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article imageFavourite Christmas story: The Box of Delights, by John Masefield Special

By Mathew Wace Peck     Dec 24, 2010 in Entertainment
The Box of Delights by John Masefield has been chosen as one of the all-time favourite Christmas stories by the Guardian.
The Box of Delights – which was written in 1935 by the British Poet Laureate, John Masefield – has been chosen as part of the Guardian's "Season's readings".
It tells the story of a young boy, Kay Harker, who returns from boarding school and meets up with Cole Hawlins, an old Punch and Judy man.
Hawlins entrusts the boy with a magical box – his "box of delights" – which allows the owner to "go small" (shrink) and "go swift" (fly), and experience the magical wonders contained within the box.
A villain, Abner Brown, who is posing as a member of the clergy – "a very holy man" – is after the box, and it is up to Kay to keep it away from him.
Christmas Eve
In 1984, the BBC adapted the book as a six-part children's drama series. Produced by Paul Stone, and directed by Renny Rye, The Box of Delights starred Devin Stanfield, as Kay Harker, and Doctor Who's Patrick Troughton, as Cole Hawlins. The late Robert Stephens played Abner Brown. The story is set at Christmastime, and its seasonal theme music is Victor Hely-Hutchinson's orchestral arrangement of "The First Noël", which comes from his Carol Symphony.
Shown weekly on the run-up to Christmas 1984, the drama's sixth episode was broadcast on Christmas Eve, the night that the story itself leads up to.
Since its first and, to date, only broadcast on British television, the series has gained a loyal and cult following, with many viewers watching it again every Christmas.
Dean Braithwaite, who watched the series when it was first broadcast, is one of them.
In an email interview, Braithwaite said, "In the eighties, I watched The Box of Delights again and again on the Betamax home recording I made when it was first broadcast. Then, when the BBC released it on VHS, I bought that. Annoyingly, when it was first released, the episodic format had been abandoned, with the series split into two at a very odd point in the narrative. Fortunately, after the BBC received complaints, it was eventually re-released in its original format."
Braithwaite says he watched the DVD remastered version which includes some bonus material, including an interview with the show's director, Renny Rye, and star, Devin Stanfield.
"Unfortunately, by the time this material was put together, a number of the drama's major players had died, including the gentle Patrick Troughton and wonderfully over-the-top Robert Stephens," he said.
In 2009, Brilliant Films announced that they were working on a big-screen version of The Box of Delights, to be adapted by Frank Cottrel Boyce (Millions) and directed by Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).
"I first heard Box Of Delights as a radio play on the BBC when I was a boy in a freezing, mostly dark-brown England where the radio sets were huge and the whole country seemed to be lit with a single 40 Watt bulb," said Newell. "I was immediately seduced by the tingling, opening harp music and the fantastical, mysterious, magic story that followed."
Indeed, as well as the TV series, the BBC have adapted The Box of Delights for radio on a number of occasions – in 1943, 1948, 1955, 1966, 1978 and 1995.
The Box of Delights is, in fact, a sequel to Masefield's The Midnight Folk (1927). Kay Harker and a number of other characters from The Box of Delights first appear here. The Midnight Folk has been adapted for radio, by the BBC, on two occasions – 1958 and 2006.
More about Box delights, Midnight folk, John masefield, Kay harker, Midnight folk
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