It was sixteen years ago today that the BBC scared the living daylights out of the viewing public. Be prepared to be scared out of your wits again as we take you back to when Michael Parkinson presented…..
Ghostwatch, the British reality–horror/mockumentary television film, broadcast by the BBC, Halloween night, 1992, produced for the BBC anthology series: Screen One .
The show was originally conceived by writer Stephen Volk as a six-part drama (similar to Edge of Darkness) in which a fictional paranormal investigator and a TV reporter investigate poltergeist activity at a North London housing estate, gradually discovering more elements of the mystery each week.
This would have culminated in the final episode in a live TV broadcast from the property. However, producer Ruth Baumgarten doubted the viability of a mini-series, instead recommending a 90-minute TV special, Volk suggested that they “do the whole thing like Episode Six”, portraying it as an actual “live” broadcast fronted by well-known TV personalities.
Prior to broadcast the BBC became concerned about the effect the show could have on the public, very nearly pulling the show shortly before broadcast. Fortunately they didn’t, but they did insist on adding opening credits including the writer’s name, in addition to a Screen One title sequence.
The ‘action’ was recorded weeks in advance, but the narrative was presented as live television. Ghostwatch has never been repeated on television in the UK. During and following its first and only UK television broadcast, the show attracted a considerable distress from viewers, resulting in an estimated 30,000 calls to the BBC switchboard in a single hour.
The story, based on the tale of the Enfield Poltergeist, was put into production months before and was complete fiction.
Scenes at the house and the street were all shot on location around 5–6 weeks before the recording of the studio scenes. These recorded scenes were then played into the studio, where Michael Parkinson, Mike Smith, and “Doctor Pascoe” had to interact with them.
A phone number appeared on screen during the show so that viewers could “call in” and discuss ghostly phenomena. The number was the standard BBC call-in number at the time, 081 811 8181 (also used on programmes such as Going Live!), and callers who got through were connected first to a message telling them that the show was fictional, before being given the chance to share their own ghost stories. However, the phone number was besieged by callers during the showing and many people who telephoned simply got an engaged tone.
Presented as a live, on-air investigation into a house in Northolt, Greater London, at which poltergeist activity was believed to be taking place.
Through revealing footage and interviews with neighbours and the family living there, they discover the existence of a malevolent ghost nicknamed Pipes (the children in the house had asked their mother about noises heard, and she said it was the pipes, hence the name).
As the investigation proceeds, viewers learn that Pipes is the spirit of a psychologically disturbed man called Raymond Tunstall, himself believed to have been troubled by the spirit of Mother Seddons – a “baby farmer” turned child killer from the 19th century (probably inspired by Amelia Dyer). During the course of the show Pipes makes various manifestations which become more bold and terrifying, until, at the end, the frightened reporters realise that the show itself has been acting as a sort of “national séance” through which Pipes was gaining horrific power.
Finally, the spirit unleashes its power to the fullest extent, dragging host Sarah Greene out of sight behind a door and then escaping to express poltergeist activity throughout the country. He takes control of the BBC studios and transmitter network, using the Ghostwatch studio as a focal point and possessing Michael Parkinson in the process.
(Caution Advised, Clips Are Unsuitable For Young Children)
Got a little more time, here’s the whole program
Michael Parkinson (presenter)
Sarah Greene (reporter)
Mike Smith (presenter)
Craig Charles (reporter)
Keith Ferrari (as Pipes)
Created By: Stephen Volk
Originally Transmitted: 31st October 1992