodes. Lastly, at 27'28m, this is the longest of the regular-length Rentaghost episodes, with only the two Christmas Specials having a greater runtime.

20 Episode 4.6

An episode where the Meakers and Rentaghost set up a charity fete out of nowhere... or, to be more accurate, out of Pardon My Genie. Bits of business and some gags from Pardon My Genie had been in Rentaghost's DNA right from the start, but the odd small joke here and there can be regarded as "fair reuse" and not anything overly significant. However, while more and more reused material was starting to creep into the show during its fourth year, sometimes whole scenes, there were two episodes that were so significantly composed of reused material that they could effectively be considered the first two "remakes": this one and Episode 4.2.
     Here the entire episode is basically a cut and shut of the Genie episodes "Luck Is No Lady" and "Too Many Cooks", with Catastrophe Kate added in a sideplot for a bit of spice. This said, it's nice to see John Dawson (Fred Mumford's dad) having some fun under a laughing spell, even if he isn't, perhaps, terribly convincing at fake laughter. One moment that gets a real laugh from him is Ethel's claim that she's "38", which he finds hilarious and unconvincing... in real life the actress was 48.

19 Episode 4.5

Series four was still at the stage of character development, with the regulars changing and growing to know one another, rather than the somewhat lifeless "holding pattern" of characterisation in the '80s. Here Ethel finally starts to like the ghosts after getting them to look after a gym-obsessed Harold, worried he'll injure himself. This is a fairly amiable, amusing episode, with Fred's simple task of lifting a new cooker getting diverted throughout, and some funny scenes with Harold in a boxing ring. It's by no means reinventing the wheel, and does contain a lot of reused material from, again, Pardon My Genie, but it's a pleasant enough way to pass 26 minutes of your time.

18 Episode 4.2

In terms of gaps between series, then surprisingly the all-new series five wasn't the longest delay. While there was a lengthy nearly-17 month gap between series 4 and 5 that was only bridged by a delayed screening of "Rentasanta", almost 18 months passed between the airing of 3 and 4. It's not known what caused such lengthy delays, though possibly it was due to Block developing a new children's series for Clive Dunn, Grandad, which would air the following year.
      There's certainly signs of cutting corners in this fourth series, because, as referenced in Entry No.20, this is the first of two series four episodes that are effectively "remakes" of Pardon My Genie episodes. It's not quite as cut-and-dried as the chicken episode, which largely reuses a single script wholesale, or even episode 4.6, which puts two together; this one instead is cobbled together from many different episodes of Pardon My Genie. The framing concept of working in a shop with a magically open/closing hatch, and ending with time being reversed and the punchline "I shall not stay to see [any] more, this is where I came in" are all lifted from "Sink Or Swim". Yet the real meat of the episode, with all the goings on in a furniture store, including changing the owner into a dummy, the excursion to the launderette, and even the "two coats" gag is all from the episode titled, appropriately enough, "Second Coat". Then there's little bits and pieces, such as an entire door being wallpapered over from "Fired With Enthusiasm". Lastly, the subplot and a lot of the dialogue with Fred's dad having a hat stuck to his head that he can't remove comes from the Pardon My Genie episode "Hat Trick". (Bob clearly liked this last part, as he also reused it in an episode of Grandad). A compilation of some - not all - of the reused moments can be seen in the video above.
      It's a slightly irritating episode in parts, with Claypole no longer quite an innocent cherub of accidental chaos, but instead more like the - for want of a better term - gobshite version seen in the '80s. A telling moment comes with his high-pitched giggling, which is not met with a witticism by Mr. Davenport, but just a resigned "do be quiet." It's notable that the Genie stuck a hat to a head out of a genuine misunderstanding, whereas the Claypole of series four does it out of spite. However, despite being one of the four "unoriginal" episodes, it still works well enough in context to scrape into the top twenty here. Ironically enough, one of the few bits in the episode not stolen from Pardon My Genie - the montage of scenes with the ghosts at the seaside - are the most charming and likeable element of the story.

