• Migrating M.R.James’ Christmas Ghost Stories to Television

    Derek Johnston (see profile)
    Cultural Studies, Horror, Television Studies
    Television--Study and teaching, Ghosts in literature, Culture, History, Culture--Study and teaching, Horror
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    Gothic Migrations: International Gothic Association Conference 2015
    Conf. Org.:
    International Gothic Association
    Conf. Loc.:
    Vancouver, Canada
    Conf. Date:
    28 July - 1 August 2015
    Seasonality, Ghost stories, Christmas, Television studies, Cultural history, Cultural studies
    Permanent URL:
    Each Christmas during his tenure as Provost of King’s College, Cambridge, M.R.James would take part in a ritual celebration of Christmas with students and colleagues which invariably culminated with the reading of a ghost story. This tradition drew on a long tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas that can be traced back through the likes of Henry James, Dickens and Washington Irving, to the ‘winter’s tales’ of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and probably beyond. With the development of broadcast media, these traditions were adapted for for radio and television, including adaptations of M.R.James’ stories. This paper will examine the BBC’s adaptations of M.R.James stories for Christmas, primarily in the 1970s set known collectively as A Ghost Story for Christmas, along with the later adaptations in the 2000s. It will focus primarily on the process of adaptation in the context of the wider adaptation of the traditions of Christmas in television broadcasting. In particular, the paper will consider the importance of nostalgic attachment to the past, particularly a Victorian / Edwardian ideal of Christmas past, and the role of the Christmas ghost story in undercutting the potential sentimentality of that attachment, and how that aspect was retained for the 1970s adaptations, but lost in the attempted revivals of the strand in the 2000s due to cultural shifts generally and within broadcasting. Where once they revealed horrific connections to the past, the adaptations are now nostalgic for the comfortable horrors of past Christmases.
    Last Updated:
    4 years ago
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