Enter Lawrence Gordon Clark and cameraman John McGlashan. Clark was a documentary filmmaker working in the BBC's General Features Department looking to move over into drama during the 'golden age' of television, that period in the late 1960s and early 1970s where anything seemed possible and creative freedom was encouraged by those commissioning programmes.

As Clark acknowledges, 'You did have a good deal of freedom back then to bend the rules a little, so I’d started incorporating little drama inserts into documentaries, reconstructions and such like. I was itching to move into drama and knew I had exactly the source material I wanted. I’d discovered M.R. James at boarding school and I loved him. So I met with Paul Fox, who was at the time Controller of BBC1.'(1) Fox was also aware of how well Jonathan Miller's film of Whistle and I'll Come to You had been received in 1968 and immediately offered Clark £9,000 to adapt and film 'The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral'. Clark set off to recce locations in Norwich, using the cathedral, its choristers and the adjacent environs to recreate James' Barchester, and met with Robert Hardy, another M.R. James admirer, to discuss the lead role of Archdeacon Haynes.

He was aided, in what Simon Farquhar regards as 'a little miracle of television', by cameraman John McGlashan, probably one of the most experienced technicians at the BBC, having worked with the likes of John Schlesinger and Ken Russell on their films for Monitor (his black and white photography is featured in Russell's 'The Debussy Film' and 'Always on Sunday'), Ken Loach's 'The Big Flame' (The Wednesday Play), and various episodes of Steptoe and Son, Paul Temple, The Goodies, The Dick Emery Show and Roads to Freedom by the time he helmed The Stalls of Barchester. McGlashan would then go on to weave his 16mm magic on all of Clark's adaptations up to and including The Ash Tree in 1975. Joining the illustrious brotherhood of Clark and McGlashan on all of the James adaptations was sound recordist Dick Manton, now an award winning industry legend and still working to this day, whose expertise easily matched that of McGlashan's to create the atmosphere of escalating unease that would permeate the Christmas Eve 1971 broadcast of The Stalls of Barchester.
'... enshrouding the action with the uncertainty of reportage'
Note that this film was the first positioned as specifically for Christmas evening viewing in contrast to the May transmission of Miller's adaptation in 1968 and its July 1969 repeat. The identification of Christmas as the optimum time for watching or listening to ghost stories was something touched upon by Angela Carter in her 1975 Radio Times preview of The Ash Tree (see below for coverage of all the BBC Ghost Stories in the RT).

She acknowledged that this particular time of year's delight in such tales might 'originate in some primal memory of the fear of the death of the sun.' But as Helen Wheatley points out this may also have something to do with the captive audience of the season's television viewers in the 1970s too and the oral tradition of telling stories that the 2000 series Christopher Lee's Ghost Stories for Christmas successfully tapped into. (2)

Clark adapted the M.R. James stories for The Stalls of Barchester and A Warning to the Curious and they remain his own purest expression and vision for the tales, having encountered them through his father reading them to him as a child. John Bowen, Robin Chapman and David Rudkin would handle the scripting of the other films in the series based on James' work and Andrew Davies would adapt Dickens' The Signalman. Clark strips the stories down to a more linear form, teasing out the central narrative from James' often kaleidoscopic amassing of fragments, as stories told through letters, diaries, anecdotes and quotes that often employ multiple narrators.

This is typical of James who 'uses his stories to fictionalise some of the ideas about history and knowledge that form the basis of his academic career as Provost of Eton, cataloguer of ancient and medieval manuscripts and amateur archaeologist.' (3) Hence, the primary narrator is often a scholar, a professor or an academic who must deal with, either indirectly or directly, a past supernatural occurrence, creating what Todorov referred to as 'an inset narrative... to create a tension between narrative and frame by setting up contrasting moods or narratives, a sense of rocking between different conceptions of the universe, different kinds of explanation.' (4)

Clark chose 'The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral', first published in 1910, because 'it is one of his most intricate and ultimately chilling stories' that 'uses the device of time perspective to great effect, enshrouding the action with the uncertainty of reportage'. (5) It also maintains the notion of reticence that is key to enjoying James' texts where the distanced narrator heightens the sense of actuality to incursions of the supernatural into scholarly lives. The adaptation The Stalls of Barchester is bookended by sequences set in 1932 where the character of Dr. Black (Clive Swift)  - the Jamesian narrator substitute here - arrives at the cathedral library to catalogue their rather 'disappointing' collection. It's a scene that cleverly frames the central story and uses some witty and playful dialogue to poke self-deprecating fun at the male academic, including James himself.

