In December, after returning from America, I will be performing in Chester and Liverpool. To help publicise the events one of the local radio stations asked me to record a performance of each chapter of A Christmas Carol so that they could broadcast them over the five days before Christmas. The only problem with this plan was that each chapter needed to be condensed into around 2 minutes – making a running time of 10 minutes, compared to the 90 minutes of my usual show.
The only time I have come across a shortened version of The Carol was when another actor insisted on reciting his version, which was this:
‘Ebenezer Scrooge was a mean, grasping old sinner. But he lightened up, so that was OK!’
Feeling that I needed something a little more substantial I set to work, and this is what I came up with:
Marley was dead to begin with, there is no doubt, whatever, about that. Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did!
Oh, but he was a tight fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge. A Squeezing wrenching grasping scraping clutching covetous old sinner. Hard and sharp as flint, secret, self-contained, solitary as an oyster,
Once upon a time of all the good days of the year, on Christmas eve, old Scrooge sat busy in his counting house. It was cold, bleak biting weather, foggy withal. The door to the office was open, so that he may keep an eye on his clerk. At length the hour of shutting up the office arrived:
‘You, Bob Cratchit. Here! You will want all day tomorrow; I suppose?
‘If it’s quite convenient sir.’
‘It’s NOT convenient, and it is not fair. You would think yourself ill-used, I’ll be bound, if I were to stop you half a crown for it, and yet you don’t think ME ill-used when I pay a day’s wages, for no work.
‘It IS only once a year, sir’
‘mmm, a poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty fifth of December. But I suppose you MUST have it, but be here all the earlier the next morning, d’you hear?’
The clerk promised that he would, and Scrooge walked out with a growl.
Ebenezer Scrooge. You will be visited by 3 spirits: expect the first tonight when the bell tolls one, expect the second on the next night, at the same hour. The next on the next night, when the last stroke of twelve has ceased to vibrate.
Scrooge woke as the church clock tolled ONE. He sat up in his bed as the curtains were drawn.
‘I am the ghost of Christmas Past, rise and walk with me.’
They passed through the wall – ‘but I was a boy here!’
The school was not quite deserted and Scrooge wept to see his poor, forgotten self as he had used to be.
The spirit led Scrooge to a warehouse: ‘I was apprenticed here!
‘Yoho my boys, it Christmas Ebenezer!’
Why, its old Fezziwig, alive again!’
‘My time grows short’, observed the spirit
Again Scrooge saw himself, a man now in the prime of his life and he was seated next to a fair young girl.
‘Another Idol has displaced me. A golden one. May you be happy in the life you have chosen.’
She left him, and they parted.
‘Spirit, show me no more, torment me no longer!’ And as he struggled with the spirit Scrooge found himself in his own room, and fell into a heavy sleep.
Scrooge woke in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore. He walked to the door and had his hand upon the lock
‘Come In! Come In, and know me better man: I am the ghost of Christmas Present! Touch my robe!’ Instantly they were in the city streets and the sprit led Scrooge to Bob Cratchit’s dwelling.
‘What has got into your precious father’, said Mrs Cratchit, ‘and Tiny Tim. They weren’t as late last Christmas day’ As the words were spoken in came little Bob with Tiny Tim upon his shoulder. Alas for Tiny Tim he bore a little crutch.
The cloth was laid and grace was said. Oh, there never was such a goose, and eked out by the mashed potatoes it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family.
Bob stood and proposed a toast – ‘A Merry Christmas, my dears. God Bless us.’
‘God Bless Us Every One! ’ said Tiny Tim, the last of all.
‘Spirit,’ said Scrooge. ‘Tell me if Tiny Tim will live?’
‘If these shadows remain unaltered by the future the boy will die!’
And now, without a word of warning from the Ghost, they stood upon a bleak and desert moor,
‘What place is this?’ asked Scrooge.
‘A place where Miners live, ‘But they know me. See!’
A light shone from the window of a hut,. Passing through the wall of mud and stone, they found a cheerful company assembled round a glowing fire. An old, old man was singing a Christmas song.
Much they saw and far they went, always with a happy ending, until they stood in an open space. Scrooge saw that the spirit’s hair was turning grey and as the clock struck twelve he remembered the words of Jacob Marley: ‘expect the next on the next night when the last stroke of twelve has ceased to vibrate.’
He looked about for the Ghost of Christmas present, but saw it not and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.
The Phantom silently approached. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand.
‘I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come? Lead on spirit, lead on.’
They scarcely seemed to enter the city; for the city rather seemed to spring up about them.
The Spirit stopped beside one little knot of business men. Observing that the hand was pointed to them, Scrooge advanced to listen to their talk.
‘When did he die?’
‘Last night I believe -it’s ‘likely to be a very cheap funeral, for upon my life I don’t know of anybody to go to it.’
The spirit lead Scrooge to Bob Cratchit’s dwelling. It was quiet, very quiet.
Bob came in. Alone.
‘Oh my child, my little little child. Oh Tim, God Bless You!
The phantom pointed as before and led Scrooge to a Churchyard. It pointed down to the grave by which they stood.
‘Before I move near to the stone to which you point, tell me, are these the shadows of things that will be, or the things that may be only?
The spirit was silent. Scrooge moved towards the stone and saw upon it his own name, EBENEZER SCROOGE!
‘No spirit! I am not the man I was, I will not be the man I must have been but for this. I will live in the past, the present and the future. I shall honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year round.’
He saw an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.
Yes! and the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!
It’s Christmas Day! I haven’t missed it! The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like.
‘I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. ‘The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.’
He ran to the window and called to a young boy who was passing.
Hallo, my fine fellow!’
‘Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner?’
‘I should hope I did,’
‘An intelligent boy! A remarkable boy. Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there — Not the little prize Turkey: the big one?’
‘It’s hanging there now,’
‘Is it! Go and buy it! I’ll send it to Bob Cratchit’s,’ whispered Scrooge, rubbing his hands, and splitting with a laugh. ‘He shan’t know who sent it. It’s twice the size of Tiny Tim.
Oh but he was early at the office the next morning, if he could just catch Bob Cratchit coming in late! And he did it, oh yes. Bob was a full 18 minutes, and a half behind his time.
‘Step this way. Now, I shall tell you what my friend, I am not going to stand for this sort of thing any longer, and therefore Bob Cratchit, I am going to raise your salary!
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father.
It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!
I was rather proud of that!