Captured Ghosts: Horror Acting in the 1970s British Television Drama

Richard Hand

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


British television drama in the 1970s had a special interest in the genre of horror. Examples of horror television included works with a supernatural theme, such as the BBC’s A Ghost Story for Christmas series (1971-78), most familiarly featuring adaptations of the short stories of M. R. James, but also works by Nigel Kneale for both the BBC (The Stone Tape (1972)) and ITV (Beasts (1976)). Of equal significance was horror drama in a somewhat different mould, namely the generally “real life”, more Grand-Guignol terrors of Brian Clemens’ Thriller (1973-76). Writing in a period of booming DVD culture, the television academic is afforded an exciting opportunity to reappraise examples of 1970s horror television, key examples of which have been released in “digitally re-mastered” form and substantial collected editions (the Thriller DVD box-set totals 2150 minutes) with a variety of “extra features”. The ongoing release of 1970s television horror reflects three factors: the DVD industry continues to flourish and material is being released to meet this demand; there is a nostalgia industry surrounding 1970s culture; and performance horror enjoys a perennial popularity. With regard to the case studies in this chapter, there is a special place for the writer: Nigel Kneale and Brian Clemens were already veterans of television writing prior to the 1970s while M. R. James’ ghost stories created near-perfect paradigms for television adaptation. However, there is another key factor in the case studies we will be analysing: the role of the performer and the practice of “horror acting” in 1970s British television drama.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGenre and Performance
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2010


  • television drama
  • horror performance
  • adaptation
  • 1970s


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