Despite Black's rather tart comments about authors and the librarian's attempts to interest him in indulgent poems in eight cantos or dry mathematical tracts, the only collection left untouched is the papers of former Archdeacon Doctor Haynes (Robert Hardy). The two men gossip about Haynes's demise, a death 'most unbecoming to the cloth', and the librarian agrees to Black's inspection of the box of papers. The box symbolises the importance of such texts to the detective work in many of James' stories because they are the traces that usually lead us to the primary object where 'in horror fiction the object uses its authority to bring about an unpleasant if not downright dangerous result'. (6)
...a black comedy of ambition thwarted
Clark and McGlashan capture an autumnal patina to the proceedings with their images of brown panelling intersected by winter sunlight and the suggestion of something awry with the Archdeacon's dusty legacy through low angles that frame the box and the two tweedy men. Their own reticence in dealing with what could be 'obscene' material is also underlined in the dialogue and the librarian's suggestion that anything untoward should be left unpublished by Black. From here on in, it is Black's narration of the Archdeacon's diary that springboards us into what turns out to be a black comedy of ambition thwarted.

A montage, spare and economic, drives the point home as we see Haynes's tight lipped impatience wear thin as he waits to ascend to the position of Archdeacon but finds he must wait for the current incumbent, Doctor Pulteney (Harold Bennett), to shuffle off this mortal coil. As his sister Letitia (Thelma Barlow) muses with incredulity on how Methuselah could clock up 900 years, Haynes retorts, with the nonagenarian Pulteney in mind, 'I find it entirely credible'.

Hardy is quite superb as the frustrated cleric, hoping that his morning stroll with Letitia will finally bring him the news he desires, only for Pulteney to pop out of his front door and greet him. The montage shows time compressed through ritual - walking, cathedral services (one frames Haynes raising his eyes wearily heavenward as in the background Pulteney lingers on), gatherings (whose numbers reduce over the years) - and the blackest humour is used to bring the cycle to an end. Pulteney tumbles down the stairs, Clark cuts to a close up of his head and then matches this to a close up of Letitia smashing the top of boiled egg in.

Black then informs us that, although Haynes's mission as the new Archdeacon was to deal with the affairs left in disarray by Pulteney, during this time 'traces of uneasiness impinge' upon his busy life. A flashback takes us to Letitia's departure and Haynes's abandonment to his gloomy deaconry. As she implores him to retire, he rebukes her for having 'fanciful thoughts' and yet when he observes Pulteney's disgraced house maid walking past the window, Clark jump cuts briefly to Pulteney's fall and his own not quite so fanciful thought that produces his physical shudder. The shudder also foreshadows the discovery of the maid's blackmail note in the next scene. Clark uses these jump cuts to escalate the tension and return us to the staircase as the scene of the crime and Haynes's own guilt.

The role of Black as scholar-narrator is inverted and we next hear Haynes own voice relating the 'trying' nature of his lonely evenings as he wanders about in the sepia-tinted, darkened corridors of the house, its period trappings transformed from comforting nostalgia into something altogether more troubling and a site for guilty neuroses. It's here that Dick Minton's use of sound combines with the half-light of McGlashan's photography to build unease and dread as throaty laughter fills the soundtrack, temporarily overtaking a narration conducted in complete silence and with no incidental music and which then develops into its own series of aural flashbacks. Haynes stands on the stairs, his narration telling us he hears voices, and Letitia's gossip about a missing stair rod and the toasts of previous gatherings with Pulteney fill the air. Shadows of the past and Haynes's neurotic state ('incipient decay of the brain') combine with the malevolent laughter, internalised anxieties become visible and audible and Clark, McGlashan and Minton fulfill Gothic television's requisite use of impressionistic sounds and images to create a psychological and perceptive ambiguity.
'the damned, everlastingly burning, sir'
This effect continues in the sequence at evening prayers where a tired Haynes, struck by the carving on his choir stall, slips into a reverie. The sound of the choir becomes distorted, Clark replaces an image of Haynes's hand on a wooden carving of a cat with one of his hand touching the black fur of a creature. Again, the emphasis is on the sensory, on a combination of sound and vision but this time encompassing the momentarily tactile, to disorientate the spectator. A close up of Haynes's gaze, a realisation of fear, matches our own.

