Shiny Shelf

Ghost Stories/Conan Doyle Season

By Mags L Halliday on 31 December 2005

There’s late-night ghost tales and foggy fin-de-siecle crime on TV: it must be Christmas. BBC4 fans will be used to repeats: like BBC2 back when it was launched, the new ‘high brow’ channel fills many of its hours with repeats. However, it’s Christmas, so the channel foregoes its usual schedule in favour of hauntings, dinosaurs and Holmes.

‘A Ghost Story at Christmas’ is primarily a series of repeats of the 1970s MR James’ adaptations, such as ‘A Warning to the Curious’. It also includes the Dickens story ‘The Signalman’, the end of which was spoilt by the documentary preceding it, and a new adaptation, ‘The View from the Hill’. As with most of these stories, it uses a limited cast and a period setting to great effect. A hinted terror is far more effective than visceral visuals. It’s a great shame that such a neatly plotted and well-directed piece was tucked away on BBC4 instead of haunting late-night BBC2.

The Conan Doyle season is primarily an excuse to repeat the recent BBC adaptations of ‘The Lost World’ and ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’, as well as various non-canonical stories ranging from the sublime ‘Case of the Silk Stocking’ (with the divine Rupert Everett) to the ridiculous Rathbone film ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon’ in which he battles the Nazis. Perhaps alarmingly, a friend and I once worked out Sherlock Holmes could potentially have lived into the Atomic age, although obviously he wouldn’t have been as spry as Rathbone. I say alarmingly because one of the documentaries included in the series was ‘The Man Who Loved Sherlock Holmes’, on the life and death of Richard Lancelyn Green, a leading Holmes fan, who was found dead in 2004. Whilst it was a rare treat to see a fandom treated by the media without contempt or prejudice, and the archival footage of the London Sherlockians first trip to Switzerland in the 60s was a delight, it was depressing to see the paranoia which consumed the man and the way in which others in the film appear to teeter on the same brink. The Great Game – in which fans pretend that Holmes and Watson were real, and that ACD was merely Watson’s literary agent – becomes altogether less enjoyable when you imagine it has taken someone’s life.

The biggest problem I had with BBC4’s Christmas schedule was simply that they don’t broadcast during the day and, as half the UK takes the week between Christmas and New Year off, there’s nowt for me to watch until 7pm.

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