by Lawrence Gordon Clark
the years of 1971 and 1978 the BBC ran a very popular TV series called
A Ghost Story For
Christmas. It was an unusual series in as much that
it aired only one episode a year. The ghost story offered in 1976 was
and I am very glad to say that it is now available on DVD.
is based on a short story by Charles Dickens.
The story begins with a traveller, out walking. When he reaches a
railway embankment he
looks down and sees a signalman. He is standing—transfixed—looking
towards the railway tunnel. "Hello, below there," the traveller calls
the signalman, and asks if there is path that he might use to come down
and speak with him. The signalman points him in the right direction and
the traveller makes his way down, only to find that the signalman seems
strangely nervous of him.
The signalman has mistaken the traveller for someone else, but once he
realizes his mistake the two men strike up a friendship and the
signalman invites the traveller into the signal box and makes him a cup
of tea. The signalman is obviously an intelligent man and very
competent at his job, but he seems strangely haunted. Although he is
reluctant to discuss the nature of his problem the signalman agrees
that he will explain everything to the traveller if he returns the
following evening. He is most insistent however, that his new friend
not call out.
The signalman is being haunted by a spectre that calls out to
him and rings the little warning bell in his signal box. Once the
traveller knows the nature of the signalman's problem he is sure
there is a rational explanation. Then the signalman explains that the
spectre's appearance always precedes a calamity or disaster on the line.
is one of my favourite ghost stories. With a runtime of
only 40 minutes it is not a long film, but it is truly chilling and
sometimes the best things really do come in small
packages. Denholm Elliott provides a sterling performance as
the haunted signalman,
and Bernard Lloyd is very good as the traveller, who is sympathetic to
his new friend's problem but tries to keep a rational mind and be the
voice of reason. There are other characters in the film, but they
mainly come into play in the flashback sequences where the signalman
narrates the accidents and deaths that have occurred on the line. Then
there is the spectre and it is startling enough to send a shiver down
the spine of even the most hardened of viewers.
Nettleton reads Charles Dickens' original story.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Runtime 40 mins
Certificate: PG (UK)
Denholm Elliott ... The Signalman
Bernard Lloyd ... The
Reginald Jessup ... The Engine Driver
... The Bride