BBC Radio 7, 20 December 2009
On the face of it, nothing much happens in this little tale, read by
Emlyn Williams (who also adapted it), The narrator meets a signalman by a lonely tunnel, who not only fears the narrator's
presence, but seems traumatized by the memory of an accident that happened in the recent past when a train crashed coming
through the tunnel. The narrator listens sympathetically and promises to take the signalman to a doctor the next day. However
when the narrator returns he finds the signalman dead, crushed to death by an oncoming train through the tunnel.
With echoes of Arnold Ridley's classic thriller The Ghost Train, "The Signalman"
does not actually tell us whether the train exists, even though the signalman provides vivid descriptions of its red light
rushing towards him and rendering him almost immobile with fright. Rather the tale focuses on notions of guilt; is the train
actually a projection of the signalman's fevered imagination, a punishment from God for his past sins? Although he is crushed
to death at the end, we have no way of knowing whether this is true or not (the narrator only hears the news in reported speech).
Perhaps the tale represents a warning to everyone not to make light of their sins, as they will come back to haunt them in
the end. The tale, it was read by Williams in a calm, matter-of-fact manner, almost as if he were telling a bedtime story.
This rendered it even more sinister to the listeners suggesting that such catastrophes can become everyday
occurrences unless we acknowledge our sins and try to do something to redeem them.