Welcome to our “For Your Listening Pleasure” series, where we highlight and showcase podcasts and radio dramas that we enjoy. Admittedly, I, Modoc, lean heavily toward radio dramas, but I hope you won’t hold that against me. So, sit back, stay awhile, and maybe you’ll find something new for your listening pleasure.
In this installment, we’ll briefly explore the Battersea Poltergeist, Weird Tales, and The Hotel. These podcasts and radio series are broadcast on BBC’s Radio 4 and available through the BBC Sounds app, website, or Radio 4’s website (linked below).
Battersea Poltergeist – Do you like ghost stories? If so, the Battersea Poltergeist is one you need to listen to. In 1956, a quiet, idyllic street in south London is the scene of a haunting. A teenage girl, Shirley Hitchings, is at its center, and it quickly becomes a media sensation. Shirley, her mum, dad, nan, and step-brother John begin to experience the strange happenings in their home. It all starts with the appearance of an old mysterious key that does not open any doors in the house. Soon after, loud banging at all hours of the day and night wreaks chaos on the family, and it continues from there. Some of their experiences are harmless, but others include physical assaults. The Hitchings’ home at 63 Wycliffe Road is where it all takes place. The local media initially sensationalizes the events but later brands it as a hoax. The physical and anecdotal evidence says otherwise.
Local ghost hunter and paranormal researcher Harold Chibbett gets wind of the situation and offers to help Shirley and her family. He wants to make contact with the spirit in the hopes of putting it to rest. Chibbet is the founder of The Probe, a pioneering British group investigating psychic and occult phenomena. Through Harold Chibbet’s investigation, the case takes on a life of its own—eventually making contact with a spirit who becomes known as Donald. For several years, Chibbet actively camps out at Hitchings’, trying to determine who exactly Donald is or was, ascertain what it wants, and how to appease the spirit. Unfortunately, Chibbet was unable to solve the case to his satisfaction before his death in 1978.
Using Harold Chibbet’s original research papers and photographs, Danny Robins opens a modern-day re-investigation into this paranormal cold case. Along with special guests, he re-tells the experiences of Shirley Hitchings while looking for modern-day answers to the phenomena. This podcast’s composition is a blend of drama and documentary—spanning nine episodes with four additional “case updates.” Special guests include fellow researchers and skeptics, others that experienced phenomena similar to the Hutchings, and the now 80 something-year-old Shirley Hitchings herself.
Hands down, this is one of the best paranormal podcasts I have enjoyed listening to in recent years. The Battersea Poltergeist is not some humorous rehashing of a campfire story but a fact-based re-telling and academically-oriented re-investigation of the real-life haunting that spanned several years, beginning in 1956 at 63 Wycliffe Road.
Weird Tales – Weird Tales is a delightful series of chilling and intimate stories by an array of creative writers. Each story is self-contained. The first two Series have a single common thread loosely connecting them—themes prevalent in Lovecraft’s literary works. Notable themes include rites and rituals, forbidden lore, creeping dread, and of course, the paranormal. Each episode in Series 1 and 2 opens with a portrayal of Lovecraft introducing the story. In Series 3, the focus shifts away from Lovecraftian influences into more traditional horror and spine-tingling tales. At present, the eleven episodes will raise the hairs on the back of your neck and make your skin crawl.
I call your attention to one particular episode from each of the three Series. Every episode is terrific in its own right, but these resonated with me.
In Series 1, “The Loop” by Chris Harrald really struck a chord with me. It embodies strange discoveries and hidden horrors that Lovecraft was famous for. In 1906, a young archaeologist is summoned to a newly dug London underground network where workers have unearthed some mysterious remains. Through his investigation, he discovers that some mysteries are better left undisturbed…
Series 2 is shorter with only three episodes, but “The House on Pale Avenue” by Richard Vincent sucked me in. The story features a house trying to tell its new owners something. Scratching and banging in the walls and ceilings, horrid smells, and a growing sense of nervousness propel the story forward. There are some definite parallels between “The House on Pale Avenue” and Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Wall.” The story does a fantastic job at giving an ever-increasing sense of tension and dread.
As noted earlier, Series 3 stories are markedly different in tone. The best episode, in my opinion, is “Night Terrors‘ by Lizzie Nunnery. Victoria, a young teenage girl who’s constantly pressured to excel at school and home; living in the shadow of her deceased father who thought she was his “perfect little girl.” Tensions rise between Victoria and her older sister, Laura, as Victoria begins suffering from nightmares. Those nightmares quickly become terrifyingly real, at least in Victoria’s mind. This story was fantastic and made my skin crawl. My reaction is a result of the story’s subject matter as it deals with the mental health of a young girl.
If you fancy a good chilling tale, Weird Tales is well worth your time.
The Hotel – Is a series of fifteen episodes that is essentially an audiobook of British author Daisy Johnson’s The Hotel: A Series of ghost stories with a feminist twist. Each story, narrated by a different female voice actor, tells of a particular instance in the Hotel’s history. Through the stories, we learn of the Hotel’s originals on the Fens, the childless woman who once occupied the land and whose bones and spirit remain there still—a window into the minds of the women who the Hotel takes in.
This is what we know about The Hotel. It is bigger on the inside than on the outside. Do not go into Room 63. Doors and windows do not stay in the same places. The Hotel listens when you speak. The Hotel watches… We’ll be at The Hotel soon.
The Hotel itself is the dominant force in Johnson’s ghost stories—at times. It is both the protagonist and antagonist. Throughout, nearly all named and meaningful characters are women or girls. As a result, the listener is treated to amazing ghostly stories where the feminine is front and center, followed closely by the creeping horror in each story.
Johnson’s short stories, as experienced in this audio form, are expressive and hauntingly beautiful. To get the full experience of The Hotel, you need to commit to all fifteen episodes; by doing so, Johnson paints a chilling mosaic of the Hotel you will not soon forget.
All three BBC Radio 4 series briefly presented above are imaginatively creepy. There is much that can be taken from them as gaming inspiration. With stories inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, but by no means retellings of his work, we get a glimpse of the type of inspiration that can be gleaned in these episodes. “Rats in the Walls” inspired the “House on Pale Avenue,” in turn, what does it inspire for you?
How about the Battersea Poltergeist? This real-life haunting could easily spark an amazing Call of Cthulhu, Dee Sanction, Chill, or some other horror tabletop roleplaying game campaign. We could fictionally explore who Donald might have been or what other troubles he caused for the residents of 63 Wycliffe Road, or perhaps his influences are felt further afield?
What about the chilling stories in both the Weird Tales and The Hotel? There is such a diverse lineup of stories and themes; there is no lack of inspiration in either series. Some stories will easily translate verbatim into the gaming space, while others are best used as a source of inspiration for a Gamemaster’s own creative writing.
What will inspire your next game!
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