You’d be surprised how far they get into this before they say the words “A Christmas Carol”.
We’re at 1939 and my first and only chradventure into radio is in the company of sleigh mogul/ bored Transformer Orson Welles. Two months after the infamous War of the Worlds broadcast, the Mercury Theatre’s radio company was bought by Campbell’s soup. It was only natural, therefore, that a year later they’d do an adaptation of A Christmas Carol.
We start with another rendition of The First Noel though thankfully this one is considerably more tuneful than the one in the 1935 version. This gives way to the meat of the performance; Orson Welles rambling about Lionel Barrimore, “the best loved actor of our time”. Barrimore would later go on to play Mr Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life, ranked as the #6 most hated villain in all film.
Another short ad for soup and then we’re off! Orson jumps straight in with “Marley was dead to begin with”. I paused at this point because I could’ve sworn he was playing Scrooge. Some further investigation revealed that his company had, in fact, done five separate versions of A Christmas Carol and this was the only one where we don’t get to see Ebenezer Welles. But this was also the only one with such an overwhelming emphasis on soup, my favourite of all the semi-liquid foods.
When you take out the soup ads and Orson’s wildly tangential monologues, the piece is about 40 minutes long. We get no Marley knocker but are instead treated to the ghost Marley scene in full. We miss out Old Joe, post-rehabilitation Christmas Day and vast, vast swathes of Christmas Present. These are all good cuts, especially the Old Joe segment, which I have decided I hate. Are we meant to be held in suspense over whose drapes they’re trying to flog? Is Scrooge a moron? What is with this ongoing cultural association of ghosts and terrible mysteries?
The good news is that after the Ghost of Christmas Past there’s an ad break for soup.
As a completely silent character, The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is very difficult to portray on radio. They get around this issue by having Scrooge narrate every single thing that is happening at all points.
As you can see (hear – Ed), there are no attempts at English accents.
One of the stranger cuts is the second appearance of the gentleman collecting for charity -“the chugger”. In the original he is introduced and reintroduced to demonstrate in the simplest possible terms that where Scrooge was once miserly now he is magnanimous. In this timeline we can then assume that either the Poor Law Act of 1834 was repealed over Christmas Eve or that he himself died that Tiny Tim may live.
That’s basically it. It’s actually a very strong adaptation and really shows how much brevity is the etc of etc. There are a few upcoming adaptations that are over 2 hours long and I am beginning to dread them.
We’re hit with another ad for soup and then we go straight into Orson Welles dedicating the performance to all of his friends and all the members of the cast and crew. It’s very luvvie and very sweet and very Orson and I love it and him.
We then get a very quick interview with our lead actor, the great Lionel Barrimore, and it quickly becomes apparent that his seemingly overacted old man Scrooge voice is his natural speaking voice. I can only hope the rest of the cast went equally as method, especially Tiny Tim (who is insanely pretentious here).
I still wish I’d listened to Orson Welles’ Scrooge though.
6½ tins of Campbell’s tomato soup out of soup. I mean 10.
Sad that I won’t get to listen to any other radio adaptations, this was really fun. But there are so many that I doubt I’d even fit them into one Advent.