Every year around this time, there are articles about which recorded version of A Christmas Carol is "the best." Usually it comes down to the films that starred either Alistair Sim or Reginald Owen.
But for me, it's this one. It's not a movie, though, or a TV production. It's, of all things, an audio version that was done in 1960 for, I believe, the BBC. It's quite wonderful and as good an adaptation of the story as I've come across. It stars Sir Ralph Richardson as Scrooge, and Oscar-winner Paul Scofield as Dickens, the narrator. Casts don't get much better than that.
I first heard this on radio station WFMT in Chicago which has been playing this every Christmas Eve for many decades. (And still does.) Eventually, I found it on audio tape. I've listened to it annually since I was a kidling. Some years I think I won't listen to it this year, but put it on for a few minutes for tradition's sake -- but after the first sentence it sucks me in.
There are four reasons why, for me, this is far and away the best version. But one reason leaps out.
First, the acting is as good as it gets. Scofield is crisp and emphatic as the narrator,and almost every creak of his voice draws you in to the world, and Richardson as Scrooge is a Christmas pudding joy. Second, being radio, you aren't limited by budgets to create the Dickensian world. Your imagination fills in every lush and poverty-stricken, nook and cranny -- and ghostly spirit, aided by moody sound effects and violins. Third, the adaptation sticks closely to the Dickens tale, and Scrooge comes across more a realistic, rounded-person than as a Mythic Icon.
And fourth, and most of all by far, unlike any of the other version, this includes...Dickens. While the story of A Christmas Carol is beloved, it's Dickens' writing that makes it even more vibrant than the story alone is. And that's all lost in the movie versions, even down even to the legendary opening line, "Marley was dead, to begin with." Or any of the other classic narrative lines. Or the richness of Dickens setting the mood and tone and description of the gritty and ephemeral and emotional world. All that's gone in movies, good as the productions may be. But all of that is here in this radio adaptation, and Scofield's reading of it is joyously wonderful and memorable. For many, this will be A Christmas Carol unlike any other you're aware of, giving it a meaning and richness you didn't realize was there. The ending of the tale is so much more moving and joyful here, as we listen to Dickens' own words, that begin with "Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more," and it soars from there, to perhaps my favorite passage about the new Scrooge and how good he is in the "good old world. Or any other good old world."
If you have the time or inclination, do give it a listen. If only for five minutes to at least get the flavor. You might find yourself sticking around. Let it play in the background, if you have other things to do. It runs about 55 minutes.
(Side note: speaking of Dickens, if you know the original cast album of Oliver!, the actor here who plays the Ghost of Christmas Present, Willoughby Goddard, was Mr. Bumble on Broadway and in the original London production.)
This might not play immediately, since it's a large file and may have to buffer first. But be patient, it's worth it.
From the archives. This week's contestant is Jean Bostrum from Zimmerman, Minnesota. It's a very lovely piece, but I didn't get either part. The guest did guess the hidden song, but even when pianist Bruce Adolph played the number again, I still had a hard time picking it out., except for a few notes. It blends impeccably with a particular melody by the hidden composer But since she got it, obviously it's guessable.
From the archives, this week's contestant is Alan Fletcher, the president and CEO of the Aspen Music Festival. The hidden song is breezingly easy, and guessable within a few notes. It's also one of the least-hidden songs that I've heard composer Bruce Adolph come up with. Shockingly, the contestant didn't get it. To his credit, he did guess the composer-style. I didn't -- and should have, though my guess was a composer whose style has a great many similarities with the right answer.
From the archive. This week's contestant is Nathan Stodola from Brooklyn, New York. I got the hidden song pretty early, though I think it should be quite clear as the piece goes on -- it's not especially well-hidden, though well-blended. I didn't get the composer style, a disappointment since it's one of my favorite composers...though mainly for his symphonies, which this is not.
At the age of 85, novelist John Le Carré has just published a new book -- A Legacy of Spies -- which is a sequel of sorts to his most famous book, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, written 50 years ago.
This is his recent appearance as guest on NPR's Fresh Air, hosted by Terry Gross. I didn’t listen to the whole thing -- it's about 45 minutes -- but did listen for 25 minutes, and thoroughly enjoyed it. What I heard is mostly about his life as a spy and his analysis of politics today surrounding Russia and Trump. Thanks to Eric Boardman for bringing this to my attention.
I don’t know if he gets into his writing later, though he reads a few passages from the book -- and most-especially when he reads from the first page (about a minute in) he’s tremendous. So good that you want to hear him read the whole book. So, even even you have no interest in listening to the whole thing, or even any, it's definitely worth checking out the first two minutes, if only to hear what it's like when an author is magnificent reading from his own work.
So, while Trump and the Republican Party rails loudly about Mexican "anchor babies," poor Mexican families sneaking across the border to give birth to their babies so that they'll be American citizens and have a chance for a better life, wealthy Russian birth-tourists book vacation packages, starting at $75,000 -- which include staying at Trump properties in Florida in order to give their children dual citizenship.
Bizarrely, as Nell Minow wrote me, this headline and graphic looks like it's a parody from The Onion. But no, it's very read, reported by The Daily Beast.
Okay, for those of you not steeped in musical comedy, the title of this is a song from the musical, Stop the World, I Want to Get Off, by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. It's sung by a Russian women (performed by Anna Quayle) and means "Little boy."
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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