If you haven’t seen The Signalman, then you’re in for a treat; if you have, then, it will be like welcoming back a well-remembered friend.
“The Signal-Man” is a short story by Charles Dickens, first published in 1866, and relates the tale of a signal-man, who works in a solitary signalbox in a deep cutting, near the mouth of a long tunnel on a lonely stretch of railway. The signal-man is haunted by the vision of a spectral figure…well, that’s enough for here, you’ll just have to watch or read the story.
The Signalman starred Denholm Elliott, and was produced for the BBC’s Ghost Story at Christmas, which like turkey and chestnut stuffing, tinsel and crackers, was a firm festive favorite. It was the one drama that lingered long in the mind long after transmission.
Prior to The Signalman, Ghost Story at Christmas had dramatized uncanny tales by M. R. James, which had kept viewers transfixed, as we sat around our flickering TVs, in darkened living rooms, watching The Stalls of Barchester, A Warning to the Curious, Lost Hearts and The Ash Tree. It is because of this I associate Christmas with ghost stories. Without much more ado, let’s begin our tale:
“Halloa! Below there!”
When he heard a voice thus calling to him, he was standing at the door of his box, with a flag in his hand, furled round its short pole. One would have thought, considering the nature of the ground, that he could not have doubted from what quarter the voice came; but instead of looking up to where I stood on the top of the steep cutting nearly over his head, he turned himself about, and looked down the Line. There was something remarkable in his manner of doing so, though I could not have said for my life what. But I know it was remarkable enough to attract my notice….
And if you can’t find time in between wrapping presents to watch the whole half-hour above, here’s a three-minute version by animator George Roberts.