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The Rentaghost title card, as it appeared in the first episode.
|Created by||Bob Block|
Lynda La Plante
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||9|
|No. of episodes||58 (list of episodes)|
|Original release||6 January 1976 –|
6 November 1984
Rentaghost was a British children's television comedy show, broadcast by the BBC between 6 January 1976 and 6 November 1984. The show's plot centred on the antics of a number of ghosts who worked for a firm called Rentaghost, which rented out the spirits for various tasks.
The company, located in South Ealing, is run by Fred Mumford, a recently deceased loser who feels he can find work for ghosts whose lives were as unsuccessful as his. His first (and only) recruits are Timothy Claypole, a mischievous jester with a comical lack of knowledge about modern technology; and Hubert Davenport, a delicate Victorian-era gentleman who is morally shocked by the modern world. The ghosts work from an office, which they rent from Harold Meaker, who discovers the truth about them in the third episode.
Over the course of several series, other characters were added: Hazel the McWitch, a Scottish witch; Nadia Popov, a Dutch ghost who suffers from hay fever and teleports away when she sneezes; and the pantomime horse Dobbin, who first appears in a one-off Christmas special called Rentasanta and is brought to life by Claypole, who is unable to cancel the spell afterwards — thus allowing Dobbin to remain in the show for the rest of the run.
Another key figure is a ghost from the Wild West called Catastrophe Kate (cf. Calamity Jane), played by Jana Shelden, who is collected from outside a magic carpet shop in the Spirit World by Fred Mumford. The two ghosts are transported back to Earth on a flying broomstick, Catastrophe Kate having turned down the alternative of a flying vacuum cleaner. It is Catastrophe Kate who later introduces Hazel the McWitch to the regulars.
Adam Painting, a local entrepreneur played by Christopher Biggins, frequently appears in episodes and tries, with limited success, to involve the ghosts in his latest business enterprise.
When actor Michael Darbyshire (who played the role of Davenport) died in 1979, Anthony Jackson (Mumford) declined to appear in the next series, leaving Michael Staniforth's Claypole the sole original ghost; Davenport and Mumford's absences were explained at the start of the series by the pair having gone on an extended tour of stately home hauntings. After Mumford's departure, the business was taken over by Harold Meaker and his wife Ethel, who suffered from the various problems the ghosts brought to their lives.
The long-suffering neighbours of Rentaghost are the Perkins, who appear from Series 4 onwards, and think the Meakers are mad.
In series 6, the Perkins are given a magical amulet that grants all their wishes. They do not realise this, however, and persist in expressing odd wishes, which the amulet then proceeds to grant.
- Mrs Perkins: (referring to Mr Meaker) I wish he was here now. For two pins, I'd tell him what I think of him!
- The amulet is seen glowing. The Meakers knock on the Perkins' door.
- Mr Meaker: (in a strange monotone) Here are two pins.
- Mr Meaker produces two enormous prop pins and hands them to Mrs Perkins, who accepts them in the same sleepwalking way.
- Mrs Perkins: Thank you. Who do you think you are?
- Mr Meaker: Harold
- Mr and Mrs Meaker: and
- Mrs Meaker: Ethel
- Mr and Mrs Meaker: Meaker.
- The pair bid each other farewell and the Meakers leave. The Perkins return to normal and are confused and somewhat distressed by what has just happened.
One of the more frequent running jokes in the last series was the cellar of the Meakers' house. The house's power was provided by a pantomime dragon called Bernie St. John ("St. John" in this instance is correctly pronounced "Sinjun", making the dragon's name an obvious play on words), who was brought to life by Claypole and served as a furnace. If anyone entered the cellar, all characters present would shout together, "Don't go into the cellar!", and a few moments later whoever went in would return charred and covered in soot.
Some master copies of Rentaghost episodes and other children's shows were wiped by the BBC in 1993 on the assumption that they were no use and that examples of some other episodes were sufficient. The wiped tapes were then sold overseas to countries that still used obsolete (in the UK at least) tape formats. However, BBC Enterprises had requested copies of the first three series a couple of years earlier and indeed they were showing at the time on UK Gold – these were later recovered by the BBC Archives[when?].
