Remember Michael Palin? Of course you do. It hasn’t been that long since he had a role on TV (The Wipers Times, last year) and his travelogues are always rerunning on one channel or another. It has been a while, however, since Palin took on the lead in a drama, as he does in Remember Me, the three-part spooker that marked an auspicious start to ghost story season on BBC1 last night.
Palin plays Tom Parfitt, an elderly man who lives in a small Yorkshire town, all alone except for the neighbour, Mrs Salim (Mina Anwar), who looks in on him. Yes, that’s right, Michael Palin is officially “old” now, and if that realisation jarred with your conception of the ever-youthful Python, it’s all to the good. Parfitt gave his age as “80-odd”, but his behaviour was eerily boyish. He faked a nasty fall so he would be taken into residential care, giggled at odd moments and, just when you had him pegged as a harmless eccentric, he made an uncomfortable joke about “all them chuffing Pakis”.
Writer Gwyneth Hughes might have given herself a little too much story to tell in this first hour. There were so many supporting characters to introduce – troubled police officer Rob (Mark Addy), troubled care-home worker Hannah (Jodie Comer) and troubled Mrs Salim’s troubled sons – that it seemed we’d hardly touched on the real plot when the credits started to roll. In any case, all of their troubles might have been sufficiently hinted at by the regular cutaways to dark, rolling clouds.
There were, however, some intriguing details in among these (I think) extraneous scenes. The folk song “Scarborough Fair” made a great basis for a ghostly tale, as did the framed photograph of a small boy and the watery imagery of shorelines and dripping taps. Mr Parfitt’s connection with India also seemed to run deeper than his casually racist remark. There were photographs of what looked like Raj-era India on his mantelpiece and the episode’s several good jump scares all involved flashes of a sari-wearing spectre.
Blow the dust off your tome of collected M R James or H P Lovecraft and Remember Me’s themes of buried, Anglo-Indian guilt seem to fit well not only within the context of modern, multicultural Yorkshire, but also within the classic ghost story tradition. Hints like these are enough to draw us back in to find out more next week. It’s like Mr Parfitt warned Hannah: “You’ve brought it away in your heart, now you can never take it back.”