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A Ghost Story For Christmas.

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A Ghost Story For Christmas. Empty A Ghost Story For Christmas.

Post by alanultron5 Mon Dec 12, 2011 3:10 pm


Episode Six. “LOST HEARTS” (TX 5 March 1966. 10.05 – 11.05pm).

Main Cast. Richard Pearson (Mr Abney), Freddie Jones (Parkes), Megs Jenkins (Mrs Bunch), Francis Thompson (Stephen Elliot), David Dodimead (Rector), Darryl Read (Boy), Doy Young (Girl).

Director. Robert Tronson.

Script. Giles Cooper. From the story by M.R. James.

The second adapted story from the works of Montague Rhodes James, Lost Hearts was actually the author’s first ghost story. It was first published in the Christmas 1885 edition of the Pall Mall Magazine Volume Seven No 32. It would possibly be controversial in today’s society, due to its treatment of children. The story does state, “Person’s Under the Age of 21” but could still be looked on badly in the current climate. Back in 1966 (and in the BBC 1973 adaptation) no one raised any such qualms over the content; it was just seen as a particularly chilling ghost story! The story was later published in 1904, in the first collection of James ghost stories, the ground-breaking, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary.

* * *

Mr Abney is a very happy man; he relays to his manservant Parkes that his cousin and wife by an incredible coincidence have both died. Parkes is bemused, “Good news sir?” he asks; Abney realises how it sounds and elaborates. He tells how their son, Stephen Elliot, will now be an orphan, and he, Abney will take care of him; the orphan will be arriving next week. Abney instructs Parkes to ready the upstairs bedroom. The servant enquires to the age of the nephew which causes pause for thought in Abney’s reverie, “Surely he will be young?” he ponders, it is
obviously of some concern to him. He also states, that soon the spring equinox of March 24th will fall; this too is seemingly of great importance to him.

In the kitchen, Parkes is discussing the news of the youngster’s imminent arrival, with Mrs Bunch the house-keeper, they wonder if it will be third time lucky.

That evening over supper, Abney is in the middle of a debate, with his friend, the Rector, concerning matters about the afterlife. Abney is obviously enjoying shocking the staid clergyman with his views on all things otherworldly. The poor Rector finds much of Abney’s views near heresy, and states that the church does not recognise magic as a religion. As they debate over the tutoring of the boy, with the Rector to teach him Latin, and Abney Greek; Abney seems to warm his hands over an unlit brazier, which puzzles his friend. Abney had been staring out of the study window, at two distant figures in the further regions of the grounds surrounding his house. The two figures are silhouetted against the moonlight; both are small in stature

On the day of Stephen’s arrival, Mrs Bunch is tidying up the bedroom for Stephens use. Abney who is nearby suddenly instructs her to open up the small cupboard adjoining the bedroom. She complies and finds it to be empty, save for an old hurdy-gurdy. Abney tells her he thought he saw something moving in there, his worried demeanour puzzles her.

Mrs Bunch looks at the hurdy-gurdy in obvious bewilderment why should that worry Mr Abney? She sets to clean the upstairs bathroom next, but Abney will not have that, he is insistent that Stephen use the downstairs bathroom, to Mrs Bunch’s further puzzled look.

On the day of arrival the main doorbell rings out, and young orphan, Stephen Elliot is admitted. Abney is delighted by the sight of him, he ushers the young lad inside, being most interested in the youngster’s age and Birthday. Stephen tells him he will be twelve years of age on the 11th of September, which very much pleases his elderly cousin. Abney quickly writes the date in his notebook; noticing Stephens enquiring look, he explains that he likes to note down dates and other items of interest in his book.

Stephen is taken to meet Mrs Bunch; she has prepared him an evening tea. The two figures still watch from the grounds; a cry something similar to that of a wild beast emanates from their direction.

Stephen, worn out by the exertions of his long journey has fallen asleep; Parkes gently carries him upstairs to the room prepared. Abney sees this, and at first thinks Stephen is ill, Parkes assures him the child is only asleep. Reassured Abney heads into his library, two figures stare at him through its window, they are now right up close to the house. Instead of showing shock or surprise, Abney is irritated, he shouts at them “You Can Do Nothing!”

