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In the clouds of hydrogen sulphide

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The 'trendy Jew': Whistle and I'll Come to You
Jonathan Miller Theatre director
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I can’t remember how I came to do the Whistle and I'll Come to You by MR James. I mean, I’ve never been particularly interested in ghosts. I’m interested in the sociology and the social anthropology of ghosts, of what belief in ghosts consists of and what they represent in terms of mental constructs, that was very fascinating to me.  And so I took the story of MR James and modified it tremendously. I didn’t do it... I didn’t literally recreate it as James had written it because actually it’s very... again, it’s rather a mandarin sort of Cambridge don's piece.  But it was an opportunity for talking about what it would’ve been like to have been a rational intellectual suddenly exposed to possibly his own fears of the supernatural.

And I was lucky enough to get Michael Hordern to do it, and he played it brilliantly. I wrote... I completely rewrote all the conversations and, of course, then was attacked by another, sort of, English gent for whom I would’ve been, but he couldn’t put it in those words, a sort of trendy Jew, and that was Kingsley Amis, who just attacked it violently.

Initially studying medicine at Cambridge, Sir Jonathan Miller came to prominence with the production of the British comedy revue, Beyond the Fringe. Following on from this success he embarked on a career in the theatre, directing a 1970 West End production of “The Merchant of Venice” starring Laurence Olivier. He also started directing opera, famously producing a modern, Mafia-themed version of “Rigoletto”.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Whistle and I'll Come to You, MR James, Michael Hordern, Kingsley Amis

Duration: 1 minute, 32 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2008

Date story went live: 23 December 2008