A Ghost Story For Christmas

July2017

The following is a complete transcript of the interview held with the late horror film Director and Writer Martin Close back in July of this year. Conducted during a short break in filming, the interview relates to the now-shelved and infamous production and remake of MR James’ ‘Lost Hearts’ for the then-intended revamp of the BBC’s ‘A Ghost Story For Christmas’ series.

We, at the Telly Times, have deliberated long and hard about whether to print this particular interview or not, fully appreciating the depth of feeling surrounding the affair. We are absolutely aware that, as was demonstrated throughout months of subsequent media coverage, this story did, and continues to, horrify and baffle people in equal measure. There are also those who vehemently decry the affair as a hoax or, worse, a publicity stunt intended to lend the production a mythical quality, or aura, thus enhancing its reputation. On this we take no position. All we can do is simply reproduce the interview transcript in its entirety.

And after receiving permission from Mr Close’s family this is exactly what we have done…

***

Telly Times: So, Martin, snow in July? Explain what this is all about, won’t you?

Martin Close: Yes. In short we’re creating a film for the BBCs ‘A Ghost Story For Christmas’ series. A remake of Lost Hearts – a story originally shown back in 1973. It’s an adaptation of an MR James short story. I believe they’re looking to show it on Christmas Eve this year. If not on the day itself. Which gives us, what, five months to get this thing in the can. Hence, snow in July.

TT: Many of our younger readers likely won’t remember, or know about, the ‘A Ghost Story For Christmas’ series. Can you explain what that was?

MC: The clue is in the title, really. For a spell in the 70‘s the BBC had a tradition of showing an adaptation of a ghost story, usually an MR James story, they once had Dickens’ The Signalman, late at night on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I assume it was done in homage of the age-old tradition in this country, certainly in Victorian times anyway, to tell ghost stories at Christmas – A Christmas Carol being a prime and obvious example. It was a hugely popular series back in the 70s. The BBC tried a similar one-off production a few years back at Christmas which, once again, was very well received. And so here we are, looking to get the ball rolling again.

TT: Did the BBC approach you regarding this? Or was this an idea you had yourself?

MC: I instigated it certainly. But the BBC were very receptive. I used to love watching the series back when I was a child in the 70s. So much so that I associated the whole idea of Christmas with horror, with ghost stories or tales.

TT: Were the BBC were receptive immediately? Even after the controversy attached to your previous production? (Martin Close attracted significant criticism for events surrounding his most recent horror film, ‘The Hounds of Hove’, in which the marketing campaign involved a mass appearance of dog corpses suddenly scattered around the town of Hove leading authorities to believe a deranged dog-killer had terrorised the town – prosthetics, of course. This of course mirrored the plot of Close’s controversial movie. The production was fined and Close cautioned by the authorities. The marketing campaign for his previous horror production, The Sullied Waves, in which him and his production team discoloured several rivers around a small town in Yorkshire red – reflecting the ‘bloodied’ rivers in the film – attracted just as much controversy).

MC: They were, yes.

TT: No reservations?

MC: Some, likely. I can’t speak for them. You’d have to ask them. But no, I think they realised the quality I would bring to the production. Also, this is a passion project. A genuine passion project of mine. No gimmicks, no quirks. Straight up horror. This production merits complete focus. And marketing campaigns, and opinions on that aside, everyone knows the quality I bring to the actual horror elements of film.

TT: That leads us nicely onto the story, of course. A passion project you say? MR James. The master of the ghost story. He was a big influence on you when growing up, yes?

MC: Absolutely. Huge. Not just through the BBC adaptations. I think I’d read his Complete Ghost Stories a good hundred times or so by the time I’d left school. Poe, Lovecraft, Stoker etc; they all influenced and intrigued me but none held a candle to MR James. There was an eeriness throughout each of his tales; a creeping, sinister, psychological eeriness that stays with you, you know.

TT: And so you went with Lost Hearts. Why a remake? Why not mine his canon for a completely different tale? One that audiences have never seen adapted.

MC: Well, for a start Lost Hearts was last shown on the BBC in 1973. That’s approaching half a century ago so I doubt it’s fresh in many people’s minds. But I take your point. The reason I went with this was simply the impact the story had on me as a youngster. Particularly as an orphan myself. It terrified me. Excited me. Stuck with me long after I’d seen it. The twin girls in Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining are always name-checked as almost being the epitome of creepy ghost children but, by god, the first time I saw the two orphans in the ‘73 version of Lost Hearts, it damn well chilled me to the bone. Horrifying. I loved it. And so I’ve been desperate for a chance to create my own take on it ever since.

TT: Which leads into this location. Unsurprisingly, again, this has attracted a level of controversy.

MC: (Sigh)Yes.

TT: An abandoned orphanage. One that has reported several ‘supernatural’ occurrences over the years. And not to forget a gruesome reported history – torture, murder, abuse – stretching back to when the orphanage was fully operational. Why film here? Many have claimed it shows a lack of respect. Also, there was no orphanage referred to in the original story as far as we’re aware.

MC: You’ve basically answered your own question. This place has a history, a terror attached to it. An…aura. What better place to ensure the actors are in the right mindset? Plus it doubles up well as a stately home, and that’s what we were after for the film of course. Two birds, one stone.

