Reviewed by David A. Riley
This is mainly a transcript of the interview conducted by Tony Earnshaw with the TV producer Lawrence Gordon Clark at the Halifax Ghost Story Festival in 2010. I was present at this and can well remember what a brilliant discussion this was, to be followed by a large screen showing of three of the classic Ghost Story for Christmas adaptations for which Lawrence Gordon Clark was responsible in the early 1970s.
Lawrence Gordon Clark created the tradition of the TV Christmas ghost story, which sadly lapsed for quite some years before restarting again, albeit sporadically, more recently. His first adaptation, like most of those he did, was based on an M. R. James story. Starring Robert Hardy and Clive Swift, The Stalls of Barchester was first broadcast in 1971. Over the next four years, we were treated to A Warning to the Curious (1972), Lost Hearts (1973), The Treasure of Abbot Thomas (1974) and The Ash Tree (1975). The following year saw a departure from James with a masterly adaptation of Charles Dickens’ The Signalman, starring Denholm Elliott. Leaving the BBC after this, Lawrence Gordon Clark wasn’t to return to James for a final time till 1979 with Yorkshire Television’s updated production of Casting the Runes.
The booklet is filled with stills from all of these productions, some from behind the scenes, and with fascinating insights into how they came about. These weren’t, of course, the first TV adaptations of James’ stories. ABC Weekend Television’s 1966 series Mystery and Imagination included The Tractate Middoth, Lost Hearts, and Room 13, with Casting the Runes in 1968, it was the BBC’s and Lawrence Gordon Clark’s annual Christmas ghost story series that linger most in viewers’ minds. Filmed in colour and on location, with some of the best actors available, they were groundbreaking productions that have rarely been equalled and, in my view at least, never excelled.
The booklet includes tributes from John Bowen, Sir Paul Fox, Professor Sir Christopher Frayling, Muriel Gray, John McGlashan, Richard Manton, Kim Newman, Edward Petheridge, Clive Swift, Peter Vaughan and Sir Christopher Lee.
Well printed, illuminating, it is an excellent tribute to a great television filmmaker.