Looking back at RENTAGHOST

Martin Rayburn has a mansion house that needs haunting...

Rentaghost was the children's show that kept me watching children's television long after I should've quit. If your memory of the series only involves Timothy Claypole, a pantomime horse called Dobbin, Hazel the McWitch and a sneeze prone nanny ghost with a Germanic accent called Miss Popov (who has likely popped off), then you've missed out on the earlier, much funnier episodes.

When Rentaghost began in 1976, landlord Harold Meeker discovered that his three newest tenants were "..a bunch of flippin' layabout spooks!" The show was devised and written by Bob Block (who also created the equally bizarre Pardon My Genie and Robert's Robots), and originally concerned an ghost rental agency, run and staffed by three ghosts - trendy Fred Mumford, Victorian Hubert Davenport and court jester Timothy Claypole. All of them could teleport by pinching their noses!

Fred Mumford had only been a ghost for six months, and hadn't even plucked up the courage to tell his parents that he was dead! He was killed whilst working abroad, so when he visited his family he'd have to throw his dinner away without his parents noticing - because ghosts don't eat, of course! Along with Davenport and Claypole, Mumford struggled to keep the business of Rentaghost afloat.

Each week, the Rentaghost gang would try their hand at something new - a taxi service, a detective agency, furniture removals, or entertaining hospital patients - always with disastrous results. Mr.Claypole often misinterpreted instructions - once, when asked to help Fred's parents move house - he took it literally and moved the actual house. Another story had Harold Meaker turn into a budgie, and in yet another, his wife became a cocker spaniel. Whenever the doorbell rang, she barked! All very silly, but done with great panache.

It was the pinnacle of 1970s children's comedy shows, with the early seasons scripted like proper sitcoms, featuring an actual plot and purpose. But come season five Mumford and Davenport departed the show (they left for an extended tour of stately home hauntings, naturally), and so Claypole with his new gang of Spooks moved in with the Meekers. These later seasons saw the quality dip somewhat and become more of a televised pantomime, complete with horse! But just like pantomime, if you let yourself go with it then it could still make you smile. Although nearly every episode seemed to end in the entire cast chasing around the Meekers' living room table as the theme tune played... And what a theme tune it was...

The best thing about the later episodes is that it's quite clear that all the actors involved are having great fun (none more so than Christopher Biggins), and this really shows on screen. Then there's the wonderful, pompous next door neighbours - the Perkins. "Ooooh Arthur! What are those lunatics The Meekers up to now?", "Come away from the window, Rose."

Rentaghost has long been rumored to be receiving the Hollywood treatment. There's been talk of Russell Brand as Mumford, and later Ben Stiller as star and director. But I'd rather they let it be, it's a product of its time and just would need waaaaay to much adaptation to bring it into the 21st Century, and do we really need another our childhood memories tarnished? After all Rentaghost is an absolute children's classic. Once watched, never forgotten. After all, they were extraordinary fellows.

I'd love to talk more about it but you must excuse me, the astral lift is waiting to whisk me away...
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