Episode 48 – Auditor and Impresario

A young M.R. James playing the part of Peithetairos in Aristophanes' The Birds, Cambridge 1883This episode Mike and Will dust off their acting chops and take to the stage as they cover Auditor and Impresario, M.R. James’s little-know comic play! Expect diabolism, drama, demons and dreadful sub-GCSE-level acting!

The image to the right is none other than M.R. James himself, playing they the part of Peithetairos in an 1883 student production of Aristophanes’ The Birds at Cambridge. The play was performed in the original Greek, naturally!

Show notes:

  • To our knowledge this play is currently only available in Ash Tree Press’s A Pleasing Terror. Currently only available in eBook form, but an essential purchase for any James fan in our opinion.
  • This play is a parody of a student production of Dr Faustus by Christopher Marlow. You can read the whole thing on Project Gutenburg.
  • This play was not the only thing inspired by the 1906 student production of Dr Faustus. It inspired the formation of the Marlowe Dramatic Society, which is still going today.
  • In this episode we ruminate on the connections between this play and Rupert Brooke, who starred in the production of Dr Faustus which preceded the writing of this play.
  • One figure who looms large over this play is M.R. James’s very good friend J.W. Clarke. Clarke (or ‘J’ to his friends) was a prominent figure at Cambridge and a great supporter of the Amateur Dramatic Club.
  • Rosemary Pardoe ponders the meaning of the seemingly-unrelated latin sentences which Mephistopheles spouts in this article on the Ghost and Scholars website.
  • The Seven Hills and other Cambridge oddities are explained in this entertaining article.
  • Gyp, and a whole range of other mysterious terms are explained in this article on the slang and jargon of Cambridge University. For a chuckle we recommend checking out the references to  ‘Great Court Run’, ‘Grad-bashing’, ‘Hill’, ‘Open scholarship’, ‘Punting’, ‘Sent down’, ‘Sex club’ and ‘Suicide sunday’.
  • More details on James’s involvement with drama at Cambridge can be found in James’s Eton and Kings.

Episode 47 – The Five Jars, Part 3

In this episode Mike and Will cover the concluding third of ‘The Five Jars‘, M.R. James’s little-read children’s book. Expect earwig racing, bat balls, dragons and horseshoe mayhem!

The readings for this episode once again come from the excellent Librevox audiobook of The Five Jars, read by Peter Yearsley.


Contemporary children’s novels with a similar touch of the weird:


Episode 46 – The Five Jars, Part 2

The Five Jars - illustration by Gilbert James

In this episode Mike and Will delve into the middle third of M.R. James’s ‘The Five Jars’ and encounter talking owls, two flavours of sinister old women, and all manner of supernatural trickery and tomfoolery!

Readings this week are once again extracted from Peter Yearsley’s excellent Librevox recording of this story, with added help from Debbie Wedge.

If you don’t have a copy of The Five Jars in your collection, you can read the whole thing online at

Also, Letters to a Child, extracts from M.R. James’s highly entertaining correspondence with the young Sybil Cropper can be read online at the Ghosts & Scholars website.