The Top 10: Ghosts

John Rentoul
·3-min read
Barry Howard (Jacob Marley), Tommy Steele (Ebenezer Scrooge) and James Head (Ghost of Christmas Present) in Scrooge the Musical, 2012  (Rex Features)
Barry Howard (Jacob Marley), Tommy Steele (Ebenezer Scrooge) and James Head (Ghost of Christmas Present) in Scrooge the Musical, 2012 (Rex Features)

Richard Morris suggested this one, and nominated the first two, along with Timothy Claypole, the longest running character in Rentaghost. However Claypole was excluded on appeal from Mick O’Hare, who said: “He was rubbish. His two fellow leads early in the series, Fred Mumford (the owner of the Rentaghost company) and Hubert Davenport, were fab. When they left Timothy Claypole took over and ruined it.”

1. Jacob Marley. He’s the ghost in Christmas Carol everyone forgets – and he’s the scariest of the four, said Richard Morris.

2. Dr Malcolm Crowe. Bruce Willis’ character in Sixth Sense. Also nominated by Frinton Bojangles, “mostly because you don’t realise he is one”.

3. The ghost of a Salaxian, whose spaceship exploded on Earth billions of years ago, triggering the evolution of the primeval soup of organic chemicals in Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. The longest haunting in English literature, including the possession of Coleridge to make him write crazier poetry, nominated by Paul T Horgan.

4. John White, named The Ghost because of his ability to ghost past defences in Tottenham Hotspur’s double winning season of 1960-61. A Scottish international who was killed by lightning whilst playing golf. One of the great No 10s, known as an inside left before modern football terminology destroyed the esotericism of the beautiful game. Thanks to John Noakes.

5. The Spectre of Communism. In Marx and Engels’s manifesto. Nominated by William French.

6. “Woman throws herself from speeding train, identity unknown.” From Godley and Creme’s “Under Your Thumb”. Thanks to James Johns.

7. Clytemnestra. One of the first ghosts to appear in a work of fiction: Aeschylus’s Oresteia. From Steven Fogel.

8. The Ringwraiths or Nazgul, in The Lord of the Rings. What other ghosts swoop around on pterodactylic creatures? Nominated by PD Anderson.

9. The spectral hand at Belshazzar’s feast. A warning of imminent and well earned doom at every tyrant’s table, which echoes down the millennia. From Daniel Howard.

10. Ramsay MacDonald. Most politically influential ghost of all time, and you don’t need me to explain why, said Sean O’Grady.

Other political nominations included “Jacob Rees-Mogg”, the “weirdly-dressed reincarnation of a 19th-century nob, wandering the Houses of Parliament but achieving nothing and invisible to most people” (Andrew Ruddle); and Theresa May – “just when the prime minister thought she’d gone away” (Cole Davis).

Honourable mentions for David Mills (Banquo’s Ghost – he’s become more famous than Banquo himself); Sara Buschova (Casper, the friendly ghost); Steven Fogel (Rebecca in Daphne Du Maurier’s novel to be revived in a new version on Netflix this month); and Your Moll (Elvira Condomine, in Blithe Spirit).

Next week: Songs that end suddenly, starting with “Virginia Plain” by Roxy Music.

Coming soon: Actors in minor roles who later took the lead in the same drama, starting with Peter Capaldi in Doctor Who.

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to

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