Welcome to The A-Z of Horror – an alphabetical window into the horror genre. Over the course of 26 days, I’ll be taking a look at horror in all its facets and forms, offering up suggestions of what to watch, should you be in the mood for a real good scare.
Today: G is for Ghostwatch
Just over 25 years ago, on Halloween night, the BBC broadcast a one-off TV show called Ghostwatch. The show – presented by Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith and Craig Charles – has never been repeated.
Presented as a real-life, real-live event, the show was set out like a typical 90-minute BBC phone-in programme, whereby presenters would engage in investigations into the paranormal and viewers at home would be urged to call into the studio to share their experiences. And they did – viewers called into the show in their thousands, jamming the BBC switchboard as they prepared themselves to recount tales of the weird and unexplained.
There was just one big problem: Ghostwatch wasn’t live. It also wasn’t real either.
Ghostwatch was a mockumentary drama, written by Stephen Volk and directed by Lesley Manning. All of the presenters were part of the drama, as was everyone else who appeared on screen. The only people not in on the joke, was the audience.
Some viewers knew that Ghostwatch wasn’t real. Many did not.
When it aired on Saturday 31st October 1992, Ghostwatch caused a major stir, frightening children and adults alike, as they all believed they were witnessing a real-life investigation into the paranormal. By the next morning, when the truth came out, the Sunday papers had a field day and the show became one of the most notorious shows to ever grace the Beeb.
To this day, Ghostwatch is something of a strange beast – remembered fondly by those who watched it and pretty much disowned by the BBC due to all the controversy surrounding it. In fact, last year, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, The One Show was due to air a segment on BBC One, explaining Ghostwatch’s notoriety, but at the last minute The One Show got cold feet and the item was dropped. Daft really, especially considering the programme aired 25 years ago, but hey that’s what happens when you become that notorious – no one wants to stir up bad feelings.
If you’ve never seen or perhaps never even heard of Ghostwatch, then now is the time to seek it out. During the early ‘00s, the BFI released a DVD of the show, which if you look high and low for you should be able to track down.
Look past the dated aspects of the show and put yourself into the era in which it was made – when the internet was just a word and when people believed everything they saw on TV. If you take it for what it is and you remember to turn the lights down low, you will scare yourself rotten.
And should you want more from Ghostwatch, be on the lookout for the documentary, Ghostwatch: Behind the Curtains (2012), which was produced to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the show. The documentary includes insights from all the key players and provides a greater understanding of the power of this terribly convincing mockumentary.
Tomorrow: H is for…