The following morning, Stephen takes breakfast in the kitchen, with Mrs Bunch. He asks her about the grounds, and the unusual summer-house in their midst. She explains to him that it is a sort of temple that Mr Abney constructed, working from ancient designs, etched in one of his rare books. Stephen is fascinated and asks if he can play in the grounds, Mrs Bunch assents to this request.

In the sumptuous grounds that surround the main house he has made his way to the small temple that functions as a summer-house. He ventures inside, and is immediately awed by the sight of the great array of intricate carvings that adorn its inner walls; some of them are of bacchanalian feasts.

As Stephen studies each scene, he is puzzled to see, oh so briefly, two strange faces amongst the murals that seem to be, for a split-second, looking straight back at him. They look to be the features of a young boy and girl, both the same age as himself, but both don’t seem to be truly human.

His attention is diverted by the sound of his cousin, and the Rector both approaching. Abney is happy to see Stephen getting some outdoor exercise. To the clergyman’s obvious discomfort, Abney proceeds to explain the meaning behind some of the graphic scenarios displayed about the temples interior. Stephen decides not to ask about the two faces; anyway, he cannot find them now, no matter how hard he looks, it puzzles him.

Later that day, Stephen takes Latin lessons with the Rector. He informs his tutor that rather than Greek, which his cousin had agreed with the holy man to teach Stephen, in fact, Abney has been relaying to his charge, the various facts and laws pertaining to magical practises. The Rector is most annoyed to hear this.


After lessons, Stephen asks Parkes if he can accompany him to the cellar, to help fetch the wine for his cousin’s supper; Parkes takes him to see the cellar. As he looks around while Parkes
selects the particular wine that Abney ordered, Stephen jerks back in shock! Surely someone is moving around by one of the empty vats. Though Parkes tells Stephen he can see nothing, he is
very unsettled, and nervous. As he hurries Stephen back upstairs, two figures slowly emerge from the gloom of the far corner of the cellar. They stare upward at the servant and child as they exit the cellar, unaware of the two beings glaring up at them.

Over supper that evening, the Rector tells Abney that he has discovered Stephen has not yet received the Catholic rite of `confirmation`. To assuage the worries of his clerical friend, Abney states it will definitely be done on the 30th of March, after the spring equinox of the 24th day of the month. The Rector cannot understand why the date of the equinox is so important to Abney. The reply is that it is a very powerful day in the pagan calendar; the holy man is not impressed.

In the kitchen, Stephen is again talking to Mrs Bunch; she tells him that he is not the first child to be given refuge by kindly Mr Abney, there were two others. At Stephen’s curious questioning, she recalls that there was a young gypsy girl that Abney gave refuge to some twenty years ago; just before she first worked for him. Mrs Elliot, the housekeeper at that time, told her later, that it seems the young girl had a restless spirit, for she only stayed a few weeks before suddenly
disappearing one morning, never to be seen again. Mrs Bunch thinks she probably joined up with a wandering gypsy troupe. She then recalls that about seven years ago, Mr Abney bringing back a young foreign lad, Giovanni, she thinks he was called. He often happily played a small Hurdy-Gurdy that he carried with him, he too soon went missing, and though Mr Abney contacted the authorities, and an extensive search was made, no trace of the boy was found. She thinks his disappearance was probably down to the peculiar ways of foreigners.

Later, back in Abney’s study, Stephen asks his cousin about the children. Though outwardly jovial, and appearing saddened by their running away, Abney seems perturbed by the subject. Later, he tells Parkes that he does not want Stephen upset with tales of the children running away, he tells the servant that he fears it may put such fancies into his nephews head.

As he settles into bed for the night, Stephen does not notice that something is watching him through his bedroom window. He soon falls asleep, and has what he believes is a most vivid
nightmare. He sees himself standing outside the Bathroom, through the two narrow panes of glass in the upper portion of the door; he can make out the figure of a young girl. She turns towards him, her ragged dress falling open at the region of the chest. Horrified, Stephen can see a gaping hole on the left region exposing her internal organs, the heart is missing! He suddenly wakes, to find that he has walked in his sleep, and is indeed, standing outside the Bathroom. He
boldly ventures to the bathroom door and looks into the small room; it is quite empty. Reassured, he goes back to his room; as he closes his bedroom door, the silhouette of a young female figure watches him from inside the bathroom; it is the girl from his dream.

