Stories that inspired M.R. James

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

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Episode 72- By One, By Two and By Three by Adrian Ross

November 17, 2019 | Episodes | Comments (12)

adrian-ross-1904Like a prodigal and slightly deranged friend, Will and Mike return to explore another author inspired by MR James.  This week we look at the story By One, By Two and By Three, by Adrian Ross.

Show notes

  • By One, By Two and By Three is widely published in ghost story anthologies, but you can also find it online.
  • Adrian Ross was the pen-name of Arthur Reed Ropes, an accomplished academic and lyricist.  Ropes used the name when he started writing for musical comedies in the late 1880s.  By One… now often appears under this pseudonym.
  • However, the story was originally published anonymously when it appeared in Temple Bar magazine in December 1887. As Richard Dolby has explained, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the story was linked to Ross/Ropes. Most confusingly, it appeared in the US under the pseudonym “Stephen Hall”!
  • By One… was printed before Monty started telling his stories at the Chit Chat Society.  But Ropes, as Adrian Ross, published second ghost story The Hole of the Pit in 1914, just after the start of the First World War.  It was dedicated “To Montague Rhodes James, Provost of King’s and teller of ghost stories.” This was all the excuse we needed to include Ropes/Ross as one of those writers inspired by James!
  • Though Ropes and James were contemporaries at King’s College, a forward to Dolby’s book suggests MR James had no recollection of his colleague writing By One… when asked about it by a friend in the 1930s.  Monty replied: Best thanks for a very good story. I can’t place the author… though at first I had wondered if it could prove to be Rhoda Broughton who sometimes wrote a tale of this kind, as I don’t doubt you know, and a practiced writer, I judge. But there are no tricks of style that I can pitch upon. No. I must give it up; but I have enjoyed this story very much.”  Did he ever read the story while at Cambridge with Ropes – and did he draw any influences from it?
  • A TV version of By One, By Two and By Three was aired in the US in February 1972, as part of the horror show Rod Serling’s Night Gallery.  It’s a rather fun adaptation – and features a young Mark Hamill as a surly delivery boy!


  1. SRebInNH says:

    Yippeee! New episode! This was a lot of fun, and I remember the Night Gallery episode, too. That really was kind of a modestly star-studded series, in terms of acting as well as writing/adaptation — many recognizable old faces. In this one, MacBane was played by Joel Grey, the MC in Cabaret (and father of Dirty Dancing’s Jennifer Grey). Rich Uncle Howard Duff was all over American TV back then. Great job on this, you guys!

  2. Mike says:

    Thanks! We didn’t realise that episode had such an illustrious cast. Some good stories on that DVD, especially Cool Air. I’ll have to watch more of it if Will ever lends me the DVD…

  3. MarkB says:

    Interesting story – I found one of the two by Ross through my local public library system.

    One thought. Regarding the nature of the demon creature: I was thinking that the story is a ‘warning to the curious.’ Yes, you can call up a familiar, and it will do your bidding. Until your own evil is paid back with evil. A sort of sorcerer’s apprentice story, with the added element of evil, rather than foolishness.
    I didn’t mind the telegraphed ending. Many stories are stereotyped in form – it’s how you get there that matters.

    Always good to have a new episode.

  4. Eddie says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed the reading lads and agree that while often telegraphed, some of the scenes were creepily effective. The thing reminded me of the unseen/seen beast of the “Id” in the classic 50’s sc-fi “Forbidden Planet”, though that was more a Freudian Familiar than of the devilish kind. Also couldn’t help thinking of McBain from The Simpsons everytime you mentioned his name! Looking forward to the next reading and hope it’ll be before the end of the year!

  5. Corn says:

    I just discovered your podcast recently, and was delighted to see you post a new episode right as I was catching up to current! I don’t have anything scholarly to add, but keep up the good work, guys! It’s been great fun listening to your analyses of the stories you’ve covered.

  6. Jeremy Greenwood says:

    Excellent, I’d hoped you would do the James Gang. Even better, these first 2 are new to me.
    Just a note to say that, though still accessible by direct search, Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook has dropped off the episodes list. Are we going to lose the early episodes from the list 1 by 1 as we go on? I hope not as I do replay them from time to time.

  7. Charles See says:

    Thanks for another great episode. I’m glad I got a chance to listen to it while it was less than a month old – I need to pay more attention to my twitter announcements so I don’t miss it when you release new podcasts.

    Fun story – and you reminded me that I loved Night Gallery even though I can barely remember it. Upon research, I see it is on Amazon Prime, so here I come.
    I hope to hear from you both soon on another podcast.

  8. Miggs says:

    Yes, a new episode to listen to while I slogged it out on the treadmill! I truly enjoyed this one, and now I have to find that episode of Night Gallery!

  9. evan dorkin says:

    Very happy to have new episodes and enjoyed this one very much.

    Would love to hear you cover the Sheila Hodgson “M.R. James” stories written for radio and adapted for her collection, “The Fellow Travelers”.

    • Will Ross says:

      I love those stories! I have some really bad recordings of the radio versions which I still listen to. If we ever move on to more modern authors then she’ll definitely be on my wishlist!

  10. Nadia A says:

    Always a joy to see you back.

    I didn’t mind the telegraphing of the end, it’s a horror story and it won’t end well. It’s the road towards the end that counts to me. And yes, the cat’s death was upsetting, I’m a cat person myself. Animal deaths are always hard to stomach in horror. Don’t think of us, we’re human. Think of the cat!

    I remember that episode Night Gallery. Mostly because of Joel Grey, other than that it’s a bit cheap looking and not very scary. What’s weird is that I actually read this story without knowing about the tv adaptation!

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