As Ann Powell notes, our experience with such imagery and sound and our relation to Haynes is rooted in a combination of 'kinaesthesia (the sense of movement and bodily orientation in space), synaesthesia (the mixing of different sense modalities) and hapticity (interaction between bodily feeling or tactility)'(7) - it literally is a scene that raises the hairs on the back of the neck.

These carvings 'have no place in the Lord's house' according to the verger Matthew and this not only signals to us that something is not quite right with the physical construction of the stalls but also underlines, as Matthew points out the carvings of 'the damned, everlastingly burning, sir', that Haynes has now entered his own private form of Hell as his guilt about Pulteney swallows his waking hours. This is done with subtle profile shots of Haynes, slabs of silence and images of the carvings full of penetrating shadows.

The discussion of the carvings takes Haynes to a local woodland where a priest (Eric Chitty) informs him that 'Austen, the Twice-Born' carved them, suggesting a pagan rebirth in parallel to Haynes's ardent subscription to Christian mythology. Here, James touches on the concept of an ancient, pagan England 'as yet imperfectly lightened by the radiance of Christian thought' and the correlation between psyche and landscape and the Frazerian notion of the countryside as repository of ancient beliefs and practices. These practices, as the priest informs Haynes, also included the use of the 'Hanging Oak', from which his particular stall was made, as both an instrument of justice and as fertility symbol.

The film becomes progressively darker, a street scene showing Haynes returning home directly contrasts with the earlier daytime location work of him walking through the cathedral environs with sister Letitia, his figure now emerging from inky black shadows as he relates his continuing anxieties. There's an immensely impressive and disturbing shot when Haynes again reaches the landing, beset by whispering voices and laughter, where the church bells (whether real or imagined) increase in volume and he claps his hands over his ears. We see him with his back to us and then a close up of Haynes, hands on ears, wipes across the frame and for an instant there is the illusion that Haynes has a doppelganger until it is clear that one of the figures is his reflection in a mirror. There's also a section where McGlashan uses a hand held camera, in close up, to track Haynes down stairs in complete darkness save for a candle flame, which then culminates with the sudden appearance of a cat that appears to whisper 'take care' after he stumbles over it on the stairs.

These hauntings, including another stall carving leaping into life (or death) and ghostly footsteps following him in the cathedral, again see Clark, McGlashan and Minton use image and sound with simple but effective power. They reach a crescendo when a skeletal hand reaches out from the side of the screen to Haynes's shoulder and a scratching at the bedroom door is accompanied by a whispered request, by a male voice, to gain entry.

This raises some interesting questions about Haynes's troubles and how they symbolise a form of dispossessed masculinity, the disinheritance of his male pride and the destabilising of his subjectivity by uncanny forces. One of Haynes's diary entries even offers itself a double meaning. 'I must be firm!' not only suggests a gathering of resolve against what he sees as the deterioration of his mental state but also a physical call to arms, of male generative power in a world where the acknowledgement of such a state was ideologically incompatible with his social milieu.

Clark also decided to show how Haynes was killed by this manifestation and it remains debatable whether this works in context with the rest of the film where the uncanny remains partially hidden and the compelling sense of dread is what propels the narrative. But the film was produced in an age when the grisly and horrific was very much a prerequisite for the horror film and certainly many of James' stories, as Phil Tonge notes, 'are never shy of dropping in moments of physical disgust and entrails.'(8). There is a rather delicious sound effect of tearing flesh that Minton inserts into the soundtrack here, which in itself is enough to make you back slowly into a corner, and that final shot of the black cat slinking away through the open door of the Archdeacon's house is a fittingly understated coda.

A further coda, based on the James text, returns us to 1932 where Black investigates the fate of the carved figures of the choir stalls at the local museum. Bringing the story to its climax, with the uncovering of Austen's curse on the carvings, Clark is unable to resist several more instances of unease - Black suddenly starting as he realises he has placed his hand over a skull in the museum display and then, over the end titles, Black's momentary concern about a cat sitting in his path as he leaves the museum. A witty little touch in a film that set high standards for what was to come.
... a Hitchcockian appreciation of visual storytelling
A Warning to the Curious followed in 1972, with Clark's adaptation taking its place, on Christmas Eve again, in what was a particularly ripe telefantasy schedule, rubbing shoulders with Nigel Kneale's The Stone Tape broadcast the following day on BBC2 and trailing in the wake of Innes Lloyd's Dead of Night supernatural anthology series, with John Bowen's 'A Woman Sobbing' completing the series' run on 17 December.

