For those who don’t know, today is my birthday. Under the circumstances, wild bacchanalian celebrations are out of the question, which is a little frustrating, but whatever happens I doubt it will be as dreadful as young Master Stephen’s twelfth birthday in ‘Lost Hearts’ by M.R. James. Here’s a musical interlude from the BBC’s 1973 adaptation, broadcast as that year’s A Ghost Story for Christmas offering.
Sent as an orphan to live with his elderly cousin Mr Abney, Stephen finds his guardian takes rather too close an interest in the forthcoming commemoration of his nativity and the lead-up to the big day is marked by Abney and his servants plying him with beef tea and fortified wine. The loveable old housekeeper Mrs Bunch soothes any misgivings the boy might have by insisting her employer is “very partial to children”, which in the light of the spectral visitors to his bedside in the above clip is somewhat less reassuring than it might be.
Sharp-eared viewers may notice the tune playing during a comparatively care-free scene in which Stephen, played by Simon Gipps-Kent, flies a kite. It’s ‘The Cutty Wren’, which given the lore around this bird’s sacrifice on Saint Stephen’s Day could be said to mirror Mr Abney’s malign intentions towards his youthful ward. The acapella version recorded by Chumbawamba provides the second musical interlude in this post.
When Rosemary Pardoe approached me to contribute a story to A Ghosts and Scholars Book of Folk Horror, I thought what more natural than to base it around a folk song featured in an adaptation of an M.R. James story? This limited print-run anthology has now sold out, but I have filmed a reading for you to watch and enjoy, if you can get past my rambling introduction. Here is Part One, with the rest to follow every remaining Friday in December, the concluding episode on Christmas Day…