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God bless us – every one!


Marley was dead: to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that…

That opening line is arguably one of the most famous ever written in all of literature, and sets the scene for a story that continues to echo and reverberate down the decades, every Christmas season.

Of course, the leading character in the story is one Ebenezer Scrooge, and I have no doubt that many of us have encountered individuals throughout our lives, who have exemplified Scrooge like qualities and characteristics:

“He’s a right miserable tight-fisted old bugger!”

“Tighter than two coats o’ paint.”

“Aye, he’s nae’ throwaway!”

Or best of all, “he needs a safecracker to open that wallet o’ his.”

So, I’m sure many of us recognise at least one person who possesses ‘Scrooge like tendencies’ …especially when it’s their turn at the bar!

The original novel by Charles Dickens (first published in 1843) continues to retain a universal and recognisable theme. Even more so now, as we endure a cost-of-living crisis. You could easily substitute one of Scrooge’s contemptuous statements – “Are there no workhouses?” for “Are there no foodbanks?” Yet despite the cruel deprivations hinted at within the narrative, the author attempts through his prose, to uplift the spirit and gladden the heart.

This is a timeless tale of regret, forgiveness, benevolence and ultimate redemption, as one man is given an opportunity to review his life (along with the many mistakes and errors he has made during that life) yet still has a last chance to overturn them for the better, one Christmas Eve.

It’s a story that has obsessed me ever since I first saw an animated version on TV, one Christmas Eve in 1965, with the myopic and curmudgeonly Mr Magoo in the role of Scrooge.

Later in the mid 1980s, I purchased an audio version that covered the entire text and was narrated by actor Daniel Massey. Each Christmas I would dim the lights and listen to the story unfold (with a glass of whisky in my hand), as the ice and snow began to grip outside.

Of course, over the years, the central role of the cold hearted, mean spirited, penny-pinching old miser has been played by everyone from Donald Duck, to Sid James, from Basil Rathbone to Bill Murray, and from Michael Caine to Kelsey Grammer.

Then in 1970, Scrooge turned song and dance man, when Albert Finney inhabited the role in the vibrant screen musical version. This production was later transferred to the stage, where it showcased the ‘flash, bang, wallop’ talents of Tommy Steele.

Later more traditional versions of the novel featured George C Scott (essaying Scrooge as a General Patton soundalike) and Patrick Stewart (going where no Scrooge had gone before!). Each giving their own inimitable take on the story.

For many however, the best screen adaptation arrived in 1951, simply titled Scrooge, and starring Edinburgh’s own Alastair Sim in the leading role. It was the perfect fit of actor and role as Sim exemplified Dickens character with sharp precision, ably assisted by a supporting cast of crusty British character actors, all looking and sounding as if they had just stepped out of the pages of the original book.

Like Frank Capra’s much loved It’s A Wonderful Life, this British screen version is as welcoming and as comfortable as a plate of mince pies and a mug of hot mulled wine!

Ten years ago, my deep affection for the novel and the richness of its characters, prompted me to read passages from the book live on air, during one pre-Christmas late night stint with Leith FM. It was an ambition fulfilled, as I told the story of Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchit, Mr. Fezziwig and the three visiting spirits to as wide a radio audience as I could imagine.

Over the years I have enjoyed a number of excellent stage productions. One in particular at the Royal Lyceum where, following the joyful ending, a simulated snow fall began to descend on the festive audience from above.

Yet the best stage version I ever saw was back in 1997, in of all places, San Francisco. The setting was the American Conservatory Theatre in Geary Street, and their production was flawlessly performed and deeply emotional in its presentation. I still have the programme, my ticket, and the lingering memory of how the story was so beautifully interpreted that evening has long stayed with me.

The tale maintains the Christmas message of friendship, love, forgiveness and joviality of spirit that continues to remain meaningful and relevant, whilst retaining a warm and deep place within many of our hearts.

Timeless and forever timely, a Christmas story that is sentimental yet with a strong social conscience. It remains a story of hope and the idea of better and happier days ahead. So, with that in mind, we leave the final words to Tiny Tim: “God Bless Us – Every One!” ■

Scrooge at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco


My affection for the novel prompted me to read passages live on air one pre-Christmas at Leith FM


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