TT: I see. And in terms of the child….

MC: What the f**k are they doing down there!? Hey!! You two! Back up here! We’re not filming yet! Christ sake!

Martin Close at this point stood up to admonish what he took to be the two child actors, hired to play the orphans in the production, claiming he could see them standing silently in the distance, staring back at him. Myself and the photographer turned to look yet could see nothing, only the ornate gates in the distance amid the deluge of artificial snow through a dense mist (created by the special fx crew).

TT: I can’t see anything?

MC: They were just…ah, they must have ran off. Anyway, you were saying…

TT: Erm…yes. Was it…

MC: Bloody child actors! Never work with kids. Animals? Fine. Kids? No.

TT: Ok. I was actually going to ask was it hard to find the right child actors for the roles? The two orphans that is?

MC: Well, not really. There’s no dialogue for them. All they do is stand. Silently. Walk slowly now and again. Scratch a bit. And sit for several hours worth of makeup application. It’s not exactly the most taxing of…bloody hell, they’re there again!? Closer this time! HEY! Get your backsides up here! I’ve bloody well told you!

Again myself and the photographer turned, seeing nothing except the gate in the foggy, snowy distance.

TT: I really can’t see anyone Martin, where…

MC: Look! (He gestured towards the gate) The bloody two of them, slowly approaching! Creeping!! The child actors! All done up in make up! Even though its hours until their scene for god’s sake! Hey!!

TT: You mean those two…? (I gestured behind him where the two child actors, a boy and a girl, as described, were standing nearby. Close turned.)

MC: What….yes…those…how did…(he turned back, looking past me)…they must have…you two, just bloody well quit it! Ok! Whatever you’re up to! Child actors are ten-a-penny in this bloody business so cut it out! A bit of respect eh! (A mixture of fear and confusion crept across the chid actors’ faces at this point. Close turned back.) Yes. Anyway…go on…

TT: Erm…ok.

MC: Come on now, time is precious here. Especially with these little buggers acting up on set!

TT: Yes, sorry. The erm…the makeup. Yes, the makeup. For the child actors. Was that hard to judge what was right? I mean, we’re talking literal holes where their hearts should be, as per James’ original story. Was it hard to tread the line between something that had just the right amount of horror but something that would pass the BBC broadcast guidelines?

MC: Not really…it’s all about conviction….not willing to compromise your…GET OFF THE BLOODY SET!!! You two! That’s right, the two of you…this is a CLOSED SET! Bugger off before I get someone to kick your a***s! You pair of little…surely someone can see them now!? (he looked at us with incredulity, wheeling around to plead to his crew, being met at all junctures with blank looks)

TT: No…I just don’t…

MC: HOW IS NO-ONE SEEING THIS!? Look…they’ve even…LOOK!…some sinister b*****d has even done them up in makeup to look like….oh god!…they’re coming towards…oh god!…walking…slowly…their…get away…their chests…oh christ!…away…GET AWAY!!…anyone!…help me…their chests…their…someone GET THEM AWAY…

At this point the Director scrambled from his chair, a look of horror etched upon a face rapidly draining of colour. He stumbled before fleeing from the set, heading towards the aforementioned abandoned orphanage.

 

***

As is known by all who have followed the story in the months since these events, a later search for Martin Close in the grounds of the orphanage proved fruitless before the authorities were called in. The search dragged on into the early hours of the next morning. Close was eventually found in a secluded, and locked, room near the rear of the building. His body was slumped over a table, a hideous hole gored in his chest. His heart had been removed and has yet to be found. Authorities concluded that he had been dead for several hours. Filming of the production was immediately and henceforth abandoned.

Many rumours, theories and myths have since emerged regarding the story. A fact hardly surprising when you consider the infamous Director’s penchant for extravagant publicity stunts. One popular theory insists that Close faked the entire incident, using either a significantly lifelike prosthetic for the body or, as others claim, a fresh corpse with relevant plastic surgery performed on the facial features (not all of the theories carry a hint of reality about them as you can no doubt tell…). They believe he will reappear at some point in the future producing horror films under a pseudonym.

Others simply claim that Close committed the ultimate sacrifice for his art, going that one step further for his production, the pinnacle of the publicity stunt so to speak. A move which would enshrine the production in a macabre, mythical aura. Building in status, in infamy as the years go by. A pure horror tale. This theory loses merit however when you consider that the filming schedule was nowhere near complete at the time of the occurrence.

Amid all the theories and the hearsay it must be pointed out that both Martin Close’s family and the relevant authorities (police, coroners, funeral directors etc) strenuously insist that the body was that of the film maker. Of that neither of the parties have any doubt. So much so that a private funeral was held for Close. And given that no suicide note, plans or otherwise, were found they also strongly deny the suicide/sacrifice theory. The family have repeatedly asked that their privacy and their grief be respected.

We at the Telly Times, as stated, take no position on the events that we have described to you. We have simply reproduced the interview transcript in an attempt to clarify our involvement in the episode and to hopefully bring a modicum of closure to it.

A Ghost Story For Christmas: The Troubled Production of Lost Hearts airs on BBC One at 11pm on Christmas Eve.

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