Odd this day

7 May 1968

2 min readMay 7, 2024

It’s time to introduce a creeping sense of unease into the day and celebrate the 56th anniversary of an unsettling masterpiece of British television.

Title card: Whistle and I’ll Come to You. Just the title in white on a black screen

It seems odd that it wasn’t first broadcast around Christmas, but as the British Film Institute says:

this was the first, and arguably the best, of the M.R. James adaptations … during the late 1960s and ’70s, and an advance warning of a new tradition of Christmas ghost stories

Michael Hordern sits on a grassy bank at the back of a desolate, wintry beach with a flat cap on, and looking down at a book in his hand

A radio version five years earlier — also starring Hordern — had come out at the ‘proper’ time of year (24 December).

Whatever the reason for a late spring broadcast of these wintry scenes and themes, as Darren Arnold says in Creeping Flesh: The Horror Fantasy Film Book, it’s “a subtle, suggestive work”:

at first glance, it doesn’t really appear to be about anything much at all: an eccentric academic takes a holiday in an isolated, windswept part of East Anglia; whilst out walking he finds an old whistle; he experiences strange dreams; and finally, he witnesses an alarming incident in which the sheets on an unoccupied bed appear to be moving. Not a great deal happens on the surface, and much is left for the viewer to figure out.

Michael Hordern is so disturbed by what he ‘sees’ that the BFI says:

each line on his multi-furrowed face used to expressive effect.

Even today, the viewer buys in.

Still from the film. Long shot of a dark figure walking along the beach, seen from grassy dunes

The BFI says there was criticism of adapter/director Jonathan Miller’s liberties with the original, but it worked

Miller introduces an element of ambiguity as to the truth of the Professor’s supernatural experience — what we may be witnessing, he dares to suggest, is not a literal haunting but a clever mind teetering into madness. All the same, Miller’s adaptation is not only genuinely unnerving but, in fact, remarkably faithful to the spirit of James, and the theme of an arrogant, self-absorbed intellectual being harshly punished for his dabbling in things better left alone is entirely Jamesian.

You can watch it on YouTube:

…or find out more about it (and some of the images above):

…but if you decide not to, remember the moral of the tale: if you find a small bone object in a crumbling graveyard, and realise it’s a whistle, blowing into it is…

Michael Hordern at the end of Whistle and I’ll Come to You, looking utterly bloody terrified

… inadvisable.




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