E. F. Benson was a British author who lived from 1867 to 1940. He may be most famous for his “Mapp and Lucia” series of novels as a result of the books having spawned two different and well-received BBC adaptations in 1985 and 2014. Benson was, in fact, one of the most prolific writers of his or any other time with more than 50 novels, five plays, numerous non-fiction books and over a dozen short story collections to his credit. Most of those short stories belong to the horror, supernatural, occult or Gothic genre and many are considered classics of the genre.
“The Bus-Conductor” is a story about the premonition of one’s own death which was adapted into one of the stories told in the classic horror omnibus film Dead of Night and then again in a classic episode of the original The Twilight Zone made famous by its terrifying line of dialogue “Room for one more” which is paraphrased from Benson’s original. In addition to fictional adaptations, a very popular urban legend which follows the basic outline of this plot can be traced directly back to Benson’s story which is almost certainly his most famous.
Although his Mapp and Lucia novels have made Benson famous to television viewers, the general consensus is that none of his novels show the qualities of his literary skills as well as his short fiction. In addition to his own collections, many of Benson’s tales of terror which he perhaps condescendingly labeled “spook stories” have made their way into various anthologies over the decades.
The newest edition of collected Benson stories titled Ghost Stories contained an introduction written by Mark Gatiss. As one of the founding members of the British comedy-horror troupe The League of Gentlemen, Gatiss is uniquely qualified to help introduce a new generation of fans to a writer who noted for often combining straight-up horror with a compelling brand of dark humor. This aspect of Benson’s approach to “spook stories” is perhaps best displayed on what is—almost certainly not by coincidence—the final entry in the book introduced by Gatiss. Indeed, one can well imagine the author whose mind concocted “The Caterpillars” being a fan of The League of Gentlemen if not one of the Gentlemen himself.