The Rentaghost I remember watching was the pantomine-horse era, with that Scottish woman and Audrey off Coronation Street, and it was never a favourite show, more a nice-to-have-it-around deal. So watching a DVD of the first season was interesting, in that it was watching some 70s kids TV without the rosy haze of nostalgia around it.*

I’m not suggesting that anyone rushes out and rents it, but it stands up pretty well: a solid kids’ sitcom with occasional gags for the adults. The puns are generally laboured and don’t come off – the physical comedy is generally inventive and does. It helps that the story quickly establishes what each ghost can and can’t do – there’s an internal logic and a continuity, which surprised me, possibly because I was too young to notice it at the time or perhaps because it had vanished from later series. Some plotlines are a bit odd – the running idea about lead ghost Fred’s parents not knowing he’s dead seemed quite sad and cruel to me as an adult (I wonder how it was resolved).

The show is probably best remembered for Michael Staniforth’s medieval jester character, Timothy Claypole, a byword for annoyance by the time I reached the sophisticated age of 10, but by a distance the funniest performer in the DVD episodes. He quickly gets the best lines and the best scenes, and his enthusiastic naivety carries the programme along. The other ghosts aren’t as enjoyable to watch – modern-day bungler Fred overplays his slapstick, fidgeting and muttering constantly and distracting your eye from the gag. Victorian ghost Hubert is much better acted but his character is a dead-end – his jokes tend to spring from the idea that Victorians were fussy prudes: a concept which can’t be taken too far with the target audience. Claypole keeps things bouncing along, though, and I never found the DVD heavy going in the way that old kids programmes can easily be.

The other thing that kept my interest was the relatively high budget – most 70s-set adult sitcoms tended to be studio bound, but Rentaghost, following its model The Goodies, involved a lot of outdoor work in fairly ordinary locations (streets and so on). So an unexpected pleasure from the show was how it brought back the look of my early childhood to me – suburban England before the big high street shops and shopping centres started rolling out. I don’t know why exactly this show more than the other old telly I’ve watched should have done it, but I found I was hooked on the background details as much as the foreground.

*(Or so I thought. Except I did recognise all three of the leads, very dimly, and then I remembered that Rentaghost was one of the first TV programmes where I became aware that the show had a history and had been different in the past. Watching Dobbin the horse do his thing I had been aware that at some point the Rentaghost team had involved three men and no horses. So this was like metanostalgia, a memory of a memory.)