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January 16th, 2019

Obviously there has been much political drama over the past couple of days, but I don't really have anything profound to contribute to the related commentary and speculation other than "What a farce! Revoke Article 50 now." So I shall tidy up and post these thoughts about some old telly instead.

Mystery and Imagination is a Gothic anthology series broadcast on ITV in the late '60s. It originally consisted of five series. The first three, produced by ABC, offered several 30-minute episodes usually based on short stories, and the final two, produced by Thames Television, tackled whole novels in an 80-minute format. Sadly, all but two episodes and an additional three-minute clip from the first three series have been lost - I assume wiped for similar reasons to the BBC's Doctor Who recordings. Reading through their titles is an actively painful experience for anyone who loves Gothic horror and old telly. I'd especially love to have been able to see the four M.R. James adaptations they did, which are obviously crucial context for the ones the BBC started producing from 1968 onwards. But the two Thames Television series remain intact, and they plus the surviving remnants of the ABC era are now available on this DVD box set which I received for Christmas.

I have been watching it regularly in the evenings since, taking notes as I went along - and with increasing intensity and enthusiasm as I realised just how good this series actually is. I wanted the set primarily (and inevitably) for the 1968 version of Dracula with Denholm Elliott in the title role, but made the decision once I had the whole thing to watch what remained of it in broadcast order. That was absolutely the right thing to do, because it turned out that the Thames Television parts of the series in particular were actively innovative almost to the point of being radical - if that's not too ridiculous a thing to say about what is still fairly stagey and largely studio-bound black and white (except the final series) telly. Anyway, since the Dracula episode came more or less in the middle of my viewing experience, it meant I was prepared to expect something unusual by then because of what I'd seen before - and also knew I could confidently expect more of the same afterwards. Of course, now I've seen everything which survives and know how good it is, the loss of the early episodes seems all the more painful - but there it is. Comments on each individual story in (surviving) broadcast order follow below:


Series 1

3. The Fall of the House of UsherCollapse )

4. The Open DoorCollapse )


Series 2

No surviving episodes


Series 3

13. Casting the Runes. Just three minutes of this survive, so it's hard to judge what the original would have been like, but they are enough to show the same combination of faithfulness to the text yet freely self-confident adaptation found elsewhere in the series. They mainly cover the scene in which Dunning seeing a mysterious death notice in the window of his omnibus (so far, so true to the original), but in this version it is his name in the notice rather than Harrington's, and is displayed with a date of death one month hence. Frustratingly intriguing!


Series 4

19. Uncle SilasCollapse )

20. FrankensteinCollapse )

21. DraculaCollapse )


Series 5

22. The Suicide ClubCollapse )

23. Sweeney ToddCollapse )

24. Curse of the MummyCollapse )


That, then, is the lot, and hugely enjoyable and interesting they were too. Come for the Dracula, stay for the innovative adaptations, female agency and insights into telefantasy history. Great work all round.


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