The Mail invited the master storyteller Jeffrey Archer to reinvent the classic A Christmas Carol in a modern setting

The Mail asked Jeffrey Archer, a master storyteller, to retell the traditional A Christmas Carol in an updated setting.

Marley was already dead. That was undisputed.

Eben stayed in bed for several more minutes before getting up. 

The same four-poster that had been occupied by his great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Ebenezer, almost 200 years ago.

He loved to hear that his ancestors were as mean-spirited as him.

He thought about tomorrow and wondered how he would get by. 

Over Christmas, Eben intended to pull off a coup that would make him even richer — at the expense not only of his rivals, but even a member of his family. Ebenezer would be proud.

However, he was well aware he still had to convince his noble and worthy nephew Fred that it was in his best interests to part with his inheritance, which had been left to him by Eben’s late partner, Jake Marley. 

As one of Eben’s heroes had once said, he intended to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Eben had a lengthy bath as he reviewed his plan over and over again. Then he got dressed up in grey flannel pants, navy blazer, and club tie. It was not Eben’s usual garb but that is part of his deception.

Then he made his way to the kitchen to see Mrs Carter. She had prepared a glass freshly squeezed orange juice and a Vitamin D tablet. He also found a bowl with cornflakes, some nuts, raisins, and a copy The Daily Grump. 

He glanced at the headline: ‘Christmas looking gloomy for the poor while the rich can expect another prosperous year’. He laughed.

Eben took his place at the top of the table, without even wishing Mrs Carter a happy morning. She had just put two eggs in a pan of boiling water and the timer was set for 3 minutes 45 seconds. 

A slice of bread was then placed in the toaster, so that his next meal would arrive just two minutes after he had finished with his cornflakes.

He flicked through the paper, only stopping to read articles that reported famine, flood and pestilence, as they often created opportunities to make even more money out of other people’s misfortunes.

Finally, he turned to the Business section of the newspaper, which is his favorite part, and checked the shares on the stock exchange: oil up, gas up, coal up. The solar energy, wind power, and carbon capture are all down. Most satisfying.

After he’d finished breakfast, he folded the paper and rose to leave, but was taken by surprise when Mrs Carter asked him a question. ‘I’m sorry to bother you, sir, but would it be all right if I left a little early this evening?’

Eben Scrooge was always delighted when anyone described him as every bit as mean as his ancestor, and among the other traits he was proud to have inherited were being ruthless, cunning and selfish, all of which he considered compliments

Eben was delighted whenever someone described him as being every bit as mean and ruthless as his ancestor. He also considered it compliments that he was so cunning, selfish and ruthless.

‘Why?’ demanded Scrooge.

‘I haven’t had any time to do my Christmas shopping.’

‘That’s hardly my fault, Mrs Carter,’ Scrooge snapped. ‘Nevertheless, I’ll allow you to leave a couple of hours early. But I expect you to make up the time next week.’

Before she could say thank you, he left.

Eben was already out of the hall when he stopped to look at the portrait of Ebenezer Scrooge that Thomas Lawrence had painted. He had acquired the picture at a knock‑down price as no one else wanted it.

Ebenezer raised his eyebrows at Eben, who then looked up to him and repaid the compliment. He then grabbed his father’s old overcoat and hat from the hall stand and opened the door to find his driver waiting outside in the cold. 

Heath opened the back door of the Bentley and stood aside to allow his master to climb in — he’d left the engine running and the heater on so Mr Scrooge would be warm.

After closing the door, he jumped in behind the wheel and set off immediately, aware that his master wouldn’t want to be late for his appointment.

Scrooge didn’t say a word during the 15-minute journey to Southbury Football Club. He spent the time mentally preparing himself for the encounter with his nephew Fred, who had been brought up by Jake Marley after Scrooge’s sister Nell had died in childbirth.

Scrooge may have been Fred’s uncle, but Marley had always looked upon the boy as his own son. Fred ended up inheriting what Scrooge had wanted since childhood. This was all about to change. 

He still thought of Fred as a boy, as he’d watched him growing up over the years and had been happy to see him developing all the weaknesses of Scrooge’s late partner Jake Marley.

Fred was far more honest than he should have been, and that is what Scrooge intended to exploit. When he became chairman of the football team, he had written to felicitate the boy. It was part of his long term plan.

Scrooge, who was waiting patiently for Heath as he drove in the grounds, saw his nephew on top of the clubhouse steps, obviously delighted. This gave him an immediate advantage.

