BBC Radio 7, 24 December 2008
This charming tale by the author of Mary Poppins took as its
theme the Nativity, as remembered by an old woman (Wendy Hiller) looking back on her childhood. The story centred on two sceptical
children living in the modern world, who lacked imagination; everything had to be cut and tried with a rational explanation.
The old woman altered their way of thinking through her recollections, which focused on various animals coming to the manger
of the infant Jesue and offering gifts rather like the Three Wise Men. The donkey offered hs back; the sheep offered her woolly
coat and so on. The peace of the occasion was abruptly interrupted by the entrance of the fox (Alec McCowen) - a predatory
animal who seemed to have no place at the Nativity. He was derided by the donkey (Ronald Herdman), the dove (Danielle Allen)
and the cow (Maxine Audley). In an important soliloquy, however, the fox not only defended himself but took the initiative
by arguing that his gift - that of cunning - was perhaps more important than anything the other animals could offer. Now Jesus
had the power to extricate himself from trouble, and to outwit his enemies. The infant was not only persuaded by these remarks,
but also embraced the fox as one of his disciples, proving beyond doubt that true belief consists of listening to everyone,
regardless of race, creed or background.
By recounting this tale, the old woman not only challenged the children's prejudices
but reminded them of the importance of open-mindedness. This point of view seems particularly significant in the modern world,
where Christmas has become exclusively identified with materialist rather than spiritual concerns.
First broadcast in the late 1980s, "The Fox at the Manger" reminded us of just how
good an actor Wendy Hiller was. Her well-modulated tones suggested that the old woman could be relied upon to rediscover the
true meaning of 'the Christmas spirit.' The director was Kay Patrick.