Tuesday, March 21, 2006

As If By Magic...

Apparently, self-styled comedian Joe Pasquale is currently producing a stage version of 1970s kids TV series Rentaghost in Aldershot. The question is - why? Not, 'why Joe Pasquale', or 'why Aldershot?' (although both are very good questions), but why Rentaghost? That series represents a childhood trauma for me, it was so bad - excruciatingly poor performances of threadbare scripts, accompanied by production values and 'special' effects that make most school plays look like Gone With the Wind. Not only that, but the bloody cast kept changing - with the exceptions of Mr Claypole (perhaps the most irritating children's TV 'personality' until the advent of Dick and Dom) and Mr Meeker (played by another non-actor whose only other employment seemed to be in adverts). I recently mentioned to someone that, thankfully, I hadn't seen the actor who played Mr Claypole since the demise of Rentaghost. He informed that was because the poor bastard had died shortly after the show's cancellation. There was me thinking it was because he was such a shitty actor he'd found it impossible to get another role.

Anyway, the worst thing about this stage revival of Rentaghost is likely to be that it is simply that, a straightforward revival. I've often thought that Rentaghost is one of those 1970s TV series ripe for a radical and 'ironic' re-imagining as a feature film. As I recall, the initial set-up was that Mr Mumford had drowned after falling overboard from a cross-channel ferry, but hadn't told his parents he was a ghost, (which is pretty macabre for a kids TV series, come to think of it). Now, they never really explored the full comic potential of this - in our hypothetical film version, we could have the police recovering the body and attempting to tell his parents the bad news! Just imagine the hilarious consequences as Mumford's ghost finds himself investigated for suspected identity theft, and desperately attempts to stop his parents from visiting the mortuary to identify his body!

As for his partners in the 'Rentaghost' business he sets up, Victorian gentleman Mr Davenport could now be the ghost of a child molestor hanged for buggering little boys, ("He's perfect for scaring kiddies at Hallowe'en parties", you can imagine Mumford explaining to a potential client. "He puts the willies up 'em every time!" - this stuff just writes itself!). Mr Claypole, irritating medieval court jester, could, this time around be the ghost of a gay medieval alternative court jester, beheaded for telling the King to suck his cock. Perhaps Graham Norton could be cast in the part, materialising in men's toilets at inopportune moments, shouting his catchphrase of "Oooh, penis!" You could get a lot of mileage out of a revisionist version of this character - using his supernatural powers (in the original, I seem to recall, he was characterised as a poltergeist) to create all sorts of gay-innuendo fuelled sexual mayhem, including phantom buggerings and facials, ("Look -ectoplasm has dripped on my face!").

But why stop at re-imagining Rentaghost? How about some of the other children's TV 'classics' of the time? Most obviously, you could have a gay version of Mr Benn, entitled Mr Bent, in which, every episode he dresses up in a costume to fulfil some bizarre homoerotic fantasy. Every episode could end with that shopkeeper (who always looked pretty camp in that fez anyway), appearing behind him 'as if by magic', bending him across a table and rogering him senseless. Why just confine ourselves to kids TV in this 'thought experiment'? How about some of those other 'timeless' 1970s TV classics?

I had the misfortune to catch the end of the film version of On The Buses at Christmas, and it occurred to me that this another of those old shows which could be reworked for contemporary audiences. Instead of the buses, you could have a present day version set on the London Underground - called Down The Tubes, perhaps. Instead of bus inspector Blake attempting to catch out layabout bus drivers and conductors, it could feature London mayor Kan Livingstone ranting and railing at the local tube drivers' union rep, who keeps thwarting his plans for public-private partnerships and modernisation. "I'm going to 'ave you, Butler", he could rant, waving his fist at a departing Jubilee LIne train, as the safety doors on the platform close and comically decapitate him. Or, how about a modern day version of It Ain't Half Hot Mum, set in occupied Iraq, and featuring a blustering sergeant major urging the "bunch of puffs" in the concert party he's attached to, to prove their manhood by beating up Iraqi civilians (played, of course, by white actors blacked up). In an hilarious twist, a video of him cavorting naked with a group of Royal Marines ("Real men, not nancy boys like you!"), in a muddy field, could come to light.

The possibilities are endless. But, sadly, I really don't expect to see any of these wonderful revisionist ideas featuring in Aldershot, when Joe Pasquale stages his version of Rentaghost. Pity.

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