Clark again adapted James' story himself and re-assembled the team that had made The Stalls of Barchester, taking them off to Wells-next-the-Sea and Happisburgh (where the church and the lighthouse scenes were shot) in late February and March of 1972 to shoot locations to represent the fictional Seaburgh. He used these locations very specifically as he explains, 'I found the tidal expanses of Holkham in Norfolk more conducive to the threat from wide open spaces that the story demands and when I discovered the vestiges of a barrow in the pine-topped sand dunes that fringe the coastline there I knew that I'd found the ideal place to shoot the movie.'(9)

Clark reiterates that his script was constantly in development, particularly when it came to completing the location scouting and 'the chance discovery of something wonderful in a location which will enhance your story.' In the introduction to the film on this disc, he also stresses the desire to tell the story visually and cites the influence of Hitchcock on the film in order to create what was essentially a silent film that told James' story in images, cinematically rather than in the style of over-literary television drama of the period that still had its roots in theatre. Structurally, Clark makes some significant alterations to the story too, opening with the murder of an archaeologist and a narration by Clive Swift, who returns in this film as Dr Black. In the original story, it is Paxton who shares narration with James' narrator and friend Henry Long. The narration in the film sets up the back story of the burial of the three royal crowns of East Anglia, another of those fabled objects that James imbues with 'a strange power', and the search for the remaining crown.

Clark and McGlashan use the Norfolk landscape as a central visual motif in the film, much as Miller and his cameraman Dick Bush used it in 1968's Whistle and I'll Come to You. This opening narration pans through the woodland and sand dunes and on the soundtrack digging can be heard even before we see the ill-feted archaeologist (Julian Herington), silhouetted in long shot at the crest of a burial mound. The archaeologist senses something and Clark cuts to the wind whistling through ferns and trees, suggesting that a primordial force has been disturbed. He cuts again to a caped figure (John Kearney) looking down on the digging man. 'No diggin' 'ere' is the stranger's insistent mantra, ignored by the archaeologist until he then attacks him.

The images are cut quickly at this point - a brief shot of a scythe, of feet, the caped figure approaching, a tracking shot to a close up of the archaeologist's neck - and suggest a Hitchcockian appreciation of visual storytelling. The stranger's constant wallops with the scythe are just as visceral as the knife that cuts into Janet Leigh in the shower scene of Psycho (1960). The sequence ends with a long shot of the same action, the stranger in silhouette plunging the scythe into his victim, and is a visual foreshadowing of the story's conclusion.

'I wanted the audience to know Paxton was threatened from the start' suggests Clark as the film shifts forward in time to Paxton's arrival at the train station some 12 years later. Peter Vaughan's Paxton is certainly a much more sympathetic character than Robert Hardy's Archdeacon Haynes and is depicted as a much older man than in the original story. The film focuses solely on him and Dr Black rather than several Jamesian inset narrators and what Sergio Angelini refers to in the original story as 'a flashback within a flashback within a flashback within yet another flashback'. (10)

Paxton is clearly a man of specific ambition as denoted by the tracking shots of Paxton leaving the train that show only his lower torso carrying a suitcase with a spade attached as he walks from the station to his lodgings. It's a visual shorthand that immediately alerts the audience to his intentions and probable fate. We only get the first good look at Paxton at the end of this sequence when the camera tracks up as he raises his case and spade and surveys the landscape.

This visual shorthand, which Clark says he felt he'd overdone, is maintained in the following scene where the boot boy (David Cargill) at his lodgings helps him unpack. Very quickly, we amass information about Paxton through close-ups of his worn shoes as the boot boy offers to clean them and a glance at the headlines of the newspaper Paxton has discarded. He is one of '3 Million Unemployed' and the boot boy rather condescendingly offers 'makes a change from the daily grind' and rubs further salt into the wound of class discrimination by pointing out that the other guest, Dr Black, is a 'real gentleman'.
'still current folklore round here'
Landscape is used in A Warning to the Curious as a symbol of ancient revenge, of an older national identity, originating from the Anglo-Saxon, possibly pre-Christian, kings of East Anglia, that will not be usurped by those who intercede from an urbanised present. There is a suggestion of 'the rural [striking] back in unexpected ways' because 'a residium of old beliefs... have survived the modernization and urbanization of British society and which in various ways challenge modern social norms.'(11) Paxton and Black are set within the landscape, practically dwarfed by it, and have their perceptions altered by what it contains. Initially, Paxton searches for clues and, spotting the three crowns on the porch of the church, is informed by the vicar that the legend is 'still current folklore round here'. He is related the story of the remaining crown's guardian William Ager, who 'haunted the spot night and day'. It is here that Clark and McGlashan use the landscape to fearful, disorientating effect, as Paxton turns away from Ager's gravestone and spies a lone, caped figure standing far away on the coast. The haunting image is one that will increasingly pierce Paxton's vision and the spirit of Ager will be seen by others even when Paxton can no longer detect him.