Fred ran up the steps and greeted his uncle when the Bentley stopped. He shook him warmly by the hand, saying: ‘Happy Christmas, Uncle Eben.’ Scrooge didn’t believe in Christmas. This was just an excuse to get a day off. But he somehow managed to say: ‘Merry Christmas, Fred.’

‘Mary and I wondered if you’d like to join us and the rest of the family for Christmas dinner?’

Scrooge didn’t say a word during the 15-minute journey to Southbury Football Club. He spent the time mentally preparing himself for the encounter with his nephew Fred, who had been brought up by Jake Marley after Scrooge’s sister Nell had died in childbirth

Scrooge didn’t say a word during the 15-minute journey to Southbury Football Club. He spent the time mentally preparing himself for the encounter with his nephew Fred, who had been brought up by Jake Marley after Scrooge’s sister Nell had died in childbirth

‘I haven’t the time,’ said Scrooge. ‘Too much work to catch up on before my staff return on Boxing Day.’

‘Well, I’ll leave the offer open,’ said Fred, ‘in the hope that you’ll change your mind. I know the whole family would love to see you.’

Scrooge had doubts about it.

‘But for now, why don’t we go and watch the team. They’re playing in the semi-final of the Marley Cup.’

The two of them walked together the short distance to touchline where they were joined by a group of wishful-thinkers. Scrooge pretended to take an interest in the game, even though he wasn’t sure which side he was meant to be supporting.

‘If we win this match,’ Fred said, with undisguised enthusiasm, ‘it will be the first time the club has reached the final.’

‘Fascinating,’ said Scrooge, who was taking a far greater interest in the seven other pitches that surrounded them.

The 22-acre property was worth about $200,000, he tried to figure it out. To maintain his advantage, he knew that he had to wait and let his nephew make the next move.


Scrooge was overcome by reverie when he saw a young boy running across the pitch, arms high, and being celebrated with teammates.

‘That’s Wayne Ibrahim,’ said Fred. ‘No prizes for guessing who he was named after.’ Scrooge wouldn’t have won the prize, as he was none the wiser.

‘They tell me he’ll play for England one day,’ Fred prophesised. ‘That will be a first for the club, and would have made Mr Marley so proud.’

‘It most certainly would have,’ said Scrooge, as he glanced across at the clubhouse. The date 1836 was above the door, which is the year Jacob Marley died. Each generation was given the task of maintaining the charity trust’s viability. 

Trust wasn’t a word Scrooge understood.

‘But the club is now facing a problem,’ said Fred.

‘A problem?’ repeated Scrooge.

‘I’m afraid so. Because even Jake couldn’t have anticipated how successful his club would become.

‘Since we were promoted to the First Division last year, every kid in the area wants to play for Southbury. Every weekend there are more than 300 young lads from the age of eight to 18 out there enjoying themselves, with 600 parents and friends cheering them on.’

‘Most impressive,’ said Scrooge.

‘But success has brought its own problems,’ Fred continued. ‘And we no longer have your late partner to solve them.’

‘What kind of problems?’ asked Scrooge, hoping he sounded sympathetic.

‘Well, as you can see, the clubhouse is almost falling down. If we don’t build a new one fairly soon, we’ll have to start turning some of the lads away.’

Scrooge was only too aware where his nephew was heading and simply said: ‘That would be sad.’

‘I’ve done my best to . . .’ Fred continued.

‘You’ve been doing a fine job as chairman,’ said Eben. ‘Jake would have been proud of you.’

‘Mr Marley, God bless him, always accepted that I was never going to join you in the firm. He knew I was more suited to working with young people than becoming part of the cut and thrust of business life.’

Scrooge replied: ‘Jake was a wise man. He would have approved of your stewardship of his club.’ Another well-prepared sentence.

‘It’s kind of you to say so,’ said Fred, ‘but we have to think about the future.

‘With that in mind, I’ve set up a fundraising committee.’ Something Scrooge was well aware of, but he didn’t interrupt him. ‘And we were rather hoping you might consider following in Jake’s footsteps and take a closer interest in the club.’

‘What do you mean by “a closer interest”?’ asked Scrooge, enjoying himself.

‘We hoped you’d agree to take his place as president.’

‘That would, indeed, be a great honour,’ said Scrooge. ‘But what would it entail?’ he asked, egging on his nephew.

‘Goal!’ went up another cry, as Wayne scored a second time. Fred began, after Scrooge had waited patiently for everyone to settle down.

‘First, I want to knock down the old club house and build one fit for the 21st century. It would have proper changing rooms and showers, as well as a gym that players could use in the winter.

