Stories that inspired M.R. James

Twelve tales of terror recommended by the master of the genre!

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Episode 69 – Smee by A.M. Burrage

December 20, 2018 | Episodes | Comments (9)

A.M. BurrageSeasons greetings listeners! For this special festive episode Mike and Will turn off the lights and dive into the wardrobe for a game of hide-and-shriek, courtesy of A.M. Burrage’s Christmas classic ‘Smee’!

Big thanks go to our reader this week Kirsty Woodfield.

Also mentioned in this episode were ‘The Dead Room’, the new Mark Gatiss ghost story due to air at 10pm on BBC4 this Christmas Eve. Also Robert Lloyd Parry, who is going to be live-streaming a performance of an M.R. James ghost story on Facebook this Christmas Eve at 7pm.

Last but not least, don’t forget to test your M.R. James knowledge with Monty’s Quiz, our brand new (and 100% free) quiz game with over 300 M.R. James-based multiple-choice questions!

Show notes


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  1. Joyce says:

    This story is included in The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories, selected by Michael Cox and R.A. Gilbert. Your local library might have it.

  2. Sophy says:

    Have you listened to The Haunting of MR James

  3. pagurus says:

    Thanks for the story! I am really glad you are still doing this show, it’s always a welcome escape into the realms of fiction. Scary Christmas!

  4. Joyce says:

    In The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories version, Mrs. Gorman is insured by three “firms” but I was sure I’d run across insurance linked to newspapers before, and after a bit of thought and Mrs.-Maple-style online-noodling-around, it came to me that it’s a central plot-point in P.G. Wodehouse’s 1923 story “Ukridge’s Accident Syndicate” (a.k.a. “Ukridge, Teddy Weeks and the Tomato”). From the Wikipedia plot-summary: The story is told in flashback as Ukridge and his friend James Corcoran stand outside the wedding of one Teddy Weeks, a successful movie star. The tale begins some years earlier, when Weeks was a struggling actor who believed all he needed to get his breakthrough role was a decent wardrobe. Ukridge, Corocoran, Weeks and others are dining at their regular haunt when one of their number reveals he has acquired accident insurance as a bonus for subscribing to a magazine, and has subsequently received five pounds after a minor cycling accident. Ukridge is inspired by this, and persuades his comrades to form a syndicate, subscribing to all magazines offering this free insurance, arranging an “accident” and splitting the insurance monies. Lots are drawn, and Weeks is selected as the one to be insured and to suffer the accident. [hijinks ensue]

  5. Raymond says:

    Great episode guys and a super quiz but I think Mcleod was a fellow scot a highland boy not Irish!

  6. Geraldine says:

    Thanks for another great episode! Sorry to hear that a few complainers are stopping you talking about sexual politics though. The social context of ghost stories is one of the things that make them so important, and I was always interested to hear what you thought.

    Crossing fingers you’ll relent and not be censored by people who only want a shallow reading of these great (and occasionally not so great) stories.

  7. Nick says:

    It was nice to hear both A podcast to the curious an hppodcraft cover Smee in the Christmas editions of their esteemed shows, perhaps this was by design? For anyone interested I enjoyed them both, different perspectives are always interesting. Thank you chaps. Two comments for the effort of one.

  8. Charles says:

    I can never catch these podcasts less than a month after they are uploaded…
    Great choice – I did catch the abridged version on youtube years ago without realizing it was abridged. I’m glad to have heard the original.
    Regarding complaints when you comment on sexual politics etc. – you have a good track record of not going too far off track and keeping centered on the story at hand. Sometimes I agree with your points, sometimes I think you are definitely looking at things the wrong way, but either way I want to know that you are not refraining from making comments you think are pertinent. I don’t listen to this podcast just to hear myself think.

  9. Richard says:

    Smee is a fine Christmas ghost story with an excellent setting and pretext, even if it seems quite conventional nowadays.
    I think the growing realization Jackson has of something wrong, sitting in the window seat in the dark, is masterfully done. Again, this is the creeping tactile horror that M. R. James was so fond of. The way Burrage states, ‘And out of the darkness beside me the whisper came: ‘Brenda Ford’, is concise, direct and unforgettable.
    The 1945 portmanteau film, ‘Dead of Night’ with Melvyn Johns, features a very similar children’s party story to Smee, also set at Christmas. The story was written by Angus McPhail, who also wrote or co-wrote the screen plays to a number of Will Hay’s later comedies.

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