My Christmas Story begins with a Decca Long Play album


DECCA ‎– DLP 8010: Ronald Colman, Charles Laughton ‎– Charles Dickens Classics: A Christmas Carol And Mr. Pickwick’s Christmas, to be precise. This is a vinyl recording that appears to have been assembled from two separate recordings of Charles Dickens stories that originated for the radio some time in the 1940s.

This was a Christmas album of two of Charles Dickens’ famous works– the Christmas Carol, which is justifiably famous, and Mr. Pickwick’s Christmas, which is perhaps less so, being bundled in with the Pickwick Papers, which is probably regarded as among Dickens’ lighter works.

The album was first pressed in the late 40s, and reprinted in 1950 under the sleeve you see above.  Side A was Charles Laughton’s light hearted and jocular recounting of the Christmas Chapters from the Pickwick Papers. The story is very lighthearted; a recounting of the members of the Pickwick Club visiting relatives for Christmas in the country during the Victorian time period. If you haven’t read the Posthumous History of the Pickwick Club (aka The Pickwick Papers), give it a try. The Christmas chapter is a classic. My brother and I used to joke about “Joe, the Fat Boy” who was always found in a corner attacking a mince pie and falling asleep. The Pickwickians attend a great Christmas party and dance a lot, eat prodigiously, and kiss under the missletoe. It’s a fun story. The Laughton recording is outstanding, and he had the perfect voice for it:

Listen to the Audio here:

If that doesn’t work, try this. The Audio isn’t as good, but it is clear.

Side B was performed by Ronald Colman, possessor of that ultimate refined English gentleman voice, playing Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. There are few works in English literature so completely associated with the holiday than a Christmas Carol, and I don’t feel as if I have to recount the plot of old Ebenezer’s redemption and moral rescue– almost everyone knows it, or should. This particular
recording was full of all the sharp audio stings associates with old time radio plays: sudden guitar strings, organ music and all. It was downright creepy when I was 7 or 8 years old, though gradually I was less scared by it. We played it constantly during the Christmas season until, I think, my mom threw it away, as it was hopelessly scratchy by then.

Listen to the Audio here:

(if that doesn’t work, try this, though the audio isn’t as good)

There’s not much more to this memory. I remember playing this record on a succession of record players owned by my mom and dad. My older brother, in particular, enjoyed this record maybe even more than me. The crackling and hissing of this ancient vinyl album was in its own way very comforting, as was the tinny, otherworldly audio of programs recorded for the radio back in the 40s. It’s odd to think about that record, as I often do at Christmas, being as old as it was. The original recordings by Laughton and Colman date back to the early 40s, when my parents were either in middle school or high school. The Decca Long Play record that I recall (the cover you see above) was pressed in 1950, and later on in 1970, but my parents must have found their version in an old record shop or thrift shop somewhere. It was ancient even for them. Of course, in a technological age I’ve found cleaned up audio copies on the Internet Archive (easily), and I can listen to this any time I want to. But there’s an essential element missing, and it’s more than the lack of a hiss and crackle as the ancient needle made the ancient vinyl yield up the golden tones of Ronald Colman once again, barely. I think it’s all about life experience.. nostalgia, as I’ve been reflecting on lately, is kind of a prison. It’s a way of telling us we missed out on something or something has passed us by. I don’t feel that way listening to these old recordings, now. More like a bemusement grown out of experience, and more of an intellectual, vice emotional detachment when I absorb the life lessons of Mr. Dickens one more time. There’s something universal about Dickens’ Christmas message– about keeping kindness and generosity of spirit in our hearts more than just one day a year. A message that transcends faith, politics and petty squabbles. Would that the world grew up listening to that message more often.

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