The next morning, he tells a most interested Abney about his dream. His cousin enquires whether he saw a boy, Stephen states it was definitely a girl; this seems to worry Abney. Quickly regaining his composure, he assures Stephen that it was just a nightmare, to which Stephen heartily concurs with; the nightmare must have caused him to walk in his sleep. Stephen is quite relaxed about the event to Abney’s delight! He tells Stephen to be sure to shut his window at night.


Mrs Bunch can hear cries from the grounds, she tells Parkes they are from “Beyond the lake”, and those same cries were heard at the disappearance of the little girl, and years later, the boy.

She recalls the hurdy-gurdy in the cupboard; why would the young lad leave behind such a beloved instrument; the very one that master Stephen is unsuccessfully, now trying to get a tune out of. Parkes reminds her that they have good positions here, with a generous and kindly employer; recalling his masters warning about spinning fancies, he warns her that any talk of odd goings on would jeopardise their positions. She realises his meaning, and promises to be discreet.

When Stephen returns, Mrs Bunch questions him about the series of incisive tears on his nightgown; it is cut “Nearly to flinders”. Stephen protests that he did not damage his nightwear, and tells her and Parkes, that he has seen similar scratches on the outside of his bedroom door. The two puzzled servants examine the door and confirm the truth of Stephens’s statement; there are indeed, a series of deep gouges on the outside of the bedroom door. Parkes can only wonder that they are similar to those of a “Chinaman’s finger- nails”, he tells Stephen not to bother Mr Abney about it and to be sure to lock the door at night. As they speak, they are being watched from outside; two figures are looking through the upstairs landing window.

At his next Latin lesson with the Rector, Stephen tells him that he is a bit scared by the experiments his cousin does in the brazier in his study, the Rector is most perturbed by this news.
Meanwhile, Abney orders Parkes to fetch for the evenings supper with the Rector, the claret 93, followed by a port wine.

Abney joins with Stephen in the library, and asks him to visit him in his study at eleven that evening, as he wants to show the lad something that is most important to his future life. Stephen asks if it is anything to do with the equinox; beaming, Abney confirms that indeed it is. Stephen asks if he can choose a book to keep him entertained until that late hour, Abney is delighted for him to do so. As Stephen picks a suitable book from the large rack, Abney tells him not to mention his visit to anyone, it will be their secret; Stephen is happy to agree.

As Abney returns to his study, the two figures glare at him through the window; both cry out as though in great pain, he ignores them.

In the Kitchen, Parkes is worried; he tells Mrs Bunch that when he went to the wine cellar in order to fetch the wines for Abney’s evening meal with the rector; he thought he heard noises.
He explains, that at first he thought it was rats, but the noises seemed to be “Persons whispering”; Stephen, who has just arrived, catches some of this; he asks about the noises. Parkes and Mrs Bunch assure him that it is just Parkes` imagination, and nerves; they don’t want to upset the lad, or Mr Abney, as he has been a good employer.

Abney is enjoying evening supper and discourse with his friend the Rector. Abney makes out that Stephen seems to be getting restless, and like the two previous children, might be spoiling to run away. The Rector is utterly puzzled by this, he feels the boy is just not the sort to do so; but Abney is adamant! He insists on making the case that the boy is unsettled.

The conversation then takes a turn not to the clergyman’s liking; Abney is holding forth on having control over the elements, and powers of flight and invisibility. The Parson is most afraid for Abney’s mind; he seems to be in a paroxysm of eulogy on the subject. Abney is interrupted in mid flow, by the reverberating screeching sounds from the nearby woods. “Owls”, Abney

tells his bemused partner, “In the woods?” the Rector asks. “They can do nothing”, is the reply. The Rector is now very confused, “What?” he asks. “They’ve done nothing so far, now they’ve
left it too late, by tomorrow I shall have power over them”, states Abney. “What!! Over the owls?” is the clergyman’s stunned reply.

