Spine Chillers is a collection of short BBC radio dramas based on the ghost stories of M.R. James. Well, five of them. They were originally broadcast at Christmas, 2007, as part of Auntie Beeb's annual homage to the ghost story tradition. Now, at the time I wasn't overly impressed by these mini-dramas. They were good enough, I suppose, but I felt that - as introductions to MRJ's work - they lacked a certain something. What they have is Derek Jacobi as MRJ, doing a bit of narration at the beginning. Then each story is acted out by what is, I admit, a pretty impressive array of actors. Here's a quick summary of the contents.
'Oh Whistle...' stars Jamie Glover as Parkins and Nicholas Boulton as a very young Colonel Wilson. 'The Tractate Middoth' stars David Garrett, with John Rowe as the nasty Eldred. 'Lost Hearts' features the excellent Peter Marinker as Mr (even nastier-than-Eldred) Ashby. 'The Rose Garden', not a strong story, is given a boost by Anton Lesser as sensible George Goodman. And 'Number 13' starts Julian Rhind-Tutt as Anderson - again, he seems rather young for the part, but what the heck.
I admit that on a second hearing these are better than I remembered, but only just. The MRJ completist (hello, fellow spendthrifts) might like this collection as a bit of easy listening. But it's not the way to turn a sceptical person onto the ghost stories. The inevitable feeling is of rather rushed and perfunctory plot and character development, which does undermine the leisurely and good-humoured approach MRJ perfected early on.
Oh well. A much better buy from the Beeb is Derek Jacobi simply reading unabridged stories. The only collection available is entitled Volume 1, but Volume 2 is showing no signs of appearing as yet. The five stories on the first collection (two CDs) are 'A View from a Hill', 'A School Story', 'Rats', 'The Ash Tree', and 'The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance'. Of these, I think only 'The Ash Tree' is a first rate effort, but Sir Derek reads them all with great aplomb and it's pleasant to hear good English prose treated well.