17 Aladdin and the
Forty Thieves

Not, of course, an actual episode of Rentaghost, there's a very real argument to be had that this hour-length children's pantomime from January 1984 shouldn't be included. However, airing between series 8 and 9, it's a real curio for fans of the show and should be noted for the high level of Rentaghost-level content it possesses.
      Although it wasn't written by Bob Block (Basil Brush writer John Morley had the honours) Rentaghost producer-director Jeremy Swan was behind the production of it. But more than that, it features every single main cast member of the series at that time, except for, oddly, Michael Staniforth. With even the Perkins taking part, there's also room for some Rentaghost guest stars, including Paddie O'Neil as a handmaiden, and even the "special" effects man, Mat Irvine, gets a small role as a thief.
      An explicit reference to the series comes when Playschool presenter Carol Chell wonders where Edward Brayshaw's Abanazar got his "funny clothes" from, to be met with Molly Weir's "er... Rentaghost?" There's also Sue Nicholls as a Chinese character, but performed using her Nadia Popov voice, and Ann Emery breaking glass with her singing.
      Other notable guest stars include Bill "doogy rev" Homewood from The Adventure Game, along with the likes of Peter Duncan, Clive Dunn, Keith Chegwin, Kenneth Williams, Gary Wilmot and Jigsaw's Adrian Hedley, thankfully not dressed up as the terrifying Mr. Noseybonk from that show. Nicely made, there's a lot of credit to be given to all who take part, even though no one ever really asked for a duet by Sarah Greene and Terry Nutkins... at least, not a second time. Pick for the best singing performance goes to Janet Ellis, though, considering who her daughter is, this maybe shouldn't come as such a surprise. (If you don't know and don't want to Google it, it's Sophie Ellis-Bextor.)
      Although to those of us who were kids at the time, the '80s seems like yesterday, there is a high racial content that may make it seem like all of its 36 years to modern viewers. Beginning with Floella Benjamin as a Jamaican-accented genie called "Black Magic", it's not long before we're into a rendition of "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah", as sung by six white people pretending to be Chinese, including Molly Weir as "Mrs. Ping Pong". The story is only resolved by Aladdin (Greene) putting on a Jamaican accent.
     There's maybe something a little unsettling about seeing Brian Cant and John Craven in yellowface putting on a "Chinese" accent, or Johnny Morris talking about someone wanting "hanky panky with Widow Twanky", but this is what happens when you dig into the archives. And, there is, on some level, a bizarre fascination with watching Johnny Ball as a Chinese George Formby singing "Chinese Laundry Blues". Obviously made just for kids, this is nevertheless quite entertaining and well-made if you're in the right mood.

16 Episode 2.5

Harold Meaker hires an efficiency expert to classify the skill level of the Rentaghost team - Claypole is A1, Davenport B2 and Fred is ranked Z4. Fired from Rentaghost, Fred develops depression and struggles to remain on Earth. It's quite laboured stuff in many ways - each of the ghost tests leave Fred til last, with predictable results - but real credit must go to the superb Betty Alberge as Fred's mother.
      Perhaps most familiar to soap fans, she was Harry Cross's wife in 78 episodes of Brookside, and during the sixties she appeared in over 270 episodes of Coronation Street as Florrie Lindley. There's a certain plaintive, desperate quality to her performance as Fred's mum, a genuine heartbroken quality to her portrayal. Unfortunately this does make Fred look incredibly selfish and inconsiderate by not telling her he's really a ghost, in much the same way that Pardon My Genie's Hal stood by and let his boss reach the brink of a nervous breakdown rather than revealing the truth behind the "hallucinations" that he kept seeing.
      In terms of trivia, then this is the first example of the exterior of a building being filmed inside a studio, with the house of Fred's parents being an obvious set. It's a small but crucial thing, where the level of reality is slightly compromised... and, as fantastical a show as Rentaghost is, it needs to stay "grounded" in order to make the wilder excesses have a "normality" to contrast with.

15 Episode 2.4

One of the more stylistically dated episodes of Rentaghost, though not without some easy-going kind of appeal. With the ghosts setting up a furniture removal business, much of it plays out with instrumental, dialogue-free montages, which homage silent cinema... or, at least, silent cinema by way of The Goodies. The various worlds of Bob Block existed in some fabricated, faintly twee depiction of reality, where leafy suburbs and amiable vicars met shocked old ladies and twitching curtains. Even at the time it wasn't anything that resembled reality, but this only adds to the charm, rather than detracts from it.
      With Harold Meaker becoming very actively involved in one of the plots - shrunk to a miniature size along with Fred - it pushes him towards the more familiar rendition of the character. The accent is broader and more comedic, his reactions "bigger" and more childish, including joining Fred in a crying session. Also engaging is Mr. Claypole refusing to do anything to help alleviate their distress and going on a rampage... naughty, mischievous behaviour that was incredibly appealing to the child audience of the time. Speaking of Claypole, then there's a unique occurrence of a character's thoughts being "overheard", as Michael Staniforth gets a voiceover to illustrate Claypole's thinking.