Monday, December 26, 2016

BBC Christmas Ghost Stories

It seems like an odd mix: the Christmas holiday and ghost stories. In America the holiday is awash in cloying animated cartoons and schmaltzy family-friendly movies. Our classic films are somehow even more cloying and schmaltzy despite the black and white format... But the British has had ghost stories in the Christmas radio broadcasts since at least 1923. [LINK]

But for decades in the UK, Christopher Lee sat there in front of a roaring fire reading the bone-chilling stories of  Montague R. James. [LINK] It all aired originally in the 1970s but continues to be re-run for the holidays. So here this British tradition seems incongruous. Perhaps it's those pagan Saturnalia origins of Christmas. More here. But on a website dedicated to James, they even notes:

 "Many of M.R. James's ghost stories were written to be read aloud as Christmas Eve entertainment to select gatherings of friends at Cambridge.

So those M.R. James short stories, written largely before 1920... were intended for Christmas. Then there is A Christmas Carol, published in 1843 Perhaps this dates back quite a ways. "A Ghost Story for Christmas" is a strand of annual British short television films originally broadcast on BBC One between 1971 and 1978, and revived in 2005 on BBC Four. 

BBC Radio Scotland has separately aired Ghost Stories At Christmas. Alison Moore's ghost stories have been published in Best British Short Stories anthologies and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra. [LINK] The New Stateman referred to all this gothic hubub as "Perfect for Brexit Christmas."

In 2016 they failed to air James, or Moore and the Express Newspaper wrote up a comment "Haunted Christmas: Bring back the tradition of Christmas ghost stories" Radio Editor Jane Anderson once wrote it’s not a proper Christmas without a ghost story. She was praising the program Between the Ears: The Shepherd which aired Christmas Eve at 9.15 PM on BBC Radio 3 in 2013. The Washington Post even commented on this cultural difference in 2014. [LINK] Derek Johnson pointed out Dickens again:
"Dickens was a strong supporter of the Christmas ghost story, reminiscing in his 1850 essay A Christmas Tree about childhood Christmases spent 'telling Winter Stories – Ghost Stories, or more shame for us – round the Christmas fire.' Dickens also encouraged other writers to produce Christmas ghost stories for the annual festive editions of his magazines Household Words and All the Year Round."

Johnson supposes that the split relates to Guy Fawkes Day. Halloween in England was never extensively celebrated and was supplanted by Guy Fawkes Night in the early 17th century. So in England the ghost stories remained connected to Xmas, and elsewhere in the Western world, they moved to Halloween.