There is also the curious episode in the junk shop where Clark injects into the story more connections to pagan beliefs and old nursery rhymes associated with the function of Ager 'who is the spectral guardian of the crown just as the spirit of the sacrifice was intended to become the defender of the bridge or temple in whose foundations its remains were interred.'(12)

The film suggests something of a conspiracy about William Ager when the boot boy denies any local knowledge of such a family even though his reactions to the book that Paxton found in the junk shop, with the three crowns on the cover, suggest otherwise. There is a tangible unease between the two men that is brilliantly expressed in Vaughan's and Cargill's non verbal communication, using eye contact and body language alone.

McGlashan's camerawork and the eerie soundtrack follows Paxton as the figure of Ager leads him to a farm cottage, foreshadowing the spirit's ability to lead him to his doom and to take on the forms of others in order to trick him, a classic notion of the Gothic doppelganger. Again, the suggestion of modernity or urban life out of kilter in contrast to the rural landscape is reflected by the woman Paxton meets. 'I'm from London. Wish to God I was back there,' she replies to his enquiry. It is revealed that she is living in Ager's old home and only came to Seaburgh for work.  This appointment with Ager is again told through Clark's use of images when, as he prepares to investigate the sand dunes and trees, he finds his razor underlining Ager's name in the book from the shop. It predicts the damage to the book that Paxton finds after his return from the barrow, having dug up the crown.

McGlashan's landscape photography and generation of atmosphere is at its best when Paxton takes the train journey to the barrow, spade in hand. We see Paxton moving like a shadow through the frame as the sun sets behind him, wary that he has been seen and the nature of his business has been revealed. On the soundtrack is a long held choral note, a typical element of György Ligeti's 'Atmospheres' and its eerie choral micropolyphany that had been used in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which then transforms into an extended passage of atonal strings and woodwinds.

Minton's use of silence save for birdsong is also very effective and this, combined with the music and Clark's cutaways to trees and ferns as Paxton digs, is enough to make the viewer hold a breath in anticipation. Clark dissolves from dusk to night, tracking along the barrow, and with only Paxton's ragged breathing on the soundtrack, then cuts into close ups of Paxton unearthing the crown but aware of an undetermined presence. He hears a cough (one already familiar to the audience from the opening sequence and one that will be heard again later in Paxton's room) as he glimpses a figure slipping between the trees. A beautifully managed scene that escalates the sense of dread.

After excavating the crown, the film evolves into its next sequence. A sudden edit shows Paxton hurtling through the landscape, attempting to evade the spirit of Ager, and Clark interrupts this with out of focus images of the caped figure, fast cutting to Paxton in mid-chase, wide shots of Ager rushing towards the camera on the bleak, sparse, deserted beach with Paxton going in and out of focus in the foreground as Ligeti's atonal music dominates the soundtrack. The dilation of time and the abstraction of images is very reminiscent of Roeg's editing techniques on Don't Look Now (1973). Clark and McGlashan keep escalating this pursuit, shifting to a thicket through which McGlashan's camera prowls, cutting to close ups of Paxton's wide-eyed stare, and where Minton fills the soundtrack with the sound of Ager crashing through the bracken.

This chase not only reflects the human figures in early-nineteenth century art dwarfed by Sublime landscapes but also the anxieties about masculine subjectivity and the 'de-centred' man. We've seen that Paxton is a desperate, unemployed, working class man, perhaps even an emotionally damaged post-war victim, and he now faces a different set of values, of ancient loyalty, patriotism and mythic primordial law that should not be interfered with.

