Kay Harker and Cole Hawlings with the Box of Delights copyright BBC Images
Aside from Christmas lunch and receiving a stocking each year, my most important Christmas ritual is watching the BBC adaptation of The Box of Delights. Watching it marks a home-coming, as I dim the lights and snuggle under a blanket with a hot cup of tea to watch it.
It is set in 1934 during the run up to Christmas and Kay Harker is on his way home from boarding school for the Christmas holidays. Whilst changing trains for Tatchester (the local Cathedral city) Kay bumps into an old Punch & Judy man, Cole Hawlings who is keeper of the elixir of life and a magic box, the box of delights. This chance encounter pulls Kay into a series of adventures as Cole warns him that the ‘wolves are running’ and entrusts Kay with the box in the hope to outwit the evil and power hungry Abner Brown who wants box and will stop at nothing to get it.
Kay’s guardian, Caroline Louisa, has invited the Jones children to stay, all of whom become embroiled in Kay’s adventures. Kay’s world is turned upside down when both Caroline Louisa disappears and he realises that Abner Brown is using the cover of a well respected local clergyman who runs a theological college. The local policeman does not believe Kay’s pleas for help, so it is up to Kay and the Jones children to defeat Abner.
Abner is prepared to ‘nobble and scrobble’ his way through the entire population of Tatchester to get the box – he mistakenly thinks that Cole may have given the box to the Bishop so the clergy are thrown into his dungeon one by one. Preparations for the one-thousandth midnight mass at Tatchester Cathedral are thrown into disarray as Abner and his sinister gang wreak havoc.
Will the one-thousandth midnight mass go ahead? Will Abner and his gang be caught? What happens to the box?
The series epitomises cosy Christmas viewing. All the elements that are essential for a traditional Christmas pepper the series, from Kay Christmas shopping in the snow to dancing around the Christmas tree and the children building a snowman, it diffuses an atmosphere of sheer Christmassy delight. The soundtrack is partly taken from Victor Hely-Hutchinson’s A Carol Symphony so snippets from ‘A First Nowell’ and other favourite carols add to the drenching in Christmas that this series so happily gives the viewer.
I have to confess that I have never read the book by John Masefield which, I feel, should be rectified but I just love the BBC series so much and for me the television series came first which means that when I read the book I will struggle not to see the actors in my head.
This is the time that I start getting really excited about Christmas. Plenty of Advent calendar doors have been opened, the Christmas shopping is done and the Christmas party season is in full swing. At the end of a couple of weeks of work parties and Christmas drinks with friends (I can never tire of mulled wine) I will sink down into my mum’s sofa a few days before Christmas, with the aforementioned cup of tea, and watch the Box of Delights to take me back to the delicious childhood excitement that Christmas is coming and magical adventures are around the corner – if only I could find that box.