Simon Callow with the Brighouse and Rastrick Band: A Christmas Carol

review callow x1 cong

As a Christmas treat this is great. Fans of audible books know that a good reader can make the difference between a good and bad book (that Jane Austen we once listened to will never be forgotten, with its mispronunciation and poor edits. And poor edits./

This version of Dickens’s classic is as luxurious as a Harrods Christmas pudding thanks to Callow’s rich tones, and evident enjoyment at slightly over-hamming it.

He’s backed by the Brighouse and Rastrick Band, who play much-loved Christmas tunes in between the spoken sections (and sometimes behind Callow as he reads, but not too often).

Scrooge of course is the famously miserable Christmas git. As Dickens wrote: “Even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts.”

Indeed, Dickens could be said to have defined the modern Christmas with his festive street scenes, people singing to each other, shop windows decked with treats and tinsel, and goodwill to all men.

In the background are Dickens’s other portrayals of life at the time: hunger, violence, diseases, infant mortality, cruelty, children working in factories or going out pick-pocketing. In this case, people forced to work for festive period but still unable to pay for their nipper’s medical needs.

Dickens also invented one element of Christmas we don’t enjoy so much: cashing in. A Christmas Carol wasn’t his first Christmas story, just his biggest. He wrote one every year and doubtless some people felt the same about the latest Christmas Dickens (The Chimes, The Cricket On The Hearth, The Haunted Man etc) as we feel about the first sighting of that seasonal turkey, Noddy Holder or that perennial sign of Jesus’s birth, the John Lewis advert. So important were his Christmas sales that Dickens would start working on stories in July.

Still, we can forgive anyone who can joke: “There’s more of gravy than of grave about you,” only moments before scaring audiences with: “How much greater was his horror, when the phantom, taking off the bandage round its head …. its lower jaw dropped down upon its breast.” Ugh.

This is out now. The Allusionist podcast recently examined Dickens and is worth a listen, and the best version of Dickens’s story remains the Muppets one, for anyone who has not seen it.

Happy Christmas! Be like Scrooge: “it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”

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