The Rector is further unnerved by these outbursts of Abney’s, and makes his excuses for an early departure; it is ten- o- clock. Abney is not at all offended, and escorts his friend out, explaining that he will see him tomorrow, but his friend may not see him! The very worried clergyman takes his leave.

Calling to Parkes, Abney informs the servant that he can retire early as the rector has left, and he has private work to do. Parkes halts as a cry reverberates from outside, feigning ignorance of any disturbance, Abney bids him good-night, and the servant retires to his room.

As Stephen reads aloud from the book he chose, Robinson Crusoe, his mind start to wander from the story. Something has alarmed him, there seems to be a sort of screeching sound coming from outside, he does feel as if there is a presence in the grounds of the house. Looking out of his bedroom window, he sees two silhouetted figures standing on the garden path that leads to the house. These seem to be the figures of a boy and girl, but their hands have long fingernails rather
Like those of wild beasts. Stephen looks away for a second, when he returns his gaze to the grounds, the figures have disappeared; thinking no more on it, he returns to his book.

Back in his study, Abney breaks out the very special bottle of wine that he had ordered Parkes to fetch from the wine cellar. As he mixes a strong sleeping draught into the glass which he intends to force his young cousin to drink, from he stiffens! He can hear the screeching getting louder and louder, as it reverberates throughout the grounds, and towards the house. The source of the unearthly cries is now drawing closer and closer to the house itself, in a few seconds his senses detect something has now entered the building.

Fearfully, he gazes into the gloom of the hall, his eyes desperately searching for any signs of movement. At first the dark shadows of the hallway are still; but slowly, something detaches itself from the shadowy recesses of the hallway.

Silhouettes of claw like fingers stretch out towards the study; frantically, Abney barricades the door, but to no avail. Two shapes materialise through the solid wood, they begin to solidify into the figures of a boy and girl. Both have gaunt, hungry looking white faces, their eyes are darkened to the point of black dots. The teeth are no longer truly human; they are sharpened like some kind of carnivorous beasts. Even worse are the fingers, they end with long sharp, talon like nails; these are as sharp as razors. Slowly they move towards the terrified figure of Abney, their dead eyes now wide open and glaring with hate for the elderly scholar. Both raise their arms to show the full effect to Abney of the ferocity of their claw- like hands. Hands that are well equipped to do their deadly work.

Back in his bedroom, Stephen has put down the book of Robinson Crusoe’s adventures. He glances at the wall clock set in the bedroom; it is almost eleven; he alights from his bed and makes his way to the door. As he heads into the upstairs landing, the main hall clock starts to strike the eleventh hour.


Abney backs away in terror from his nemesis, he picks up the sharpened surgical knife he had acquired to work on his `victim’s` body; to protect himself. It is of no use; the two malevolent
spirits close in on him. He starts to freeze in shock as, slowly; the taloned fingers take the knife from him. Now seemingly held under their wills, he sinks to the floor; the two beings begin to
assail his frame with clawing fingers. His clothes are quickly shredded, and his rib cage ripped open; he cries out in agony, as his very heart is torn asunder from his shuddering body. The two revenged creatures take the organ and turn towards the still flickering fire in the hearth.

Stephen has hurried to the study door upon hearing the screams of pain, slowly he edges his way into the room. Parkes too has heard the scream of terror, and has hurried downstairs just as Stephen enters the study.

The sight that greets both is indeed a bloody tableau, Abney lies in front of the study fire; his frame covered in his own blood. Burning in the fire itself is what is found to be the actual remains of his heart. Stephen notices the sharp knife lying on the table; its blade is completely clean; there is no trace of blood on any part of the keen edge.

The officials of the law have just unearthed a body of a young boy from the wine cellar. Going by Abney’s notes and information from Stephen’s recalled dream, they are presently dismantling the floor of the upstairs bathroom. In the library, Parkes is hastily maintaining to the shocked Rector that neither Mrs Bunch nor he had any idea of what crimes Abney had committed. The holy man is studying one of Abney’s personal notebooks. Aghast, he reads out the passage where Abney had carried out ancient magical rites of procuring the living hearts from bodies of `victims`, they must all be under 21 years of age. The notes make clear that three such hearts burnt and the ashes distilled in red wine, were to be consumed, thus giving the recipient control over elemental forces, and eternal life.