The Rentaghost theme song, originally composed by Michael Staniforth who also played Timothy Claypole, was performed as part of the "George's song" skit in Shooting Stars where it was one of the very few songs performed unmodified; it attracted cheers and applause as soon as the first line was finished. The well-known version of the theme is from the later series; the first series had the lyrics "ghosts and ghouls and poltergeists" (later changed to ".. and freaks and fools"), and "what you see is not ESP.." (as ESP was highly associated with the ability to see ghosts; later changed to "what you see is not a mystery..")
- Anthony Jackson - Fred Mumford (1976–78)
- Michael Darbyshire - Hubert Davenport (1976–78)
- Michael Staniforth - Timothy Claypole (1976–84)
- Betty Alberge - Mrs Sheila Mumford (1976–78)
- John Dawson - Mr Phil Mumford (1976–78)
- Edward Brayshaw - Harold Meaker (1976–84)
- Ann Emery - Ethel Meaker (1976–84)
- Christopher Biggins - Adam Painting (1977–84)
- Molly Weir - Hazel the McWitch (1978–84)
- Hal Dyer - Rose Perkins (1978–84)
- Jeffrey Segal - Arthur Perkins (1978–84)
- William Perrie and John Asquith - Dobbin the Pantomime Horse (1978–84)
- Lynda Marchal - Tamara Novek (1980)
- Sue Nicholls - Nadia Popov (1981–84)
- Kenneth Connor - Whatsisname Smith (1983–84)
- Aimi MacDonald - Susie Starlight (1984)
A pilot for an Australian version of the series was filmed in 1989, five years after the end of the original series, and in keeping with other BBC series such as Are You Being Served which had been adapted for Australian versions. The producers had originally wanted Michael Staniforth to reprise his role as Mister Claypole, the unofficial 'lead' of the original series, but Staniforth had died two years prior.
The pilot, which followed a similar plot to the first two episodes of the original Rentaghost but with some of the more pantomime-like humour of later years, was set in a derelict old office in Victoria due for destruction, where the Rentaghost team had set up their business, beginning a planned story arc for the first series in which the Rentaghost team must scare off building developers to save their office/home. A young Lisa McCune played Julia, a character who visits the agency mistakenly believing them to be living people who can exorcise her haunted apartment, and ends up working as their secretary after they help her chase her poltergeist away anyway. However the pilot did not sell, with some concerns over appropriateness of dark tone of the series aimed at young children, and plans for the series were axed.
In September 2008, it was reported that the show could be returning to television after the rights to the programme were obtained by the UK production company RDF. However, no new show was forthcoming.
Deadline reported in December 2010 that "Warner Bros had acquired the rights to RentaGhost and was going to develop it into a Beetlejuice-style afterlife feature comedy vehicle for Russell Brand as Fred Mumford." However, in October 2011, it was reported that Ben Stiller had now been signed for the project. Night at the Museum writers Tom Lennon and Robert Ben Garant had been hired to write the script, reuniting the two writers with Stiller.
In 2017 Fox decided not to take up the rights to Rentaghost, but it is now being looked at by film companies in the UK.
- "BBC - Comedy Guide - Rentaghost". Web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 13 December 2004. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
- "BBC Store". store.bbc.com.
- "Entertainment | Rentaghost 'to make TV comeback'". BBC News. 8 September 2008. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
- Fleming, Mike. "Russell Brand Haunts 'Rentaghost' Remake". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
- Fleming, Mike. "Fox Buys Rentaghost And Re-Teams Ben Stiller With Night At The Museum Scribes Lennon And Garant –". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
- http://bob-block-scriptwriter.co.uk/first_1.html Link to the creator and writer, Bob Block's website
- Rentaghost on IMDb
- British Film Institute Screen Online
- Rentaghost the Musical
- Rentaghost: from worst to best