At this time of year, I am reminded of a conversation that took place over 30 years ago, between my mother and my soon to be father in law. Reminiscences about their respective childhoods revealed a shared Christmas experience. In the late 1940s, young Ken and even younger Dorothy were both glued to their wirelesses one Christmas, listening to The Box of Delights, on Children’s Hour (the great saviour of the pre television age for many young people).
There are two battered copies of this strange and rather wonderful book that unite our families, and provide an extra bond at Christmas.
The story is indeed a box of delights, set in the mid 1930s in the days leading up to Christmas. It boasts a wealth of characters; quirky and adventurous children, dastardly thieves and kidnappers, wicked governesses, good guardians, magical showmen, time travelling philosophers and mythical heroes and heroines, as well as a Bishop and his clergy, and the best Punch and Judy show ever! All this is brought to life in the glorious prose of the poet and author John Masefield, with a central theme capturing the very essence of Christmas with the help of an ancient cathedral and a box; a box of delights, that must be kept safe, must be kept secret, until it can be revealed for good purpose in the eternal battle of good and evil that underpins all the best stories.
My dear father in law is sadly no longer with us, but this book, amongst a wealth of memories, keeps our thoughts on happy Christmases past, very much alive, as does the excellent TV drama made in the 1980s that captured the soul of this story so well, with the welcome addition of the same haunting music (a variation on The First Nowell from Victor Hely-Hutchinson’s Carol Symphony), the accompaniment to the radio series that so entranced Ken and Dorothy and many other children, over 70 years ago.