The music accompanying the opening sequence of the 1984 TV adaptation of John Masefield’s fantasy novel The Box of Delights captivated me when I saw it for the first time as a kid.
However, it was another ten years after that working at the Aldeburgh Music Festival when I finally learnt what the music was called.
The sequence accompanying the opening credits of The Box Of Delights is a small part of a longer setting of the First Nowell, itself one movement of a four movement ‘Carol Symphony’ written in 1927 by Victor Hely-Hutchinson, a conductor, pianist at accompanist at the BBC. It’s a shameless collection of christmas carol settings guaranteed to warm the heart of those in need of some instant Christmas cheer.
I only learnt the excerpt’s true identity by accident as well. A friend working in a music shop at Aldeburgh at the time handed me a CD and told me to listen to it. I put it on the CD player and carried on with my work. I zoned out, only to be jolted back to my childhood when the First Nowell melody kicked in. It’s now inextricably linked not only with memories of my childhood, but of Aldeburgh in the winter and of my friend.
Today the First Nowell variation is every bit a part of my Christmas playlist thanks to it’s easily discernible tunes and the effortless way Hutchinson conjurs up a Christmas scene in music. It’s as though he’s writing for TV long before TV programmes were being made. The regularity Classic FM has played it during the festive season makes it a must-listen because of it’s a crowd pleasing properties. And, despite having heard it endlessly year in year out, it still manages to give me goosebumps. That’s quite some achievement.
If the opening offers all of the anticipation of Christmas, then the conclusion of the First Noel variation is the ultimate climax for those of us with drama queen tendencies. Just listen out for the final thundering chords towards the end of this sequence, assuming you can stick with this recording of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra playing it. It is a little hissy.
It’s also a guilty pleasure. Bite me.
:: Variety reported in April 2009 that Mike Newell is behind a film version The Box of Delights.