Perhaps the boot boy and, later, the labourer (Cyril Appleton) he meets on the road are also symbolic of this. The labourer is briefly mistaken for the vengeful Ager, even carries the same type of scythe and the stilted conversation he has with Paxton also suggests a complicity in the community's unspoken acknowledgement of the ancient law of the land. Not only is this emphasised when the labourer turns and sees Ager following the departing Paxton but also in the station master's mistaken belief that someone has entered Paxton's train carriage as he makes his escape. The latter is itself a disconcerting sequence repeated at the end of the film during Black's own departure from Seaburgh.

Again, Clark focuses on subliminal perception, on images seen in the corner of the eye and this is beautifully illustrated in the brief sequence where Paxton meets Dr Black, happily painting the desolate beach and seascape. 'You're standing right in the middle of my picture!' complains Black in an ironic moment of objectivity in comparison to the film's task to capture the subject at the fringes of vision.

Black explains he is briefly in retreat from married life and on a quest to permanently frame the landscape in his painting. 'But I doubt I'll ever catch it,' he says, resigned to the fact that the landscape will always remain an intangible mystery, as something beyond his field of vision. He remarks on what a strange evening it is, 'a real night for walking on the water', and his painting of a figure on the shore alerts Paxton to the presence of Ager, as a symbol of 'nature imitating art' but also a figment of unreliable vision in that 'perhaps, he was never there'. Paxton's desperation is later expanded upon in the scene with Black where, after showing him the recovered crown, he confesses that he is a former clerk and did, as an amateur archaeologist, 'dream of doing something big to show people you didn't need a string of letters after your name to be recognised'. It is a return to James' theme of recovering masculine pride, the retrieval of authority for the de-centred man. Black achieves this through painting and chasing the elusive landscape just as Paxton searches for it in ancient artifacts.

Clark, McGlashan and Minton then offer the film's pièce de résistance in a scene where Paxton's room is supernaturally invaded. The screen is entirely black, the soundtrack is full of a growling, heavy breathing and then Paxton's torch sweeps around the room and picks out a huddled black figure. Briefly, Clark allows us to glimpse its pale face before the screen plunges into blackness again and we hear Paxton scream. It is a a superb use of sound effects and images where sound is used as a marker of the return of the repressed, as a form of ancient memory and language (the unconscious malevolence isn't called Ager for nothing) for the horror that briefly erupts into the ordinary setting of a seaside hotel room. Writer Nigel Kneale was very familiar with these concepts and coincidentally would use such singular elements in The Stone Tape which was transmitted the day after.

The film concludes with McGlashan's beautiful night time shoot as Paxton and Black return the crown to the barrow in an effort to placate the monstrous Ager. McGlashan frames them with gnarled trees,  he back lights the barrow, Paxton and his clouds of breath and torchlight, repeating the motif of the invaded hotel room, briefly catches the pallid face of Ager hovering in the trees. These are spectral images that augur a further and disquieting visual sleight of hand that concludes the film where, in broad daylight, the boot boy witnesses Ager's ability to become a doppelganger of Black and lure Paxton to his death. There is a visual repetition of the earlier chase, emphasised by Black's subjective view of the two figures running in long shot, and a re-staging of the murder at the opening of the film. The chase ends with a superb shot of Black, framed by a sunset and the leafless trees, crying over the body of Paxton - sound and vision summing up the film's exploration of cycles of life and death and the boundaries between the familiar and unfamiliar in an ancient landscape.

____________________________________________________________

(1) Simon Farquhar, BFI Ghosts of Christmas Past
(2) Helen Wheatley, Gothic Television
(3) Kelly Eileen Battles, The Antiquarian Impulse: History, Affect and Material Culture in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century British Literature
(4) David Punter, A New Companion to the Gothic
(5) Lawrence Gordon Clark, Introduction to The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral, Lawrence Gordon Clark's Ghost Stories for Christmas. 
(6)Jonathan Maximillian Gilbert, 'The Horror, the horror': The Origins of a Genre in Late Victorian and Edwardian Britain, 1880-1914
(7)Anne Powell, Deleuze and the Horror Film
(8) Phil Tonge, The Stalls of Barchester review, Creeping Flesh
(9) Lawrence Gordon Clark, Introduction to A Warning to the Curious, Lawrence Gordon Clark's Ghost Stories for Christmas.
(10) Sergio Angelini A Warning to the Curious, Screenonline 
(11) Peter Hutchings, Uncanny Landscapes in British Film and Television
(12) Lawrence Gordon Clark, Introduction to A Warning to the Curious, Lawrence Gordon Clark's Ghost Stories for Christmas.

