A Ghost Story for Christmas
December 24, 2010 9:14 AM   Subscribe

For many years the BBC had a tradition of showing a dramatisation of a classic ghost story at Christmas. This tradition is being continued this year with Whistle and I'll Come to You being shown tonight staring John Hurt. An adaptation of the same classic MR James story was shown in 1968 staring Michael Hordern beginning the tradition (1, 2, 3).

Although the first story went out as a Omnibus program, A Ghost Story for Christmas became an annual event:

71 The Stalls of Barchester (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
72 A Warning to the Curious (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
73 Lost Hearts (1, 2, 3, 4)
74 The Treasure of Abbot Thomas (1, 2, 3, 4)
75 The Ash Tree - all by MR James
76 The Signal-Man by Charles Dickens (1, 2, 3, 4)
77 Stigma by Clive Exton
78 The Ice House by John Bowen
79 Schalcken The Painter (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) (Another Omnibus)

The series was then revived in 2005 with two more MR James stories:
05 A View from a Hill (1, 2, 3, 4)
06 Number 13 (1, 2, 3)

There was also:
07 The Haunted Airman (a film version of The Haunting of Toby Jugg by Dennis Wheatley originally premiered the previous year)
08 Crooked House an original drama series by Mark Gatiss
posted by fearfulsymmetry (22 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
James is my favorite spooky writer, and these sound great. Why did anyone think to link ghosts and Christmas?
posted by Ideefixe at 9:24 AM on December 24, 2010

I guess they both got popular at the same time.
posted by Artw at 9:26 AM on December 24, 2010

John Hurt does tend to stare.
posted by mecran01 at 9:30 AM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this. I'll never forget hearing "O Whistle and I'll Come for You, My Lad" for the first time, in an audio version on my Discman, as I lay in a narrow bed under a thin blanket in a chilly tiny room in a YWCA, in complete darkness.

H.P. Lovecraft
did write a Christmas story, but sadly, I have no apple-cheeked young relatives to gather around a fireside this year.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:40 AM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Poems, endless poems, most of which are quite horrible.
posted by Artw at 9:43 AM on December 24, 2010

Sorry, "he also did poems". The Festival is actually rather a fun peice of HPL.
posted by Artw at 9:51 AM on December 24, 2010

Cool, thanks for the reminder - will definitely be watching this tonight. I've also got a book of MR James stories with an amazing front cover illustration - should really dig that out as well.
posted by Sifter at 10:11 AM on December 24, 2010

Sifter--that whole series has some great covers.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:21 AM on December 24, 2010

Every Christmas Eve, the nightly CBC Radio show As It Happens* broadcasts a story called The Shepherd about an RAF pilot that gets lost in fog flying back to England on Christmas Eve 1957. The tradition started in 1979 after a reading by Alan Maitland, long time CBC personality and former host of AiH.

I always enjoyed listening to the story while driving to Christmas Eve dinner in the dark. If you can't listen tonight, they will post it on the website after the show.

*Aside: As it Happens always opens their show with a rundown of the guests. They end the rundown with a pun based on one of the stories of the evening. In looking up the website, I realized that they post the text of the rundown on their, complete with pun! This made me smile.
posted by dry white toast at 10:25 AM on December 24, 2010

Should have mentioned that Maitland's original reading is what they replay every year. Maitland passed away in 1999.
posted by dry white toast at 10:26 AM on December 24, 2010

Let me plug my favorite long-ago British ghost story, August Heat by W. F. Harvey.
posted by kenko at 10:42 AM on December 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

What's the guy eating at the hotel? Looks like pot pie or something.
posted by circular at 11:04 AM on December 24, 2010

that whole series has some great covers.

I want this book for the cover. I honestly don't care if it's any good or not.
posted by Summer at 11:31 AM on December 24, 2010

What's the guy eating at the hotel? Looks like pot pie or something.

Grapefruit, I think
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:40 AM on December 24, 2010

So this is the link between Christmas and ghost stories alluded to in the lyrics of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"?
posted by dr_dank at 1:03 PM on December 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

M.R. James' work is out of copyright. Project Gutenberg has some texts, and an audiobook, here. Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You , My Lad is in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, Volume 1.
posted by HastyDave at 1:10 PM on December 24, 2010

Thank you, thank you, thank you - great post.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:16 PM on December 24, 2010

This adaptation is written by Neil Cross who I know as an intermittently brilliant novelist - Christendom is superb - but is increasingly turning to TV (this, Spooks and Luther).
posted by ninebelow at 2:31 PM on December 24, 2010

I watched this last and it terrified me moderately - enough to not be able to get to sleep as quickly as I'd liked.
posted by Summer at 3:41 AM on December 25, 2010

Was horribly disappointed in that - especially as the Christmas Eve MR James adaptions were such a big part of my childhood. Seriously can't understand why anyone would want to even think about taking a perfectly crafted little ghost story and turn it into a corny moral fable. Humbug. I had to go straight to YouTube after to watch the Michael Horden version (which had similar problems, but held together much better).

Some great links here though. Also check on Denholm Elliot in Dickens' The Signalman.
posted by bifter at 10:47 AM on December 25, 2010

In praise of… MR James
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:36 PM on December 29, 2010

BBC MR James documentary that I'd previously overlooked (1, 2, 3).
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:03 AM on January 9, 2011

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