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‘…a weird harbinger of the found footage era, and a challenging, edgy television show, the likes of which will never be allowed on the air again…’

Yikes! We’re crawling back into the haunted well for one more ghostly scare before Halloween, but while we’re returning to the found footage genre, Ghostwatch isn’t a horror film at all. Ghostwatch was an ingenious, some might say dangerous television experiment broadcast by the BBC exactly 30 years ago in 1992, and never seen again. With no internet and precious few channels to choose from, huge ratings and household name presenters created must-see live tv events in these days, with live shows like Hospital Watch scoring big. Originally pitched as the final episode of a six episode series, Ghost Watch went out as a live BBC special on Halloween night and caused a lot of people a lot of bother, and this blu-ray premiere offers a look at what all the fuss was about…

Ghostwatch scared a lot of people at the time, and in some ways, it’s hard to see why now; this is very clearly fake news. Unless you genuinely find it possible to believe that malevolent demons were locking presenter Sarah Greene in cupboards or chasing a windswept Michael Parkinson around a BBC studio, then Ghostwatch doesn’t offer much of a frisson in terms of credibility. But that’s just the punch-line; Ghostwatch worked its way up to a ridiculous conclusion, but the way it gets there is still deceptive enough to fool casual viewers for at least a while…

Ghostwatch purported to be live tv, a Halloween spectacular with the lugubrious Parkinson interviewing some semi-convincing experts in the studio, and Greene reporting live from a ‘haunted house’ where the malevolent spirit known as Pipes is terrorising a household’s children on cue. An early trick to ensnare the unwary viewer shows footage of the children in their bedroom, while a  figure looms over them. Concerned viewers called in to the show’s switchboard to say they could discern this sinister shape, but a different clip of film was then played back with the mysterious figure now missing and the viewer concerns were instantly dismissed despite being completely valid. This gas-lighting tactic was clearly designed to freak audiences out, and it worked. Sure, 99 per-cent of viewers will recognise all this as some kind of parody or mischievous joke like Panorama’s famous spoof documentary about a spaghetti harvest, but if over 10 million people are watching, a concerningly large number of viewers will accept this kind of malarkey as fact.

Written by Stephen Volk and directed by Lesley Manning, Ghost Watch is remembered as a taboo tv show that went a little too far; at least one fatality resulted, with a finger pointed firmly in court at the BBC’s irresponsible use of a common household sound (pipes) to suggest imminent supernatural activity. But Ghost Watch’s notoriety reflects just how blindly trusted a source broadcasters were back in the 90’s; by suggesting some kind of Nigel Kneale energy unleashed by the show itself, linking the psychic ‘connection’ of the audience, Ghostwatch went too far in deliberately destabilising the mood of the nation. Less frightening than fascinating, Ghostwatch is a weird harbinger of the found footage era, and a challenging, edgy television show, the likes of which will never be allowed on the air again…

Thanks to 101 Films for advanced access to this title. Link and description below.

Ghostwatch (1992) (Limited Edition) (Blu-ray)

Special Features:
Do You Believe In Ghosts?, a brand new 30th anniversary documentary on the Ghostwatch
Commentary with film historians Shellie McMurdo and Stella Gaynor
Commentary with writer Stephen Volk, producer Ruth Baumgarten and director Lesley Manning
Shooting Reality by Lesley Manning
Limited Edition Booklet: Includes Extra Sensory Perception Management’ by Sarah Appleton,
Ghostwatch As it Happened by Tim Murray and short story 31/10 by Ghostwatch writer Stephen
Reproduced script, annotated by director Lesley Manning
Set of six art cards
Newly commissioned artwork


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    • I’m not surprised. The fakeness, and the winking, are obvious now but it’s still creepy AF at times…

    • The best way to watch. Looking at it now, you have to imagine the impact it had. Although fake, it’s still unsettling, and I bet you were proper scared!

      • It really was. I was about 16 or 17 and we had no idea what it was about at first. It did feel like a real tv broadcast at the time, and it was seeing shadows in the background that really started the fear going and then it was like a house of cards. It really was one of the scariest nights of my life. I still remember trying to walk casually home and then running for my life haha. What a truly unique experience.

  1. I see what you are saying about really needing to appreciate the context of the moment when this aired. Knowing the trusted anchor desk folks reporting the “news,” the era in which it was shown, etc. I have never heard of this until now, but I am quite intrigued. I will definitely investigate this further, but right now I have some spaghetti to go harvest.

    • Who looks after the rights of the real people who harvest spaghetti? I enjoy a good hoax, and that seems to have been the intention. In some ways, they were victims of their own success, in that viewers found it all too plausible. And faking it seems to come very easy to some people…

    • British sci-go writer, wrote Quatermass, The Stone Tapes, always in about unleashing psychic energy.

      Back any better today?

    • While people swear by this as the most terrifying thing ever, you’d have to have been watching at the time to really understand why this was so freaky for many people. These presenters were trusted, as was the BBC. Anyone who knows anything about tv would know that it was fake, but a large number of people dodn’t give a hoot about how tv is made and just assumed it was real, as Booky says, WOTW style.

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