Friday, March 21, 2014

The Stately Ghosts of England ( 1965 )

Margaret Rutherford, the intrepid actress best known for portraying the medium Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit and Jane Marple in the Murder She Said series had, in 1967, earned an Academy Award for her performance in The V.I.Ps and was awarded the title, Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire that same year. Prior to this crowning achievement she had an even more exciting experience....she was thrust among the living and the dead in a one hour television special The Stately Ghosts of England. 

In this program, which aired in 1965, the stout dame guided us on a tour of some of the oldest and grandest castles of Great Britain. However, their architecture and interior decor were not the highlight of the tour - instead, she attempted to beckon the spirits to make an appearance for NBC's audience in great Britain and the United States, where eager ectoplasm enthusiasts gathered around their teles to see what they could not see. 

Within the one hour timespan, Margaret Rutherford, her husband Stringer Davis, and Tom Corbett, one of England's most famous clairvoyants, traveled in a 1909 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost to visit three stately homes of England. 

The first, Longleat in Wiltshire, belonging to Lord Henry Thynne, the Marquess of Bath, was the setting of a duel provoked by the most ancient of sins - adultery. In the dark dismal hall leading to the upstairs chambers, Sir Thomas Thynne, with a flash of steel, slew his wife's lover. Lady Louisa Thynne died shortly after and joined her darling in the afterlife. However, she didn't quite make it...judging from the moans that are resounding in the corridors.  

"Lord Thynne, have you ever seen the ghost?"
"No, I never actually myself, seen or heard the supernatural" 

And so they carried themselves upstairs to have a chat with a woman who had seen the ghost. "Well, I didn't actually quite really see the ghost myself, it was more like a sinister presence that I felt ". 

Tom Corbett, being a clairvoyant ( one who sees ghosts ) had no trouble seeing her, of course, but for the viewers benefit, our team arranged to have a ghost camera - that wonder of the ages - set up to capture her fleeting presence on celluloid. To their satisfaction ( but hardly ours ), they did capture a shaft of light which appeared for a few seconds. 

Off they whisked themselves away to their second destination, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Goldsmith, owners of the charming cottage once belonging to Nell Gwynne, the famous stage actress and mistress of King Charles II. Unlike most ghosts, this lovely lady walks the floors of her dwelling in peace, choosing to remain to cherish the happy moments she spent in her home. Upstairs, however, is a more tempestuous spirit. The footsteps of a suicidal cavalier can be heard roaming the wooden passages leading to the bedrooms. The poor man is lost in limbo, still searching for the missing wing of his manor. Honestly, the current owners should have notified him of the change in the house's structure. 

More startling than these spirits, however, is when Tom Corbett actually speaks! 

"Do you know you have a third ghost?" he quietly announces, before promptly pursing his lips once again. The rest of the cast wander off to the bridge to not see the lady standing there, while Dame Margaret Rutherford chooses to snoop inside the Goldsmith's barn. Here, she points out an airplane belonging to Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, who once worked on the property. 

On their third and final visit, the ghostbusters are off to Beaulieu, an abbey in Hampshire. This crumbling ruin was built by hand by the monks of the Cistercian order in the thirteenth century, and rudely repossessed by King Henry VIII, a despisor of the church, to be given as a gift to Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Though the monks peacefully allowed their physical property to be taken from them, in spirit, they refused to budge. Spunky monks they be! 

The current owner, a descendant of the Earl, cordially conveys the story of the ancestral ghosts of the former abbey. Once again, he utters those profound words echoed throughout the special, "I, myself, have not seen the ghosts", but, he explains, his sister heard their rhythmic musical had a number of other townsfolk. The Earl's sister, surely a relative of Margaret Thatcher, relays her account of hearing the sounds of a primitive radio which was sending out easy-listening signals of comfort and peace. Our trio, anxious to tune into this station, sit outside the walls of the abbey, with tape recorder in hand, ready to document these songs for posterity. 

Margaret Rutherford sums up the program and her personal feelings succinctly with the words, "Let those deny who will, I for one choose to believe in them".

This program perfectly suited the talents of Margaret Rutherford, not only because she had a flair for the dramatic, but because she, herself, was a believer in the spiritual and the occult. Indeed, she was the ideal host to the ghosts. 

The Stately Ghosts of England is available for viewing here

This post is our contribution to The Big Stars of the Small Screen blogathon, hosted by Aurora at How Sweet it Was! . Be sure to check out all the other great posts about film stars on television! 


  1. I was unfamiliar with this TV special and thus very much enjoyed your review. Gee, these days, there are similar shows on cable channels like SyFy all the time. So, it turns out that Dame Margaret was very much ahead of her time!

    1. Wow, a TV special you are unfamiliar that proves that this show was rare! You're quite right about this being one of the first of the let's-go-on-a-ghost-hunt shows. I wasn't able to delve into how this show's premise came about, but now that the topic has been brought up, it's worth looking into. I wonder when ghost-hunting series really did begin.

  2. Book of same name, same subject but with Diana Norman and Tom Corbett. Published 1963

  3. Saw this when it was originally aired in 1965. I was 10 years old and I was terrified.