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What was Ghostwatch? The Scariest TV Show Ever Made?
The Birth of Reality TV?
"The program you are about to watch is a unique live investigation of the supernatural. It contains material some viewers may find to be disturbing." Michael Parkinson, October 31st 1992.
Picture the scene. Its Halloween night, 1992. The whole of Great Britain is looking forward to a night of quality and perhaps scary TV. Up comes the familiar BBC logo, a logo you can trust. A corporation that was beyond reproach and trusted by millions of TV viewers across the entire world.
Presented by the extremely famous and talented chat show host Michael Parkinson, Ghostwatch was from the very beginning portrayed as a live on-air documentary investigation into a haunted house in Greater London.
But, was everything exactly as it seemed in those opening 10 minutes or so. Read on to find out.
The Plot of Ghostwatch
Pam Early and her two daughters lived in greater London. Within the opening minutes we see an interview with the family, which gives some small details into the terror they have been living with. In the studio are Dr Lynn Pascoe and Michael Parkinson. Back to the outside broadcast team we are introduced to Sarah Green, the host and Craig Charles (of Red Dwarf fame) who is there to provide comic relief.
The house is filled with technology, automatic cameras, thermal imaging devices and motion sensors. So far, so every ghost hunting program out there. However, remember this was years before Ghost Hunters and the recent glut of ghost hunting reality TV shows. We had never seen anything like this before!
As the program progresses we learn from the footage presented and interviews with neighbors that there are several stories relating to the area. Are they connected in some way? Who is Pipes, who was the baby farmer turned child killer and why have they chosen this family to terrorize?
As per many BBC live programs at the time there was a telephone number you could ring and the studio team took several calls during the 90 minute program. This first caller explains that she thinks she saw something during some of the pre-recorded investigation footage.
Why Not Buy it Now While You Still Can?
Was it Real?
No. Nope, not in the slightest!
But this was the clever bit. Ghostwatch was a hoax. Decades before Paranormal Activity was thought to be radically innovative, the BBC did the same thing and fooled hundreds of thousands of people into thinking they had been part of the unfolding drama, on a budget of £2.50 and some moldy old wine gums with pocket lint stuck to them.
Written by Stephen Volk initially as a 6 part drama, the decision was made to instead film it in a "mockumentary" style. Of course, having Michael Parkinson host it lent the whole thing tremendous gravitas! This guy WAS the BBC at the time.
However, Ghostwatch was not the success story you might think it was. The BBC was bombarded with complaints. Everything from people feeling their intelligence was being insulted to people who were appalled by how frightening and real the program was.
Tragically, there was one suicide relating to the program. Martin Denham, who had learning difficulties killed himself several days after seeing the program, leaving a note that read "If there are ghosts I will be ... with you always as a ghost."
This may be one of the reasons that the BBC banned further broadcasts of Ghostwatch.
It is clear to any lover of the paranormal that Ghostwatch was heavily inspired by The Enfield Poltergeist, an alleged haunting in North London. The cover of the Doctors book is very similar to images from "This House is Haunted" by Guy Lyon Playfair who investigated Enfield. The disembodied voice was again ripped straight from the Enfield case and sounded very similar.
That said, the story did diverge in a totally different way in the last half of the program.
More interesting perhaps is how Ghostwatch has inspired other filmmakers. The creators of The Blair Witch Project have cited it as inspiration, without Ghostwatch, perhaps there would have been no Paranormal Activity and certainly a lot less paranormal reality shows!
i was there man, you wouldn't understand! Yup, I saw Ghostwatch as it was "Broadcast Live" way back in 1992. In my humble opinion, this was a terrifying and innovative TV show well before its time. I loved watching it then, and have enjoyed it every time since, and there have been many!
In fact, I am watching it right now as I type this!
So, did you see Ghostwatch when it first aired? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below. If not, I urge you to watch it, but with an open mind. Remember, this program is over 20 years old, and perhaps has not aged as well as my rose tinted shades have lead me to believe...