Casting the Runes: The Letters of MR James

By Jane Mainley-Piddock

Foreword by Mark Gatiss

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Could M. R. James have been a modern day media “Personality”?

Could MRJ have been a modern day media “Personality”?
Watching Qi the other night I was struck at how the very witty Stephen Fry and indeed many of his contempories had one thing in common; they had all been members of a club that had honed their acting and presentation talents, the Cambridge Footlights. Monty had also been a member of the precursor of this club, the Cambridge Amateur Dramatic Club.

According to one of his biographers, Dr Richard Pfaff,

“For MRJ any danger of being wrapped up in a close knit complacent circle was dispelled by the fascination of those aspects of Cambridge which most drew him: the Greek Plays and other dramatic activities”.

Performing in Greek Plays whilst an undergraduate at Cambridge drew Monty into member ship of the Amateur Dramatic Society, which often put on their shows at “The Smokers” which later on was to become the real home of the Cambridge Footlights. One particular play was written by Monty, called Auditor and Impresario it was performed by a cast of undergraduates at the smokers, in Lent 1906.

It was a spoof based upon Marlowe’s Dr Faustus and featured a disgruntled undergraduate bargaining away his soul in exchange for better marks in his assignments. Monty commented on the writing of his play as,

“An outcome, a composing of a modernized Faustus adapted to the university conditions of the time”.

It is telling that his membership of this society and his participation in the writing and staging of plays has fascinating links with the other later members of the same society that now grace our media so often, notaries such as Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Mitchell and Webb and of course the distinguished members of the Pythons. It is certain that if he were alive today that Monty would have fitted nicely into the quiz line up of QI or Have I Got News for You, I’m sure his well known sense of humour and witty personality would have been a welcome presence.

Who knows he may have also had a blog and a twitter feed. The possibilities of how he may have fitted into this modern day media influenced world certainly give one food for thought!

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Tina Rath
 Tina Rath says:

I think he would have been deeply shocked by the very suggestion.

posted 9th June 2020

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