Ghost Stories: Classic Adaptations from the BBC - Volumes 1 & 2

Shocks and scares abound in these vintage TV tales of terror

Once upon a time the BBC used to delight in terrifying Christmas audiences with adaptations of classic ghost stories – several based on the work of M.R. James. These two volumes celebrate this with four James adaptations. The first houses 1968 and 2010 takes on Whistle and I’ll Come to You, while the second offers up 1971’s The Stalls of Barchester and 1972’s A Warning to the Curious – each a masterpiece of small-screen supernatural scares.

Picture: As you’d expect from BBC TV dramas from the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, the original version of Whistle and I’ll Come to You, plus The Stalls of Barchester and A Warning to the Curious were all shot on 16mm and framed at 1.33:1. The first is the only black and white production, and certainly fares worst in terms of print damage (especially during the nightmare chase across the beach. Indeed all three could really do with a thorough restoration, but I expect that it would simply be prohibitively expensive.

The second (more recent) adaptation of Whistle and I’ll Come to You is a considerable step-up in quality, thanks to its pristine and chillingly evocative anamorphic 2.40:1 transfer.
Picture rating: 3.5/5

Audio: All four stories feature Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks. The dual-mono presentations of the three older adaptations are definitely in better condition than the accompanying visuals, with clear dialogue and no obvious damage.

The 2010 adaptation of Whistle and I’ll Come to You understandably improves on this with a genuine two-channel mix. However, despite feeling rather more natural and nuanced than the other titles’ mono soundtracks, there’s still little in the way of steering across the stereo spread.
Audio rating: 3/5

Extras: The extras on the first volume include an intro  to the 1968 adaptation by horror novelist Ramsey Campbell, brief interviews with director Jonathan Miller and historian Christopher Frayling, an audio-only reading of MR James’ Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad and Ramsey Campell reading his own tribute to James, The Guide.

As well as intros to both tales by director Lawrence Gordon Clark, the second volume also includes further adaptations of the stories from a subsequent attempt by the BBC to reignite the strand for Christmas 2000. The two half-hour episodes feature Christopher Lee as James reading the The Stalls of Barchester and A Warning to the Curious to a rapt audience – imagine a grown-up version of Jackanory and you’ve got the general idea.
Extras rating: 2/5

We say: What they lack in AV thrills, these two two volumes of classic ghost stories more than make up for with genuine chills!

BFI Video, R2 DVD, £20 each, On sale now