About the transfer
The Stalls of Barchester:
A standard definition transfer from the 16mm source this is indistinguishable from the BBC4 transmitted version of 2004. As to be expected with 16mm the image is grainy but there is little damage here with only the occasional white speck intruding. Detail, colour and contrast is fairly good too. 
A Warning to the Curious: 
Swings and roundabouts with this one. This is a slightly sharper transfer, no doubt benefiting from the high definition mastering of the 16mm source provided by the BBC. It better displays colour, with hues looking more natural. Shadow and contrast are also good and detail is slightly improved upon too but the downside is that this is a much dirtier looking image, full of scratches, white sparkles and specks. It is particularly prevalent during the opening sequences but gradually calms down. The original BFI release and the BBC4 transmission from 2004 are slightly cleaner but much softer, with an often blurry image and colours are less natural, which suggests the source was an existing video tape master.

Special features
Good to see interviews from Lawrence Gordon Clark at last and two instalments of the Christopher Lee series. Again, a brief documentary about James would have been welcome but this is a significant step up in content compared to the first volume.

Introduction to The Stalls of Barchester by Lawrence Gordon Clark (9:31)
Director/writer Clark directed seven of the BBC's ghost stories. Here, he briefly summarises the appeal of James and the central protagonists of his stories. He recalls how he approached BBC1 controller Paul Fox with the idea of adapting the stories, the freedom he was given by the BBC and acknowledges the work of sound man Dick Manton and his director of photography John McGlashan as instrumental to creating the films. He also covers the filming at Norwich cathedral and the casting of Robert Hardy.
Introduction to A Warning to the Curious by Lawrence Gordon Clark (12:08)
Clark continues his introduction when, a month after completing The Stalls of Barchester, he was commissioned to do another film. He recalls his location recce in North Norfolk to recreate the original story's Seaburgh, the ten-day shoot and overspending on his first two films. He notes a Hitchcock influence on A Warning to the Curious and wanting to 'tell the story with the camera' and play with landscape and light. He sees James as a 'master of imbuing objects with malignancy'.  
Ghost Stories for Christmas with Christopher Lee - The Stalls of Barchester (29:32)
The first episode from BBC Scotland's series of 2000. This is very much a return to the tradition of the Robert Powell or Michael Bryant television readings but on a much grander scale, attempting to recreate the Cambridge 'Chit-Chat Club' at which James often presented stories as Christmas entertainments to be read aloud at gatherings of friends and fellow members. Horror legend Sir Christopher Lee was a casting coup, as Jonathan Rigby acknowledges in his notes, and is very successful in making the telling of the tale atmospheric, intimate and uneasy, pulling together letters, diaries and conversations without disturbing the narrative line. Director Eleanor Yule firmly establishes the visual signature for the series - a gliding camera in James's sepia tinted, candlelit rooms interspersed with dream like images from the story itself.
Ghost Stories for Christmas with Christopher Lee - A Warning to the Curious (29:33)
The final adaptation is presented here (presumably the other two will be included in future volumes) and again it's a wonderfully fruity atmosphere and sticks close to the original. Paxton is the 'rabbity, anaemic' creature of the original tale rather than the Peter Vaughan incarnation of Clark's film. Yule once again mixes the cosy rooms, the ephemera of diaries, photographs and documents, with Lee's expressive reading (his hands are mesmerising) and imagery that suggests we are submerged within a dream.
Booklet
Wonderful essays by Jonathan Rigby, Adam Easterbrook and Robert Lloyd Parry. Biographies of James, Lawrence Gordon Clark, Robert Hardy, Clive Swift and Peter Vaughan and background details to the Ghost Stories with Christopher Lee episodes.

Ghost Stories: Classic adaptations from the BBC Volume 2
BFI DVD Released 20 August 2012 BFIVD960 

The Stalls of Barchester (1971)
UK / colour / 45:15 / English / DVD9 / 1.33:1 / Dolby Digital mono audio 320kbps
A Warning to the Curious (1972)
UK / colour / 50:07 / English / DVD9 / 1.33:1 / Dolby Digital mono audio 320kbps

Bookmark and Share

Viewing Figures

The Legal Bit

All written material is copyright © 2007-2017 Cathode Ray Tube and Frank Collins. Cathode Ray Tube is a not for profit publication primarily for review, research and comment. In the use of images and materials no infringement of the copyright held by their respective owners is intended. If you wish to quote material from this site please seek the author's permission.

Creative Commons License
Cathode Ray Tube by Frank Collins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.