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The Haunting of MR James in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 10:05 08 May 2019

Photo: Jason Figgis

Photo: Jason Figgis

Archant

Some of the spookiest stories around were written by an academic who loved the brooding atmosphere of ancient and isolated East Anglian villages

Some of the spookiest stories around were written by an academic who loved the brooding atmosphere of ancient and isolated East Anglian villages.

Montague Rhodes James, who wrote as MR James, began scaring himself by making up ghost stories as a child.

As an academic he catalogued the medieval manuscripts at Cambridge University and was director of the Fitzwilliam Museum. Every Christmas Eve he would read ghost stories to his fellow Cambridge tutors. Later the BBC adapted several of them for television.

A new film of his life, The Haunting of MR James, explores whether the author believed in ghosts himself.

"James, highly regarded as the father of the modern ghost story, would never publicly admit in life to paranormal experiences, yet there is ample evidence that suggested he did believe, albeit privately," said John West, associate producer of the film.

The documentary was directed by Jason Figgis, who fell in love with East Anglia when he made a film about photographer Simon Marsden. Much of his MR James story was filmed in Methwold, near Thetford.

"Methwold was a place where James spent a lot of time," said John. "It was also a perfect place for filming as the scenery looks lovely on camera.

"Norfolk's landscape, legends and rich heritage certainly inspired James in his ghost stories and some elements of Norfolk folklore are borrowed for his stories."

MR James, whose stories often focus on the discovery of an ancient book or object which unleashes the wrath of an evil from beyond the grave, also wrote a travelogue book about Norfolk and Suffolk, published in 1930.

The BBC adaptation of James' The Stalls of Barchester was filmed in Norwich, while A Warning to the Curious, based on a legend of three Anglo-Saxon crowns buried in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex to protect the coast from invasion, was filmed in Happisburgh, Waxham, Wells-next-the-Sea and Sheringham.

The Haunting of MR James was released on DVD and can be seen on Amazon Prime and Google Play.

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