Long before Harry Potter, The Box of Delights remade children’s fantasy

Written in 1935, John Masefield’s classic blended ancient magic with modern adventure and set a template for the work of JK Rowling and many others

My first memory of “appointment to view” TV is as indelible as it is vivid. It was the final episode of the BBC’s adaptation of John Masefield’s The Box of Delights, which I caught only by imploring my mother to let me stay for another half an hour while visiting a friend. The early special effects in the style of Doctor Who were as stardust to my young eyes; I still recall the thrill of watching Robert Stephens (as the villainous Abner Brown) fall to his watery fate. It wasn’t only the state-of-the-art animation and the compelling performances that captured my imagination, but also the magic of the story.

Some 33 years later, when I found myself writing the first stage adaptation of ...