Old Gems: The Box of Delights (1984)

The Box of Delights

Well, it’s Christmas so what would be more appropriate for the last Old/Lost Gem before we all start our marathon mince-pie fests than to look at the Old Gem that is The Box Of Delights, a spookier piece of Christmas cheer for kids you’d be hard-pushed to find.

Starring Patrick Troughton, Robert Stephens and the might of the then-new Quantel Paintbox, The Box of Delights was a six-part adaptation of John Masefield’s book of the same name that saw young Kay Harker returning from boarding school for the Christmas holidays. Along the way, he gets involved in a battle between magical peoples who want the ‘box of delights’, a wondrous creation that can not only help the possessor shrink, fly and travel in time, but also contains all manner of things inside.

And here’s the equally magical title sequence.

The story itself is a melange of Christmas and other traditions that sees Herne the Hunter side-by-side with giant, talking rats and mice, mysterious Punch & Judy men, Greek warriors and suspicious vicars. Over the course of the six episodes, Kay finds out more about the box, its origins, its creator Arnold Todi who lives in “The Old Times”, and why people would want it in some really delightful and scary ways (although they’re better in the memory than on DVD, I’ve discovered) before the whole thing ends with the world’s biggest cop-out ending. Ho hum. But that’s fairy tales for you.

Nevertheless, it’s still a delightful romp and Roger Limb’s electronic music will still delight anyone who grew up in the 70s or 80s.

It’s worth noting, incidentally, that The Box of Delights was one of the BBC’s most expensive and ambitious serials at that time, mixing the new compositing techniques of the Paintbox with animation to create the magical wonders the box is capable of. And boy, wasn’t the BBC proud of it all:

You can still find bits of it on YouTube and it’s available on DVD from Amazon for £4.50 so why not make every Christmas a Box of Delights Christmas?


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.