The Rector and Parkes are mortified at this; it is obvious that Stephen was to have been the third subject of the gruesome experiment. As Stephen enters the library, the Rector calls to him and comforts the frightened child.

Richard Beckett relates that the two `unhappy children` were never seen again, and Stephen grew up to marry happily.

* * *

This was without doubt the Jewel in the Crown of series one. This adaptation of Lost Hearts was far superior in virtually every department to the 1973 BBC Ghost Story for Christmas version. The adaptation was most graphic for 1966 and questions were asked by concerned viewers to the regional programme Midland Member to be discussed by political representatives.

It followed the M.R James story somewhat closer; particularly in setting the events around the `Spring Equinox` as the original story had stated, rather than the 1973 version `Halloween` time scale. Only the character of The Rector was an invented character, in order to give Richard
Pearson’s Abney more dialogue. The pacing of the story was less hurried than its 1970s counterpart. This worked best in those scenes where the final confrontation between Abney and


the child Spirits concluded. In comparison, the BBC production unfolded far too quickly, to the accompaniment of a rather obtrusive hurdy- gurdy soundtrack.

The 1966 version had the luxury of a longer and very effective climax. Robert Tronson masterfully directed the chilling scenes peering into the gloom of the hallway where very slowly;
in the style of the silent Nosferatu film; the shadows of the children detached themselves from the darkness to encroach into the light from the study, a good use of chiaroscuro.

Tronson was also careful not to clearly reveal the features of the child-ghosts until the gruesome climax. He used clever camera angles, and delicate use of shaded lighting, (chiaroscuro) to keep the full, frightening impact of the spectres from the audience, until the last ten or-so, minutes of the episode. Two examples of this are, firstly the scene where the ghosts have moved close up to the study window to be berated by Abney. The scene is shot from just behind the two ghosts, looking `into` the study, so that only the top of their heads is glimpsed. The other scene in the summer-house is the briefest glimpse, which denudes to the possibility of Stephen’s imagination. Today with freeze-frame DVD, such scenes would be compromised.

Great use of a dummy body was employed so that the full effect of Abney’s demise could be affected; a mock heart was also employed in order to add to the terrifying effect of the scenes.

The soundtrack to the episode was also effective. This had the screeching sounds of the young spirits given a `reverberation` treatment, which made for a chilling unearthly sound. The scenes
where they closed upon Abney were accompanied by a `gong-like` sound, which made you jump!

Richard Pearson was splendid as Abney, somewhat more plausible than Joseph O’ Conor’s 1973 characterisation. Francis Thompson was possibly not as effective as Simon Gripps –Kent’s 1973 Stephen but he acquitted himself well. Freddie Jones (Parkes) and Megs Jenkins (Mrs Bunch) had little to do, as the characters were only peripheral to the main story; but they did their work well. The invented character of the Rector was perhaps unnecessary. David Dodimead was rather stilted in the role. Both Daryl Read and Doy Young were superb in their ghostly roles. They recalled many years later at an archive television meeting what fun it was in the roles!

Reviews were upbeat, though The Times seemed a bit askew in its views; stating that it “Succeeded so well, mainly because it was never explicit….” The review in trade journal The Stage was more accurate, highlighting the horrific finale, and with much admiration for the performances of Richard Pearson and Freddie Jones.

This adaptation of Lost Hearts is very fondly remembered by those fortunate enough to see it. I was utterly terrified by it and left my light on all night after watching it! It `haunted` me for years. Without doubt it is one of the greatest televised ghost stories of all time.

* * * * * *


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A Ghost Story For Christmas. Empty Re: A Ghost Story For Christmas.

Post by alanultron5 Mon Dec 12, 2011 3:11 pm

I know its a lot of text to take in; but if anyone can plough through it, hopefully it will provide a few `chills` for Christmas!


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Post by tony ingram Mon Dec 19, 2011 3:10 pm

It did...
tony ingram
tony ingram

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