The Rentaghost cast
When I was young Rentaghost was my absolute favourite show ever Once, when I was about seven, in an attempt to integrate me, my mother suggested I join the Brownies; the idea was met with scorn and derision largely because the Brownies swarmed (I’m assuming that’s what Brownies do) on a Rentaghost night, and they sucked, and dressed like tiny poos, and they sucked. It turned out later that I just wasn’t a naturally inclined participator in group activities. Needless to say I didn’t have a lot of friends as youngster, but then there are also no childhood pictures of me dressed like a chubby, redheaded turd at a jamboree somewhere, so take that, Brownies, who’s big and clever now?!
Rentaghost was a British children's television comedy programme broadcast on the BBC between 1976 and 1984 and revolved around a company, 'Rentaghost', which hired out ghosts for a variety of potentially hilarious jobs and purposes.
The first series of Rentaghost saw the recently deceased underachiever Fred Mumford (Anthony Jackson) deciding that the most appropriate use of his afterlife would be to embark upon a posthumous business venture finding work for other ghosts whose mortal lives were similarly as aimless and ineffectual. His meager staff consisted of Timothy Claypole, (Michael Staniforth) a mischievous medieval court jester who, despite having clocked up the most years and experience as a ghost, is abjectly incapable of comprehending modern technology (by ‘modern technology’ I of course mean telephones and eight tracks, this was the 70s and 80s after all, people). He was joined by Hubert Davenport (Michael Darbyshire), a Victorian spirit who was equally troubled by the modern world or rather morally outraged by it. The ghostly team rented an office from Harold Meaker (Edward Brayshaw) who is initially unaware of their deceased status, though does discover the true state of affairs fairly early on.
Series One: Davernport, Claypole and Mumford
Now, from what I remember, though I didn’t particularly realise it at the time, the first series of Rentaghost was really quite dark. The principal character, Mumford, through whom we are introduced to this haunted universe, was essentially dealing and coming to terms with own death as his character developed. As I recall, one of the comedy devices used in the show was his attempting to carry on his previous relationship with his parents while trying to hide the fact he was dead from them. There’s a real sense of pathos there, seeing a man whose physical life was so unaccomplished, so unfinished that once dead he is completely unable to let go of all that wasted potential. Equally, his parents, blissfully unaware of the inevitable grief of his loss continuing on with old familial patterns with blasé ignorance are heartbreaking.
I am also fairly certain, though have been unable to corroborate it, that the death of Fred Mumford was somewhat ambiguous and traumatic. I pretty sure he fell to his watery death from a ferry and can’t recall if this was obviously accidental or if there was a darker connotation. Either way he was clearly presented as one of life’s losers, most tragically in his own eyes as well as to the wider world, and his need to make his afterlife a success is lamentable.
In an apparently typical tragic fashion, so I appear to be discovering, the series brightened up after the first series when Michael Darbyshire (Hubert Davenport) sadly died and Anthony Jackson (Fred Mumford) declined to continue with the show.
Following the departure of Mumford and Davenport (they were reported to have acquired a regular haunting gig at a stately home), former landlord Harold Meaker takes over the business with his wife Ethel and bore the brunt of varying degrees of chaos the ghosts brought their way.
Throughout its run the show maintained the same super camp pantomime style, the gags were unashamedly terrible and laboriously contrived and the acting was hamtastic with frequent direct to camera asides. Despite all this, or maybe because of all this, I loved it. Whether it has aged well remains to be seen, probably not I imagine, and certainly not under the scrutiny of todays considerably more sophisticated kids, but unsophisticated little me loved it and I still love it now.
Rentaghost was a wonderfully bizarre, uniquely British piece of television history that you just don’t see the like of today. It also had the best theme tune of any TV show ever (well, it and Ulysses 31). Rush ye to YouTube and listen to it.
Worrying early crush
On a personal, and slightly worrying, note, Timothy Claypole was my first crush (him and Quincy); this is disturbing on many levels not least because I clearly wasn’t his type and the fact of his being dead. My feelings now clearly out in the open on this matter, I was devastated learn whilst researching this that the actor who played him, Michael Stainforth, passed away in 1987, I can’t believe I’ve managed to live all these years and not found this out! Nobody tells me anything! I also can’t believe that in all the intervening years and the advent of the internet it never once occurred to me to look this stuff up. It’s like a bit of my childhood has died. Melodrama aside, I also learned that the song The Vaselines song, later covered by Nirvana, ‘Molly’s Lips’ was apparently inspired by Molly ‘Hazel McWitch’Weir. Isn’t the internet marvellous?
My apologies to anyone who isn't British and in their thirties for the above post. To you this is probably just disturbing and faintly ridiculous and I am sorry about it, but that was my childhood, while you grew up on Buffy we got Rentaghost.