On Halloween night, in 1992, the BBC aired a one-off television show called Ghostwatch. The show – presented by Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith and Craig Charles – aired on Saturday night, during peak prime time, and has never been repeated. Not once. If you think you saw it repeated, you are mistaken.
Presented as a real-life, real-live event, Ghostwatch was a ghost hunting show. The programme was set out like a typical 90-minute BBC phone-in show, only here presenters engaged in investigations into the paranormal and viewers at home were urged to call into the studio to share their experiences of ghostly encounters.
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 – the whole thing was an elaborate hoax.
What was Ghostwatch?
Ghostwatch was a mockumentary drama, written by Stephen Volk and directed by Lesley Manning. All of the presenters of the show 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; most did not. They watched and they believed what they saw.
When it aired on Saturday 31st October 1992, Ghostwatch caused a major stir, frightening children and adults alike, as they all thought 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 progammes to ever grace the BBC.
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. It is discussed by fans and those who saw it, but when it comes to the BBC, there is less chatter.
In 2017, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, the BBC’s The One Show was scheduled to air a segment on BBC One, to finally discuss and explain Ghostwatch’s notoriety… but at the very last minute The One Show got cold feet and the item was dropped.
Daft really, especially considering the programme aired a quarter of a century before; but hey this is what happens when you become that notorious – no one wants to stir up bad feelings.
Where can I watch Ghostwatch?
If you have never watched or perhaps you have never even heard of Ghostwatch, then now is the time to seek it out. You might not be able to find it on the BBC, but you can pick it up on DVD.
If you do want to seek it out, you might like to know that in 2019, 101 Films released a copy of the show on DVD (no Blu-ray or digital I’m afraid).
The Ghostwatch DVD is Region 0 – so should be fine for any DVD player, no matter where you live – and has a running time of 91 minutes. This is a single disc release, and carries a certificate 12.
The DVD is widely available, but I find that Amazon UK is pretty competitively priced.
The Ghostwatch legacy
Over the years, Ghostwatch has maintained its reputation for scaring ’90s kids shitless. Ask anyone who remembers watching that one-time broadcast, and they will tell you of the nightmares they had that night.
Does it still induce nightmares? Probably not – but it is still powerful stuff.
Look past the dated aspects of Ghostwatch 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 what it was, and you remember to turn the lights down low, you will scare yourself rotten.
And should you want more from the world of Ghostwatch, be on the lookout for the documentary, Ghostwatch: Behind the Curtains (2012). This documentary was produced to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the show.
You can also read the book, Ghostwatch: Behind the Curtain – The Transcript. The book was published in 2014 and can be picked up on Amazon UK.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post on Ghostwatch. If you remember the show, and remember how much it scared you, then please share your memories in the comments section below.
For more horror-related posts, be sure to check out one of the recommended reads below.
- Review: Taking Shape: Developing Halloween from script to scream
- The best creepy horror movies for kids
- The best obsession horror movie
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