How Rentaghost came about
(the bare bones...)
When Bob Block conceived Rentaghost in 1974, he was already an experienced, respected and prolific freelance comedy writer, for radio and television, who had written for such comedic luminaries as Derek Roy, The Lyons Family, Hilda Baker, Ronnie Barker, June Whitfield, Leslie Crowther, Michael Aspel, Dave King, Sheila Hancock, Hattie Jacques, Tommy Cooper, Ken Dodd, Dave Allen, Roy Hudd and Terry Thomas, to name but a few! Bob had even toyed with the idea of being a performer himself, but, so good was his family life with his wife, two sons and a daughter, "he couldn't bear the thought of being away from home for any length of time". He did, however, play small parts in the radio shows Life With The Lyons, which he co-wrote from 1951 - 1961. He often played Barbara's boyfriend and even, occasionally, the cat!
Bob had always written from a small room at home (apart from when co-writing Life With The Lyons) and, unlike many writers, wrote his scripts laboriously in longhand and the finished product was then typed out by his wife Madeline before being sent to the TV company.
He had, by 1974, already had two successful children's series with the BBC that he had both created and written - Pardon My Genie (1972 -73) and Robert's Robots (1973 -74). He had also been the sole writer for such programmes as Ken Dodd And The Diddymen and Crackerjack, been co-writer along with other prolific scriptwriters Brad Ashton and Gerry Maxin on Our House, Best of Friends and The Dave King Show, and been amongst the writers on the programme Broaden Your Mind which starred the future "Goodies" - Tim Brooke Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie and which also had the cast of the soon-to-be Monty Python team as additional writers! That was when Bob also started his long association with the producer Sydney Lotterby (Butterflies, Crackerjack, Last Of The Summer Wine, Yes Minister, Open All Hours, One Foot In The Grave).
The idea of a group of ghosts returning to earth to make amends for their failings whilst alive and setting up a "ghost agency" had seemed like an idea which "had a lot of scope for comedy" according to Bob. And so it proved! Having originally been given first refusal by Thames Television (who regretfully could not find room in their schedule for the new show), the BBC liked the pilot script so much they immediately commissioned a series. It proved so popular with children and their parents alike and the standard of writing so consistently excellent, Rentaghost went on to run for 58 episodes over 9 series and nearly 9 years!
Originally Bob had given the new programme the running title of "Second Chance", with the agency set up by the ghosts called Rentaghost, but the producer of the first series, Paul Ciani suggested calling the show Rentaghost as well as it described the concept so well, and so a legend was born!
Bob's vivid imagination gave rise to many weird and surreal situations over the years which delighted the cast as they often fought back the laughter whilst rehearsing and filming!
There are many interesting facts about the members of the original cast:
· Michael Staniforth (Timothy Claypole - "GADZOOKS!") wrote and sang the theme tune;
· Lynda LaPlante, the well-known crime writer, played Miss Novak the 'nanny-ghost', under her stage name Lynda Marchal;
· Miss Novak was replaced by Nadia Popov, the sneezing ghost, who was played by Sue Nicholls - she went on to play Audrey in Coronation Street;
· Ann Emery, who played 'Mistress' Ethel Meaker, is the sister of the late comedian Dick Emery. She was starring in Billy Elliot The Musical in the West End until a few years ago - she sadly passed away in 2016;
· the part of Hazel McWitch was especially written for the late Molly Weir who had become a family friend (and Bob's daughter's god-mother) when she and Bob worked together on Life With The Lyons;
· The name of Christopher Biggin's character - Adam Painting - was taken from a friend of Bob's wife at her tennis club!;
· Paddie O'Neil, who played Queen Matilda, was the wife of the late actor Alfred Marks;
· Kenneth Connor of "Carry On" films fame, starred as the forgetful Whatsisname Smith
Bob went on to write Grandad for Clive Dunn (1979 - 84), and then conceived and wrote Galloping Galaxies (1985 - 86) in both of which he continued the collaboration with the producer Jeremy Swan which he had started with the second series of Rentaghost.. He then went into well-earned retirement and in 1996 moved to Oxfordshire with Madeline where she now continues to reside happily to this day, nearer to her family.
In 2001 Rentaghost came 12th in a Channel 4 poll of the 100 greatest kids TV shows, which continues to show the affection in which this show is still held by those who were children in the 1970s and 80s and who used to be glued to their weekly dose of ghostly comedy!
In 2005 - 2006 Rentaghost moved into a new era when the American Producer, Patrick D. Pidgeon, who had shown such interest in the concept of Rentaghost from some five years previously, gave his name to Rentaghost the Musical. This musical version had the scritp written by the comedian Joe Pasquale (who also gave his spooky voice to several of the ghosts), Directed by Terry Morrison, Produced by Shaun Cornell and the musical score by Robin Scott. Rentaghost the Musical was played to packed audiences in theatres all around Britain and children were brought by their parents who had loved the original television show and the new generation loved it too!
At the beginning of 2018 Radio Times produced a list of the '50 Best Children's TV Programmes Ever' as voted for by 30 children's TV experts, and Rentaghost was voted 13th most popular, with Crackerjack (which Bob also wrote for) coming 10th. Rentaghost is as popular as ever!
REMEMBER!! "DON'T GO INTO THE CELLAR......!!"