1 9 6 6 (UK)
13 x 50/65 minute episodes
1 9 6 8 (UK)
3 x 60 minute episodes
3 x 80 minute episodes
1 9 7 0 (UK)
3 x 80 minute episodes
It was perhaps only appropriate that ABC, the company which had launched the horror anthology on British television, should also be responsible for the first landmark series, Mystery and Imagination, which made its debut in January 1966.
Devised by producer Jonathan Alwyn and script editor Terence Feely, who between them read some four hundred Victorian tales of the supernatural to find material for the first 13 episodes, continued at regular intervals until the last production, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Suicide Club, was transmitted in February 1970.
The series – featuring David Buck as Victorian adventurer Richard Beckett, the linking narrator and sometimes participant – concentrated on classic horror literature and was responsible for two of the most faithful TV adaptations of Frankenstein and Dracula.
The highly skilled director, Voytek, compressed Mary Shelley’s novel into 80 engrossing minutes with Ian Holm, Neil Stacy and Ron Pember, while the accomplished Patrick Dromgoole directed Bram Stoker’s vampire classic in which Denholm Elliott, playing Count Dracula, visibly disintegrated in the closing scene in a display of special effects unlike anything seen previously on television.
Among other classics featured in the series were Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas (starring Robert Eddison and Roy Godfrey), The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe (with Freddie Jones and Kenneth J Warren) and The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde (with the extraordinary pairing of Bruce Forsyth and Eleanor Bron!).
For many viewers, however, the most dramatic of the productions was The Open Door (pictured at left) by the Victorian novelist Margaret Oliphant which Joan Kemp-Welsh directed.
Jack Hawkins and Rachel Gurney starred in the story of a tragic haunting – but it was the poignancy of Hawkin’s performance as Colonel Henry Mortimer (retired) which gave the drama so much extra frisson.
The Open Door was recorded before Hawkins’ operation for throat cancer, and it was terribly evident. Jack Hawkins, of course, recovered from his operation and continued to appear in films and on television – although his voice was dubbed – until his death in 1973.