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Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Restless Ghost

With Christmas practically here, now is a good time to mention the humble ghost story, given its associations with this time of year. Think of Dickens: A Christmas Carol, certainly, but also the less well known The Goblins and the Gravedigger from The Pickwick Papers (thanks Stewart for reminding me about that one). Think also of the tradition of Christmas BBC productions including M.R. James stories (all typically unsettling, my favourite being Whistle And I'll Come To You) and Nigel Kneale's eerie The Stone Tape. Clearly, Spooks aren't just for Halloween!

This brings me to my next find, or in this case 'rediscovery'. The Restless Ghost is an anthology of ghost stories, produced in 1970. Although the collection is aimed at older children, it's perfectly readable by adults and indeed, I'm sure that some of the stories were not intended for children at all. The short story from which the collection takes its name was written by Leon Garfield and is a wonderfully atmospheric tale that I first came across when it was included as a two-parter, with Puffin Post, the quarterly magazine of the Puffin Club, in 1967 and 1968. It's set, I imagine, in the 18th, possibly early 19th, century and concerns two boys who devise a plan to scare a curmudgeonly sexton, by dressing one of themselves as a ghostly drummer boy, who is rumoured to haunt the churchyard. Phosphorescent paint is used for a convincing effect and the pretend ghost starts wandering through the mists, among the dilapidated graves, only to then encounter the real thing. It's probably been the best part of 40 years since I last read the story, but I remember much of it and can even quote some of the text.

Although I have access to the Puffin Post magazines, I couldn't find the story. After some digging around on the web, I discovered the title of the story and on closer inspection of the magazines, found out that it had been produced in two supplements, which have been lost at some point. However, armed with the title, I was able to track down the anthology containing it and am pleased to say, that on re-reading it, it still has to be one of the very best ghost stories I have ever read. The plot is excellent and the story-telling is superb. There are two illustrations for this story, including the one shown, by artist Anthony Maitland and they complement the story perfectly. Incidentally, the two boys - Bostock and Harris - also appear elsewhere in Garfield's works. I've also discovered that the story was produced for television in the early 1980s, with Wilfred Brambell as the sexton. If anyone knows where I can get a copy of this production, please let me know!

With the other stories by authors such as Nigel Kneale, R.L. Stevenson, H.P. Lovecraft, J.S. LeFanu and M.R. James, I'm looking forward to reading this collection to my daughters this Christmas.


  1. The wonder Network are about to release Dramarama with WilfrID (tut, tut) on 15.8.11

  2. Thanks for the info. I see The Restless Ghost is included and hope to see it again soon. Thanks too for pointing out the correct spelling for Mr. Brambell's name!