‘And over there,’ he said, pointing to an empty strip of land, ‘I want to build a car park.’ So do I, thought Scrooge, but didn’t express an opinion.

‘And that’s only the beginning,’ said Fred, unable to hide his enthusiasm. ‘I want to put floodlights around every pitch so the kids can play in the evenings.’ He hesitated. ‘Rather than roaming the streets at night looking for other ways of occupying their time.’

‘How much do you imagine all this will cost?’ asked Eben, now satisfied that his nephew couldn’t dig himself into a deeper hole.

‘A million would cover the cost, and we were hoping . . .’ he hesitated for a moment, ‘that you might consider a contribution that would start the ball rolling.’

Scrooge nodded thoughtfully, but once again, didn’t interrupt.

‘If you felt able to kick-start the campaign, I feel confident we could hit our target by Christmas.’ The older man hesitated for a moment while pretending to consider the idea. ‘I think that might be possible,’ he eventually managed. ‘But I would have to ask a favour in return.’

‘Anything,’ said Fred, far too quickly. ‘If you were able to sell me the land, I would happily donate the million,’ said Eben, ‘You see, I could claim it as a tax loss. That way, we could take advantage of the Government’s new charity laws.’

‘Wow!’ said Fred. ‘If you felt able to do that, Uncle Eben, it would solve all our problems.

‘Wow!’ he repeated. ‘What a Christmas present!’

‘I’ll get my lawyers on to it immediately,’ said Scrooge.

Fred was told that the two of them should shake hands and close all deals by Jake Marley.

‘I’d better get back to the day job,’ said Fred as Eben’s mobile phone began to ring. ‘I can’t wait to tell the committee what you have in mind.’ If only you knew what I have in mind, thought Scrooge as his nephew headed off in the direction of the club house.

After Fred had left his earshot, Scrooge checked Fred’s name on the screen.

‘Good morning, Councillor,’ Eben said. ‘Your timing couldn’t have been better. I’ve just closed the deal with the club chairman. 

So, as long as your committee grants me planning permission for a supermarket, that frontline villa in Majorca that your wife’s set her heart on will be yours, and you’ll be able to spend your retirement in the sun.’

‘Consider it done,’ responded Councillor Roberts. ‘Your nephew has already applied for permission to knock down the old clubhouse, replace it with a new one and build a car park, which I rubber-stamped last week. Once you own the land, all you’ll need to do is apply for a change-of-use order, which I’ll make sure goes through on the nod.’

‘Not a word until all the paperwork has been signed off,’ said Scrooge.

‘Have you got someone lined up to make such an outlay profitable?’

‘Of course I have,’ snapped Scrooge. ‘Otherwise I would never have agreed to the deal. All their competitors have searched for prime land ever since Costsavers granted permission by your committee to construct a supermarket on the opposite side of town. And don’t forget, Costsavers paid £7 million for that piece of land, which is less than half the size of the club’s land. I’m anticipating a profit of between £15-20 million, which wouldn’t be a bad return on an investment of £1 million.’

‘The locals won’t like it,’ said Roberts as Scrooge began walking back to his car.

‘Trust me, councillor, half of them will be delighted that they will no longer have to travel halfway across town to get to a supermarket now there’s one on their doorstep.’

‘But the other half will be up in arms when they work out what you’ve been up to.’

‘Sticks and stones,’ said Scrooge with a shrug.

Master storyteller Jeffrey Archer has reinvented the Dickens original, A Christmas Carol, in a modern setting, creating a joyous tale for our age

Jeffrey Archer, master storyteller, has reimagined Dickens’ original A Christmas Carol in a contemporary setting. It is a joyful tale that will appeal to our time.

‘Your nephew will never speak to you again.’

‘I’ll learn to live with it. Along with my £15-20 million profit.’

The spectators cheered another triumphant cry from the touchline.

‘It looks as if young Ibrahim has scored again,’ said Scrooge.

‘They tell me he’ll play for England one day,’ said Roberts.

‘I don’t give a damn who he plays for,’ said Scrooge, who ended the call without another word.

Eben began walking back towards his car when he spotted Bob Cratchit, the club’s groundsman, heading towards him carrying his disabled son on his shoulders.

Scrooge quickened his pace, hoping to avoid a man who’d been in the same class as him at school. He didn’t want to be reminded he’d left the local comprehensive at 16. Most people assumed he’d been to the town’s grammar school, and a recent small donation to their new library fund had only added to that myth.

‘Can you spare a moment, Eben?’ said a voice behind him, as he had almost reached the sanctuary of the Bentley.

