In speculative fiction, we have two literally haunting stories that have stayed with me a long time.
Angels at Partridge Cottage by Lucy Gannon was a comedy with delightful ghosts. I really enjoyed this play and didn’t even realize it was from 1988—it totally failed to cross my mind that they should be using mobile phones. Anyway, Magnus and Zoe are a very modern couple who eat vegetable tagines and lasagnas and spend their weekends in a charming old cottage. However, they are not alone—they are joined by the house’s ghosts, Charles (a curmudgeon who built the place in the 19th century), Polly (a motherly northern woman from the early 20th century), Gary (a 1970s biker, very much in the Robert Westall vein), and Sophie, an unborn girl. Neither ethereal nor there to frighten, the ghosts have a mundane existence, trying to find ways to occupy themselves (sleeping is a favorite). Sophie yearns to be born. Magnus and Zoe have resolved not to have a traditional Christmas; they will not go anywhere, they will not eat turkey or pastries, they will not have a fire or a Christmas tree or any gifts. They are happy with this decision, but the ghosts are not, and try to use various means to force them into celebrating an “old-fashioned” Christmas, including turning off the electricity and the freezer, hiding their hiking boots, putting 200-year-old whiskey into their coffee, and creating remembered smells—though unfortunately this goes wrong when Charles accidentally starts remembering the cow shed in what was a laugh-out-loud funny scene. It tread on the knife edge of using too much gimmicky music—Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and Slade as well as some beautiful choral recordings of everything from “Ding Dong Merrily on High” to the Emmaus Carol, though it ended nicely on “Silent Night.” Very festive. It starred Ellie Haddington, Headley Nicklow, John Dickson, Roger Hugh, Ken Cumberlidge, and Bernadette Windsor and was directed by Philip Martin.
Christmas Meeting was a beautiful and delightful short drama about a middle-aged single woman (Flora Robson) distraught at spending Christmas alone in a bedsit. She isn’t quite alone, however, when she meets a young student (Barry Justice) who is also lodging there. After a time, she realizes he isn’t from her century; in fact, he’s an early 19th century poet, and a ghost. Instead of being frightened, they share a connection, and the young poet/ghost is attracted to the older woman. Written by the ubiquitous Rosemary Timperley (see Quarter 2) and adapted by Michael and Molly Hardwick, this is probably the oldest drama I’ve heard on Radio 4 Extra, being from 1963 (though at the British Library Sound Archive I think the oldest BBC play I’ve heard is A Christmas Child from the late 1940s, and I know I’ve heard some It’s That Man Again from the early ‘40s.)