Few ITC series have seen their fortunes rise quite so dramatically over the years as R & H (D). Today it’s a beloved example of the ITC adventure show genre but when the series was first broadcast it was a very different story.
The critical response was muted (but that was par for the course with most ITC series, which tended to be viewed with a mixture of contempt and irritation at their transatlantic aspirations). But there’s no real evidence that the series found an appreciative audience either, although the fact the show wasn’t networked didn’t help. It was very quickly packed off into off peak slots in many of the regions – either late night or morning/afternoon.
Two repeat runs (on ITV in the eighties and BBC2 in the nineties) were key to introducing the series to a new audience (and possibly reminding some of those who had caught it first time round that it wasn’t all bad).
Ralph Smart’s My Late Lamented Friend and Partner is an affective opener, in that the premise of the series is established quickly and efficiently. Marty Hopkirk (Kenneth Cope) is murdered, leaving his business partner Jeff Randall (Mike Pratt) and his wife Jeannie Hopkirk (Annette Andre) both bereft.
But Marty can’t rest easy until his murderer is brought to justice and so decides to return to Earth to help Jeff, who’s the only one who can see or hear him (although this rule is broken before a few episodes are out).
The series would always tread a line between drama and comedy, as Cope’s penchant for humour was never far from the surface. Mind you, Pratt deadpans very nicely, so it’s not quite a case of a comic and straight man.
This first case is played pretty straight though. John Sorrensen (Frank Windsor) has paid a fat fee to have his wife murdered and when Marty appears to guess the truth he has to die as well. Casting Windsor, an actor best known for working on the other side of the law, was a good move, even if he’s not called upon to do a great deal more than glower menacingly.
Several other familiar faces breeze through the story – notably Ronald Lacey as a beardy beatnik (given the once over by R&H) and Dolores Mantez.
The undoubted highlight of the episode is Jeff’s first meeting with the ghostly Marty. This is built up slowly, with the grieving Jeff receiving several disturbing phone calls from a beyond the grave Marty. Eventually he’s drawn to a wonderfully misty graveyard in the dead of night in order to meet his spectral friend.
Immediately after this scene ends we cut to Jeff waking up in bed, which poses the possibility that maybe it was all a dream. That’s quickly negated though, so the mystery of whether Jeff is really being haunted or is just hallucinating isn’t a major part of the episode. Which is a slight shame as there was some dramatic potential there.
The shadowy murder organisation is run to ground in a rather perfunctory fashion, but then the episode’s not really about the crime, it’s much more concerned with setting up the series’ format. And there’s no real problems on that score (although it takes a few episodes before Cope’s wig settles down).