Sunday, 14 September 2014

'The Hanging of Alfred Wadham'

 I must confess to not reading as much Roald Dahl as I should. I find his writing to be a touch pithy.  I enjoy both his adult and childrens' stories in only very small bursts, though I seem to read so many essays and reviews where he is quoted that I have a fair grasp of his attitudes and tastes.  I have however always been a fan of Ghost Stories, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy of "Roald Dahls Book of Ghost Stories" in a recently purchased 'box of books'.

Lady Cynthia having Tea.
 According to Wikipedia "Dahl read 749 supernatural tales from an array of ghost storytellers at the British Museum Library before selecting 14 that comprise this anthology". Well, that is, to put it mildly, some sort of understatement.

Dahl had set his heart on creating a TV show of Ghost Stories, I guess something similar to Hitchcocks TV show*, though oddly Dahl was not to be the presenter. Anyway, under the wise council of Lady Cynthia Asquith, he set about reading, and taking notes on, an heroic number of Ghost stories,  most of which he considered to be total dross (but that's another story). He finally settled on 24 tales that tickled his fancy. He then selected the first story to be filmed as a pilot, namely 'The Hanging of Alfred Wadham' by E.F. Benson.  It was all systems go and Dahl was on a roll.

E.F. Benson
The selected story was about a Catholic priest, who told the authorities about a criminal who had confessed during the sacrament of Reconciliation to a murder for which another man was about to be hanged. The innocent man was saved, but the priest was haunted forevermore by the ghost of the man whose confidence he betrayed. Unfortunately the American producers, were as Dahl puts it, “apoplectic” over the whole thing. The thought of offending however many thousands of Catholic Americans was a 'no-go'.  So the show was unceremoniously cancelled. However, Dahl kept his collection of favourites and published it years later - minus the story about the priest. As Dahl writes in his introduction, he never quite recovered from the shock of the rejection.

Then the whole sorry saga takes a strange turn.

There seems to have been a show in the UK (also filmed in the USA) called  Rendezvous (1957-?), and according to IMBD there was an episode called ''The Hanging of Alfred Wadham' staring . An  Edwin H. Knopfis is mentioned in the Credits, presumably the same Edwin who had encouraged Dahl to work on his abruptly abandoned  TV series. There is, however, no mention of Dahl in the series overview, with the exception of  one episode, 'Blind Landing", which was adapted by Dahl from his short story 'Beware of the Dog" It is all rather murky and mysterious. I can only hope that Dahl was glad to see his Benson story finally on screen, though why he didn't then include it in this 1983 anthology is anyone’s guess.

*Hitchcock had included one Dahl story in his show, namely Poison (1958)