Ghost classics inspired by Dickens arrive at The Grand

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Charles Dickens’ own experience of surviving a train crash inspired one of the works included in Classic Ghosts at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre this week.

Familiar faces from the small screen, Jack Shepherd and Terrence Hardiman, head the cast for Dickens’ The Signalman and M R James’ Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come To You, My Lad.

The scary stories hark back to the days of telling tales around the fire - which makes them feel very natural at this time of year, according to TV’s Wycliffe actor Jack.

“They are both famous stories and for good reason,” he said.

“They’ve both been dramatised on TV over the past 50 years and I have seen good and bad versions of them too.

“The Dickens’ story is very interesting. A few years before he died he was in a train disaster on the way home from Paris in which a lot of people died.

“He was heroic and rescued people from the wreckage, but the experience profoundly affected him and he wrote the story just before he died as a way of dealing with it, processing the fear and putting ghosts to rest.”

When the case came to a trial, for the negligence of a maintenance worker, Dickens - despite he heroic acts at the time - refused to testify as he didn’t want to admit he had been on the train with his mistress.

Jack pays tribute to the gothic romance of the railways, in helping to create the atmosphere for the former, something which will certainly be enhanced within the Grand’s glorious Matcham auditorium.

“The Signalman, if you wrote it today, would be about an airtraffic controller,” he said. “In Dickens’ time, the 1850s, a railway signal box was the highest tech possible.

“There’s still something gothic and creepy about a signal box, and that notion of rail travel is romantic while places of departure and reunion still create nostalgia today.

“We have performed in quite a few Matcham theatres so far with this production, and they provide a wonderful atmosphere, although it takes a lot of energy for us as actors in those big old houses too. It’s more difficult but more rewarding.”

* Classic Ghosts, Grand Theatre, Church Street, Blackpool, tomorrow until Saturday. Call (01253) 290190 for tickets.