‘Not now,’ growled Scrooge.

‘It’s just that your godson, Tiny Tim . . .’

Scrooge regretted this gesture for a long time. ‘Another time,’ he snapped, as Heath opened the back door of the Bentley and he quickly disappeared inside.

‘Home,’ said Scrooge as he settled back into the plush leather seat, satisfied that things couldn’t have gone much better. 

Tomorrow morning, he will call his lawyer to explain why all paperwork must be completed quickly so the bulldozers can move in before the new year begins. 

The old club house was razed and the owner would need to wait for offers from rival supermarket chains.

Scrooge was always happiest when a profit was guaranteed, and he didn’t give a second thought to the future of the town’s football club. He’d leave his nephew, who, after all, would have his million, to worry about that.

Eben looked out the window and saw a policeman approaching them as the Bentley came to an abrupt halt at the set of traffic lights. As he gazed at the man, he gasped. Scrooge was afraid he would vomit when Jake Marley started tapping on the window.

Tap, tap, tap.

‘Get moving!’ Scrooge shouted at his driver, but the traffic light remained resolutely red.

Fear turned to shock as his ghostly partner’s hand slipped past the glass. Scrooge quickly slid across but the hand followed him to the far side of the seat, a wagging finger of disappointment which Eben vividly recalled Jake Marley administering whenever he’d caught him doing something he disapproved of.

Scrooge stood in the corner as the light turned green. After the Bentley left, Scrooge slid his hand back from the windows.

‘Did you see that policeman?’ demanded Scrooge, trying to recover. ‘What policeman, sir?’ asked Heath as the car moved off.

Scrooge tried to convince himself that what he’d just witnessed must have been an illusion, a trick of his imagination.

A few minutes later, the car came to an abrupt halt at a pedestrian crossroads. The man who was holding a lollipops raised his hand in order to let a small group of children through. 

Scrooge started to shake from head to foot, almost losing consciousness when he saw Jake Marley’s image. Before he turned the car around, his former partner waited until an elderly lady crossed the street.

Heath had just travelled a couple hundred yards more before he stopped in front of a bus with several people climbing aboard. Scrooge was frozen. Jake Marley was one of them, and he took a place at the rear. Scrooge turned and waved. ‘Overtake that bus!’ demanded Scrooge at the top of his voice, and when they had, he didn’t look back.

When Heath finally pulled up outside his home, Scrooge was still shaking, and it didn’t help that he was greeted by a group of young carol singers bellowing at the tops of their voices, ‘God rest ye merry, gentlemen . . .’

A man who he believed to be his friend pushed a box in front of him as he got out the car. He quickly opened the door and then he brushed aside.

He went in to the drawing area after locking the door. Marley appeared to be walking toward him, as he was about drawing curtains.

Scrooge quickly pulled the curtains closed, but didn’t turn on any lights until he reached the safety of the kitchen, where his housekeeper had prepared a beef stew with dumplings, and left it warming on the Aga. He still intended to deduct two hours’ wages from her pay packet to ensure this didn’t become a habit.

As he picked up his knife and fork, he glanced at the headline on the front page of The Evening Grumble, ‘Southbury reach the final of the Cup’, which was accompanied by a photo of Wayne scoring the winning goal.

Scrooge didn’t bother to turn to page seven and read the full story, but pushed the paper aside.

He took his time eating, listening to only the ticking clock, and was unaware of how many hours passed until 10 p.m., at which point he made a decision to go to bed early.

As he passed Ebenezer’s portrait, he gave his ancestor a slight bow as he did every night before climbing the stairs to his bedroom on the first floor.

His thoughts returned to the agreement he’d made with his nephew. The knowledge that Jake Marley wouldn’t have approved of the deal brought a smile of satisfaction to his face.

Before entering the bedroom, he switched on his phone from the table and got out of bed. As he took off his bedcover, he noticed the glowing numbers at his bedside clock. They read 10.11pm. He turned off the light and sank his head on the pillow before falling asleep.

He woke up abruptly by the shrill sound of his phone’s ringtone. He fumbled with the phone for a moment and stared at its screen to see the message ‘Unknown caller’. He woke up at 1.43am according to his bedside clock.

It is hard to imagine anyone wanting to call him that early in the morning. Even if it were a mistaken number, he had some words for the intruder.

He pressed the phone to his ear and demanded: ‘Who the devil is this?’

‘Look at your screen, Eben, and you will see that I am the ghost of Christmas past, and I have come to remind you…’

© 2021 Jeffrey Archer