Monday 19 December 2011


Every year, around December, I find an excuse write something about what is, unquestionably my favourite books: Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

This year, on account of the show David and staged at the British Library, I have already bored you with my thoughts on the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, "a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner" who – through the intervention of a series of ghostly interviews – turns away from his miserly past towards a present and a future filled with the joyful happiness symbolised by Christmas.

A Christmas Carol was first published on this day in 1843, and was an instantaneous triumph. It became – and has remained for the past 168 years – a national (and international) treasure!

A contemporary reviewer said of it that it was "a tale to make the reader laugh and cry – to open his hands, and open his heart to charity even toward the uncharitable..."

On the book's publication, Thomas Hood wrote: "If Christmas, with its ancient and hospitable customs, its social and charitable observances, were ever in danger of decay, this is the book that would give them a new lease. The very name of the author predisposes one to the kindlier feelings; and a peep at the Frontispiece sets the animal spirits capering..."

Some years ago, now, I wrote A Christmas Carol: The Unsung Story, an entire book about Dickens' "ghost story of Christmas", partly inspired by decades of collecting various editions and versions of the story in all types of media and partly by Humbug!, a programme that I wrote and presented on BBC Radio 4 (according to my fellow Caroller, Mr Boll Weavil) on 22 December 1987.

On Christmas Day, 1993 – to mark the 150th anniversary of the original publication – a revised version of Humbug! was broadcast and – as I did at this time last year –I'm posting a recording of it on today's blog.

So, pour yourself a seasonal glass of something, heat up some mince pies, take a break from the pre-Christmas rush-and-tear and get into the spirit of the season with what, I hope, is still a mildly interesting account of how and why Charles Dickens was inspired to write what is, surely, his most famous book.

Along the way, you can enjoy some of the many interpretations – good, bad and downright ugly – that have been perpetrated over the years. And, after you have listened to some of these well-known, lesser-known and, sometimes, downright unlikely Scrooges, I defy all but the flintiest-hearted of you to say...


Images: Caricature of Charles Dickens by David Levine; Bob Cratchit & Tiny Tim by Fred Barnard, c. 1870; Scrooge and Marley's Ghost by John Leech, 1843.


ArteyOficios said...

Thanks Brian, great story.
It seems that there are many Scrooge around the world these days, I don't know if they come to redeem theirselfs...In any case we will continue to enjoy our Scrooge

scb said...

Thank you so much, Brian! At first, with all the repetition of "Humbug" I was beginning to crave sweets...

This will be an excellent capping link in my post on this week's Wednesday Worthies on the writing blog -- I will also be apprising folk of the rebroadcast of And Yet Another Partridge in a Pear Tree, as well as sharing a traditional CBC Radio One Christmas Eve rebroadcast of Alan Maitland reading an eery and moving story called "The Shepherd" (not the sort of shepherd that one finds "in fields abiding".)

Blessings to you and David at Christmas and always!


Boll Weavil said...

As you know, I'm not given to making grandiose statements :-) however Christmas Carol remains the finest book in the English language.There are still many people that don't get it but on one wonderful day,I heard 'Humbug' broadcast and I knew I was not alone and I had found someone that did. For the first time in my life, I was prompted to write a fan letter to the BBC and thus developed a fantastic friendship and one of the great joys of my life.Aside from my own memories, I still feel that that original broadcast is your greatest achievement because it breathes love of the book and life into every line.You can't fake that. It has to be there and that knowledge keeps that I am listening to a fellow enthusiast makes me go back to this recording time and time again.It's as much a part of my Christmas as the book is !

Brian Sibley said...

Sacra – As, I guess, Dickens knew, there have always been and always will be 'Scrooges' in our world. They existed long before A Christmas Carol, but Dickens gave them a name. Whether (as you say) they follow Ebenezer's example is debatable; however, Dickens' little book remains a timely (and ageless) warning.

SCB – Thank you for all the promotion you give me and my blog! I'll pop over an leave a comment on Wednesday! :)

Boll – What a very dear fellow you are! I've received relatively few fan letters in my time and they have all been HUGELY appreciated, but none more so than yours all those years ago.

It was wonderful to discover that someone else was as obsessed with this little book as I was! 'Love'? Yes, that's what the book exudes and what I tried to capture in the programme and the book that followed some years later and to which you made a enormous contribution.

In the days when I was regularly broadcasting, I had the very real joy of being able to make programmes about books, films and things that I loved and that made it highly pleasurable work.

I owe much to dear old Charlie Dickens, but nothing ranks higher in my gratitude to him than our friendship!

Boll Weavil said...

Fellow fans of yours may also like to know that the fabulous 'Fox at the Manger' now also seems an annual at this time of year and is being repeated again on Four Extra. The incidental music on that is really exceptional. Is it Dave Hewson ?

Brian Sibley said...

Yes, it is! Amd very fine it is, too! thanks for telling me, Boll, I would have missed it!

Roger O B... said...

My thanks to Boll as well as I'd missed seeing that the repeat of The Fox & the Manger was on - but, then, why wouldn't it be, essential listening for the festive season!

INGATIO: Anonymous dyslexic

Brian Sibley said...

Aw, Roger, you say the nicest things! :)

Love your latest Word Verification definition! Fatnastic! ;)